How to Make the Most of a Long Summer Day: The Prezi Traverse

At over 23 miles and with more than 9,000 feet of elevation gain, a one-day Presidential Range Traverse is no small feat. To get the best visibility, those attempting it often schedule their journey close to the summer solstice to maximize available daylight. Generally, experienced, fit hikers can complete the Traverse in 12 to 14 hours, while it can take about 18 to 20 for those less fit.

The route is most often traveled from north to south to get the majority of elevation gains over early. There are a few approaches, but most hikers choose either Valley Way or Airline. After Mt. Madison, the Gulfside trail is followed most of the way south, with diversions over individual peaks. Once Washington is achieved, the Crawford Path, the oldest-used footpath in the U.S., brings you through the Southern Presidentials, with spur trails allowing you to tag the actual summits.

  1. Mt. Madison – 5367 feet

  2. Mt. Adams – 5774 feet

  3. Mt. Jefferson – 5712 feet

  4. Mt. Clay – 5533 feet

  5. Mt. Washington – 6288 feet

  6. Mt. Monroe – 5384 feet

  7. Mt. Franklin – 5001 feet

  8. Mt. Eisenhower – 4780 feet

  9. Mt. Pierce – 4310 feet

  10. Mt. Jackson – 4052 feet

It should be noted those who have already bagged these peaks on other trips may opt to bypass them on a traverse, saving significant time and effort, while others may argue this was not a “true” traverse.

The Saturday before or the Saturday after the solstice is probably the most popular time to get through this trek. If you work Monday to Friday, you are really going to want all day Sunday to recover!

During this timeframe, intrepid hikers have almost 16 hours of useable daylight. Daylight, however, is not really the main issue, as a quality headlamp can make night hiking quite enjoyable. Instead, full-moon traverses are still possible when the weather is stable, so with any above-treeline White Mountain adventure, it really comes down to this factor.

[Credit: Ryan Wichelns]
[Credit: Ryan Wichelns]

Tip #1: Be flexible

It would be wise to keep checking the Higher Summits Forecast every Thursday if you are thinking, “This Saturday might be the day!” Because of this aspect, don’t lock into the Saturday before or after the solstice. Rather, give yourself two weekends as potential green-light dates. As you do, pay close attention to the weather. Low pressure coming in with freezing rain and high winds? Not this weekend. High pressure cresting on Saturday with a stable-looking Sunday? Let’s go for it!

Tip #2: Carry the right gear

If you’ve been planning this trip, you probably know a good amount about the gear you should take hiking. But for this journey specifically, aim for a total pack weight no greater than 15 lbs., including 100 oz. of water in a hydration bladder. While you shouldn’t skimp on proper clothing and food, realize the goal is to keep moving, so a light pack will really help here. As well, trekking poles should not be sacrificed to save weight; instead, use them for ascent and descent.

Tip #3: Plan for the best, and prepare for the worst

Mountain weather is fickle, and physical fitness sometimes eludes us. While this traverse is committing, it is not without escape routes, so find them in advance. Study the map to know which trail offers the best getaway below tree-line from each section of the route – hopefully, on the same side as your vehicle.

Also, consider carrying a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon), but realize the very important fact that outside help can often be 12 or more hours away! So, for these extreme cases, be self sufficient and know how to self-rescue!

Tip #4: Bailing is not failing

Success in the mountains is not judged by the summits reached or miles covered. Instead, it is judged by whether you had fun with your friends and made it home safe – that is the most important part of any mountain adventure. If the weather turns, or if a companion isn’t feeling great, do the right thing and shorten the trip – it’s okay. The range has been there for thousands of years, and it will be there for thousands more, so you can alway come back next year to try again!


The Top 3 Quiet New Hampshire Hikes for Dads and Kids

As Father’s Day approaches, warm weather and groups of hikers return to New Hampshire’s mountains. If you know where to look, Western New Hampshire has a variety of short, kid-friendly hikes that provide the perfect combination of solitude and wonderful views. Meeting this description, here are three going through New Hampshire’s most underrated mountains – just remember to bring your bug spray!

