Mount Madison, Mount Adams, Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, Mount Monroe, Mount Eisenhower, Mount Pierce
July 25, 2015
Weather: first we walked above the clouds, then ahead of the clouds, then we were in the clouds
So by 8:30pm, we were curled up cozily (joke) in the car with blankets over the windows trying to sleep. I did have to feel bad for my dad, though, I am like a professional car sleeper but he’s not used to it at all. The sweet lullaby of rain, slamming car doors and people talking to each other put us straight to sleep (also a joke). At 12:30am, the alarm went off and we somehow motivated ourselves to get up, put our boots on, pack the food. We tried to be as quiet as possible because there were a couple tents pitched right next to our car, silly people wasting time putting up and taking down tents. On the bright side, it was no longer raining.
Anyway, by 1:00, we were off on the Valley Way! Yes, it was completely pitch black. I had been really nervous about this, but it’s actually not so bad when you’re going up in the dark. Maybe it was because my perception with pitch black and a small headlight are way off and I was really excited but it hardly felt like we were going up! My dad disagreed somewhat.
We stopped a few times, my dad heard running water and just HAD to go try to get a picture. He didn’t believe me that there was no way it could actually turn out nicely and was disappointed.
Now, the guidebook can be pretty daunting since there are so many tiny stretches of trail and junctions so I made sure to memorize the first leg of the trip. I knew that at 0.8 we would hit this junction, and after 3.1 we would be at the campsites, etc. etc. It was kind of nice to be able to track our progress so consistently!
The biggest issue was because it was dark, and there were some steep ish parts, and the ground was wet, I instinctively kept putting my hand down to climb up and THERE WERE SO MANY SLUGS. I kid you not, I stuck my hand on at least 7 slugs on 5 occasions. At one point there was just a whole family of slugs and I kind of put my hand down on three of them. I cannot even describe to you how disgusting this was for me. I kept sticking my hands in my pockets so that I would stop putting them down.
As we got higher up, we started to see the sky above us, there were so many stars! It was a really beautiful experience, it was completely quiet since we were the only ones awake at this ungodly hour, and we could see so many stars above us. I was already getting excited because I was sure we would make it to the summit of Madison in time for the sunrise! (We had decided we would tell people we were leaving that early to catch the sunrise but really it was because we needed make it for supper and if we left any earlier it probably wouldn’t count because it would technically be across two days)
We finally made it out into the open, just below Madison Hut, and I turned around to wait for my dad and I saw a shooting star! I can’t even describe to you how excited and pumped I was! There was just the hint of first light on the horizon, the stars were above, it was perfectly quiet. I kept telling my dad, and thinking it to myself, today is going to be perfect, we’re going to do it, I can feel it.
We crept as quietly as we could past the hut, I thought I saw a headlamp dancing around, but never saw the person so I decided I was probably hallucinating like people do on Everest. The climb up the rocky “summit cone” (as my father would call it) felt so easy because I was just so excited. We were now exposed to the chilly night air and my arms were freezing in my tank top but there was no way I was going to waste any time putting on a sweater. The last bit from the hut took us a little under 40 minutes, and we came out on the ridge just as the pre-sunrise colours glowed across the sky. The clouds were below us and the sky was colourfully lit up. I was up there gushing, trying to capture it on camera, telling my dad that this was the best thing I had ever seen in my life and I didn’t even care if we finished the whole traverse at this point. Time since Appalachia: 4 hours
We had made it just under (like a few minutes) book time, which we were pretty excited about, but we knew that that would be the last time of the day (we must be psychic, it was true!) so we soaked it in, but then got on our way! As much as I said I didn’t care if we didn’t finish the traverse, I wasn’t going to screw over our chances either.
Since the sun had risen, we were able to take our headlamps off, which I was pretty happy about because wearing one of those around your head for four hours is pretty unpleasant. Unfortunately, we were in the shadow of Madison so I was freezing! The walk down was not much faster than the walk up, the first three mountains had these incredible huge boulders that made it very slow going.
