Saturday, August 28, 2010

8-28-10 The Famous (or Infamous) Hut Traverse

 (a note: this piece was edited and rewritten in some places in August 2012 to increase it's accuracy and to correct some glaring typos. Enjoy.)

I've been moved more than once in the past two or three years to write a piece for the blog about something that isn't related to natural history, at least not directly, but is more about the AMC hut system and the folks that have worked in the huts and for the Club during the past 80 years. The subject is something that's known as The Hut Traverse.

George Heinrichs, as a nattily dressed faux George
Clooney, packing down from Greenleaf recently.

Update for August 2011. George Heinrichs ran the traverse this month in an official time of 12h:38min going westbound from Carter.

A few weeks ago, when I was at Greenleaf, George Heinrichs and some of the other croo got into a discussion of the Traverse because George and Mary (Weir) had each successfully completed hut traverses in August. George has, like a number of us have, a bit of an obsession with it and for a really good reason because, if you're an athlete, it's an excellent training regimen for developing "core strength".

The hut traverse is a feat that involves hiking/running across the entire hut system, physically going to each of the huts in the chain, in a single, uninterrupted passage. There are no specific rules, no guidelines even. You can do it in any manner you like. Certainly no one has to do it, no one has to tell anyone they did it, and there's no fame or fortune given to anyone who does it, and there's no recognized "record" anyone can claim for doing it. It's a personal endeavor attempted mostly by those who just want to see if they can do it. In terms of the elapsed time to cover the roughly 52 mile-distance of the Traverse most of those who attempt it are trying to finish in 24 hours or less.

The first recorded completion of the Hut Traverse was on August 30, 1933 accomplished by two AMC hutmmen, Ev Loomis and Ray Batchelder . The hut "chain" was actually completed in 1932 when Lonesome, Greenleaf, Galehead and Zealand huts all came on line and made the Traverse possible but the idea of The Traverse seems to have spontaneously occurred as the huts were official opened. The history of the Traverse actually goes back to August 9, 1932 , less than a month after the new huts opened for business, when Dick Dodge from Galehead, Ray Falconer from Lonesome, and Stillman 'Stilly' Williams from Greenleaf, hiked together from Lonesome to Madison in 24 hours more or less on a whim. They reported spending seven of those hours "stumbling around in the Northern Peaks because our flashlights had failed."

At 6 pm on August 30th, 1933, Ev and Batch, inspired by the Dodge, Falconer and Williams trio's "walk", started out from Carter Notch Hut wearing hob nailed boots and carrying good flashlights with spare batteries. They went over the Wildcats and made it to Pinkham by 7:45 pm and then Madison Hut by 10:40 pm. (There's a crucial footnote that I'll enter here which is until the mid 1970s every hut traverse attempted and/or completed included the AMC's Pinkham Notch Camp. It was considered part of the hut system at that time. This is vastly important to remember since it has an obvious impact of the time/distance factor.)

Madison celebrated Ralph and Ev's arrival by lighting firecrackers and ringing a cow bell. The pair sat down to a full supper, re-nailed their boots for the trip across the ridge, and they taped up their feet. They were at Zealand by 7 am and sat down to a hearty breakfast there and rested for a full hour before heading for Ghoul (Galehead Hut) which they reached at 10:30 am. They were at Greenleaf by 3 pm and finished at Lonesome at 5:15 pm, completing the Traverse in 23 hours and 15 minutes. (The complete story of this first Hut Traverse can be found in the December 1933 volume of Appalachia).

In the December 1936 issue of Appalachia, in a story titled, "On Breaking One's Own Record", H.L. (Bert) Malcolm, the author, begins with, "Although I had been climbing in the Adirondacks during vacations quite steadily since 1907, and occasionally in the White Mountains, my interest in 24-hour mountain marathons was not aroused until 1931, when the exploits of the Marshall brothers, Professor Griffith and others stimulated me to make an attempt at their records. In the course of the friendly competition in the Adirondacks which followed, news came through Appalachia of the hut to hut record in 23 hrs., 15 minutes made by Batchelder and Loomis in 1933."

