Things I Don’t Want to Forget: Presidential Traverse

Presidential Traverse | My Monotonous Life

The Hike of Doom never disappoints!

I’m pretty sure that Mark, Erica, and I hadn’t even finished hiking Mt Washington last year before we had started to plot a longer hike this year. I’m the avid researcher of our trio, so I spent plenty of time over the winter day dreaming about t and digging up info on possible routes, and we ultimately came up with a hut-to-hut hike of the Presidential Traverse. At a minimum the Presidential Traverse is about 20 miles, seven 4,000+ ft peaks, and over 8,000 ft of elevation gain. Our plan worked out to 20.24 miles, seven peaks (all over 4,000 ft), 9,001 ft of elevation gain, and 8,378 ft of elevation loss.


Dear knees,

I’m sorry.

Love & glucosamine,



To say that I have been looking forward to this hike for months is an understatement. I had a lot of awesome things to look forward to this summer (Chicago! Falmouth! Weddings! Heaps of other stuff I won’t list!), but this trip has been at the top of the list despite being a relatively short one and including as much sweating as it did relaxing.

To say that this trip lived up to all of my expectations is also an understatement. Theoretically this “things I don’t want to forget” format means it’s a shorter post, but I don’t think that’s going to hold true…regardless, there’s a photo dump on Flickr and these are the things I don’t want to forget:

  • On Saturday, we caught the hiker shuttle from our endpoint to our starting point. The shuttle takes an hour and I suspect it’s normally a quiet ride at 9am. We picked up a family at the second stop, and the mother, Shannon, sat with me across the aisle from Mark and Erica. Our 5am start was extra early for me (whenever the three of us are planning a hike I groan when they tell me what time we’re starting), so I was letting them carry the conversation. We had already been up for four and a half hours and were full of “let’s get this show on the road” energy, and as we were chatting and laughing hysterically about things that weren’t all that funny, she turned to me and asked “are they like this all the time?! Do they ever crash?!?” I told her that this is 100% standard for them at any hour of the day, but I’m not sure she believed me. Until we caught up with her again at Madison Spring, where we were equally as hyper and loud. Surprisingly, she (and her husband and son) didn’t run screaming to find new seats when we sat down with them for dinner.
  • We dropped our packs at Madison Spring, had “lunch” (my fourth meal of the day, but it was around 12:30 so that makes it lunch?), and then headed up the last half mile to summit Mt Madison. Mark and Erica go up much faster than I do, so I when I finally got to the summit a few minutes later they were already up there, standing next to a couple who had been on the shuttle with us earlier that morning. I got there and pointed at the couple and was all “hey! I know you!” But you guys? I totally don’t know them. They were normal and quiet and were probably trying to avoid us on the shuttle. I force friendship with strangers while I’m in the hiking with the same dedication with which I avoid eye contact with strangers while riding the T.
  • Steaming feet! Gross, but also hilarious? Maybe just gross.
  • Speaking of forcing people to be friends with me, I would like to state for the record that while we did make friends with a lovely family on this trip, it was THEM that found US this time! I offered to share our deck of cards with Ben when he was looking for some in the afternoon, but it was his father Gary who chose to sit with us at dinner and there was no going back after that. Bonus: they were also staying at Lakes on Sunday night, so the fun didn’t have to end after just one vicious post-dinner game of Hearts.

Presidential Traverse | My Monotonous Life

  • We caught most of the sunset from Madison (I’m such a jerk – I kept thinking “meh, the sunset from Lakes is so much better” but the truth is that the sunset at Madison is equally beautiful even if it isn’t a straight westerly view), but I didn’t think about going back out after it was dark (it was cold, I’m a wuss). Then I went to bed, and holy cow! I had an amazing view of the stars out of the window next to my bunk. Given that I woke up no fewer than a half dozen times over the course of the night, I took complete advantage of that view.
  • Sunday started off with a bang! By “with a bang” I mean “with losing Erica”. Erica took off like the mountain goat that she is as we headed from the hut to summit our first peak of the day, Mt Adams, and left Mark and I straggling behind. We scaled the boulder pile that is Adams, got to the top…and she wasn’t there. It was windy and chilly and incredibly foggy and we figured she must have headed down to keep moving and stay warm, so we took our photo and started down. Maybe five minutes later we thought we heard my name, but when we turned around the group behind us didn’t acknowledge us and we couldn’t see anything through the fog, so we kept going. Then we heard my name again, and realized that Erica somehow ended up behind us. We hollered back asking where she was and heard “I’M AT THE TOP OF F*CKING MOUNT ADAMS!” Hilarity ensued (for Mark and I. Erica? Not so much), and you better believe that Erica learned quickly to stay within sight/hearing of us for the rest of our trip.
  • Sunday was brutal. It was 7.9 miles, 3,540 feet of elevation gain, and about 3,300 ft of elevation loss…we went up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down all. day. long. But after we had descended Jefferson, as we were working our way towards, up, and over Clay and about four miles into our day (I think), I could NOT stop looking around and feeling overwhelmingly happy. Hands down this ~2 miles was my favorite hiking of the trip.