On the way back to the hut we ran into a guy who had left the parking lot two hours after that. We would be used to that by the end of the day. More signs of life came from a woman who had left from the hut and was making her way up to the summit of Madison, and two guys who had also left from the hut but were headed up Adams.
Soon enough, we were back at the hut and then headed up towards Adams. The climbing warmed me up, and soon we were in the light of the sun, and I was in a fabulous mood. I was singing Comeback Kid to myself and felt full of energy and ready for the day. Looking back at Madison offered an incredible view of the morning sun poking out behind the summit and even the tough scrambling up the same type of big rocks that we had seen on the previous peak couldn’t get me down.
It felt like a short walk to the summit of Adams, and as I navigated up to the top of the giant pile of giant rocks, I realized I was being filmed by one of the men we had seen ahead of us. It was a little strange, but who knows, maybe I will be a celebrity in the UK one day! Time since Appalachia: 6 hours
They were very friendly and I chatted with them (I was happy when he stopped filming) and my dad joined a couple minutes later. Apparently these two guys had stayed at Madison Hut the last three nights and had climbed Adams, and only Adams, not Madison, not Jefferson, every day. I didn’t want to ask but I did wonder what they did with the rest of their time since it only took about 45 minutes to get to that point from the hut. As we were sitting there, a guy came out of nowhere said a quick hello, he had left the parking lot at 4 am (really starting to sense a recurring theme), and then kept on moving.
We idly wondered where the guy we had seen on Madison was, he looked like he was in shape enough to pass us sooner, but didn’t let it weigh on our minds too heavily as continued our trek. Once again, it was slow, and we were in the shadow, but at least it was warming up. I was still very positive about our chances of making it, though! We had already climbed 5,000 feet. Not long after we left the summit, the first guy caught up, we said a quick hello, and then he kept on moving.
We couldn’t really understand how these two guys were moving so fast. There were cute little cairns to mark the general direction of the trail (rock piles amid rocks are kind of hard to spot, but quite a few of them had one distinct piece of white quartz atop them so we managed…also it was pretty clear which way we were headed anyway) but the problem was really where to put your foot down each step. I tried poles for a while but since I’ve never bothered to remove my snow baskets and they’re glued on with mud now I kept getting them stuck between rocks and eventually gave up and used my hands.
We finally made our way down to the huge cairn, it was even bigger than it had seemed from afar. It was very impressive in size, but in the middle of a very obvious junction, so we weren’t sure exactly why it was necessary for it to be so prominent. Having read Not Without Peril, though, and seeing how foggy it can get with so little visibility, I guess it makes sense!
The next part of the walk was pretty long and flat, a rocky path with very little vegetation around. I was simply loving it though, the views all around were incredible and I had never been on a trail like that before! We could see the clouds creeping up behind us and it was a beautiful backdrop.
We finally reached the junction the foot of the Jefferson climb and decided to sit down and have a bit of chocolate to get our energy up. We could tell it was going to be just like the previous two and we needed a little physical/mental prep. Right in front of us at the junction, in this unbelievable location, was a tent that was overlooking the views and I could not help but be a little envious! I absolutely want to come back and do that one day, can’t imagine how nice it must have been for them to wake up to that!!
We chatted with a guy as he passed us during our break, and then decided to get going ourselves. The sun was shining bright and we were sweating, but behind us we could see the clouds were definitely gaining on us. I kept taking glances back and watching them creep their way over the mountains…so lovely! but I was not looking forward to being in them.
There were a couple “misleading” summits, I can’t call them false summits because they just weren’t that, it’s just that I would allow myself to get my hopes up about reaching the summit and then ten seconds later I would realize there was more to climb.
