Presi Traverse -- High Low?

Submitted by Nancy

Mountains: Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Clay, Washington, Monroe, Franklin, Eisenhower, Pierce, Jackson & Webster
Date: July 31, August 1 & 2, 2008
Weather: We encountered everything from rain to fog to sunshine, and surprisingly very little wind!
Steps: 89,934
Elevation Gain: 10,175
7/31/08: Valley Way, up Madison summit, down to Madison Hut
8/1/08: Gulfside Trail, up and over the summits of Adams, Jefferson, Clay and Washington, down Crawford Path to Lakes of the Clouds Hut
8/2/08: Crawford Path, up and over the summits of Monroe, Franklin, Eisenhower & Pierce, to Webster Cliff Trail, bagging Jackson and Webster and down the Webster-Jackson Trail to the Highland Center

Picture Gallery

And when the night is cloudy,
there is still a light that shines on me,
shine until tomorrow, let it be.

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

      The Beatles, Let It Be

On the way home from our three-day Presidential Traverse (I know, I know, people do it in a day -- but our goal wasn't to kill ourselves, it was to enjoy ourselves) Pat said, "High Low?"

High/Low is a game I love to play with my family on vacations and family trips where we share our highest high and lowest low of the day or vacation. I am touched that Pat asks me.

So we play....

High - Our decision to do a Presidential Traverse just comes to us the beginning of the summer and once it is out in the universe it is a done deal. We make reservations at the huts and look forward with anticipation to the hike. Once Pat and I commit to something, we give our big word that that is what we are going to do and we do it.

Low - We arrive on time at the Highland Center, ready for Bruce to give us a ride to the Howker Trailhead. I'd set up the ride over the phone 2 days ago. But the meeting time comes and goes and as we stand under the awning of the Highland Center in thunder, lightening and pouring rain, I have my first low moment. I call Bruce on Pat's cell and he doesn't even remember talking with me. Not a great start. We decide to take the AMC shuttle to the Appalachia trailhead and climb up Valley Way to the Madison Hut.

Low - On the shuttle in the pouring rain, I have my second very low moment. I am sitting next to the window, watching the rain pelt the glass, listening to the sound of the angry rain pummel the metal roof. It sounds like we are at a police training firing range. I am asking myself what the hell I think I am doing. I feel like a little kid on my way to dreaded summer camp.

High - It stops raining right before we arrive at the Appalachia trailhead. Although the trail is wet and skies drizzles on and off over the next few hours, it does not pour. The sun even comes out at one point to remind us that all is well.

High - The climb is steep, but I am feeling strong and fit and not once do I question if I am going to make it to the top. Pat is feeling strong as well and we motor up the mountain. We arrive at the Madison hut in good spirits.

High - The sun comes out and beacons us to summit Madison, so up we go. It is beautiful on the top, warm sun on our faces, light breeze, beautiful views. We lie down on a hot rock and breathe. I just love the summits above tree line. The expanse of forever that surrounds me lying on the Madison summit makes me feel humble and small and gifted and blessed all at the same time.

High - Steak tips, broccoli and bread for dinner at Madison Hut. Then a Thru- Hiker shares his experience so far on the Appalachian Trail.

High - It is sunny when we get up the next day and start hiking Adams. Clouds drift in, and come and go for much of the day, but we are treated to dramatic views as we rock-hop our way over the Northern Presies.

High - These mountains seem to be just huge rock piles so we are rock hopping on boulders and rocks, gaining and losing lots of elevation. It is very tedious and requires our full concentration. Despite the difficulty, and the fact that we summit 4 mountains today -- Adams, Jefferson, Clay and Washington -- both Pat and I are feeling fit, strong and full of energy. I keep expecting to feel that familiar tiredness in my quads or knees, but NO! Each time I put my foot down, I am rewarded with strength and vitality.

High - We reach the summit of Washington in the afternoon and order Italian Wedding soup in the cafeteria. It is steaming hot and incredibly delicious. It is probably the most wonderful bowl of soup I have ever had. You know when something is so incredibly perfect that you just close your eyes and humm a bit, roll your head back and blissfully reel in the taste and the feeling of hot liquid sliding down your insides...oh...awesome!

Low - Coming down Washington the skies open up and it pours. We are prepared, have our rain gear on and we are fine. We arrive at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut drenched, but happy.

Low - After a full intense day in the mountains with just Pat, hiking in the solitude and quiet of the mountains, the shift into a very full hut with 50 people talking and walking around in a relatively small space is intense. Our tiny bunk room holds 15 people, 3 bunks high, has wet clothes hanging of every peg and it is hard to move around with everyone trying to settle in. Luckily everyone seems very nice, generous and wanting to share. We are grateful for the huts because they allow us to have this experience. We are also grateful to escape after dinner for a short walk and phone call to Don.