Malcolm, inspired to try and break Batch and Ev's record, began his own Traverse from Carter at 12:04 am on July 7, 1936. He reached Lonesome at 10:07 pm setting what he terms "a new record" of 22 hours, 4 minutes." Malcolm measured the distance at 52 miles with a total gain in altitude of 16,000'. A few weeks later he did the Traverse again starting in daylight from Carter and changing the script a little by including all the summits of all the Presidentials. The added distance made the course 55 miles in length with altitude gained at about 19,000'

So that's the origin of the Hut Traverse and it began in the spirit of breaking records. Malcolm was not an AMC employee so he introduced that feature to the Traverse as well. This isn't strictly an exclusive pastime of AMC employees. But regarding "pastimes" a fascinating foot note to add here is that the Dartmouth College Outing Club (DOC) created what they called the "Midnight to Midnight Walk" that was all the "rage" (like eating goldfish) for a few years after WWI, from 1917 until at least 1920. An article in the December 1932 Appalachia by Sherman Adams (a famous name in New Hampshire) tells of incredible feats performed by Dartmouth students, himself included, walking on a mix of back roads and some trails for distances up to 83 miles around central NH in exactly 24 hours. The competitive nature made it very popular for several years and H. L. Malcolm, and others, had been inspired by both the competitive part as well as the camaraderie. I was curious about the Midnight to Midnight aspect and how some of the first hut traverses were started at midnight. I wondered if there was a direct connection since a lot of hut croo members over the years have been Dartmouth students. In 1934 Malcolm was written up in Appalachia as breaking an existing record in the Adirondacks by hiking 40 miles over the high peaks in just under 24 hours, commenting afterwards that he felt fine. He definitely had the "bug".

I read "On Breaking One's Own Record" as a kid after discovering the copy of Appalachia from December 1936 in the bookshelf at my family's summer home on Lake Winnipesaukee. I was 10. For some reason Malcolm's story of the Hut Traverse stuck with me and I vowed to myself that I'd do it someday (and climb Annapurna, Everest and K2, set a world record in the Mile, write the 'great American novel', etc).

During the War years of the 1940s some of the huts were closed for lack of people to run them. A few, like Zealand, were run by married couples (which is another history that needs to be written) but, generally, croos were scarce and up through the mid 50s there are no published report of anyone completing the Hut Traverse. In 1958 Christopher (Chris) Goetze, a friend of H. L. Malcolm, and a member of the Harvard Mountaineering Club and Randolph Mountain Club (RMC) "ran" the Traverse in 16 hours, 41 minutes on August 14, 1958. Chris was in great shape from a combination of biking, hiking, technical climbing in the Canadian Rockies, working at Crag Camp and Gray Knob on Mt. Adams for the RMC, and very fast, long hikes around the White Mountains. He measured the distance covered by the Traverse at 51.76 miles which in his successful attempt he covered at an average pace of 3.1 mph. An article by his father, Klaus Goetze, in the December 1958 Appalachia titled "Far and Fast" details Chris' impressive training regimen and his Traverse which set a new precedent of going West to East; starting at Lonesome and ending at Carter. Chris, like Ev and Batch and "Bert" Malcolm, included Pinkham Notch Camp in the Traverse. Two friends of mine described Chris as he came through Pinkham on the last leg of his run and said he was guzzling a #10 can of pineapple juice as he ran down Rt. 16 towards the Glen House. I was duly impressed. I was also impressed that his training for the Traverse included running up Mt. Adams from Randolph to the Summit four times in one day with a total rise of 18,000 feet!

Chris' well publicized traverse catalyzed several more attempts including one in the summer of 1960 by Tom Deans, the hutmaster at Greenleaf Hut who also ran it West to East. Tom had to abort his traverse at Lakes due to a painful rash. I was inspired by Tom (who was a role model for me when I worked in the huts) and in the summer of 1963 I wanted to try a traverse. I was in great shape. In the fall of 1962 I'd lowered my Mile time closer to my goal of 4:00 minutes while winning two significant distance races in Europe one on the Ifley Road track in Oxford, England, where Roger Bannister had first broken the 4 minute mile in the early spring of 1959 before officially breaking it racing against Ron Landry in the 1959 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, BC. Bannister was definitely one of my heroes. I kept the photo of him at the finish tape of the Magic Mile at Vancouver over my desk where I did my homework every night in high school. In 1961 or 1962 I was waiting in line at the Exeter Street Theater in Boston to see Peter Seller's new movie, at the time, Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex (but were afraid to ask) and Roger Bannister was standing behind me and we had a nice chat. It was a great moment.

The author packing into Zealand in May 1966,
three years after running the hut Traverse.