1. Mount Cardigan via West Ridge Trail – Orange, NH

2.8 miles out and back

This trail leaves Cardigan Mountain Road in Orange, New Hampshire, and climbs a moderate grade for a little under a mile and a half through a mix of conifers and hardwoods. After crossing a footbridge, the West Ridge Trail opens up to the south and west, offering grand views of Vermont and Southern New Hampshire. Once you reach the summit, a completely panoramic scene offers a stunning glimpse of the White Mountains.

[Photo: Dennis Follensbee]
[Photo: Dennis Follensbee]

2. Lake Solitude on Mt. Sunapee via Andrew Brook Trail – Newbury, NH

4.0 miles out and back

Leaving Mountain Road, off NH Route 103 in Newbury, New Hampshire, the trail begins with a cool and quiet climb to Mount Sunapee’s secluded Lake Solitude, following and crossing Andrew Brook in the process. The trail tops off at the White Ledges, with clear views south to Lake Solitude, Lovewell Mountain, and Sunapee Ridge.

3. Bald Peak via Kinsman Ridge Trail and Spur – Easton, NH

4.6 miles out and back

Bald Peak may be reached from NH Route 116, using the Mount Kinsman and the Bald Peak Spur Trails. This route travels below a cool canopy of hardwoods and small cascades, while the moderate elevation gives you access to magnificent views of Moosilauke, the Green Mountains, and Kinsman Ridge.

[Photo: Dennis Follensbee]
[Photo: Dennis Follensbee]

20 Years Later on Cannon Cliff

It was 1994, and I was 16 years old. I had been spending every paycheck I earned after school at the Salem, N.H., EMS on climbing gear. While cooling off one night at the long-since-closed Mill City Rock Gym, I thumbed through a climbing magazine article titled “Ten Classic Trad Climbs Under 5.10.” Number 6 on this list? Lakeview, Cannon Cliff, N.H., Grade 3 YDS 5.6.

I was intrigued. Moderate multi-pitch climbing in New Hampshire? I had to do this. I started obsessing about it that summer. My first attempt was with my assistant manager, Peg Foss. We drove up I-93 in a light drizzle that ended right as we arrived at the iconic Franconia Notch. The cliff looked like it might dry, so we hiked up to the base. I took the first pitch – damp 5.3 climbing but doable. Peg started up the second pitch and, at the first overlap, struggled, yelling “Watch me,” and then slipped off.

It was her first leader fall.

It was my first leader fall catch.

She slid past me on the slab with enough time to make eye contact and ask, “You got me!?”

Her only piece, an inverted pink Tricam, kept her from going more than a few feet past the belay. Her ankle was bruised, and she had torn through her nylon hiking pants to her underwear, but we somehow decided it would be a good idea to keep going. I volunteered to do all the leading.

Two pitches from the top, the description in the guidebook confused me: “Up this gully into a left-facing book”?

“Well, this must be it,” I thought.

20 minutes later, while sketching out in what I later discovered was off-route 5.8x terrain, I finally admitted defeat and lowered off a suspicious horn, and we bushwhacked our way off the route to the north. After 20 years, I still remember it as being one of the most heinous bushwhacks of my life.

[Photo: Dave Lottman]
[/media-credit] [Photo: Dave Lottman]
So, then, my junior year of high school started.

For my second attempt, I convinced a schoolmate to play hookie to “Come try rock climbing.” I drove us north up I-93 with a borrowed harness and convinced myself he would be fine following in sneakers. At the top of the second pitch, he declared he was terrified and didn’t want to continue, so I traversed out right into the shrubbery and embarked on the second-worst bushwhack of my life.

On my third attempt, I teamed up with Tom. We arrived at the base of the route just as another party was starting. I did everything I could to stay on their heels, so I would find the correct finish to the climb. Finally, I stood out on the Old Man’s Brow and tried to take in the amazing valley that sprawled below me, having just completed my first multi-pitch rock climb: In only three attempts, in just under nine hours.

It’s been 20 years. What has changed? There were the four years in the Marines, covering 18 countries in five continents. Then, getting out and moving back to N.H., and going back to work for EMS in Newington, N.H. Transfer up to North Conway. Retail. Waiting tables. Bartending. Seeing people die in the mountains. Avalanche courses. Guiding courses. The Old Man falls down! Get hired as a guide. More courses. A couple more deaths. Some…Strangers in the mountains doing what they loved, and others…much closer.