Somewhere amid them, we got passed by young strapping men who had started at 5. Not long after, we saw them perched on the big pile of rubble that was the summit of Jefferson and we happily joined them. Time since Appalachia: 8.5 hours
We chatted with them and discovered that they were comfortably beating book time (like very comfortably); meanwhile we applauded ourselves for making our deadline. We evaluated ourselves and decided that we were feeling really good and were not in danger of our worst case scenario time (we had reached this summit before 11:00), and that we could manage to try for the whole Traverse. It was (for now) a beautiful sunny day and we just couldn’t pass it up. After this point, the only escape route has a horrible description in the guide book and is not very realistic so our options were either to loop back to the car or finish the next four mountains. Having decided on that, we had to set off pretty quickly since we had a lot of walking ahead.
We started seeing signs of civilization as we traversed the 2.8 miles toward Mt Washington. We could see the cog train as a speck in the distance. I started to question our decision when I saw just how far it was. As each trail joined ours, more and more people joined us on the trail, causing mini traffic jams of people passing us, us passing others, oncoming hikers. I made a point to stick closer to my dad to try to avoid the awkward leap frogging.
At some point the trail wound its way around the side of the mountain and suddenly we were walking along a small trail [with all the traffic] and a steep fall on our left. Now of course there was very little danger, but I was nervous and hugged the inside of the trail. The ravines (I guess you would call them that) were so impressive, these huge parts that had just been gouged out of the mountain were incredible to see but not fun to imagine falling down. Along here I ran into a hilarious duo who were blasting music and having the time of their lives, they snapped a picture with me so if anyone sees that floating around send it over! (They had offered to send it to me but I wanted to keep moving and spelling out my email seemed to annoying at the time, but now I’m kind of sad I didn’t)
Around this time the clouds just completely caught up with us so we were no longer able to track our progress, all I could tell is that there was definitely more mountain ahead of us. We started to hear the honking of cars and train engines, which was encouraging at first but we soon realized there was still a ways to go. We started paralleling the trains and I couldn’t believe how many were running, and how full they were. There was even a real old school steam engine cog train, my dad loves trains so he was thrilled and even I thought it was really cool!
It finally came time to cross the tracks; I was kind of surprised at how the trail just casually crosses them…I half expected lights and warning signs. My dad tried to get a picture of me, but I ruined it by scratching my nose (sorry Daddy) and being the paranoid person that I am I had zero desire to hang out on busy train tracks. At least we never had to cross the road.
This felt like the longest part of the hike, I think. I was excited to get to the summit, and the trail seemed to drag on. It was one foot in front of the other and we kept running into more and more people who were all repeating that we were practically there/giving words of encouragement but we couldn’t see the summit in the haze and it still took us a while. I had a chocolate bar in my pocket and just kept grabbing squares to pass the time. I caught up with a guy who had a huge pack and started to chat with him. In my fatigue it didn’t occur to me why he would be walking around with a 95L pack but I soon learned that he was 1,900 miles in the Appalachian Trail. He was really friendly and we talked about his experiences before I bade him farewell, wishing him good luck en route to Katahdin. Can’t believe what it must be like to a) walk for that long and b) do it alone.
Finally the building atop the peak appeared out of nowhere! I was so excited to finally be able to use a bathroom that I raced to the summit (I was probably going really slowly but in my head I had sped up). Time since Appalachia: 11.5 hours
My dad sat down and I went to wait in the huge line for the washrooms and to refill our CamelBaks (his had been empty for the last mile or so and he had been drinking from mine…yet mine still had 1.5/3L left, which was slightly disturbing). We sat for a while, observing the crowds, then went to try to get a picture with the official official sign. There was a ridiculous line so we popped up and touched it, then got our picture in front of a different one.
We couldn’t stay long on any peak, at our pace, it was already 1:00pm (already 12 hours of walking!!), so we wove our way through the throngs of people and found our route. The descent toward Lakes of the Clouds was just as crowded, if not more so than the other side. There were quite a few pauses to chat with people. let people by, and dodging people who went running by. The clouds, having long since caught up with us, finally opened up and let the rain fall.