Presidential Traverse | My Monotonous Life

  • S: “I see Crawford Path!” M: “You see AFRICA!?!” Almost, Mark. Almost. Let me tell you three more times so that you will actually hear it.
  • Swimming at Lakes! So cold. SO cold! So worth it. But seriously. SO EFFING COLD.
  • Monday morning, before we left Lakes, I forced our new friends to both take a photo with us and to add us as friends on facebook while explaining that they were stuck with me for life (it’s like I’m the little sister they never wanted!). This is how I operate. At least I told them it was happening instead of saying goodbye and acting like we would never meet again all normal-like…and then later using my stalker skillz to find them on facebook, like I did last year to Viagara and He Who Shall Not Be Trail Named.

Presidential Traverse | My Monotonous Life

  • We kept bumping into another couple who had been on the hiker shuttle with us, but instead of accosting them anonymously I introduced myself to them when we bumped into them at the summit of Mt Eisenhower. We crossed paths again when we stopped for a break at Mizpah Springs, but they left to head down the final ~2.5 miles before we did. About halfway down, we came across Dave standing in the middle of the trail, looking into the trees and looking rattled. As soon as he saw us, he told us he had been rushed by a squirrel and let us pass him while he recovered from the shock…we realized Liz wasn’t with him and asked if the squirrel had got her. Turns out she was just rocketing downhill, so when we caught up with her about a quarter mile from the trailhead we told her that Dave had been rushed by a squirrel and her response was “is that what he said to tell me?!” I told her that it was true, that there was blood everywhere. ;) (We’re super hilarious to run into in the middle of the woods.) She was a good sport and we assured her that he really was fine and she did not have to go back to find him, and then we were off on the final flat stretch back to the car.
  • That final flat stretch? Easy hiking but so warm and so moist…like being in a crock pot. The difference in temperature between the valley and the summits is sometimes jarring. The analogies you make after three days in the woods are also sometimes jarring.

Presidential Traverse | My Monotonous Life
Hike of Doom 2015, I can’t wait to see what you’ve got!

Mt Washington

A few notes…this is long overdue! I haven’t blogged since July, because I’ve been busy having fun. But this was too awesome not to blog about, so let’s travel back in time! Also, you should grab a beverage or a snack, this is going to be a long one.

Long before it started to feel like summer around here, I was thinking about what I was going to put on my Summer 2013 To Do List (which I never shared here, please forgive me). I can’t remember what first inspired the idea, but hiking Mt Washington in New Hampshire was at the very top of that list. I didn’t know if Pete would be interested, but I knew my friend Mark would be – Mark is an avid hiker and probably the person most responsible for my realization, about six years ago, that I love to hike. Most importantly, Mark is a “yes guy”. As in:

Sarah: Hey, I’m thinking about doing this crazy/random/adventurous/weird thing…you interested?

Mark: YES, of course.

I knew that all I needed to do to make Mt Washington happen was to plant the seed of thought in Mark’s head, so at some point a few months back I mentioned to him in passing that it was on my Summer To Do List….and Mark said YES!  And then our friend Erica said “HELL YES!”. And that is how this came about:

7.18.2013_Mt Wash_22

Much like my trip to Melbourne, there are heaps of photos (see all of them here) and I could tell you stories about our trip for hours, but I’m going to (try to) spare you and take the “things I don’t want to forget” approach:

  • We stopped for gas and snacks just after getting off of Route 3 in the White Mountains, at a podunk general store. We were so focused on trying to decide what exactly we each wanted to snack on, that it took us a while to notice that the photos plastered all over the wall? They were 8.5×11 printouts of pro-gun slogans/photos/memes. Covering Every. Inch. of wall space that wasn’t dedicated to displaying product.  This is one of the signs that was just next to the door.
  • We decided to drive to NH on Wednesday after work and stay overnight about fifteen minutes from the base of the mountain, so that we could get an early start without having to get up before dawn. We got to the hotel around 10:30 and as we were checking in we asked if the pool was still open. The kid checking us in pretty quickly replied “no”, so I asked what the pool hours were, knowing it was unlikely that it would be open before we were planning to leave the next morning, but figuring it was worth checking. That’s when our young friend backtracked a bit…”well, technically it’s open until eleven, but you won’t have enough time.” CHALLENGE ACCEPTED, young sir! It took us less than ten minutes to finish checking in, get to our room, change into bathing suits, and get ourselves to the pool. And then we enjoyed twenty glorious minutes of swimming and splashing and hot tubbing, before someone came to clean up and close down the pool. Erica and I are pretty convinced that if we had hidden Mark somewhere, we could have flirted and convinced the kid to let us stay longer.

7.18.2013_Mt Wash_24

  • It is so surreal at the summit! You have this grueling three hour hike, scrambling up boulders and picking your way through boulder fields…and then there are all these cars and people in flip flops drinking Starbucks iced coffees all over the place! And full on civilization. We were shopping at the gift shop! We had cell service! We mailed postcards! We bought lunch at a cafeteria! You launch straight back out of the wilderness (on trails where death is not that small of a possibility) and back into civilization with the snap of your fingers…and then you hop back on a trail and it’s gone again in a few minutes.
  • Trail names! We had Bruiser (surprisingly, not my trail name!), Frenchy, and Cai (that one’s me) to start…we added “Rob”, Viagra, and He Who Has No Trail Name after making friends at Lakes of the Clouds.
  • Speaking of making friends – that was easily one of my favorite parts of the trip! Lakes is a hut run by the Appalachian Mountain Club that is around 1,000 ft below the summit of Mt Washington. And it’s amazing. They feed you a crazy delicious family style dinner and breakfast, have bunk rooms (with mattress and pillow provided), and bathrooms with cold running water. The bunk rooms sleep between 10-15 people per room, I think – ours had 5 sets of triple bunks. And ours was, obviously, where all the cool kids were. We LOVED the people we met in our bunk room and had tons of fun getting to know them, generally harassing them by giving them trail names they didn’t want (I don’t know why he’s not proud to be Viagra!), and forcing them into playing crazy eights with us past lights out (or “poor man’s Uno”, as our new English friend Rob – trail name “Rob” – dubbed it).

7.18.2013_Mt Wash_41

  • Post-hike swimming (in the lakes for which Lakes of the Clouds hut is named). It started with just soaking our feet in the cold water. Then Mark went in wearing his boxers. Then Erica was convinced to go in wearing her tank top and underwear. Then I was convinced to go in wearing my capris and sports bra (and heart rate monitor…oops! No worries – it still works). It was pretty awesome, despite how cold the water was. Later, while playing crazy eights, we were talking about our respective swims and Rob commented “I felt like that swim really put hair on my chest. Like I could actually feel it growing when I jumped in” and I was all “Oh my God! ME TOO!” ;)

7.18.2013_Mt Wash Swim_4

  • We made friends on the trails, too – I love that it’s so natural in that environment. When you’re all bumping into each other hiking around a mountain, it seems like everyone is super nice and ready to chat. We met Joanna, who was participating in Seek the Peek, along Lions Head Trail on our way up. She and I chatted for a while as we picked our way through the boulder fields – about the mountain, hiking, and how lucky she is to live with the White Mountains in her backyard. Then we ran into her again at the summit – she’s the one that took the first photo in this post! On our second day, we bumped into two parents looking for their kids. We chatted with them about what trails they were hiking and what we were doing and then went on our way. We ran into them again later, after they had reunited with their kids (who aren’t really kids – they’re in college) and were chatting again. As we were heading past them, their daughter looked at Erica and I and said “hey, it’s the crazy eights girls”. Maybe we were a little rowdy?
  • This conversation highlighting my complete lack of US History knowledge:

Erica: “Pierce – was he a president?”

Sarah: “If it wasn’t on West Wing, I don’t know!”

  • Fog, fog, fog. You guys, there was so. much. fog. While I love getting to the top of a mountain and seeing the sweeping views you are rewarded with…there’s something pretty awesome about hiking in the fog, too. It’s eerie and awesome and gross and beautiful all at once.

7.18.2013_Mt Wash_47


This is everyone that made it to New Hampshire – some for the whole week, some for a few days. There are a few of these pictures, but I think this is probably one of the best…although certainly not the funniest!


We went for a sleigh ride! New Hampshire is pretty. That’s Samson on the left and Copper on the right – they’re brothers and are 16 and 14 years old. Copper is kind of a slacker.