In July of 1963 I packed everyday I wasn't guiding. I packed at Galehead and Madison where the pack trails are long and/or steep. On July 28th Willey "El Wacko" Ashbrook and I packed a combined weight of 283 lbs across the Gulf Side Trail, a distance of 6 miles, from the Cog Railway to Madison Hut. That's an average of 141.5 pounds a piece, close to what each of us weighed that summer. We took the Cog up to the Gulfside Tanks, jumped off the train there (it was still moving) with our loads already tied securely to our pack frames and came across the ridge because it was "too hot" in the valley (we thought it would be easier and cooler than coming up the Valley Way) and because we hadn't heard of anyone doing it before. We honestly thought it was going to be easy, like a walk in the park, but it took us more than 6 hours! My load of 145 pounds that afternoon was thought to be a Madison record (which I didn't accept at the time) for weight packed to the hut. (A much heavier load of 194 lbs was brought up the Valley Way in 1966 by Sid Havely !)

To test my fitness for a hut traverse in a pace between 4-5 mph, I made a trial run on August 16th. Without planning exactly where I was going I left Pinkham at noon, ran up to Lakes arriving at 1:05 pm (that's after stopping to vomit violently at the top of the Tuck Junction). I stopped there briefly and continued down the Crawford Path and over the A-Z Trail to Zealand Falls Hut arriving there at 3:15 pm, had a cup of tea with Jeff Damp, signed the log book, and returned to Lakes arriving totally exhausted at 5:50 just as they were serving dinner. I has covered 30 miles in just under 5 hours. Tom Martin and Stan Cutler had me lie down on some blankets in a corner of the kitchen while the Lakes croo finished serving supper to the guests. After resting 20 minutes I drank a large eggnog and proceeded up to the summit of Mt. Washington, ran down the Auto Road, across the Old Jackson Road to Pinkham Notch Camp arriving just before 8 pm. I'd covered 39 miles with 10,600 ft in vertical gain in a little under 8 hours (including rests). I 'd maintained an average pace just under 5 mph. I had a "good" day. I was in top form and everything clicked. The first twenty five miles felt easy. It was a lark compared to committing myself to an actual hut traverse. So the success of the trial was partly due to serendipity, something you hope for but can't always predict will happen. To successfully complete a hut traverse averaging 4.5 mph would depend on a steady intake of fluid and nutrient, the weather, my feet and my footwear holding up, staying focused, and quite a bit of luck. The weather was crucially important. I needed a cool day, even a cloudy day, or even a day with light showers so I'd stay cool. On the trial run I hit a "wall" around the 30 mile mark as I came back up the Crawford Path towards Lakes and faded quickly because I'd been lazy about my hydration and energy intake. This had to be precisely managed to minimize acid build up (lactic acidosis). The Twinway, going westbound, is in the 30-40 mile range and is a hot, dry desert on hot summer days. My body weight was a 145 pounds (no extra weight). I was fearful of two things: falling somewhere and/or getting paralyzing leg cramps and particularly in that dark, forbidding 6 miles between Ghoul and Lafayette.

My log entry at Zealand Hut on August 16, 1963.  I made a little joke out of it at the time because I didn't want people to think I was bragging. I often put down my own accomplishments.

I began my hut traverse a week later starting at Madison. I'd been packing at Madison when my normal set of days off began (my last set for the summer). I also started from there because I do not do as well on downhill as I do on uphill. I left Madison at 5:08 in the morning not knowing exactly how far I would go that day. I intended to go down via Parapet and Osgood Ridge but at the very last minute chose the Madison Gulf Trail because it's like a elevator and gets you down quickly. So, I first ran to Carter via the Madison Gulf Trail, the Great Gulf Trail, the Osgood Ridge Trail to the Glen House (as all the trails from the Gulf went to the Glen House at that time) and up the Aqueduct Path to Nineteen Mile Brook Trail and the hut (8.7 miles), then, ran up over Wildcat and down the Wildcat ski trail (big mistake) to Pinkham Notch Camp (total 13.3 miles), and up to Lakes (total 17.8 miles) via the Tuckerman Ravine and Cross Over trails. To continue past Lakes my elapsed time needed to be 4 hours, 20 minutes or less. If it was slower than that I would bail and try again another time. If it was unduly hot, I would also quit to avoid injury.

