This past Memorial Day weekend I finally completed a Presidential Traverse. I set out with members of another hiking group (GASP!) at approximately 4:30 am on a dank and foggy Saturday morning. The group got along very well and our abilities were fairly evenly matched. The conversations were enjoyable and had nothing to do with gear, rescue efforts, rookie mishaps or other dramatic gossip. Most of the day I missed the conversation anyways since I preferred to stay at my own pace in the back of the group. I can’t stand it when someone’s hiking right behind me.
The entire traverse took 16 hours to complete, with a majority of the hike in the . Trails were wet, muddy, and streaming with water,with the exception of course of the Northern Presidentials with their piles of gigantic boulders. The Madison Hut was closed, of course, but the door was unlocked so we stopped in there to regroup before reaching the summit. Atop Washington, however, the buildings were open so we took a longer break there and did some people-watching. Unfortunately I think our stops were too frequent and too long, so I was glad to get back out on the trails. On the way to Lakes, we encountered many, many hikers. It seemed as if the weather didn’t turn many people away. It was amusing to look at the wide range of people walking in the Presis today. Some people were all decked out: tough, winter, name-brand outerwear; ice axes; helmets!! Others dressed only in cotton t-shirts, jeans and sneakers, and some people only had one tiny backpack for their entire group. My group was comfortable in a base layer, shorts, gloves and hat and we each carried a ton of food, water and extra clothes. Temperatures were in the 40’s and there wasn’t much wind at all.
The slog to Eisenhower seemed to be the turning point for me. Up until then I was feeling great. Now I’d occasionally get shooting pains in my knees which were not so fun. After what felt like ages, we reached Pierce. Only two more to go now. At least we were getting back into the trees; the wind had picked up along the Crawford Path. Every little thing was starting to annoy me, including the pain in my left knee, the moisture and wind. After the breakdown of the body comes the breakdown of the mind.
Jackson, done. Now, Webster. The group was slowing down now. The sun burst through the fog while we were sitting on top of Webster and the group wanted to hang out for a bit. Myself and one other person decided that was not in the cards for today. It was already 7:30 and we had 2.5 miles to go. The sun was going to leave us soon.
The Webster-Jackson trail at the end of a 24 mile day feels awfully steep and riddled with obstacles. We were moving at grandma speed and stopping every tenth of a mile. I was losing my mind. So I decided to push ahead of the group and take no more breaks. Mentally I felt like I was fighting a losing battle and I quickly entered a downward spiral, feeling worse and worse. Tears were welling up in my eyes and suddenly I felt really stupid. I’m better than this! I’m stronger than this! “Think of something funny,” I said. Then I started cracking up. This was the final turning point. I regained control over mind and body and ended up running most of the last 2 miles out. I felt fantastic.
I emerged from the trail at 8:30 or so, right before sunset. Score. I walked back to the car near the Highland Center and drove back to the trailhead to pick up the others. They’d just finished by the time I got there.
What a great day, I’m sure glad it’s over.
Oh, I hiked Tremont the next day, too.