Today my friend Nate (@hiker_nate) his dog Piper would be joining me for a “quick presi”. The Presidential Traverse! Located in the heart of the White Mountains of New Hampshire this rugged point to point run or hike is considered to be one of the crown jewels of the North East and also one of the most strenuous. The “Standard Presi Traverse” as its aptly named Scales over seven of New Hampshire’s tallest peaks named after past presidents of the United States:
- Mount Madison – 5,367′
- Mount Adams – 5,794′
- Mount Jefferson – 5,712
- Mount Washington – 6,289′
- Mount Monroe – 5,371′
- Mount Eisenhower – 4,780′
- Mount Pierce – 4,311′
Game Plan and Weather
The route can either be backpacked over multiple days or done in a single push as a run or hike. Today Nate, Piper, and I would be trying to set a quick pace on a “run” (I use that word loosely ? ) of the Standard Presidential Traverse. The plan was to “fast hike” the hard stuff and to run the flats and downhills. The last time I attempted this traverse was back in 2015 and it took me a whopping 13 hours! I was hoping to cut that time in half today… or at least come close to that. Weather for the day was forecasted on the cool side with a stiff breeze so we’d be packing some extra layers for the occasion.
Valley Way and the Northern Presi’s
After dropping a car at the Southern Terminus of AMC’s Highland Center in Crawford Notch we drove north. The ride took about 45 minutes and when we arrived at the Valley Way trail head it was already packed! So packed, that we needed to park on the road. We didn’t waste much time at the trail head and were on the Valley Way Trail within a few minutes. We set a pretty quick pace up the 3.8 mile stretch of Valley Way trail and hit the Madison Hut in about 1 hour and 20 minutes not bad for almost 3,500 feet of elevation gain! After a quick snack, and refilling our water we moved on to Mount Madison’s Summit.
Star Lake and Mount Adams
After we tagged the summit Madison we moved on to Mount Adams opting to take the Star Lake trail to avoid being blasted by the NW winds using the ridge behind it to shelter us. This ended up paying off. However, the Star Lake trail is a much steeper trail that slowed us down a bit. The climb up to Adam’s summit is arguably the hardest part of the Presidential Traverse. Very steep, very rocky, and the rocks have an abrasive texture to them that wear on your hands and shoes. The summit of Mount Adams is one of my favorite in all of the White Mountains. Super exposed with a mind blowing view. I love it up here!
After stopping for a few minutes for Piper to eat a cheese stick we moved on the Gulfside Trail towards Jefferson and Washington. I love this part of the traverse, above treeline with mountains as far as the eye can see. The wind started to howl by this point and we threw on our spare layers in anticipation. The trail here is pure ankle twist territory, careful footing is key!
Mount Washington and Clay
While Mount Clay is not an official “4000 footer” or named after a president it is 5,531′ feet tall and has an awesome viewpoint at its summit. So why not include it in the Presi Traverse? Besides… the bypass trail to go around the peak almost takes as long as just going over it. We went up and over Mount Clay and without missing a beat continued on towards Mount Washington.
The climb up the North side of Mount Washington isn’t particularly difficult but it is long and relentless. As we climbed two Cog Railroad trains passed by. From here we could already see the circus that is the summit of Mount Washington. Hundreds of people, cars, and trains looking down at us from the top! Once we hit the top of Mount Washington we wasted no time. We quickly snapped a picture of the back of the summit cairn (we didn’t want to wait in line!) and moved on out down the Crawford Path.
The Southern Presidential Ridge
At this point there were only three “small” peaks ahead of us. Mount Monroe, Mount Eisenhower, and Mount Pierce. These peaks are much less rugged than the Northern Presi’s so we knew we could make up some time here. First, we tagged Mount Monroe that seemed to come and go at the blink of an eye. Up and over the summit, we moved on. The climb up Mount Eisenhower is short, but switchbacks through somewhat steep terrain that is tough on tired legs!
After we stopped for a few minutes at the summit of Mount Eisenhower we continued on to the final peak of the day, Mount Pierce. At this point my legs were starting to feel the pain of what I’ve subjected them to for the past few hours! Still, I managed to pick up the pace and continue the jog. Soon I was at the short spur trail up to the summit of Mount Pierce. Little known fact, my third baby boy is named after this mountain! The view from the summit of Pierce isn’t that spectacular. However, the view from the surrounding trails are pretty incredible. Looking up at the ridge we just came from is always surreal.
Crawford Path – The Home Stretch
After we tagged Mount Pierce. Nate and Piper ran on ahead at their own pace which was a bit faster than mine by now. We agreed that we’d meet at the car. This gave me some motivation to pick up my pace on the descent! The last segment of trail from the summit of Mount Pierce to the terminus at Route 302 on the Crawford Path is pretty easy… however, very wet! I jogged down the Crawford Path at a pretty consistent 10-12 minute/mile pace bumped into a few people I knew along the way!
Eventually I popped out at Rt 302 next to Saco Lake at the Crawford Path Trailhead. After looking down at my watch I saw that we completed the 18.2 Mile / 9300ft of Elevation Gain Presidential Traverse in 8 hours and 1 Minute elapsed. This wasn’t even close to the goal I had set for myself of 6 or 7 hours elapsed! However, we still had a great day, a lot of fun and didn’t kill ourselves to move too fast. I’ll definitely be returning to give the Presi Traverse another shot in the very near future. Next time I’ll be going for speed!