The caption under my photo in the 1961 Wellesley High School yearbook read, "possesses great endurance and a quick sense of humor." As a distance runner in high school and college I "built" that endurance by learning to pace myself efficiently meaning that I finely tuned my pace to fit the event I was running and the time I wanted to run it in. If I was running the Mile and I wanted to run it in 4:20 minutes I ran four 65 second quarters precisely and, by using "pace" to save energy could put on a lot of speed in the last 300 yards. I used the same strategy for the Traverse as I watched for every chance to save energy that I would sue on the stretch from Galehead to Greenleaf. A newspaper clipping in a local paper covering a race I'd won said, "MacPhail runs like a gazelle. He's what coaches call a picture book runner." I doubted that a coach ever uttered the words "picture book runner" but it complimented the efficiency I was achieving. Ron Landry, of New Zealand, who also broke the 4 minute mile at Vancouver when he took second place to Bannister, was one a pretty runner, also, in the sense that he had a natural, graceful "look" and performed with great efficiency.

Another facet of my endurance was brought to light when I overheard a teammate ask another, "Do you think MacPhail doesn't feel pain, or does he feel it and move past it?" I heard it as a compliment to the level of endurance I'd been developing. Ernest Shackleton, Maurice Herzog. Tenzing Norgay, Roger Bannister, John Harlin were a few of my childhood heroes. They all had remarkable endurance. Shackelton's motto was "Fortitudine Vincimus" or, "By Endurance We Conquer". He named his ship The Endurance. I had a fierce dedication to achieving a high level of endurance as do most athletes who want to go on to bigger things. A risk is always that in shaping one's endurance it is also easy to cause self-injury. For me that would be running my knees out.  Everything I was doing when I was around 20 years old I saw it as "heroic" and fantasized about proving myself, or being tested in a feat that would require great strength and for me to withstand great pain and deprivation.

Could have been compensating for a deeper feeling of inadequacy. Like a lot of teens that I work with now as a therapist I had a really low self esteem. Running, hiking, packing those high weights certainly resolved that anxiety and the emptiness. Nothing in the world made me feel as good as finishing a great workout on the track or tying on 110 pounds on my packboard and getting it up to Galehead in 2 hrs. 30 min.

My time to Lakes was on target. The weather was cool and I felt fluid. I had vomited on top of the Tuckerman Ravine headwall but I was running easily with no sign of cramps. I knew I could average 6-7 mph to Zealand as I had the previous week. I could also conserve energy on the long downhills. My goal was to get to Zool in 6h:25m and rest there for 10 minutes with a cooling swim in the icy flume of Whitewall Brook. Zealand was 3/5 (20 miles) of the total distance. Galehead, if I got that far, was 40 miles or 4/5 of the total distance (roughly). My elapsed time to Ghoul was 8 hrs:24 m and off target. I had dropped my pace on the Twinway between Zool and Galehead as I feared. Starting down South Twin and looking over at Garfield and Lafayette I was ranting under my breath, "forget it, you can't do it! You're an ass hole".

At Galehead I ate protein and hydrated with koolaid (the 1960s version of Gatorade). The last 1/5 of the traverse is painful and exhausting. Garfield by itself is a killer. I kept repeating "it's only 12 miles from Galehead to Lonesome " as I put my heart into summitting Garfield first, then Lafayette. I had hoped to cap Lafayette at 10h:00m but I was way off that and I was 45 minutes behind at the summit of Lafayette. Disappointment surged through me, but as I glanced back at Mt. Washington far, far behind me, I experienced that incredibly satisfying sense of astonishment seeing how far I'd come. To the west Lonesome Lake beckoned. I had a long downhill to reach Franconia Notch and I ran off the summit magnificently as I showed off for some hikers that were watching me. As I passed Greenleaf Hut some guest sitting on the front steps gave me a big boost by applauding as I quietly passed and disappeared down the Old Bridle Path.

(Added in August 2012) I want to add here that I have found, and it was particularly true on my August 1963, that I ran much better when I was being watched, particularly by a significant "other" like a parent, or girlfriend or anyone of personal importance to me. I ran my best mile with my girl friend on the time watching from the stands. Packing in the huts, too, it became amusing that I would be panting up the trail complaining, swearing, hating it and when a group of people came down, particularly if there was a pretty girl in the group (or, better) a whole camp of pretty girls, I suddenly was standing straight, head up high, surging with adrenalin, and fairly sprinting up the trail. The applause from the Greenleaf guests gave me that kind of surge, but other hikers did as well. To point out a few: a couple in the morning as I was heading up to the Wildcats, some hut guests leaving Lakes and coming across the Tuck Cross Over, a really pretty young woman on the Crawford Path who quickly handed me a packet of raisins as I ran by. That interaction alone gave buoyed me no end and gave me a energy boost that would "carry" me for miles. (I didn't stop thinking about her for  hours. Go ahead and laugh, but how often did you do something better than you might have because you were showing off for someone?)

