Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mount Washington-The Annual Presidential Traverse

2011 Presidential Traverse

June 19, 2011

Mount Washington during most years creates it's own special challenge.  This year the weather looked somewhat dry, the temps cools but bearable, 30's and 40's but the wind was the big factor.  When I previewed the weather before heading out on my annual adventure it talked about windy conditions, 25-35 mph.  That is nothing for Mt. Washington so I thought it was just a walk in the park.  Never Assume!  Mt. Washington doesn't boast to having the worst weather in the world for nothing.  I started my adventure on the trail at 3:30 AM thinking I would leave a little buffer to catch the shuttle at the Highland Center at 1:30 PM to get a return trip to where I started at the Appalachia, Rt. 2 parking area.  Little did I know that the wind was to be the BIG factor in today's adventure.

I arrived at the Appalachia parking lot on Rt. 2 outside of Gorham Saturday night amongst numerous other vehicles that had hikers from the busy Saturday.  I got myself a nice spot to park the F-150 camper and got my provisions ready for the morning hike which would start at 3:30 AM.  In doing so, I was trying to figure out what to bring while at the same time looking to be a minimalist in what I bring with me.  Of course the lighter the better but be prepared for the worst on top of Mt. Washingon.  I've had many other experienced on Washington which included dodging lightning bolt to dealing with hypothermia so I never take for granted what can happen.

Up at 3:00 AM, have a little breakfast, some last minute packing and on the trail by 3:30 AM, right on schedule.  The temperature was probably in the 40's but going uphill for the first 4 1/2 miles warms you up quickly so I had on a light tech t-shirt and shorts, cap and headlamp.  The first 3 1/2 miles were uneventful, plodding along in the dark in somewhat dry conditions.  Then finally you break out from the trees.  I could hear the wind howling already and could feel the temperature drop so before continuing on I though it would be smart to take off the sweaty shirt and layer up for the wind and cold.  I put on a long sleeve tech shirt, a shell, light winter hat and gloves for the journey to the Madison Summit.  This stretch along the Watson Path is a steady uphill climb over large bolders totally exposed to the weather.  I could see the sun rising and when it briefly hit you, the warmth felt great but it had a ways to go before it was higher in the sky to really help.  As I scrambled my way up, the wind got more and more intense.  At times I had a hard time as the wind would blow me over.  There are a number of false summits along this route but having done this enough times, I knew to be patient and knew about what time I would reach the summit.  I could feel the core temp starting to drop as the wind sucked the warmth right out of the body.  I ate a quick GU hoping some calories might help.  Finally after 20-30 minutes in the cold and wind I reached the summit.  The wind at this point must have been blowing over 70.  No time to hang out, more like hang on.  I kept going, now across the summit ridge and towards the Madison shelter getting blown sideways from the wind.  I was having a hard time seeing as my eyes were watering and could feel my body shivering from the cold.  It was only a 1/2 mile down to the shelter but the west/northwest wind was right in your face.  As I approached the shelter my body was trembling from cold.  Always I have continued on without even a break at this point but not this year.  Two years ago I ended up on the summit of Mt. Washington with bad hypothermia from being exposed to wind, rain and cold and was treated to time in the infirmary wrapped in a heated blanked and down sleeping bag.  Didn't want to do that again.  Plus I was already feeling somewhat hypothermic so thought I would stop in to try to warm up.

