Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Night with the Presidents

Last summer I did my first 24 hour Presidential Traverse, which set into motion the goal of doing a section in winter. The Presidential Range is located in the White Mountain National Forest and includes Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Clay, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower and Pierce mountains.

I called my good friend and guide for Synott Mountain Guides, Steve, to see if he’d take me. Since his main job in the winter is to guide traverses and mountaineering courses in the Presidential’s, I figured he was my man. Steve regularly carries Tenshi and Moki for himself and his clients, but when I told him we needed to do some product testing, I think that sealed the deal.

Because I haven’t been able to do much backcountry skiing this season, we decided to bring our skis and see what kind of turns we could get. We started at Appalachia Trail via Valley Way to the Madison Hut. The air and trees were wet from rain the night before and temperatures were hovering around freezing. Once we hit tree line, there was a break in the clouds and the sun started to shine.

From the Madison Hut, we traversed around Mt. Adams to our campsite below the Israel Ridge, between Adams and Jefferson. We had covered approximately 6 miles on our skis and I was exhausted. It’s amazing how much harder and slower winter travel is. The site afforded phenomenal views of Mt. Washington and Jefferson as well as the valley below. Clear nighttime skies exposed billions of stars (although honestly, after a long day and a few nips of Wild Turkey, I was in my sleeping bag by 6:30). There is something to be said about camping under the stars far away from anyone else – it’s peaceful and encourages reflection.

Our night was uncommonly mild. Steve said he regularly encounters winds of 60-80 mph at his standard camp spot where we were. I must admit I was excited about the calm. In the morning we cooked up rice pilaf and tea and our water for the day. We then made our way up Jefferson via crampons and ice axes. Once we hit Mt. Clay, we were able to put our skis back on and skin to the summit of Washington.

Bright sunny skies made for nice spring corn – this is why we were here! After about 20 good turns below the West Summit Snowfields, we were hiking through dry ground over shrubs and rocks. Then, more good turns down Ray’s Cataract. The turns were soft and fun, even with a 40 lbs. pack. Once we got to the constriction, we decided not to take the rollover because water was flowing underneath and a big hole was visible, making for unstable conditions. So, we bushwhacked over to the Lion’s Head Trail where we once again donned crampons for the steep descent. A final 2 mile push skiing down the Sherburne Trail brought us to our car and the much anticipated six pack stashed.

After two days of traversing, we covered about 16 miles. My tired legs and blistered feet were relieved to be done. And the gear testing – a success. We were warm, dry and cozy all night. All around, a great experience that was long overdue.


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