Trip prep… I spent a lot of time trying to make a trip to Baxter State Park work. I considered a lot of combinations for 3 to 4 day wilderness loops trying to incorporate available sites. Since I had waited until only several weeks before the trip, there was just no good way to make this trip happen. Perhaps I’ll get another shot at this next year. The Presi traverse had a lot of things going for it. I had done the trip before and was familiar with the route. In addition, food and water is plentiful along the route so it is hardly a wilderness experience. It is also widely recognized by many folks and definitely has wow factor. Unfortunately, I had more time to plan the trip than I did to pack for it.
Rt 2 to Valley Way Campsite, 3.2 miles
We spent the day unpacking from the Allagash trip and packing our backpacks. I had arranged for transportation to the trail head later in the afternoon. A quick trip to the grocery store was needed for taco shells, tomatoes, cheese, 2 cans of chicken, rice, snacks, bananas, and jerky. The rest of our food was made up of leftovers from the Allagash trip.
We left Standish at 1PM and stopped in Fryeburg at 2PM for lunch at Subway. We dropped my car at the Webster Cliff trail head on Rt 302 at 3PM. We made it to the Valley Way trail head on Rt 2 at 4PM. At the start our packs weighed: 32 lbs (my pack), 25 lbs (15 year-old's pack) and 15 lbs (13 year-olds pack). It felt like we were making good time up Valley Way but with our packs it still took us until 6:12PM to make it into camp.
The tent site was almost full when we arrived and we ended up on a hillside which really wasn’t a problem for our hammocks. The tacos we made for dinner tasted amazing even though the rice was a lot more like soup than rice. Dinner consisted of tortilla shells, Knorr Spanish rice, a package of Mexican cheese, a chopped fresh tomato, freshly shredded lettuce, and a can of chicken. Not typical backpacking food, but we love the stuff! Once we finished dinner, all food had to be put into a bear bag and hung up in the trees. We crawled into our sleeping bags just after 8PM as we wanted to get an early start. Alarm was set at 5:15.
Valley Way Tentsite (Madison Spring Hut) to Nauman Campsite (Mizpah Spring Hut) via Mount Washington and Lake of the Clouds Hut, 14.3 miles
Up early and it was hard to crawl out of the warm sleeping bags. Nate was hanging partially out of his hammock already. We were ready for our oatmeal, coffee and cocoa as we ate in our fleece clothing, hats, and gloves. We quickly broke camp and headed up the hill to Madison Spring Hut and the summit of Madison returning back to the hut before 8AM. We summited Adams just after 9AM and the weather was still clear and beautiful.
However, my 13 year old fell and scraped his knee and morale declined as the weather started to close in. We pushed on hard through heat and humidity as the clouds surrounded us. We stayed on the AT and skipped the peak of Jefferson and Clay. It seemed to take forever to get to the peak of Washington. Then we saw the Cog Railway as the clouds parted. We were very hungry and thirsty when we finally arrived at the peak of Washington. I couldn't believe all the people there. We couldn't even get near the actual summit sign because of the long line. We were tired, exhausted, and dehydrated. Most of these folks had arrived via car or train. I was beside myself.
When we couldn't find a seat in the dining room I just dropped my pack and got in the line for food. In retrospect, I must have been very dehydrated. I suddenly felt extremely weak and had to sit on the floor. I made the boys hold our place in the long line and sat on a bench for a minute. I had a Gatorade, a slice of pizza, chowder, peanut M+Ms, and a whoopie pie. I immediately felt better. As the group leader and the parent, I should definitely have not let myself get dehydrated to that point. The weather and the terrain can be very tricky in the mountains particularly in the Presidentials.
My youngest ate 2 Hot Dogs and a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. My oldest ate pizza, chowder, Reese's, Gatorade, and a danish. We finally felt like all was right with the world again. That instant oatmeal had not been enough calories for Breakfast!
We left the top at 1:45 and made it to Lake of the Clouds about 2:30. My youngest was dancing with every step by that point because he had to go to the bathroom so badly. There is no privacy above treeline in that area.
Since we didn't have reservations, the hut host told us we had to keep hiking to Nauman tentsite but that it was only 3 ½ hours away. Dry River shelter was closed so we had to keep going. We left at 3PM but in our haste we followed the AT and skipped the peaks of Monroe, and Eisenhower but went over Pierce. However, we made it to the Mizpah hut at around 6PM.
We had to pay $8 to camp there. It is a great deal! You can get water and even have an outhouse. There are tent platforms which we didn't use. We pitched our hammocks in the trees. The ATT cell phone didn't work, but US Cellular/Verizon allowed us to get a text out that we were safe and sound in camp.
Dinner was great. We cooked Cheesy Noodles and added the rest of the bag of Mexican cheese from the previous night. We put mashed potatoes right in the same pot and mixed it up. We had Ritz crackers and cheese sticks for dessert. There is a special place for dishwater waste. I had put crumbs in our trash so our trash had to spend the night in the bear box with our food. We were in bed and snoring by 9:15. Alarm was set for 5:30.
Nauman Campsite (Mizpah Spring Hut) to 302 (Crawford Notch) via Webster Cliff Trail, 6.4 miles
Someone had rattled the chain on the bear box and it woke me up before the alarm at 5:20 and I decided to let the boys sleep late. It was very comfortable. I lazed in the hammock until 6 when I got up and made coffee. I headed into the Mizpah hut and looked at maps and filled our water bottles. When I got back I woke the boys up. The oldest boiled the water for oatmeal.
We had shared the tent platform with Santiago, a student from Columbia going to Tufts. When he woke up, he started talking to the boys about being multilingual and about his times mountain biking in New Zealand when he took a semester abroad.
The boys told him about our trip in the Allagash the previous week. He was very interested and they traded tips back and forth. We were eating breakfast while we were talking and a Canada Jay showed up. I fed him a raisin right out of my hand. Soon we had a bunch of Jays dive bombing us and eating out of our hands. Santiago and the boys enjoyed the birds. We knew we had a tough hike ahead.
Santiago told us about how he was hiking longer than he planned because stranger's kept giving him food. Someone had given him a huge Hillshire Farms sausage the day before. We gave him our extra oatmeal and snacks to lighten our packs. We filled our water bottles to the top and said goodbye to the hut.
When we stopped to snack on Mt Jackson, the Jays were back to bum more food. They had crossed the valley to visit us. We joked and half wondered if they would follow us to the car. The views were amazing! We stopped at a trail junction for a snack not realizing that just ahead were cliffs that gave us even more stunning views. We could look straight down to the rest area 2500 feet below. The next 3.1 miles took us much longer than we expected as it was a bit technical to climb down with packs. However, the boys were chatting about video game design and Sim-EARTH, but even that faded to silence as we trudged on.
We finally arrived at the car about 1PM. We stopped at Subway in Fryeburg and feasted on sandwiches. Once we arrived home, we unpacked our gear, laid it in the sunshine to dry, and napped.