It was just before 6:00 AM but there was some activity in the Madison Shelter.  Even inside the windows were shaking from the wind making me think twice about continuing on.  The next 3 hour stretch you are mostly exposed going through the Great Gulf Wilderness Area.  It's rare that I even see anyone going along this stretch, especially at this early hour.  I put another heavier long sleeve shirt on under my shell and kept my hat and gloves on.  Hot tea, yes that might help.  I grabbed a cup of hot tea but was having a hard time with the cup as my hands were mostly useless from the cold and I was shivering.  I got some trail mix out of my pack and was slowly eating that too, hoping the calories would help warm me up.  Still shivering I was already planning my day, plan B.  I could hike back down to the car and drive to Mansfield and run aroung the mountain as I often do.  It would be warmer there.  Still shivering I grabbed another cup of hot water and drank it, then a another.  I could see the sun coming up more and starting to hit some of the trails.  Hmm, if the warmth of the sun would help, could I continue on without getting in trouble?  After over a half hour trying to warm up I had to get going but would I be bailing out or continuing on.  I would make that decision once I was outside.  Being one not to give up easily, I thought I would continue on at least to Mt. Adams.  For a stretch I would be shielded from the wind and the sun was on the trail.  I was finally feeling better but still not warm.  It's about 30 minutes to the summit.  I also knew I would be blasted with the wind on top of Adams and hiking for a short time into the wind again.  And yes, right on schedule, got to the summit feeling good, then blasted by the wind until I got to the Gulfside Trail and then headed more south so the wind was at my back.  And so it went all the way to the summit of Mt. Washington going over Jefferson and Clay.  Along the Clay Loop it got so warm I even took my shell off but I knew it wouldn't last as the 1 mile approach to the summit is totally exposed and the wind did blow all the way but it was at my back.  I arrived at the summit with the wind blowing 53 gusting to 72 and maybe 40 degrees in the fog and glad to be inside to fuel up for the remainder of the trip.

Turkey sandwich, diet coke and some trail mix.   I checked my hydration bag and only drank about 10 ounces of fluid in 5 hours, not good.  But I did have 3 cups of tea/hot water.  I still had 30 ounces so I figured I would fill up later on to keep the pack weight down.  So I ate, sort of warmed up and back at it.  Losing time at the Madison hut, the next challenge would be getting down to catch the shuttle on time.  It would be close.  I could bypass a summit or two and make the trip shorter, but no, wouldn't even think of it.  I could always hitch a ride back.  With the wind blowing like it was I already ruled out a return trip on the trails.  Been there ,done that before in better weather but without adequate clothing this year to go into the wind into the late night hours in 30 degree temps, it was not  happening this year.  I must be getting smarter??

Saw these awesome flowers along the way.

I knew the trail down to Lake of the Clouds would be blasted with wind but after that and going down in elevation, the temps were also warming and the sun felt great.  Got up Monroe, Franklin, Eisenhower.  When I got to Pierce, I knew I had at least another 2 hours and 15 minutes to go.  Looking at my watch, it was going to be real close if I would make the shuttle.  Warming I got rid of my extra layers, hat and gloves and was down to a tech t-shirt again and cap.  I was hoping to stop at the Mizpah hut but no time.  It would be a gamble to see if I had enough fluid to complete the trip.  Onward past the hut, up Webster, Jackson and a sprint to the finish at Crawford Notch, as much as one can sprint over roots and rocks.  With 10 minutes to spare I made the shuttle for an hour ride back to the car.  Nice!

The gear:  Mizuno Cabraken 2 shoes were awesome grippinig over the rocky terrain and holding steady on the roots. The Mizuno Cabraken Shell was a life saver to help break the wind.  I used the Gregory Wasatch Active Trail Series pack which worked great.  GU brew was the fluid of choice and some GU's for quick energy throughout.

I try to make this trip every year as it's one of the best training runs I can find for the ultra races I do and was a great tune up for this year's upcomng VT 100 Mile Endurance Run and the Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc.   It's always a challenge and can kick my butt and usually does.  And I always learn something on these adventures up Mt. Washington and this year was no exception.  Pack some warmer clothes!!


Digger said...

Thanks for the updates, Jack. I once left the parking lot at the bottom of Mt. Washington (in September),it was in the 80's. By the time I hit the top, it was freezing rain blowing straight sideways. And I took the cog railway!
I really appreciate your updates.I would love to know your weekly training program, I am your age, but have a real injury problem when I over-train.

plumbfool said...

good story. I've never been on the top of mt washington with less than seemingly gale-force winds, but this sounds a little more adventurous than this old man could handle. it's the cold .