Presidential Traverse, White Mountains: Highland Centre Lodge (1900ft) to Lake of the Clouds (5050ft)
Honestly, I’d never even heard of New Hampshire’s White Mountains until spring 2015 when a friend of mine decided to organize a group to go. And when we arrived early September 2015, I still didn’t really know what to expect beyond a challenging hike. But when we started the trail on a bright sunny morning, I was very much looking forward to this adventure. The night before, over a three course communal dinner at the well-appointed Highland Centre, I met the four women I didn’t know from our group of seven. We ranged in age from early 30s to early 60s, all with various hiking experience. But we were all excited to take on this challenge of hiking the Presidential Traverse for the next four days.
The trek started on Crawford Path, the oldest continuously used mountain trail in the USA, dating to the early 19th century. The trail was gorgeously forested with all sorts of trees such as birch, maple, spruce, and fir. It was also rocky and mossy, with periodic mushrooms and berries poking out of the ground. The sun’s rays were sometimes able to pierce through the trees, creating a stunning view that made the hiker, photographer, and nature lover in me come together and totally geek out from pure joy. As we climbed through these beams of light, it almost felt like it wasn’t real, something from the faerie lands. It was crisply cool and the bountiful fresh air also made us fairly giddy. We had a great time laughing our way up the mountain. Thankfully, we didn’t come across many others or I’d have felt guilty with all the noise.
It took about two hours to reach the Alpine Zone and soon after, we reached the treeline, above which we’d spend the next three days. The views were expansive and the weather sunny with winds. A few of us took a short side trip to climb the peak of Mount Pierce. It was around here where we met our first thru hiker and I remembered this path was part of the Appalachian Trail. After a short break, we continued on until we reached a junction to Mount Eisenhower. As we rested here to determine who wanted to climb this peak verses push on, I realized my Tevas, which had been Velcro’d on to the outside of my pack, had fallen off. I debated going back towards Mount Pierce but before I could make a decision, a guy came up asking, “Did anyone lose a pair of sandals?” My Tevas!
Turned out I was the only one who wanted to do this peak so the others continued on. As I huffed my way up this peak, I kept stopping to admire the view (aka catch my breath). One time, a guy stopped to ask, “Is there anywhere else you’d rather be right now?” And of course, the answer was a resounding no. At the top of Mount Eisenhower, I had to literally fight to keep my balance – it was incredibly windy! As much as I love the wind, it was a bit much for even me so I didn’t linger long. But there really is no feeling like standing on top of a mountain, is there?
The wind pushed me back down the mountain, on the other side to where I came up. The rest of my group had already passed by but one was graciously waiting for me. The path was pretty obvious so we never really needed a map as we walked; it ran along the spine of the mountains, heading towards the giant of Mount Washington. It was fairly late in the afternoon by the time we reached the next junction. At this point, I was tired, hungry, and had no idea how much further it was to our hut, Lake of the Clouds. I decided not to climb Mount Monroe and instead stick with my hiking partner on the trail around the mountain. As it turns out, I should have sucked it up and climbed the damn thing – the hut was right on the other side of it!
Lake of the Clouds was a beautiful hut (more like a lodge) set in a stunning location. There were two small lakes which made for a lovely place to chill out in peace (I was lucky – it was just warm enough to sit outside yet the water was too cold for swimming). The views were amazing in the deepening light. After the communal three course dinner, I pretty much dashed outside to photograph the multi-coloured sunset. That night, I went out into the frigid air to attempt photographing the clear sky. The stars were bountiful but the wind was high. My puny portable tripod wasn’t up for the task of taking long exposure photos, no matter how I tried to stabilize it. Ah well.