The pounding down the trail became even more exciting with the added element of slippery rocks. We were slightly worried about quite a few people we passed who seemed both exhausted and under-equipped; as I said we had both read Not Without Peril and it really makes you rethink the way you can sometimes treat hiking so casually. They all assured my dad, who is obviously more vocal, that they were okay, and there wasn’t really anything we could do about it anyway. I guess if they were in any real danger they had the hut below and the building/cog train/road above.
We walked slowly but surely downward, exchanging sympathetic looks with the others on the trail. The nice thing about gloomy and rainy days on the mountain is that the rain gear is usually so bright (my dad and I are the exception, him more than me) and offers a little colour on the otherwise gray landscape. Finally, we spotted the first lake, and the hut. We didn’t have the heart to head up Monroe just yet so we joined the many other hikers who had also sought shelter to wait out the rain on the little bench to the front door of the Lakes of the Clouds Hut. (I was also happy to have another proper bathroom)
We waited around for about 20 minutes, and felt re-energized when the rain stopped and we headed out again. We couldn’t see how far up we were headed, but we just kept walking. Throughout the day I was always happy to be going up; I think that when there are so many ups and downs in one trip it always feels good to be climbing again because you’re officially onto the next mountain.
This one felt really easy, we had really had to work for Washington, and the short climb up Monroe was really nice. We got to the summit and sat on the pile of boulders that constituted the summit. Time since Appalachia: 13.75 hours
There wasn’t really much to look at, we had already taken a break at the hut, and we had two mountains to go, so after a nice chat with another person at the top, we kept moving.
I think this was probably the most depressing part of the hike for me. It was gray all around, and I just had no concept of how far we had gone/were going. We had stopped bothering to take out the guide book and figure things out and were going off of our memory of the notes that my dad had taken. The soundtrack to this stretch of the hike for me was Shine, I had to laugh at how my mood had changed significantly in the last seven hours. I did try to think of other songs but this one kept absentmindedly popping back into my head.
We walked down and got to what we felt was the col; it was closer than we had expected, but then we ran into two girls who said that they had just come down from Eisenhower so I was most pleased! We started going back up, but never reached a summit, then felt like we were going back down. We knew we hadn’t missed a big junction, but we had seen a short little path where we met the girls and they had assured us it was nothing. Anyway, neither of us felt like wasting our time pulling out the guidebook, so we just kept walking onwards. (At the end of the day, we pulled out the guidebook and discovered that the little bump in the middle was Franklin – of course I freaked out thinking we had failed to do the Traverse by not taking that short little path to the actual summit but Google research tells me that it does not officially count)
I hardly remember this part of the hike, other than my focus on putting one foot in front of the other and comforting myself with the knowledge that we were getting there We finally started climbing enough that I believed we were actually climbing the real Eisenhower. Again, we couldn’t see anything around, and weren’t bothering with the guidebook, so when I heard voices I knew we had to be close. The ground leveled off and directly in front we saw the massive cairn marking the summit, and the source of the voices. Time since Appalachia: 15.5 hours
We chatted a bit, got our picture – I was happy to take it in front of the cairn but the guys who were taking it for us insisted that we get onto it. I appreciated it but my initial opinion had been: why do extra climbing?!
We came off the top, it was the same old. We reached the end of the down and then felt like we were walking on pretty flat ground.
We were still refusing to pull out the guidebook or map so we were going off my dad’s original estimate of 650 feet up to Pierce. I was mentally prepared for it, but every step stressed me out because the longer it stayed flat, the steeper it would be later. The trail reminded us of the Adirondacks, AKA they were really muddy. There were quite a few people around and chatting and the idea that we had almost reached peak #7 kept me going.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, we reached a sign telling us that we were 0.1 miles from the summit. My dad was so happy because he assumed he had miscalculated the elevation gain, but I was much more cautious. I was sure that this 0.1 mile was going to be the steepest one of my life.
