The Presidential Traverse. Most hikers have heard of it, many have attempted it, and some can say they’ve conquered it. It’s a daunting journey up and over the rocky peaks of the Presidential Range in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Not only is it physically demanding, but it can take a toll on your psyche and break down even the strongest of hikers. Finding the nerve to take on the Presi Traverse is an accomplishment in itself. Finding someone to take on this journey with you is a very challenging task. Finding a large group of people to share this experience with, well that just seems like an impossibility. At least that’s the way I felt before I found out about The Camp Casco Champions.

Camp Casco is a New England based non-profit that offers summer camping programs for children impacted by cancer. At Camp Casco, a space is created for kids to reclaim their childhood. It is a magical place where children can laugh and play, and the cancer stigma takes a back seat. This is a tremendous and welcome relief for those who have felt defined by this label in everyday life. Research shows that summer camps for children with cancer reduce disease-related anxiety, increase independence, improve social skills, and improve self-image. Camp Casco provides these benefits to New England kids free-of-cost, giving patients, survivors, and siblings the chance to make lasting memories and build lifelong friendships.

Most non-profits will host a 5k, a casino night, or a golf outing, but my friends at Camp Casco thought that hiking the Presidential Traverse would be a great way to fundraise for the children that attend their camps. When I heard about the idea in 2020, I was immediately all in. Unfortunately the pandemic disallowed us from hiking as a team in our first year, but that didn’t stop me from making my way to New Hampshire to take on The Presi in a one day solo effort. I had a beautiful experience that day, and I was elated when I got to the finish line in Crawford Notch. But I couldn’t help but think of how amazing it would be to hike out of those woods with a group of people all glowing and smiling together after completing such an awesome feat. I knew right then and there, that I would be returning as a Camp Casco Champion.

Coach Scotty & Amy on Jefferson’s snow ledge.

For the past two years I have been the Coach of the Champions, and I will just go ahead and say it now, I am a lifer! We have come up with a very solid game plan for our Champions to be successful in their bid to complete The Presidential Traverse. We have turned it into a two day section hike, with our home base being at Joe Dodge Lodge in Pinkham Notch. The first day we start around sunrise at Appalachia Trailhead, make our way up Valley Way until we get above treeline, and then we summit Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Clay, and the almighty Washington. The Northern Presidentials are absolutely brutal, both physically and mentally. It is not your average day of hiking, and you’ll find yourself begging for a piece of path to hike on as you make your way from rock to rock. After we summit Washington, we are driven down the Auto Road and we stay at Joe Dodge, where we enjoy amenities like hot showers, great food, and a warm bed. On day two we are shuttled back up to the top of Washington, and then we make our way through the Southern Presidentials: Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, and we also include Franklin, Jackson, and Webster in our Traverse. The second day of hiking is quicker and doesn’t have nearly as much elevation gain as day one. However, it can still be exhausting after a long first day, and all of the descent can be hard on the knees.

Day 2 push from Washington.

This year’s Champions were a very strong bunch of hikers who hail from 5 different states: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and California. The 14 of us came together the first weekend in June. The first Sunday in June is National Cancer Survivors Day, and finishing the hike on this celebrated day definitely adds some mojo and meaning to the whole weekend. All of the Champions are paired with one of the incredible kids that attend Camp Casco, which gives the Champions and their supporters and donors a better chance to understand the childhood cancer survivors that they’re impacting by taking on this challenge. All of the Champions also agree to a fundraising minimum of $1,600, which is the cost of sending one child to Camp Casco for an entire week.

Camp Champs on Adams.

The weather we encountered over the weekend was both accommodating and playful at the same time. I had told everyone that the winds on Madison and Adams would most likely be whipping us around, but that never came to fruition. The weather was actually as good as it can be for our trek across the Northern Presidentials, but some of the hikers in the lead pack did get hailed on for a brief moment on their way up to the Washington summit. We were however greeted with a beautiful rainbow in the Great Gulf Wilderness as we finished up the first day of hiking. The beginning of the second day started off with a scare as we were told that the Auto Road had frozen over up at the higher elevations. Our angst was quickly alleviated as we were picked up by the two shuttles and whisked away up to the top. When we did arrive at the summit of Mount Washington we were greeted with below freezing temps, howling winds, and rocks that were lightly coated in frost and ice. So we did get to experience some of the wackiness that comes with the territory of being exposed to some of the most unpredictable weather in the world. As we made our way down to The Lake of the Clouds Hut, we were enveloped by a black and gray canopy in the sky, even though in the distance we were surrounded by valleys that were coated in sunshine with brilliant blues and greens for as far as the eye can see. It was like hiking in a Bob Ross painting.

There were many highlights over the weekend: everyone seemed to love the challenge of hiking up Star Lake Trail to the summit of Adams. Crossing the snow ledge on Jefferson was both exhilarating and sketchy at the same time. The weather we experienced on Washington will be something we always remember. The views on top of Eisenhower and Jackson were breathtaking, and hanging out by the waterfall on our way down from Webster was a great way to finish up our hike together. But the true highlights stem from the camaraderie and lifelong friendships that we made as we took on this adventure together. There’s something very special about doing something like this as a group, and hiking for a cause is an amazing way to support such a wonderful and inspiring organization like Camp Casco.

Mount Washington on Day 2.

The final tally raised by the 2022 Champions and Trailblazers (Camp Casco supporters doing their own hikes around the world) was a whopping $75,000, which means that 46 children will be attending Camp Casco this summer because of these hiking endeavors! I’d like to thank my fellow Champions for being an inspiration to so many: Sarah Lenau, who is also the creator of the Camp Champions program; Ellen Estabrook, who is also a team member for Eastern Mountain Sports; Marissa Fletcher, who is the other Champions Coach; Tami Webster, Joe Negri, Amy Gramling, Brian Rudenauer, Meg McCullough, Jishnu Saha, Tristan Kijak, Amy Schade, Scott Barros, and Kristen Troilo. And we couldn’t have done this without our dynamic duo support crew, so a big thank you goes to Grace Chen and Erin Fletcher Stern, who just so happens to be the President and CEO of Camp Casco.

If you’re interested in becoming a 2023 Camp Casco Champion or Trailblazer, visit here.

Post-hike with Camper Buddies.