A girlfriend. A fiancee. A wife! A son! A daughter!

Here I am, 20 years later, now back at the climb that made me a climber, leading Oliver, who started climbing a decade before I was born and was now making his way back into the sport after a 30-year hiatus. For this adventure, he still used the 40-year-old backpack he climbed with in Yosemite and the Cascades!

Here I am, 20 years later, now back at the climb that made me a climber.

[Photo: Dave Lottman]
[/media-credit] [Photo: Dave Lottman]
We left the car at 10:35 a.m. – a late start for Cannon in my opinion, but Oliver had shown endurance and skill over the past few weeks when climbing with me on Cathedral and Whitehorse, and I was confident we could make good time.

We reached the base of the climb in about 35 minutes. I had mistakenly took us up the Moby Grape approach trail, forgetting that the Lakeview trail requires taking a hard right on the Pemi Trail after crossing the bridge. No matter, I thought, as this only cost us five to 10 minutes. We roped up and off we went.

We made fairly good time up the first four pitches. The Old Man falling in 2003 had greatly altered the fifth pitch, and I chose to do the uphill tree thrutching bypass to the right to gain the traverse over to “Lunch Ledge.” Here, at 12:30 p.m., we took a minute to eat and drink.

Then, we went up the two iconic last pitches, where you’ll find some of the best 5.5 and 5.6 climbing anywhere.

All day in the back of my mind, I had been thinking about the memorable “Archival” Flake that guards the fun-stemming corner at the top. This flake has frustrated quite a few good climbers, and for the leader, it is a bit of a no-fall zone, due to the low-angle slab below it. I had it mastered 20 years ago, and today, muscle memory brought me up it via “monter a cheval,” or “mount the horse.”

At 2 p.m., we reached the top. While the flake move had provided a solid challenge for Oliver, the reward was obvious.

“This may be the greatest climb I have ever done,” said the guy who used to stay in Camp Four and lead friends on climbs in the Cascades in his college years.

It was at this moment I realized I first stood up here 20 years ago, a somewhat reckless teenager getting hooked on something that would steer my life forever.

After a 30-minute break, we made our way down the descent trail, reaching the car at 3:15 p.m. Along the way, I continued to pique Oliver’s interest in some of the area’s great climbing spots.


Presidential Traverse Under the Super Moon

We stepped out of the brush for, as far as I could tell, the last time, and clicked off our headlamps. It only took a minute for my eyes to adjust to a full moon. It floated off to our right, casting long shadows across the alpine tundra in front of us, easily bright enough to keep us from stumbling on every rock, but the peaks ahead were just silhouettes along the horizon.

Any mountain that advertises itself as having “the world’s worst weather,” must obviously be a pretty serious objective in the daylight. So for me, it was obvious. Of course! Let’s try it in the dark!

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 5.06.31 PM

Known for it’s sudden mood swings, abnormal cold, and extreme winds, Mount Washington has never been an objective for the faint of heart and certainly not when it’s undertaken as the crown jewel of a 22-mile Presidential Range traverse. But any hike becomes a completely different experience when it’s done without the aid of the sun. Visibility is the first and most obvious thing to go. Visibility to see incoming weather, the trail, the summertime views. Not that this is entirely a bad thing, the mountains at night are surreal. Try your hardest, no matter where you go, to get a cool, clear night. As it gets dark, the most spectacular views very quickly shift from below you, to above you.

The Mount Washington Observatory as seen on a night time hike in early September.
The Mount Washington Observatory as seen on a night time hike under the supermoon earlier this summer.

But probably the most important piece of gear that you can bring on any hike like this is a good headlamp. True, we didn’t use it for the majority of our late-night trek, but having something you can count on is essential. Any who knows, maybe you’re brave enough to try a hike even without moonlight. My pick: the Petzl Tikka R+. The active lighting technology is not only extremely cool, but incredibly functional when you’re going back and forth from looking at the cairn in the distance, to the trail at your feet, to the map in front of your face.

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And definitely try and time it so that you can experience both sunset and sunrise from up high. With a Prezi Traverse, you probably won’t have much of a choice, but on anything shorter it’s worth watching the sun go down on one side, only to have it come up on the opposite side hours later. It’s a strange realization and proof of all those astronomy lessons you got in school. Not to mention just being above the treeline for sunrise or sunset is one of the most spectacular displays of color and light on earth. Imagine having both of them rolled into one hike!

