Sometime at the very beginning of the summer, I had a crazy thought. I’m going to do my first Presidential Traverse this year. I briefly considered attempting a one day traverse, but the idea intimidated me. I doubted my own fitness level, and I was nursing and recovering from an overuse injury after years of abusing my body through various forms of exercise.
If it wasn’t going to be a single day trek, then, I ought to try to span it across a weekend. This summer, I decided, I would complete my first 3-day Presidential Traverse. Now, I just had to plan for it.
What Is The Presidential Traverse
The Presidential Traverse is a 22 to 28-mile hike, depending on the route taken, that covers the full length of the Presidential Ridge in the White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire, so named because the eight peaks of the traverse are named after United States Presidents.
This hike is known to be one of the most challenging and often dangerous hikes in the Northeast, and arguably, in the country. Though the tallest peak, Mount Washington, is only just above six thousand feet, the weather is so changeable and the terrain so challenging that mountaineers will use this mountain to train for conditions on Mount Everest.
Yeah, it’s serious stuff.
The Presidential Traverse traditionally begins at the Appalachia Trailhead near Gorham, New Hampshire, traverses at least the 8 Presidential Peaks, and ends at the Crawford Depot. Many hikers add-on Mount Clay, Mount Jackson, and even the smaller Mount Webster.
These peaks are not part of the official route for various reasons, some aren’t tall enough, Mount Jackson is actually not named after President Andrew Jackson but a different local politician and Mount Clay isn’t distinct enough from Mount Washington to count as an individual peak.
At any rate, it’s a long route, can be dangerous in bad weather, and is extremely challenging even on a sunny day. Many people do it in a single day, beginning their hike before dawn and finishing after sunset, even during the longest days of the year.
But hiking it in 2 or 3 days presents a different challenge. Backcountry camping in the White Mountains is only allowed below the treeline and 200 feet away from the trail. Above treeline, camping is only allowed in winter, on top of 6 feet of snowpack. But, the bulk of the Presidential traverse, the entire 15 ridge walk, is above the treeline, with no backcountry camping options. Campers can choose to stay at the very expensive ($120 a night with reservations) AMC huts or use the AMC or RMC tent sites, which are only located at the extremes of the hike, none in the middle.
The end result, you’re going to hike a long day, no matter what you choose.
My 3-Day Presidential Traverse Route
Day 1: Appalachia Trailhead to Valley Way Tentsite 3.1 miles
Day 2: Valley Way Tentsite to Nauman Tentsite 15.5 miles
Day 3: Nauman Tentsite to Crawford Depot via Mt. Jackson 4 miles
For my plan, I was going to start hiking late on a Friday afternoon in August, hiking the three miles up to the Valley Way Tentsite, a small forest service campsite located just below the Madison Springs Hut. I’d then hike the entire ridgeline on day 2, camping at the Nauman Tentsite at the other end, before hiking down to Crawford Depot.
Now, all that was left for me to do was wait for a good weather weekend, throw my things in my car, and take off.
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