Recently there's been talk about 'records'. Matthew Cull who did the traverse in 1993 was still claiming a record until recently, I think, of 13 hr. 14 min.  Before him Bertie Malcolm and Chris Goertze both claimed records. In 1963 I wasn't aiming for a record. Few people knew about the traverse in 1963 outside of a small group of people, but there was no one to impress, really, and there wasn't a place to record it. Also, to set a record would require proof, validation, of some kind and I had none. I didn't think about proving I did a traverse to anyone because I wasn't sure I would finish it. I was already an excellent athlete with superlative strength and endurance but I was looking ahead at the slim chance of winning a berth on the 1964 US Olympic track team. There were moments when I really wanted to because my negative self-talk was getting to me, but I didn't quit only because I wanted to see how far I could go and how much I could push myself. Like Roger Bannister, I wanted to see if I could go beyond my limit. I'm so glad I didn't quit. I don't like to quit anything unless it's wise to do so. Completing the traverse has it's own rewards for each person that tries it, I didn't make the 1964 Olympic team because of knee problems. I had trained too much which is a lesson in itself. The traverse was a training exercise. Taking the long view of all the training I did in my teens and twenties the traverse still benefits me in everything I do. I still have the core strength and the mental and physical ability to do marathon hikes, run up and down mountains, ski, etc. as I turn 70. It was a good investment.

It should be mentioned that there's a larger group of sensible folks who've completed the hut traverse by enjoying in small groups taking a more leisurely pace and good food to eat long the way.

Another footnote is that in the early 1960s there were a number of other runners in the White Mountains making fast times on the trails. They include Mark Ottey, who worked Construction Croo in 1961 who was a Nordic Combined skier with a lot of endurance and who could cover distances amazingly fast. He and his girlfriend, Connie Illia, hiked with full packs from Liberty shelter to Guyot shelter in 7 hours! Dave Langlois ran Cross Country for UNH (University of New Hampshire), worked in the huts and trained on the mountain trails. He beat me soundly on the UNH cross country course; Al Koop worked at Lakes a few summers and was very fast on downhill (which I was not), and Ludwig Schiessel who worked in the huts and is legend for his speed and endurance was usually faster and often possessed more stamina than I and did amazing feats of packing and running, in fact he's still running. I timed Ludwig once in a round trip up the Fire Trail from Pinkham to Tuck Shelter and back in 28 minutes (averaging 10 mph). Willie "El Wacko" Ashbrook was, and still is, a strong, fast runner and legendary on the pack trails of Madison and Mizpah. I fondly remember his sub-14 minute sprint into Zealand Hut from the trail head for a cold beer. The 50s hut generation, the one before Dave, Ludwig, Willie and I, had the likes of George Hamilton, Mac Stott, and Chuck Rowland who didn't publicize their trail running prowess but in private conversations blew my socks off with some of the times they made and it's possible that George's time from Madison to Lakes could still stand as one of the swiftest. So there is a tradition and a vast cast of characters, some known, some unknown, who've taken wing and run up, down and sideways across these beloved Hills and in most cases just for the hell of it (and a beer, or two).

It's possible to say that more than three hundred people completed the Traverse in various and sundry times from the late 1970s til' 2010, AMC employees and others. Someone's even done it in the winter! Whenever I bump into someone on the trail who was/is attempting the Traverse I ask them to stay in touch so an accurate history might get written someday.

Mary Weir packing down the Bridle Path from Greenleaf.
She ran her first Hut Traverse in August 2010 in 22 hours.

