We'd been hiking with our daughter in New Hampshire for several years at that point. Short hikes to waterfalls, nice rambles in the woods and visits to some small peaks with wonderful views. We almost did our first 4K when we hiked Cannon Mountain with Jamie in 2004 (when she was 9). I say 'almost' because although we hiked to the summit via Kinsman Ridge from the tram lot we took the tram down - which of course means that it didn't 'count'. We weren't aware that there were rules. We also didn't really care.
A couple of years later I was turning 50 and set a couple of goals for myself. I decided that I wanted to get into better shape, and I wanted to challenge myself with hiking. A walking campaign that began 6 months before my birthday helped me accomplish the first. When my birthday rolled around I had lost 30 pounds and was in maybe the best shape of my life. For the second, I gave myself a birthday present - I booked a 4 day hut-to-hut Presidential traverse. I had read many things about this hike and it seemed like a great challenge. I also realized that if we were going to start hiking the 4000 footers this was a great beginning with the potential to get 8 checked off the list right out of the gate. Cool!
We booked the trip months ahead of time (which is of course a necessity to get three consecutive nights in the huts in July). During those months I did lots of research and planning. If you know me you also know that I did lots of worrying. Walking in the city is not hiking in the mountains. Hiking a few miles with a day pack is not hiking in the Presidentials with a 25+ pound pack. Was I really ready? Then of course there is the weather. The Presidentials and Mt Washington - home of the world's worst weather. Snow in any month of the year. Thunderstorms that pop up when you can't escape above treeline. Yes - I worry a lot...
The date finally came. The weather leading up to the hike had been pretty poor. Lots of rain and the potential for more. By the time we got ourselves to AMC Highland Center the day before the hike though, the forecast had improved - a LOT. Four straight days of sunny skies with only a slight potential for showers in the middle. That works. We spent the night before the hike in Shapleigh bunkhouse. I didn't get much sleep for all the restless anticipation. Early the next morning we caught the AMC shuttle to Appalachia. It was finally time to get going.
Beautiful day to begin at Highland Center
Finally ready to go!
We headed up Valley Way to the hut. Unfortunately Nat wasn't feeling very well that morning and it was a pretty tough slog for her. She stuck it out and thankfully was feeling better by the time we emerged from the woods at the hut.
Not much view on the trail. Just 4 miles and 3500 feet of ascent through the woods.
First place on Valley Way with a view back down. Almost to the top...
These little guys are surviving nicely among the boot steps...
Finally leaving the woods - 50 yards before the hut
Arriving at Madison hut
We got to the hut, checked in and grabbed our bunks. Before heading up Mt Madison we decided to explore the area around the hut and Star Lake.
Looking up to Mt Madison from the hut
View to the hut and the valley beyond from the Star Lake trail
Lots of beautiful flowers among the rocks
Star Lake with Mt Washington in the distance
Across Star Lake to Mt Madison
There was nobody else around. Relying on the trusty tripod.
More summer alpine flowers
On the Parapet trail looking over the gulf
It was finally time to head up Mt Madison. The scramble up the rocks was fun and it was great not having to carry a pack. We were finally there - summit #1
Heading up Mt Madison
Looking down at the hut from part way up Madison
Tough going through here. Much better without the packs (which we left at the hut)!
Cairns on the summit ridge of Madison
Near the summit at the junction of the other trails
Sitting on the summit of Madison. No mark here except for a small pin (which is under me).
Nat contemplating tomorrow's hike (looking toward Mt Adams)
Hanging out before return to the hut on
Mt Madison for #1
Star Lake from near Madison summit
That night was our first night at a hut, and we loved it. The food was awesome, the conversation with the other hikers was great and the opportunity to watch the sun set from above treeline was simply incredible.
Dinner at Madison hut
Unbelievable sunset from the hui
Croo members gather on the roof each night for the sunset ritual
The picture doesn't do it justice. You had to be there...
I slept well that night. The air was chilly and our bodies were tired. I knew that the next two days promised to be amazing with all of our time spent above treeline. The hut croo got the day started by singing us awake and then feeding us a fantastic breakfast followed by one of their signature skits. We met a couple of other groups of hikers as well that were on the same route as us - a group of Girl Scouts with their leaders who were all having a ball and a father and son by the names of Doug and Hunter. We'd run into them both over the next couple of days (and some over the next several years).
The Madison "croo" singing a wakeup song.
The morning croo skit. "Hanz, do you have any duct tape?" "Why Franz?" "Because I'm so ripped!"
It was just a perfect morning! As we headed out from the hut we discussed our plans. There was a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon and we knew that this was a pretty tough day of hiking (by all our previous standards). As we made our way across the northern Presis we made the decision to skip the summits of Adams and Jefferson. It was a gorgeous day and we were just enjoying being up there. Tagging summits just didn't seem to matter.
Heading around Mt Adams (in the background).
Hanging out on the trail with the Girl Scout group. Great bunch!
Long day of walking from rock to rock. Heading around Mt Adams here.
