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Ascent of Mount Pierce on 2010-08-21

Climber: Jim Johnson

Date:Saturday, August 21, 2010
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Pierce
    Location:USA-New Hampshire
    Elevation:4310 ft / 1313 m

Ascent Trip Report

Last Saturday, Kevin 'Classy' Tilton and I decided to try the Hut to Hut Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains of NH. This trail/mountain run/hike takes us from the Carter Notch Hut (3288 ft) to the Lonesome Lake Hut (2760 ft), hitting 6 huts in between: Madison Spring Hut (4800 ft), Lake of the Clouds Hut (5050 ft), Mizpah Spring Hut (3800 ft), Zealand Falls Hut (2700 ft), Galehead Hut (3800 ft), and the Greenleaf Hut (4200 ft). It's essentially going from just east of Rt. 16 to just west of Rt. 93. It's a 54-55 mile trek across the Presidentials, but is actually a little longer and more rugged of a trip than the regular 'Presidential Traverse'. The full hut traverse comes with just about 15,650 feet of elevation gain. It is also right around 50 miles if you go from hut to hut to hut, but with the start that Kevin and I were doing, we added on about 4 or so miles of ascent up to the Carter Notch Hut from Rt. 16. I think many people either hike up and stay at the hut the night before, or just hike up and start their actual speed attempt on the way down. Kevin and I decided to run up from the car, tag the hut, and run back down (the run up, being in complete darkness with only headlamps to light the way). The photo above is me with the Mount Washington Auto Road in the distance... I explained to Kevin on the run, that not much had changed this year on that upper section of the auto road....he hadn't seen it since last year.

Full disclosure here...Kevin and I had no plans to go for any record or even try to do this entire traverse in any sort of respectable time. We just wanted to get it done without dying. That would be easier said than done, as he indicated to me several times that we had a spot to bail if we needed to (the Highland Center in Crawford Notch). The plan was to have Jess meet us there with some lunch and be there in case we needed to be lifted out of there if our attempt fell short. It's roughly the halfway point, although it is after the most difficult half of the two. Kevin's idea was that it may take us 7:30 or so to get to halfway (give or take). With the stopping, picture taking, and injury time-outs, it would take a couple hours more than that, which put is in the danger zone, timewise. This is the reason why this post is called 'Half of...'. We essentially did half of the hut traverse (slightly longer because of the start).

I didn't get to bed until 11:30pm the night before (Friday night) and had to be up at 1am (yes 90 minutes later) to get out the door and be up in North Conway from Salem, NH by 4am. The plan was for Kevin and I to be up at the trailhead to get to Carter Notch, off of Rt. 16, by 5:00. I flew up to Conway in just about 2:30, but got a bit lost finding Kevin's place. Once we hooked up for the ride up to 16, it was just about 4am. After a quick stop at Dunkin Donuts in North Conway, we were up and at the trailhead parking at about 4:45am. It was still obviously pitch dark and we got our things together, put our headlamps on, and headed up the trail to the Carter Notch Hut. We left our Camelbaks down at the car and would pick them up on the way back down after reaching the first hut. Unlike the normal hut traverse which starts up at Carter Notch Hut and heads southwest, we started on Rt. 16 and ran northeast up Nineteen Mile Brook Trail to get up to the hut. It took us about 55 minutes to get up to the hut, and then about 45 to get back down. Most of this entire run up was in pitch dark.

After we hit the car, it was back onto Rt. 16 for a half mile or so up to the next trailhead at Great Gulf Trail. From here, we traversed up to Madison Gulf Trail to the Parapet and Star Lake Trails and up to Madison Springs Hut where we fuled up on some free grub (free to the Hut Traversers) thanks to the diligent croo up there. From there, we hit the Gulfside Trail all along the Northern Presidentials, then the West Side Trail around Mt. Washington to the Crawford Path which took us to the Lake in the Clouds Hut, where I really started to hit the wall.

Shortly before the Madison Springs Hut and all the way up to the Lake of the Clouds Hut, my right hamstring was very tight and starting to really ache. I tried to occasionally stretch it out, but the constant up and over boulders was really taking it's toll on me. Everything else felt fine except for one of my toes on my right foot, which for whatever reason felt like it had died a horrible death and came back to infect and haunt the rest of my foot as I progressed up the trails. I rested for a bit at Lake of the Clouds and then it was down Crawford Path to the Webster Cliff Trail over the summit of Mt. Pierce (my newest 4000 footer!). At this point, with the downhills, my hamstring was starting to feel better, but before reaching Mt. Pierce, I completely ate sh*t and fell head over heels onto my shoulder and head, while scraping the crap out of my knees on the way down. It was completely all over rocks in the section I fell..no soft ground to be had. I think I was borderline weeping at this point, but luckily there was a hiker in front of us, coming towards us, with a full medical kit with him. After I calmed down and my hysterics were quieted, I cleaned both my knees and Kevin and I were back on our way.

From the top of Mt. Pierce, Kevin called the lovely and talented Jess Tilton on the phone and told her to meet us at the Highland Center in Crawford Notch. We headed down off of Pierce and down to the Mizpah Springs Hut where we took one more small break. At this point, I felt fantastic...better than I had felt in quite some time before that. It was now many many many hours into the traverse and I was beat, but my spirits were high and I got a complete second wind...I was optimistic about finishing the trek now for the first time since we started. Kevin and I headed down the Mizpah Cut-off to the Crawford Path and then to the notch. On the way down this 2 mile or so stretch, it is a crazy downhill that absolutely wrecked my calves and quads and not too soon after we started the descent, I started to bonk pretty good. A total 180 from how I felt minutes before. I think Kevin was in the same boat. We got down to the notch and crossed the highway to the Highland Center where Jess met us with some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and water. Kevin and I talked it over and we called it quits at that point. It was 3:30 in the afternoon. It gets dark at around 7:30 this time of year, and we still had between 8-9 hours or so to go at that point. It wouldn't have been feasible to continue on at that rate. We ended with 27 miles bagged, and 7900 feet of elevation gain. Not bad. I was glad to take the halfway point as a bail out and we headed out and back to N.Conway. I fell asleep in the backseat of the car and was completely wiped when we got back to the Tilton estate. Jess had made some tasty dinner and I stayed for a while before heading back down to hell, I mean Salem. I pulled into my driveway at about 10:30-10:45 or so and luckily did not fall asleep on the way home (I usually do after things like this)...
Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Scramble, Exposed Scramble



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