These days there are lots of non-AMC folks doing the Traverse but it's most popular with AMC croo like George, Mary, RD, and others who have a lively interest in it as both a challenge and a training regimen. A few weeks ago George completed a Traverse in 14:17 hours and Mary Weir, also on Greenleaf croo, completed a Traverse in 22 hours. I'm aware of 31 AMC croo who completed the Traverse in the past four years with 12 so far this summer and that includes Ari's Ofsevit traverse (read Ari's description of his traverse in the Comment section). Average time over this summer has been a little under 17 hours. My conversations with George and Mary and others like Hillary Gerardi who did a Traverse three years ago by telling herself that she was "just going for a really long walk", focus on the personal education regarding fitness and training. I think it would be brilliant for someone to write a current history comparing attempts not so much about time but more about training, fluid intake, how to reduce stress and improve energy efficiency and stamina. It is, after all, the equivalent of two back-to-back marathons with 16,000 feet-plus in altitude gain!

As already noted those people who completed the traverse pre-1974 included Pinkham Notch Camp in the Traverse which means a mileage increase and added time. The distance of the added leg depends on how you run it. The usual West to East strategy was to go to Lakes, Madison, then Pinkham and Carter and East to West to go to Pinkham, Madison, Lakes, but pre-70's people were also using different trails than those used for the Traverse today. Even in the past four years trails have changed somewhat. To go from Madison to Carter directly is .4 miles longer now then it was in 1970. Lonesome Lake Hut is .6 miles further west than it was in 1965. Conversely, trails have been reconfigured in places and improved. The .9 mile section between Galehead Hut and the summit of South Twin was like a shaky ladder prior to 1976 and is now a escalator by comparison. Happily I can report that the A-Z Trail between Crawford Notch and Zealand that used to be a nightmare; a quagmire of mud so deep that you could lose a boot in it, is still a nightmare.

Lastly, hiking equipment has changed dramatically since the first Hut Traverses were completed in the 1930s. Transporting fluids, water, etc, with the new technology of bladders outfitted with tubes and mouth-pieces is revolutionary. Footwear keeps getting better. I wore Adidas cross country shoes that were designed for the 1960 Rome Olympics. I had been given three pairs and I wore two of those out training and running the Traverse but they saved me a huge amount of energy compared to heavy hiking boots. I wore Limmers on the first leg down Madison Gulf and switched to Adidas at the Carter pack house. I had another pair of Limmers waiting at Ghoul in case I felt it was necessary to switch for the Garfield and Lafayette descents but I stuck with the Adidas. The trail shoes I wear today, Salomons, are light, like the Adidas, but super tough with great traction and adhesion to rocks (even wet) and slabs.

This short history was my way of introducing the Hut Traverse, catalyzed by conversations with George and Mary, but also a forum to tell what I remember about my 1963 traverse with the caveat that memory is not often synonymous with accuracy. In this narrative I feel that I have achieved perhaps 80 percent accuracy. My time was a personal best. That's all. I've never claimed a record on the traverse mainly because I have no proof that I actually ran one. I think of it as a personal endeavor meant to build strength and confidence. I was doing it because I love the challenge, not to make a name for myself. I'm supportive of anyone who tries the hut traverse with or without the need to set a record but my genuine interest is with those like Mary, George, Ari, RD, Nate, Sarah B., Matt D., Phil, Hillary, etc, who do it for the challenge, training or pleasure: for the satisfaction.

The Hut Traverse is not the only game in town, either. There are several other grueling hikes that can be addictive, some that have already been mentioned. My favorites is the Mahoosucs (one way north or south) with a bike return (approximate 11-12 hrs.), Kilkenny Ridge (one way) with a bike return (11 hrs) as well, the West and East Pemi Loops (10-12 hrs), the Presidential Traverse with a bike return (or Guy Gosselin when you don't have a bike) (10-12 hrs), and the Carter-Moriah-Wildcat Ridge(s) with a bike return (8-9 hrs). They're all long but you can do them in a day and have fun. Elapsed times vary, of course, but for most of these mentioned its under 12 hours. There are a few I haven't done like Swan's Traverse (going from Randolph to Pinkham in the most grueling way imaginable). My dream is to try a Gorham-Moriah-Carter-Wildcats-Washington-Clay-Jefferson-Adams-Madison Loop via Glen Boulder, and Pine Link back to Guy Gosselin's house in Gorham, in one day. It's about 40 miles.

Not to be too redundant I want to conclude by saying that when people ask why I do these "ridge runs" I try to tell them what a the deep pleasure I get being able to move fluidly and freely, like Chingachgook in "Last of the Mohicans", to run like a deer and move effortlessly uphill, and the zen-like feeling of being one with the mountains; for the joy and satisfaction (power?). Try one yourself and see if you get the bug!


