Icy, hard packed snow, icy, choppy, deep, drifts.
Trail runners and micro spikes.
No trail maintenance issues.
Parking & Road Access:
No parking issues. Thank you to Declan Kiley for spotting my car in Crawford Notch on Thursday evening, and thank you to Ed Hawkins for leaving two PBR’s under my wiper blades at Lincoln Woods.
Last Friday night, just ahead of a powerful Nor’easter, I stepped out into the abyss and successfully completed my first White Mountains project of 2021: the WINTER, CALENDAR DAY, Presidential Traverse & Pemigawasset Loop.
Completing a full Presidential Traverse and Pemigawasset Loop in a single, calendar-day (midnight to midnight) first came onto my radar in 2018 when White Mountains big-dog Chris Dailey became the first known person complete the effort. His experience and subsequent trip-report planted a seed in my chest that has quietly grown over the last 3 years, and I knew adding the winter superlative would be a humble opportunity to put my own signature on it.
No FKT, no competition; just a fringe-edge White Mountains Ultra with a borderline non-existent list of finishers.
Thursday night I worked the 4-8 check-in at the Notch Hostel in North Woodstock and spent 90 minutes after my shift packing my bag, checking the Higher Summits forecast, and taking a few good, long, looks in the mirror.
Starting at the Appalachia Trailhead at 12:00AM on Friday, Declan Kiley and I completed a full Presidential Traverse from Madison to Pierce in 8-hours flat, ending at the Highland Center in Crawford Notch. Declan is a 21 year-old rock star who thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail southbound in 100 days last year and a co-worker of mine at The Notch Hostel.
On the night of our traverse, the trails across the Presidential Range were a mixed bag of conditions. Although the front and back-ends provided packed, cement-like snow, the long stretch from Madison Springs Hut to Lakes of the Clouds was choppy, drifted, and at times very difficult to follow, especially in the middle of the night. Despite the sub-optimal trails, the temperatures and wind-speeds were undoubtedly in our favor. When we started the traverse, Mount Washington was reporting 7 degrees, and 10 mile per hour gusts. It was cold, but it was also clear, calm, and the perfect opportunity to thread the needle.
After finishing and making the 45-minute drive from Crawford to Lincoln and dropping Declan off at the Notch Hostel, I tossed my clothes in the dryer, took a quick shower, repacked my bag with fresh food, and hauled-ass to Lincoln Woods. At 10:15AM after a nearly 2-hour “break” I stepped out of my car, and proceeded clockwise around one of the largest wilderness areas in the White Mountains – the Pemigawasset.
I’ve hiked the Pemi Loop in various forms, in all four seasons, and it’s challenging for me every single time. This particular hike would be no different. The 10 miles from the start of the Osseo Trail to the summit of Mount Lafayette were well-packed but felt long, arduous, and obnoxiously slow-going. Every time I allowed myself to gaze out to the Bonds, I had a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I needed to hike there and 10 miles beyond, all before midnight. The collective psychological weight of that reality slowed me down even more.
Coming off the summit of Lafayette and dropping below treeline on the Garfield Ridge Trail was the start of a prolonged period of fluctuating thoughts and emotions. The conditions immediately shifted from smooth to choppy, and it was clear that anyone who traveled that stretch of trail this winter wasn’t wearing snow shoes. I couldn’t judge, as I wasn’t wearing them either, but it certainly didn’t make the situation any easier.
My mechanism for navigating low-points on the trail is both consistent and remarkably simple: acknowledge my hardship and meditate on how incredible lucky I am to be suffering in that elective capacity. All of this is my choice of course.
It wasn’t immediate, and it wasn’t pretty, but over the next several hours my mindset shifted and realigned with the objective in front of me.
PATIENCE OVER EVERYTHING. ALWAYS.
When I got to the summit of Bondcliff, I looked at my watch for the first time since I reached South Twin. Based on how I was feeling and my knowledge of the remaining 10 miles in front of me, I believed as long as it wasn’t any later than 9:30PM, I could make it down to the finish before my “midnight cutoff.”
And it was only 8:10PM! Let’s go!
I jogged cautiously off Bondcliff, down to the river, and out the 5-mile Lincoln Woods Trail. While most people gripe about this flat, nearly featureless stretch, I’ve always found it to be charming and completely manageable with a slow jog. Not tonight. At this point, I had traveled nearly 45 miles on foot, and been awake for almost 40 hours. My energy output was low, and my eyes were starting to play tricks on me in the ominous, unending green tunnel.
When I finally crossed the iconic bridge over the Pemigawasset River, I took a picture, sat in the snow for a few minutes, and felt content knowing the numbers and experiences from this project would speak for themselves:
49.5 miles. 17,500’ of climbing. 22:33 minutes elapsed time.
Oh, and a 4k in a day PR. (15 4,000-footers).
Moving forward, everything that I do in the mountains between now and June 21st will be in an effort to prepare my mind and my body for the Single Season Redline attempt. I’ve got a short list of single and multi-day projects on deck to maintain my fitness, focus, and hunger between now and then, but publishing any more information would be getting ahead of myself.