Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Double Presidential Traverse Run Attempt 8/23/13

After the Pemi Loop Run on July 6th, I quickly began planning to get out in the White Mountains for another long run before the summer was over. My initial plans were to do another Pemi Loop in the counterclockwise direction, but after learning of the closure of a portion of the Lincoln Woods Trail I started to think up a different adventure. I was looking for about 30 miles and over 10,000 feet of climbing. Since I have never tried a Presidential Traverse, I started thinking about doing a partial double traverse hitting all peaks including Clay and Franklin and tried to figure out what that would add up to for mileage. After searching the internet, I found a recent trip report where Chris Dailey had done a double from South to North turning around at Madison. He listed his trip as 30.5 miles and 12,300 feet of climbing, and this sounded just right. There is another report of Mats Roing and Jason doing the full double in recent years. Since Crawford Notch is a little higher in elevation than the start at Dolly Copp Campground we chose, our trip would probably be around 15,000 of climbing.

Since I had never spent an entire day above treeline on the Presidential Range before, I decided that I should probably invite a few people and started to think about some fellow mountain/ultra runners that would enjoy a torturous trip like this in the Whites. I invited Jerimy Arnold, a backcountry skiier and mountain runner, that has done a traverse on skis and run the traverse in the past. He brought his friend Nick who is also a backcountry skiier and runner and leads expeditions in the Antarctic. I also invited Dave Boudreau, a fellow ultrarunner, that I met at the GAC Fat Ass 50k race in January and has run Western States, Wapack 50 and other mountain ultras in the past. The invitation also extended to Eric Ahern, Josh Katzman and Ryan Davenport, but the date or in Eric's case an injury, didn't allow for them to attend. Our group consisted of Jerimy, Nick, and Dave.

Elevation Profile
GPS Route, note the slow pace between Madison and Adams during the windy stretch

My plan was to meet everyone at the trailhead for a 5am start to try to take advantage of the dwindling daylight hours of the later date in the summer. The higher summits weather, that turned out to play a huge factor in our route for the day, was forecast to be in the clouds with wet trails and 25-45mph winds and 55mph gusts, 41 degrees for a high and a wind chill of 30. At 5:30am we began the climb up the Daniel Webster Scout trail to the summit of Mt. Madison. The climb up Madison starts out moderate until it reaches treeline and begins to ascend a little more steeply up a rock scramble to the top.

Some initial views from the climb up Daniel Webster Scout Trail on Mt. Madison

Boulder field scrambling up Madison

Looking up towards Madison's summit during a clear moment
Ascending into the clouds seen above, visibility began to shrink to about 50 feet and we made our way from cairn to cairn as we approached Mt. Madison's summit. With the wind and wet rocks, we were sometimes reduced to a bent over hike in order to avoid getting knocked over by the winds. This made for some slow travel and discouraged our highly ambitious day of doing the entire range twice with the exception of descending Pierce.

Cairn to cairn progress

Madison summit in the clouds
Refueling at the Madison Hut, we made our way out into the clouds and ended up taking the Star Lake Trail, rather than Gulfside. It ended up being fine as they both climb up Mt. Adams to the summit, the Star Lake Trail takes less of a direct route.
Newly rebuilt Madison Hut

Star Lake, its probably pretty nice if the weather was clear

Great Gulf Wilderness sign

On our way to Mt. Adams' summit
Making our way up Mt. Adams we were greeted with the strongest winds of the day, I almost got knocked over right before this picture was taken - note the crouching that we were doing.
Mt. Adams summit in the wind

Close to Thunderstorm Junction

The winds started to soften and the clouds began to blow off as we approached Mt. Jefferson, which made the views much more impressive. Each time I am up on the Presidential Range, I am always amazed at the beauty of the mountains and the far reaching views. 

Col between Mt. Adams and Mt. Jefferson

Getting close to Jefferson's summit

Looking down into the Great Gulf

Cog Railway

Looking down into Great Gulf towards Spaulding Lake

Rails to the Clouds

Almost at Mt. Washington's summit

Mt. Washington summit buildings

Cog railway train arriving

Once we left the summit of Washington and headed down to the Lakes of the Clouds Hut and our fifth peak of the day, Monroe, the clouds had started to part and we got more glimpses of blue sky and far reaching views.

Overlooking Lakes of the Clouds Hut and Mt. Monroe

Lakes of the Clouds

Lakes of the Clouds with Mt. Monroe's summit on the left

Looking towards our turnaround point, Mt. Pierce

Looking back towards Mt. Monroe's sharp peak as it drops into Oakes Gulf

Summit of Mt. Franklin: Dave, Jerimy, and I. Photo by Nick.