KBW said...

Alex, what a great post. I never realized you were such a stud. I am thoroughly impressed.

Hut Traverse, Presidential Traverse, Pemi-Death March or any other long-walk (run) are great ways to set personal goals. The record keeping is fun, but the most important part is for someone to challenge themselves (in my opinion).

I had read about a full-moon Presidential Traverse and finally did it last year, starting on Madison at sundown. Now you have me thinking about a Hut Traverse. Now I think I know what I am going to do wit one of my weekends off up on Madison. Also, wonder if its ever been done in winter!

Thanks for the shout out too.

Ari said...

Greetings from Flea—great post Alex; I was skeptical of your 12-hour time but if you were nearing 4:00 miles I can believe it. I finished the traverse in 20:50 a couple weeks ago—slower than I'd planned but, ha, plans. 7:30 to Mizpah was fine and dandy and then I slowed a bit, and also had to wait out a bull mooseon the OBP in the dark and other such sundries. Always a good time. I realized that I did not manage my food and fluid intake well and bonked a pretty badly before Galehead. And then the section after Ghoul, ugh.

Of course six days later, I hiked down the Valley Way, biked (mountain bike) over Jefferson Notch, down Crawford Notch (52 mph, passing two cars on the top drop in a no passing zone), picked up a beverage at the store in Glen, some food at Storehouse in Pinkham and then hiked up the Valley Way in time for dinner. I'm planning a similar action hiking down the OBP, biking around the Pemi (via Sawyer River Trail) and back up; going up Crawford is going to be a beast. And a Pemi Loop. But if you're up at Flea, come by and say hi.

And I'm toying with a reverse traverse (Lonesome-Carter) next week. if the weather is really nice and I feel up to it. And an excuse to go see the deconstruction of Madison. But going down Mad Gulf or Osgood late at night will be, um, interesting.

Alex MacPhail said...

Hi Ari, I keep missing you! I was a Madison yesterday and now you're at Flea!! Geoge H. could probably be talked into another Traverse. Yours sounded more like an Norse Epic and the Bike-Hike sounds cool. Write me an email or let's get together for a hike. I want to hear about your summer and what you learned about Natural History, etc. Best, Alex

little d, B.S.N. said...

Our Tom and RD just did another one last week- reverse style, so that we could cat-call them as they sped into Madison just in time for dinner. We were thoroughly impressed, especially when Tom packed the Valley way in epic style the next morning.

- Dorothy (George's sister, Madison Fall Croo)

Alex MacPhail said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex MacPhail said...

Hi again, Dorothy. I botched that (my original comment to your comment), sorry. I meant to say I didn't know George was your brother but reversed it. Tom and RD's Traverse sounds enticing. I want to know more. Say Hello to everyone and hopefully I'll see you all before Fall Closing. Best, Alex

Mary said...

Hi Alex,

I am hoping to write an article for Appalachia about the hut traverse. May I interview you? I haven't been able to access your email address through this blog. Feel free to email me at


Mark Nowotarski said...

I'm curious about those wooden pack frames. Does anyone have information on them? Where to get them? The reason I ask is that I know someone who has invented a similar frame that should be a lot more stable under heavy load. I'd like to compare the two.

Feel free to leave a post or send a note to

George said...

Hey Alex,
Just did 12:38 from Carter to Lonesome. It was a little hot, and I would recommend against eating bacon mid traverse, but it was a blast. Hope you visit soon,

Jeffrey Colt said...

Hey Alex,

I think you came up and visited Madison earlier this summer and talked with RD and I (I was the one contemplating running up from the 1 mile mark on Valley Way to see what a 15 minute mile or 4mile/hr pace felt like but opted to drink a beer instead).

I was looking for George's time to see what the standing record was but couldn't find it on FKT. Here it is! Thanks! I also love the bit about packing to Madison from the cog, I definitely considered it on some of the hot days this summer when the Valley and the Valley Way seemed daunting.

Just finished my westbound traverse on the 18th of August in 14:36, quite a bit slower than I hoped but as always, there were unpredicted obstacles. I was shooting to get to Lakes in 4:30 and got lost in thick fog, slowing me to 5:05, which I knew would be too slow to contend with George's 12.5 hour pace. I opted to keep going though and am happy I did.

Not sure if I have another one in me, but it is strange how after completing one, I recognize all the things I could have done better. See you sometime again around the whites,