It might not hit you until later on, but the next thing that goes is your stamina. Those of us who can’t survive completely on hiking also can’t disrupt our entire sleep/wake cycle days in advance to become nocturnal. So by the time we finished in Appalachia the next morning, I had been awake for approximately 28 hours, the last 15 of which had included nine peaks and 8300 vertical feet of elevation gain. Add another six hours until we got home, and I was destroyed.

Food was my best solution. Don’t plan on having a sit-down meal at 2:30 in the morning, instead bring a lot of little, energy-dense snacks that you can pick on every hour or so to keep your sugar levels up and mind entertained. I did it with a good supply of Honey Stinger Waffles, Cliff Shot Blocks, and Snickers bars.

Also have a good supply of water. What’s normally available in the Appalachian Mountain Club huts along the way, becomes a little harder to get once the huts are shut down and everyone’s asleep for the night. In an emergency, it’s there, but I’d rather not barge in and risk upsetting anyone not as crazy as I am. A 3 liter Reservoir, topped off at Mizpah Spring Hut before it got too late, came down to it’s last few sips as I was strolling into the parking lot the next morning.

Any hike you think you know becomes something totally new after dark, just as long as you’ve done the right planning and have all the right equipment for it. Give it a try, take your favorite daytime hike, sleep in a little bit, and head out just before dark. And if you’re up for the challenge, a beautiful night entirely above treeline on the Presidential Range is a spectacular take on the nightlife.


Chesterfield Gorge: Adventure at its Easiest

They may not be on your adventure bucket list and they’re easy to take for granted but local outdoor places like parks, wildlife preserves and bird sanctuaries deserve our respect. That said, I’m willing to bet that there are some local outdoor places in your community that you’ve driven by a thousand times but never gotten around to visiting. We have plenty of excuses–we’re busy, we’ll do it next weekend, it’s for tourists.  Because these outdoor gems are so close to home, we may even wonder how good could they be?

The Chesterfield Gorge is located on the westbound side of Route 9 in Chesterfield, NH–less than 7 miles from my house.
The Chesterfield Gorge is located on the westbound side of Route 9 in Chesterfield, NH–less than 7 miles from my house.

Since moving to Keene, NH in 2007, the local outdoor place I’ve most wanted to visit but always found an excuse not to check out is Chesterfield Gorge. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told my wife “we should go there someday” as we whizzed by on our way to or from the Brattleboro Farmers’ Market. It wasn’t until earlier this summer when we finally pulled in, with nothing but the clothes on our back and seven years’ worth of curiosity.

Trail Sign

That’s the beauty of most local outdoor places–you don’t need a lot of gear and the toughest decision you have to make in your trip planning is where to go for ice cream or beers afterward.

Trail

Another great quality of most local outdoor places is you don’t have to be a serious or experienced outdoor enthusiast to enjoy them. In the case of Chesterfield Gorge, the  trail is well-marked and quite easy to access for hikers of all ages and abilities. If you’re bringing little ones, you’ll be happy to know there are fences to block them from the 20′ drop to the gorge below.

Falls Distance

I can’t guarantee that every local outdoor place you visit will be an unforgettable experience but going someplace you’ve never been before is the surest way to position yourself for a pleasant surprise. Less than 10 minutes after leaving the Chesterfield Gorge trailhead, my wife and I found ourselves gazing at a fascinating waterfall that we never would have expected to find such a short distance from downtown Keene.

Pool

Relaxation is another hallmark of local outdoor places. Whether you’re picnicking with your family in an urban oasis like Central Park or exploring the trails of an Audubon Society nature preserve, you’re blood pressure and stress level are sure to benefit.

Flip flops

If you’re lucky, you’ll even find a place to kick off your shoes and dip your feet into water so cold, it makes you forget how hot you are, what time it is and why you never got around to visiting this local outdoor place sooner. For my wife and me, our spontaneous trip to Chesterfield Gorge has been one of the highlights of our summer and we can’t wait to go back when air is crisp, the mosquitos are gone and the fall colors are exploding. It’s less than 15 minutes from our house so really, we have no excuse.

What’s your favorite local outdoor place? Leave a comment and tell me about it!