Low - Nothing dries overnight. We wake up the next morning and put on our still wet clothes and boots. Yuck!

High -The sun is out and the skies are clear blue and there is no wind the next morning at Lakes of the Clouds Hut. We are psyched! The hut crew tells us the weather will deteriorate through the day, predicting lots of rain and some flooding. I pray we make it to Eisenhower before the rain begins. We are off.

High - The hike up Monroe, Franklin, and then Eisenhower are under sunny blue skies with absolutely stunning views of the Crawford Path going on forever, stretching out from our feet over the mountains like a piece of dental floss. Incredible. What a gift to witness such a scene. I hold each moment in reverence, knowing the experience is such a blessing.

High - The summit of Jackson looks so very far away, but I am not daunted. Pat and I woke up with plenty of strength, energy and sunshine. We are both feeling great.

Low -- We make it over four mountains (Monroe, Franklin, Eisenhower and Pierce) before the weather deteriorates. Coming down Pierce it starts to rain, but we are ready for it. We put on our rain jackets and continue on, unfazed. We arrive at the Mizpah Hut and have lunch, then head off to Jackson. It is absolutely pelting rain as we climb the final pitches of Jackson and Webster. We are totally soaked and in great spirits.

Low - Climbing down Webster, I keep hearing a roar. I ask Pat what that noise is, knowing full well it is water. Lots of water. Out of the corner of my eye I see something very large and white and my stomach flips. A HUGE, incredibly beautiful waterfall where there is normally a small trickle. Wowsers. The brook is high white water churning past us, due to so much rain in the Whites over the past few days. But we are soaked, so we don't even bother to take our boots off, we just wade across through the stiff current to the other side. We hit a few other high water crossings, but they are less intimidating when you don't care how wet you get.

High - We arrive back at the trailhead wet and happy. I bag 11 Presidential peaks in 3 days with my best friend, feeling strong, vibrant, fulfilled, full of grace. It just doesn't get any better than that. Although a close second is changing into dry clothes at the Highland Center and getting a hot Dunkin' Donuts coffee on the drive home.

As Pat and I share the highs and lows of the traverse, we laugh, breathe deep, sigh, smile, and marvel at how strong we feel, how close we've become, how blessed we are.

Writing the Trip Reports always brings new insights...

High - I realize I was more in my body on this Presidential Traverse than I have been on any other hike. Or at least I have given up on riding my own brakes. Maybe that is it. For the past two years of hiking, I have been anxious that I would not be able to make it to the top. Less so recently, but the thought of whether I could make it was always with me, one foot on my break at all times, holding back with worry. This hike, probably one of our most demanding, and I didn't use the brakes. I knew I could do it and I didn't waste any energy wondering about it or making up anxiety that I would summit. I just did it, my foot on the accelerator. I felt entirely submerged in my body on this hike and surprised when I took a step up and received only strength from my legs, no pain, no whining, no trepidation, just strength. Wowsers! I don't know if the strength was always there and I didn't notice it because I was holding back, or if I have been building up my strength over the past two years - but strong I am! For a person with body issues for so much of my life, to be IN my body at all is pretty amazing; to LIKE how it feels - holy moly - that's incredible stuff!

High - I also realize that I am getting better at letting it be. After my first initial disappointment in the pouring rain, I knew intuitively that I was never going to make it through this traverse if I let the weather bother me, and then I let it go. Whatever the weather is...I let it be. So I was not disappointed when the rain came, I was just fine with whatever came. I was surprised and blessed by the sunshine, awed by the dark clouds, amazed that I could continue to climb in the pouring rain and feel great the whole way. Hard for me to believe - but true. I was just fine. Not out of my comfort zone, but actually amazed at my strength as I just continued to climb under dark pouring skies. Letting it be is such a gift in finding blessings I didn't know were there until I stopped fighting them!

High -- The Presidential Traverse has given me a new perspective on my favorite game of "high / low." I realize that labeling an experience as a high or a low illuminates my own prejudices and judgments about what is happening and what I want. The experience is how I perceive it. So I perceived the rain as bad, but in reality it added some depth and adversity to the hike. It showed us what we are made of. And the roar of the waterfall - same thing. It was both scary and exciting to hear the water roar, see the current whip the white water past us and know we had to cross it. Looking back, I can find the sunshine in the rain, just as I can find the gifts in the "lows." None of the experience was good or bad, or high or low - it's just what it was and those are the labels I chose to attach. But when I let go of my own expectations and hopes, and just let whatever is happening be, like I was somehow able to do on the Traverse, then I am rewarded with a quiet acceptance, stunning in its tranquility. It sounds like an oxymoron to say that the serenity of that space blows me away - but it does.