Smooth section of trail towards Mt. Eisenhower

Great running all the way to Mt Pierce (more or less)

Looking back at most of our peaks from the day: (L-R) Jefferson, top of Adams, Washington, Monroe is the peak at far right, w/ Franklin in front

10 years almost to the day since I have been at Eisenhower's summit on my first 4,000 footer hike with my wife

Bog bridges on the way to Pierce

Nick, Jerimy, and Dave on Pierce's summit

Me on Pierce's summit, overlooking our peaks from the day.

After reaching Mt. Pierce's summit, Nick decided that his calf had bothered him enough for the day and headed down the trail towards Crawford Notch's Highland Center to catch a shuttle back to Pinkham Notch. This was his first long run out since tearing his calf muscle in June, nothing like starting with an easy jog through flat terrain. We made a plan to meet him there at 5:30pm and decided to bail on our original plans because of time and remaining daylight. The plans to run back to the car consisted of refueling back at Lakes of the Clouds Hut and taking the Lion Head Trail down along Tuckerman Ravine on Mt. Washington's East side. This would eliminate a lot of the climbing and allow us to get back to our cars and families at a reasonable hour after the long day out in the mountains. We all had long rides back and decided that the run across and returning back to Pinkham would be enough for the day.

The run back to the Lakes Hut went by quickly as a lot of the trail is runnable and we skipped the climbs to Eisenhower and Monroe's summits. We headed up the trail from Lakes and took the Tuckerman Crossover trail to the top of the headwall and made our way down the ridge of Lion Head. The steep descents were starting to take a toll on my legs and I was happy to arrive at the moderate grades of the lower part of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail for some easy walking on the way out to the car. We jogged the last hundred feet to close out the day in a good fashion at the Pinkham Notch Hut/Lodge and Nick was there to meet us. He had arrived about ten minutes ahead and gave us a ride back to Dolly Copp where our cars were.

I had a great day out in the mountains and feel if the start of the trail had not been so slow, we would have accomplished the semi-double traverse. I now have some unfinished business up on this ridge and plan to go back next year to complete the original plan, maybe I'll even try for the full Double Traverse, descending Pierce to Crawford Notch to add on about 6 miles and 3,000 feet of climbing. The guys I was running with were a great group and we had fun discussing backcountry skiing, ultras, and recent FKTs up in the Whites. I am glad that the weather improved as the day progressed because we got to enjoy the nice blue skies and views that make the Presidentials unique.

View into Tuckerman Ravine from Lion Head Trail. Photo by Jerimy.

Dave and I taking a break on the way down Lion Head, Tuckerman's in the background. Photo by Jerimy.

Tuckerman Ravine headwall. Photo by Jerimy.

Hillman's Highway scar on the side of Tuckerman's. Photo by Jerimy.

Totals for the day: 25.7 miles, 10,275 feet of climb, elapsed time 11hrs., 36 minutes

Summit Splits (moving time - not including resting or hot dog eating time at summit of Mt. Washington):
Madison (mile 4): 1:28
Adams (mile 5.4): 1:56
Jefferson (mile 7.5): 2:30
Clay (mile 9): 3:00
Washington (mile 10.5) 3:20
Monroe (mile 13): 4:00
Eisenhower (mile 15.4): 4:30
Pierce (mile 17.1 & turnaround): 4:53, moving time about 7.5 hours excluding all the time at the huts and resting on the trail.

Gear used:
Shoes: Inov8 Roclite 295
Shirt: North Face Velocitee Crew
Shorts: Under Armour
Socks: Darn Tough Run Cushion sock

Hat: Outdoor Research Swift Cap
Winter Hat: Outdoor Research WindPro
Jacket: Montane Marathon Ultralight
Pack: GoLite Rush 14L

I am starting to get the long mountain runs dialed in for gear, using a similar setup to what I did when I ran the Pemi Loop in July. This time I brought a winter hat and definitely needed it, the Outdoor Research WindPro performed well and didn't make me overheated as we ran from Madison to Jefferson in the chilly winds. The Inov8 Roclite 295s grip the wet rocks well and provide the right amount of protection for me on the sharp rocks of the Presi's. I used the Montane Marathon jacket for a lot of the windier sections, which allowed me to block the wind well while allowing my upper body to breathe. I never felt overheated using this, and with its small packable nature, it will be a go-to jacket for future mountain runs.
Water mixed with Gatorade powder
Gu Gels (7 or so)
Succeed S-Caps (2)
1 hot dog
2 chocolate chip cookies
Trail mix - homemade
Peanut butter & jelly sandwiches (2)

Recovery Drink:  Wachusett Brewery Larry Imperial IPA

For fueling, I did try something different that seemed to work well for a portion of the Pemi Loop. I added a small amount of Gatorade powder to my water bladder. This seemed to keep my electrolyte levels constant and I never bonked or got behind on my hydration like I did on the Pemi. I tried to eat a gel every 45 minutes and since it was not as hot, I was not sweating nearly as much as earlier in the summer.