We headed up, and before I knew it the trail was flattening out and a group told us the summit was 20 feet away in the trees. I couldn’t believe it, but they were right! We sat right down to enjoy some chocolate, give each other the high gives, and mentally prepare for the descent. Time since Appalachia: 16.75 hours
We didn’t let ourselves get too comfortable, I’m pretty sure I would have fallen asleep if I had been given another minute. It was then that I realized we had been awake for about 15 hours and walking for almost as long. I voiced my shock and disbelief to my dad (Wow, can you believe that we’ve been walking for 15 hours!!) his response was: Yes.
I took my poles out, I had put them away after realizing they were of little use on the giant rubbly summits of the northern peaks, and I knew they would irritate my elbows if I used them too much (I have the joints of a 90 year old) and realized I HAD LOST MY FLIP FLOPS. I was seriously upset because 1) my favourite part of finishing a hike is taking off my boots and now I would either have to keep the boots on our walk barefoot since I hadn’t even brought extra socks to save space and because I had flip flops and 2) I had littered 3) I was really tired and definitely cranky
It was one foot in front of the other to get back to the Crawford Path. In my head, I just needed to get there and everything would be okay. My knees were hurting from all the up and down and the impact so I needed to step up my mental game. Meanwhile, all my dad wanted was for it to be more “civilized” than the first three mountains.
We were both pleasantly surprised that it was not as rough, and there was even a ladder at some point! We reached the blessed Crawford Path relatively quickly, buut it felt long.
The whole body was aching but my knees had sharp pains every time I took a step down (it’s been two months and I don’t think they have recovered yet). I tried to use my poles and the quads to make each step lighter but my body was simply not strong enough to compensate for the weak knees. I really wanted to distract myself but I literally did not even have the energy to think about songs or lyrics; now I felt kind of rude about doing this, but there were basically 5 other people on the same trail and none of them were around, so I pulled out my phone to play music on it.
My biggest concern was getting to the Highland Centre in time for supper, which ended at 8. I felt like I was walking so slowly and I kept trying to convince my dad to go on ahead and make sure we got food but he insisted on staying with me. (Dad’s note: I would have used my cell phone to call them if it had become clear we wouldn’t make it by 8:00. Later in chatting to them they said that would have been fine – they would have kept the food out for us as long as they knew we were coming)
The 3 miles felt like they took forever, and I had no notion of our speed, but out of nowhere a bridge appeared and then a sign that hinted that we were very close the end. A few minutes after, we emerged onto the road, I suffered a few stairs, and we happily rushed over to the main building and burst into the AMC Highland Centre with 15 minutes to spare! The woman at reception kindly gave us our meal tickets and we hobbled our exhausted selves into the meal room, dumped our stuff, and enjoyed a nice hot meal after a long day. Time since Appalachia Trailhead: 18.75 HOURS
Mount Madison: elevation: 5,367 feet, elevation gain: 4,050 feet
Mount Adams: elevation: 5,774 feet, elevation gain: +1,000 feet
Mount Jefferson: elevation: 5,712 feet, elevation gain: +800 feet
Mount Washington: elevation: 6,288 feet, elevation gain: +1,250 feet
Mount Monroe: elevation: 5,384 feet, elevation gain: +300 feet
Mount Eisenhower: elevation: 4,780 feet, elevation gain: +400 feet
Mount Pierce: elevation: 4,310 feet, elevation gain: +500 feet
For those of you who might want to look into doing the hike, or don’t trust our numbers, here’s the trail info (White Mountains Guide 29th ed.):
- Valley Way (page 118)
- Osgood Trail (page 107)
- Gulfside Trail (page 83)
- Air Line (page 120)
- Lowe’s Path (page 132)
- Mt Jefferson Loop (page 89)
- Crawford Path (page 37)
- Mt Monroe Loop (page 42)
- Mt Eisenhower Loop (page 42)
- Webster Cliff Trail (page 47)
Okay, I know…too many pictures…but I feel like it’s allowed for a NINETEEN HOUR HIKE!