So I have just learned first-hand how tricky it is to maintain an online presence when you aren't able to spend time on it - this blog was chugging along with weekly real estate posts and the occasional photography/life adventure, but once another project took time away from my schedule, POOF! - gone.
Thankfully, said project is nearing its final conclusion and I am excited to get back to writing and sharing my work (and occasional adventures).
So speaking of adventures; back in early June I and a couple of friends made good on a bucket list item for one of the guys in the group - hiking the Presidential Traverse through New Hampshire's White Mountains.
If you are unfamiliar (as I was before starting out), the Presidential Mountain Range is home to some of the highest peaks in the White Mountain Range, as well as some of the worst weather in the United States - the summit of Mt. Washington once held the record for the highest recorded wind speed on Earth at 231 mph. The unpredictable wind, coupled with 5000+ ft elevations can lead to sudden, dangerous changes in weather.
Which I guess also adds to the allure.
Anyways, to make a long story short, the Presidential Range is considered a pretty tough hike; elite hikers and hardcore crazies will do it in a day; beyond-human marathoning trail runners will do it in a matter of (brutal) hours. Being neither elite hikers nor elite trail runners, we planned a semi-strenuous assault of the trail, gaining over 9000 ft of elevation over a 23+ mile stretch of up-and-down rock hopping sent straight from hell to ankles and knees everywhere. We packed moderate loads (except for Jake - Jake packed a full fifth of good whiskey, glass bottle and all), and spread the hike over three days and two nights, staying at two of the Appalachian Mountain Club's beautiful, rustic mountain huts. I will spare you food details and stick to the hiking and scenery.
Now, I have hiked a fair amount in my life, both moderate day hikes and multi-day section hikes. I like hiking. I have hiked to higher elevations than this hike. I have hiked further distances than this hike, and in less time. I have hiked with a heavier pack for longer distances. And this damn hike still kicked my ass.
It was clear after the first ascent, which was done in freezing rain and icy winds, that the trail was not going to be a forgiving one. I would guess that almost 75% of the trail is broken up rock, with much of the hiking done on either paths of this broken, ankle-eating rock or up and down actual river beds that were sometimes still slick and flowing water. The only comfortable rhythm I could establish was to hike as fast as possible without losing steam, look solely at the ground in front of me so I didn't trip and die, and trudge on for 30-60 minute minimums. Which, after I read back over that, doesn't really deserve to be called a rhythm.
Reaching Madison Springs Hut that first afternoon, it was only maybe 3 p.m. and we were tapped and in need of a change. We broke tree line with a few miles to go (we took the Airline Trail), and despite being early June (back home it was 60s and sunny), it was every bit of 30ish degrees with gusty winds.
Now these huts are pretty neat structures; they use a built-in bunk bed system and stack people 3 high, similar to naval ships but with better headroom, and provide snacks and gear for sale, along with dinner and breakfast for those staying overnight. There are a good half-dozen or more huts run by the AMC, and if you are staying for more than three nights in the system in a year it is worth it to become a member.
After a hot chocolate warmup at the hut, we all agreed we needed to summit Mt. Madison before dinner so that we could get on the trail in the morning and head directly to Mt. Adams. The summit was obtained, Jake began a new (and maybe lifelong?) summiting ritual, and some crazy fog rolled in as we made our way down. A five mile day with roughly 4500 ft of elevation gain, done just like that.
Day two started early (breakfast and wakeup is somewhere in the seven to eight A.M range, and is accomplished by singing and poetry reading from the AMC hut croo), and we took the Star Lake Trail up to Mt. Adams. Now, this wasn't what we had originally planned, but it offered a more strenuous option, which, much to my surprise, ended up including actual scrambling up and over rocks, which is no mean feat with a decent pack on your back. Not my first rodeo, but I was continually surprised at every mile at the difficulty of the terrain.
Day two was also our longest day in terms of time on the trail - eight miles not counting summits, with the summits of Mt. Adams, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Clay and Mt. Washington (the tallest in the White Mountain range), with an up and down elevation change of over 5000 ft. And even though you feel amazing drinking a Coke in the comfort of the Mount Washington Observatory, stinking up the place with your boots off, earning startled glances from mere tourists who drove to the top (or took the train!) while you dry wet garments on the back of chairs in the dining area, you still have to then hike down 1500ish feet to the Lake of the Clouds Hut, which is aptly named and breathtaking,mainly because the trail down sucks. Bad.
But reaching the hut feels good, and while the third day was going to be our longest, it was also going to have the least amount of elevation gain - apart from a few (smaller) summits, all the uphill hiking was behind us.
Day three began with that same early start. Mt. Monroe was up first, with Presidents Franklin, Eisenhower and Pierce to follow. We also found time for Mt. Jackson (named after a geologist, not the president!). Time and trail flew by, until reaching the actual path off of the trail and back down to our base camp, AMC's Highland Center, where we stayed and parked the night before our hike and where we were staying again post-hike before heading out on the 14-hour drive back to Toledo. The trail back to the Highland Center was one of those riverbeds I mentioned earlier - slick rocks make for shitty terrain.
Again, a beast of a hike, but beautiful and well worth the trip. As we left the White Mountains behind, doing every bit of 90 mph on crazy backwoods curves in the rented minivan, we all agreed that 1) we shouldn't have let Bryce drive out of the mountains and 2) we would never do that hike again. But just the other day the trip was brought up in the context of some other hikes, and lo and behold, everyone felt that it would be worth another shot in a few more years.
Hey, I never said we were smart.
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