The Presidential Range is simply magical in winter. When buried under feet upon feet of hard-packed snow, the infamously tricky terrain suddenly becomes much easier to navigate – and I must admit, nothing is more pleasant than being able to hike a Presidential Traverse end-to-end in snowshoes. Add in a near perfect forecast, a greatly simplified car spot (thank you, Mom and Dad!), and a winter 48 finish… I couldn’t ask for more.
Rob, Toby and I set off from Appalachia a little before 10:00am. Although the ascent up Valley Way is gentle for the most part, I was a bit frustrated to find myself struggling with low energy levels straight from the get go. Perhaps it was the heavier pack, or the downright balmy temperatures at lower elevations, but the climb seemed to inch by at a crawl. I could not wait to break above treeline, where I knew I’d be treated to marvelous views and (hopefully) a bit of a breeze.
Reaching Madison Hut, we pushed straight up to the summit of Madison, our first peak of the day. Conditions underfoot were just stellar, and my spirits quickly rose as I watched Toby sprint up and down the trail. He’s always joyful in nature, but there’s something about the being above treeline that really seems to invigorate him.
An avocado and half a dark chocolate bar later, and we made the wonderfully fun descent back down to the Hut. My energy levels improved a little, though I felt no need to cut my copious picture breaks short! The view back towards Madison is always a treat…
Turning onto the Airline Trail, we began our climb up Adams. Sharp beams of sunlight cut through the clouds above us, throwing the surrounding landscape into striking shadow and contrast.
Even Toby paused for a brief moment to take it all in…
Reaching the summit, we took another short break (during which time I sneaked down half a Pocket Fuel as I was still hungry) and proceeded onward to Thunderstorm Junction. In non-winter conditions, the stretch of trail between Adams and Jefferson can be tough to traverse. Technical terrain is not my strong suit, and the ever-shifting rocks always get to me. But with so much snow, we glided effortlessly along the trail.
Krummholz that typically reach the height of my shoulder during the summer appeared little more than tiny shrubs in the winter landscape.
Descending into Edmands Col was a delight, the ever-shifting cloud cover producing some marvelous views.
Jefferson seemed to be the place to be on this fine day, and we encountered many folks descending down into the col as we began our climb up. I was glad for all of the foot traffic, as the sometimes tricky snowfield crossing was thoroughly packed out. Apparently tireless, Toby bounded back and forth across the snowshoe track while we trudged our way up to the Jefferson Loop Junction.
Social as always, he was ecstatic to see the summit dotted with the outlines of other hikers, and quickly sprinted up the peak to make new friends.
I was direly in need of chocolate once again, so Rob and I split another bar before continuing across Monticello Lawn. The summit of Clay always looks so very massive and distant as one descends Jefferson…
The climb up, too, often feels like one of the more difficult ones on the ridge. Luckily for me, Toby was being quite the model, which gave me plenty of opportunities to stop and take more pictures.
Reaching the summit cairn, it was comforting to know that we only had one more big climb ahead, after which we could cruise down the Southern Presidential peaks.
…and the hike up Washington certainly was tougher than usual. With the winds increasing slightly, I struggled with my layering. We opted to take a longer approach up, largely following the Cog tracks. Other than a pair of skiers cruising, I was surprised to find that we had the summit to ourselves. Nonetheless, we didn’t linger. After one more snack break, we embarked upon our journey to the most special peak of the day…
Cast in shadow, the jagged outline of Monroe stood out boldly against the vibrant winter sky. Once again, the sometimes troublesome snowfield above the hut was exceptionally well-packed, so we made it across without issue. The frozen Lakes of the Clouds were particularly striking, and almost aquamarine in color.
Ascending Monroe, it almost seemed as if Toby knew the moment was significant. He bounded up the peak at full-speed, quickly disappearing from sight. Cresting the ridge, I could see his tiny frame in the distance, standing upon the summit. After three seasons of winter hiking, he had finally completed his winter 4,000 footer list – the 11th known dog to do so! Rob kindly shook his paw to bring some formality to the occasion, and treats were had all around.
Behind us, the summit of Washington glowed intensely in the early afternoon light.
As anticipated, the journey over the Southern Presidentials was a dream. We encountered one small rocky stretch as we descended down into the Monroe-Eisenhower col, but other than that the going was fast and smooth. The northbound views from Eisenhower were once again just stellar.
…and after yet another bite of chili dark chocolate (which seems to have become my preferred hiking snack of choice), we were on our way to Pierce.
When I was feeling low early in the traverse, I was almost certain that we would be finishing up with headlamps. However, our pace seemed to increase as the day progressed, and after making decent time over to our final peak I knew we’d be finishing up with plenty of daylight to spare. By the time we reached the summit of Pierce, the cloud cover had increased considerably, making the views increasingly dramatic.
Hard-packed and free of postholes, the Crawford Path was an absolute joy to descend. The last three miles flew by, and we ended up completing the traverse in ~8 hours, 47 minutes. Although I did hit a few low points along the way, it was truly a magical day to be above treeline. Most importantly, I am so proud of my little pup for completing both his winter list and his second Presidential Traverse! He continues to inspire me every day.
In other news – this afternoon I found out that I was accepted into the Mount Washington Road Race! I have been wanting to run the event for a few years now, but have always had poor luck when it comes to the lottery. I’m truly excited about the opportunity, and look forward to trying to figure out how to train for such a race…