My cyclocross season was a total bust. I tweaked my ankle after racing 4 races and only got mediocre results at those races. I was riding some and having fun, but something was missing. Racing is weird. When it is what you eat, breathe, sleep, it is all that you care about. When you are forcibly removed from it, you dont care. I didnt watch any races or look at any results. So weird.
I needed a goal, something to work towards. For some reason I chose a presidential traverse. I did a few backpacking trips. One was pretty cold and gnarly. I thought I was good to go.
I hired a guide named Marc Chauvin. I researched a few guides and paid a bit more for what appeared to be the best. Amy and I drove 8 hours on Sunday to Vermont to stay overnight with friends and did the last 4 hours on Monday. I met up with Marc and we looked at my gear, he told me what to lose, what to take, etc.
It was 8 degrees in Conway when we left. Above treeline it was -10 to -20 with constant wind at 70mph. Marc made the call to stay at the RMC Gray Knob Hut . At the time this made no sense to me, but in retrospect it was a great call. We would get up to Gray Knob, ditch our stuff and make a push for Adams. This would put us above treeline from the Hut to the summit and back = 3.2 miles or so. If we did the standard route to try and get Madison, we probably would have been so blown when we got to it that we would not have gotten to the summit, and if we did, the next day would have been a bust after camping so high up and we would have spent the same amount of time above treeline without a summit.
We took the Lowes path all the way up. The previous day it had rained all day then dropped to 20 degrees at 5pm. Everything was blue ice. We used microspikes on our shoes from the first mile all the way to the hut. They worked great and allowed us to save time by not taking our crampons off and on. We got to the hut about noon and ate and drank. We left around 1pm to try and go for Mt Adams. This was going to be more epic than I had expected. It was -20 with 70mph steady wind above treeline. The second we left treeline it was like being pushed by a wave. Marc would turn around every few minutes to look at my face and have me look at his. I was totally covered with goggles on. We went over Sam Adams, which I thought was THE SUMMIT, until we descended down the backside and I looked up at the real Mt Adams. The rain the previous day had eliminated any snow. Footing was really brutal as it was just piles of icy rocks and the wind trying to push us off. After getting the summit, Marc yelled "lets get the fuck out of here." I think it was the only time he swore all day. We got back to the hut, and the caretaker was very surprised to hear that we made it to the top. I managed to let my shell over my chin down and got frost bite a little bit.
The hut was freaking awesome. They now keep them at 40-45 degrees, which is freaking balmy after being outside all day. We cooked dinner, made tea, hung out. The dude running it had just done the PCT and was living there for the winter. He was a cat 2 bike racer in a former life. Small world.
We woke up. Marc had crazy radios and stuff for weather info. It was impressive. He gave us a 50/50 shot of doing Jefferson and Washington. Once you get past a certain point, you are committed. Jefferson is probably the most remote mountain of the range in the winter. They announced the previous day that all search and rescues were going to be done from the ground, not from the weather station due to the crazy cold weather. This means that you are hoping to survive and probably losing digits if shit hits the fan.
We got to a certain rock formation that has a name that I forget. Marc asked if I was good. I said yes and put down 500 calories in a minute. We then pushed for 4-5 hours over Jefferson and Washington. It was honestly pretty easy. Weather was around -10 and wind at a constant 50. This was so nice compared to Adams the day before. Again, footing on the rocks was the only issue.
We got to the Summit and hid in a nook to talk about the game plan. Did I want to camp that night or get down? When I woke up that morning I thought that if I got Jefferson and Washington I would be totally content, but standing there having to make the call myself was difficult. Part of me wanted to do it, and part of me felt lucky that we were basically safe from this point and didnt want to push the weather luck. The final summits are formalities (250' of climbing each... all downhill from Washington.) For some reason, the thought of melting snow in 100mph winds killed it for me. We agreed to roll down Pinkham Notch and go ice climbing the next day. We missed Madison in the first place, so even if I did get the last 3 summits people would be like "not a real traverse" or whatever. I wasnt doing this to say that I did a traverse. I was doing this to justify wearing patagonia clothing to whole foods. We descended like 5000 feet down the Lions Head trail. We needed ropes and crampons for awhile. We got to the AMC center right at sunset.
I did wake up that night at 4am and wish that we had pushed on. It would have been an experience, no matter how miserable it was. Standing there on top of Mt. Washington making the call I thought about all of the negative. I thought about the crippling back pain that I had a week prior to leaving. I thought about the knee pain that I had after doing the Rachel Carson trail (37 mile day). I had self doubt and fear of that pain resurfacing and causing issues. I sat there comfortably in bed without any back or knee pain.
The next day we went ice climbing on a 350' wall. I told Marc that I was nervous and he laughed saying that up on Mt Adams was like a million times more dangerous. Its weird how the brain works.
Can you find the human in this photo?