Presidential Traverse, 5 February 2005
"WINTER" PRESIDENTIAL TRAVERSE FAILS
Hikers lament spring-like weather
They complete traverse only to be disqualified by judges.
CRAWFORD NOTCH, NH (From our correspondent): On Saturday, February 5, 2005, five hardy hikers failed miserably in their attempt to complete a Presidential Traverse in a day in winter conditions. The Presidential Traverse is a standard epic much favored by hikers in New Hampshires White Mountains, usually only attempted in the summer in favorable weather. This is due to its length (20.8 miles), its ascents and descents (8900 feet of climbing and 8200 feet of descent), and its extensive time in exposure above treeline (11.5 miles from Madison to Eisenhower).
Five MITOC hikers attempted this traverse Saturday, but were defeated by inclement weather. Instead of completing a winter Presidential Traverse, they only succeeded in completing the summer version in February as temperatures of 33F at the summit of Mount Washington, sunny skies, and no wind laid waste to their hopes and left them with just sore muscles and empty stomachs. They finished the hike, only to find a notice left on their car by the Rules Committee of the Appalachian Mountain Club, stating that the weather was too warm to allow this to be considered a Winter Traverse, that the judges decision was final, and that no correspondence would be entered into. And glad you enjoyed the hike.
Hiker Eric Gilbertson, removing his crampons and his bag and cramming them, sardine-style, onto his lap in the rear seat of the car after completing the Traverse, said We had heard that the Mount Washington area boasted the worst weather in America, and had hoped to show off how tough we were by removing our shirts for the traditional MITOC summit photo like those on last weeks Mount Washington trip. But the achievement seemed smaller when our companion, William Hawkins, had been hiking in a T-shirt and shorts for 8 miles already, and indeed even went shirtless for an hour or so in the afternoon. However, despite Hawkins' apparent toughness, he could still be seen cowering next to the observatory building as the group ate lunch, and indeed he refused to expose any flesh for the summit photo, unlike his more daring companions, Matthew, Eric, and Steve.
William Hawkins, interviewed while chewing on some dried mango slices at the car, said The only time I felt it was still winter up there was when I lay down on my shirt to sunbathe at Lakes of the Clouds. The shirt slipped on the ice under me, almost leading to a disastrous glissade with crampons. Otherwise I didnt have a hat or gloves on for several hours, and most of the time I was in a T-shirt. I knew it was going to be a ridiculously warm day when the Ben and Jerrys ice cream I carried up for breakfast at Madison had melted in my pack by the time we got there.
Bilal Zia, winter school guru, said I felt out of place up there above treeline with visibility of 90 miles and warm weather. After weeks telling people that cotton kills, I was wishing for my cotton T-shirt so that I could sweat into it to cool down a bit. But the views were outstanding all day, and Im glad we could talk William into doing Mount Jackson at the end. Who cares if it meant descending icy and unfamiliar trails in the dark its a 4000 footer and the view from the top with the last light of sunset was great.
Steve Block said The views were spectacular, although not as spectacular as my 1991 Crown Victoria that ferried us all with ease to Appalachia for our 3:15am start. We all fit in it with ease. I dont know what Bilal was thinking when he got a car half the size. My favorite moment was seeing sunrise from Mt Madison a few minutes before 7.
Matthew Gilbertson, left till last to be interviewed, had just one word to say before he dropped off to a well-deserved sleep. Why did they make me carry the snowshoes? I carried them all day and we saw more bare rock and mud than snow? But that's all right. I just took the burden for the overall benefit of the team. With the -15 sleeping bag, cooking pot, first aid kit, and snowshoes, my pack was in fact twice as heavy as Mr. Hawkins'. But even with the extra weight, I still did not expend enough energy to necessitate the removal of my shirt, unlike Mr. Hawkins. I suppose Mr. Hawkins' body was more heavily taxed by the hike than mine was. Fancy that. Next time Im going to lead the trip and happily bring more useless gear
So, a lesson to everyone who wants to go into the record books for stupidity in hiking the Whites in winter. Make sure its actually winter when you set out, and not the summer in February that defeated these five.
[For the record: 20.8 miles, 8900 feet up, 8200 feet down, 15 hours and 58 minutes (3:15am - 7:13pm), 33F, winds 15mph at most, sunny, 90 miles of visibility, and successful ascents of Madison, Adams, Jefferson, (Clay), Washington, Monroe, (Franklin), Eisenhower, Pierce and Jackson. In crampons.]
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