Cairn at Thunderstorm Junction
Heading down toward Edmands Col. Jefferson on the right and Washington in the back across the Great Gulf
Heading around Jefferson
The plaque at Edmands Col
Bit of a scramble ascending from Edmands Col
Looking back from near Jefferson to Adams
Nat pushing up the trail around Jefferson
As we headed toward Mt Washington the skies were clouding over. We had definitely planned on making it up Washington to the summit, but as we reached the cog tracks we thought about the noise and crowds up there (as well as the approaching rain). It just didn't seem worthwhile after such a wonderful day alone in this beautiful place. We made our decision and skipped yet another checkmark on our 4K list as we headed for the hut. About a half mile before we reached the hut it started to lightly rain. We hustled along and got there before we got very wet. By the time we checked in the shower had passed. That was the last rain clouds we'd see for the rest of the four days.
Heading toward Sphinx Col and Mt Washington
Didn't really need to have the cog railway crossing our path!
The trail goes UNDER the cog railway tracks. See the cairn on the other side?
First glimpse of Lakes of the Clouds hut from the shoulder of
The hut now in full view with Mt Monroe in the background
Nat continues the traverse around Washington
Bunk rooms stack 4 high at Lakes hut
Lakes dining room
Brief rain shower is over and the hut is sitting above the clouds again
We went back out after the rain and explored the lakes and the area around the hut. We also got to experience a simply marvelous sight. Jack, one of the adults that was with the Girl Scout group, was celebrating his 70th birthday by flying a kite outside the hut. I can only hope that I can celebrate mine in such an amazing way!
Nat checks out one of the lakes. Some others at the hut actually went swimming. Water temp was 48 degrees!
Jack celebrates 70 in style!
After another great night of sleeping in the clouds we awoke to a perfect morning. The hut was sitting above a blanket of clouds (I didn't then know about undercast). It was just the most magical feeling! After breakfast we left our packs at the hut and went up Mt Monroe. What a perfect way to start the day!
Mt Monroe in the morning. What a perfect day!
Valleys in the fog and clouds with summits in the clear. Looked like we were floating.
Looking down on the hut from half way up Monroe
Our path for today. Little Monroe in the foreground with Eisenhower beyond.
Nat looking back at Mt Washington from Monroe across Lakes of the Clouds
On Monroe summit - #2
On Monroe in the clouds
We headed back to the hut, grabbed our packs and headed back around Monroe. The southern Presis were at their most spectacular that morning. The clouds drifted in and out below us and finally left completely. It was maybe the best day that we've ever had in the mountains.
Approaching Eisenhower as the clouds lift
Removing the hitchhiking rock
Approaching Eisenhower with Monroe and Washington in the background
On Eisenhower summit - #3
Heading off Eisenhower toward Pierce
Finished Eisenhower loop
Looking back to Eisenhower from Pierce summit
(Hey, no summit photo of us? Pierce makes #4)
We headed down off Mt Pierce to Mizpah hut. The descent was not any fun - very steep and slippery - and I remember hanging onto trees along the trail all the way down to control the descent. After the previous two nights above treeline it was a bit disappointing to be at a hut without a view, but we still enjoyed it. The extra night was going to give us a nice final day to enjoy Jackson and Webster on our way down.
The steep (and slippery) descent to Mizpah hut from Pierce
Arriving at Mizpah
Mt Jackson in the distance - tomorrow morning's first destination
Part of the morning "croo" skit. You had to be there...
The next morning was beautiful again. We really enjoyed the walk from the hut to Jackson and then on to Webster.
Traversing the meadows on the way to Jackson
On Mt Jackson summit - #5
On top Mt Webster looking down into Crawford Notch
Getting a closer look down the cliffs
While we were hanging out on Mt Webster we got a couple of aerial visitors. First, there was a flyover of Air Force One with a fighter jet escort. Pretty cool! Next was a visit from a couple of Gray Jays - our first such encounter. VERY COOL!!
Air Force 1 and fighter jet guard flying over Mt Webster. Must be on the way to Kennebunkport
The first of our new friends arrives
He was happy to pose...
And happy to eat our trail mix
As long as there was food left...
They didn't want to leave
He's back again. I think he likes me.
Our little friends finally left and we headed down. Along the way we stopped and took a swim in the pool in Silver Cascade. It was just an amazing day at the end of a series of amazing days.
This was about as close to the edge of the cliff as I want to ever be...
Looking back to where we spent the last three days
We took a swim in the pool at the bottom of Silver Cascade. REALLY COLD - but refreshing
It was hot enough that even I went in!
Looking down to Highland Center from Bugle Cliff. Almost back...
And then we were done. We got back to Highland Center and checked back in for our final night and celebrated on the patio with a cold beer. We had only "gotten" 5 of our possible 8 summits, but we couldn't have cared less. Our later returns to them were all so sweet! We had four perfect days in some of the most incredible places we'd ever been and we'd fallen in love with these mountains and started a journey that is now getting ready to reach its finish. We'd also made the first of many friends that we'd share the journey with. And so the first page of chapter one was written...
Back at Highland Center looking up to Mt Webster
The victory celebration!