Mid-September I am thinking about doing a long mountain run at Mt. Monadnock, maybe around 8 hours and then the next race will be the TARC Fall Classic 50k at Great Brook Farm in Stow.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Monoosnoc Trail End to End to End/Traverse Attempt, Leominster, MA 8/11/13

I have run or hiked sections of the Monoosnoc Trail in Leominster, MA many times, mostly as a continuation to a long run in Leominster State Forest. This time I was committed to running the entire trail end to end and back. The plan was to start on the Northern End right along Rt. 2 in Leominster and run it Southbound to where the maps said it would stop. I had read it was about 11 miles one way, which was questionable, and I prepared to start my run at 4:30am.

I arrived at the West Street parking area and the morning was cool which made for a good start to the run. The trail starts out with a decent climb up a dirt road to the Fitchburg water supply tower and the start of the hiking trail. Making my way through the rocky footing in the dark was slow as I kept looking up for the markers on the trees. The Monoosnoc is marked with blue circles as seen below.

Pretty soon I arrived at the first viewpoint overlooking the city of Leominster from a rock outcropping. The majority of the climbing occurs on the Northern section of the trail where it passes over North Monoosnoc then South Monoosnoc hill before descending down towards Haynes Reservoir.

Pre-Dawn on the way in and Daylight on the way out
View South from near the base of South Monoosnoc

Winding through the grass covered rock slabs, I made my way to the first road crossing at Elm Street. The trail markings are a little tough to see, but you take a right on Elm Street road and take a left at a gate about 1/4 to 1/2 of a mile down the hill bringing you to a grassy trail along the reservoir. There is some new singletrack trail that was recently cut in this area which made for some fun running as I made my way towards the next road crossing at Wachusett Street.

Grassy section approaching Wachusett Street
The section between the field above to Wachusett Street gets a little confusing, the markers look like they send you to the street then you are supposed to figure it out from there. I knew from running the trail in the past that you take a left on Wachusett Street and the trail was down the road on the right but there were no markers I could find to indicate the turn. I ended up turning at the gate on the right, another turn that is missing a marker, and made my way through the overgrown section to pick up the trail again as I worked my way toward the Fall Brook Reservoir. This section, although short, is probably the nicest singletrack section of the trail and it was fun running through some of the rocky sections as the sun came up.

Section of trail leading to Fall Brook Reservoir

Sunlight through trees

Fall Brook Reservoir as the sun rises
This is where the markers along the trail seem to disappear altogether. I knew to follow some of the trails that lead back to Sholan Farms only because I have been there in the past, but it seems that markers have been removed from the section between Fall Brook and Sholan Farms. Maybe I missed a re-routed section, but I couldn't find any obvious markers and the maps online still show the trail leading up into Sholan Farms' orchards so I traveled in that direction.

Looking back at the hill along Fall Brook Reservoir from Sholan Farms

As I approached Heywood Rd. the trail disappeared again. The maps show it traveling across the road and continuing on to Samoset School, but I could find no indication of this. After wandering around for about 15 minutes I decided that this was a good point to turn around and head back.

Sun rising from Heywood Road, looking out over Sterling, MA

This guy pulled me along the descent down the Sholan Farms section

Return to the grassy section
The run back was uneventful, although it went a little quicker in the daylight. I had a fun time finally running the trail from end to end, but was disappointed that it ended a little quicker than I had planned on. The nicest viewpoint on the trail overlooks Wachusett Mountain and is part of a short side trail spur near the top of South Monoosnoc Hill. It is worth this little sidetrip to sit and hang out on one of the benches and take in the view over Leominster State Forest to Mt. Wachusett.

View from South Monoosnoc

Rock slabs in the early morning light

Final descent down N. Monoosnoc to the car


Elevation profile, around 2,600' climbing for the whole distance
I will visit this trail again, there are many combinations that I can make with it along the several side trails that come off of it or join it up with Leominster State Forest. The run went well, 16.6 miles with 1/2 mile wandering and about 1/2 mile of a side trail in about 2hrs 45 minutes. Finished up my run around 7:15am or so and headed home for breakfast with the family. It always feels great to get a long run in and find out that my kids let my wife sleep in.