The Presidential Traverse is one continuous hike over all 9 mountains in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains (Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Clay, Washington, Monroe, Franklin, Eisenhower and Pierce). It’s about 20 miles long with over 9,000 feet of elevation gain. We hiked the traverse last fall, and it was definitely one of the most incredible and rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. In October, with the colorful foliage in the valley and the blanket of rime ice on the peaks, the scenery could not have been more spectacularly beautiful. I think that fall is probably the prettiest time of year to hike the Whites, but the mountains are breathtaking in any season, and ever since our last trip I’ve wanted to go back and do the traverse again in the spring to see them in a different light.
We were particularly interested in seeing the spring wildflowers in the Alpine Garden on the slopes of Mount Washington. I read that the best time to see the most blooms is generally mid-June, so we planned our trip for June 20th, weather-permitting. As it turned out, we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day to hike in the Whites–brilliantly sunny, not a cloud in the sky and 100-mile visibility. It was the kind of rare day that only happens about 20 times a year on Mount Washington.
On Saturday morning we met our friend Joel at the southern terminus of our route, leaving a car there for later, and drove north to start at the Appalachia trailhead. The parking lot there was already full, so we had to park on the side of the highway. It was a busy day in the Whites!
8:15 start at Appalachia
From there we took Valley Way to the summit of Madison. This is the longest climb of the day, as we ascend over 4,000 feet in 3.8 miles. We were able to run a good portion of the first couple of miles, but as the trail got steeper and rockier, we were reduced to a fast hike.
We broke out above the tree line at the Madison Hut, .5 miles from the summit, and from there took the Osgood Trail to the top.
Looking towards the summit
The trail turned into a rock scramble after we passed through the belt of trees you see in the picture above.
This isn’t a very good picture because we were hiking directly into the sun, but it gives you an idea of what we had to pick our way through to get to the top. Also, speaking of the sun, it was quite a warm day on the mountains, even bordering on hot when we were out of the wind, but I didn’t dare take my long sleeve shirt off because I knew I’d get roasted by the sun!
At the summit we paused to enjoy the view and get our picture taken on the tippy top. This is my favorite picture of the day. Then, we headed back down and began our climb up the next peak, Adams.
From the Madison summit, looking towards Adams in the foreground and Washington in the distance.
We made a quick stop at the Madison Hut to top off our water supplies, then took the Gulfside Trail up Adams.
Looking back on Madison as we climb Adams
Even though it’s not far from Madison to Adams (about a mile), the trail is nothing but jagged rocks and boulders the entire way, so it’s SLOOOOOOOW going.
At the summit, looking down on Madison. We climbed over rocks like these all the way up.
Selfie on the summit
Looking towards Jefferson (up next) and Washington. There’s still snow on the slopes of both peaks!
We had a longer distance (about 2.5 miles) to cover as we made our way to Jefferson, crossing the long, flat plain of Edmunds Col. The trail through this section is still completely strewn with rocks, but we did make faster time since we didn’t have to deal with a steep pitch as well.
Playing in the snow on the slopes of Jefferson!
We perched on the summit for a picture with Washington in the background.
View of Washington and beyond!
From there we headed towards Clay, which is really only a “shoulder” of Mount Washington and not technically an independent peak.
Looking back on the three monsters we just climbed!
Wildflowers on the way to Clay
It’s a little over a mile to Clay and then another mile to Washington after that.
The Great Gulf
Clay is an easy climb and before we know it we were climbing the summit cone of Mount Washington!
Our trail crossed the Cog Railroad tracks. In the background you can see Clay, Jefferson, Adams and Madison!
The Cog went by right after we crossed the tracks!
The Mount Washington summit
View to the north from the summit
We stopped at the summit to eat lunch in the cafeteria (pizza and chili!) and refill our hydration packs. We were tempted to eat outside at the picnic tables, but the temperature was only in the 40’s up there, and we were a little cold, so we stayed inside. We spent about half an hour there before heading back out again to tackle the second half of our traverse! Counting all our stops, we’d been on the trail for almost 6 hours already!
We left the summit via the Nelson Crag Trail, which would bring us to the Alpine Gardens where I hoped to see fields of wildflowers!
Only in the White Mountains does THIS qualify as a TRAIL!
Once we descended Nelson Crag, we got on the Alpine Garden Trail which cut straight across the slope of Mount Washington. It was much easier going, and the trail was beautiful, BUT there were very few wildflowers. We did enjoy the lushness of this area compared to the barrenness that is typical of the higher summits, but I was disappointed to not see more flowers.
We did see lots of these yellow flowers.
And some white ones as well, but that was about it.
Next we got on the Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail to take us back to the top of the ridge. The Alpine Garden detour added about two miles to our trip, but we really enjoyed taking a different route and seeing parts of Washington that we hadn’t seen before, especially Tuckerman’s.
There was still a good amount of snow in Tuckerman’s, and we could see recent snowboard tracks down the longest strip (which is longer than it looks in the picture ).
We linked up with the Crawford Path near the Lake of the Clouds Hut on the other side of Mount Washington, which as you can see below, is a barren tundra compared to the Alpine Garden area.
Looking back at Washington
At the Lake of the Clouds Hut we made a quick stop to top off our water again, and then we were off to tackle Monroe! I was really starting to feel the effects of the sun by this point in spite of applying sunscreen multiple times and keeping my arms covered. I felt like my skin was being roasted, and I could not wait to get back below the treeline! Unfortunately, we still had three mountains to go. :/
Lake of the Clouds
Wildflowers on the way up Monroe
On the Monroe summit!
View to the south from Monroe
After Monroe the trail gets a lot more runable and the climbs get a lot shorter, so we were able to run more and more from this point on. The mountains are a little further apart, about 1.5 miles between each summit, but we are also able to cover the ground a lot faster. On our way to Eisenhower, we hit Franklin, which is also not an independent peak, so it’s a very short climb.
A nice section of trail on the way to Eisenhower (looking back at Monroe).
Descending Monroe and heading towards our second-to-last peak, Eisenhower
Panoramic to the west
Panoramic to the east
Clouds were starting to move in by the time we summited Eisenhower, so we were getting some relief from the scorching sun. Also, at this point we were quickly approaching our final peak, Pierce, where we would finally descend back into the trees.
Pierce on the left and Eisenhower on the right
A final look back from Pierce before heading down below the treeline.
The descent from the Pierce summit to Mizpah Hut is really steep and technical, to the point where you have to hold on to the trees on the sides of the trail to help lower yourself down from rock to rock. Thankfully it’s only about half a mile. We decided not to stop at the Mizpah Hut, since we only had 2.5 miles to go, and from that point on we ran hard in spite of tired legs and sore feet.
Gibbs Falls on the way down Pierce
We popped out of the woods into the parking lot at the base of Pierce at 7:45, after covering 22 miles in 11.5 hours. We were tired, sunburned, starved, thirsty, and happy. We couldn’t have asked for a better day!