I was a little hesitant about a solo adventure with Mike. He is more than willing to do something extremely epic and out of my comfort zone. However his training, and running in particular, has been lackluster recently, so he wasn't planning anything too long. He also wasn't planning for any speedy FKT attempts this time around. He came up with a few ideas that after I researched, I was excited about. We met up in the early morning and drove up to Pinkham Notch. The drive took longer than I anticipated due to miserable pre-dawn traffic in the Boston metro area, and then leaf peeping/outlet shopping traffic in Conway. Still, seeing the mountains on this clear day was fueling the anticipation. I couldn't wait to start!
We parked at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and quickly assembled our gear for the day. Mike was way more organized than me, and went ahead and registered while I finished up. I had a Camelback with about a liter or so of water, 2 granola bars, 2 power bars, 4 GUs, a map, hat, gloves, wind layer, warm layer, and phone all crammed together. I seemed to be ready....
We finally began moving about quarter after ten. The air was cool, I was sweaty and anxious. Mike had planned a loop that would head roughly north (following the AT southbound) to the summit of Mt. Madison. We would then continue to follow the AT on the Gulfside Trail to the summit of Mt. Washington. From there we could choose a few different options down to get back to the car. The first few miles looked flat on the map. Of course, the "flat" began with a 500' climb. Mike let me lead and I kept my pace easy, but running throughout. We were following something called Old Jackson Road, but it was a rocky mess. I was hoping for easy trails to start, but that was not to be! It took some getting used to having a pack on my back. I was also super sweaty, but cold, even though we were well below tree line. I was a little nervous about this, but I still had two layers I could add, plus my hat and gloves. There was running water at every small stream crossing, reminding me that it had rained quite a bit up here recently. My Inov8's were not gripping at all to the wet rocks and I kept slipping. I was annoyed by this. Eventually we could hear some serious moving water and reached a very cool bridge over the Peabody River. We lingered here for a couple of minutes as Mike began snapping pictures with his fancy camera and I got to warm up in the sun.
We didn't linger long and Mike took the lead as we began slowly ascending now on the Osgood Cutoff trail. We reached the Osgood Trail, which would climb very steeply for about 3,000' to the summit of Madison. We began power hiking. Mike dropped back as he grabbed a bar to eat. I just kept plugging along, wondering when I would hit tree line. I got pretty far ahead and was nervous Mike was not doing well. Turns out (and I found this out later on my own), it's really hard to eat and move this far up in elevation. Every time I ate, it would take me forever to finish, and I struggled to breathe, chew, and move at the same time.
Anyway, we finally got above the trees and the views were ridiculous! I had hiked up Mt. Washington and Mt. Jefferson before, but never had great views like this. Madison was just a pile of rocks. The grade got easier, but we took longer to take in the sights and navigate the rocks.
We summited, and then made our way down to the Madison Hut. It felt good to get the biggest climb of the day out of the way, and feel like we had made some real progress. Plus the scenery was just incredible. Now on the Gulfside Trail, we were on the ridge that leads to Washington six miles away. Our trail skirted the summits of Adams and Jefferson, but we only missed out on a few hundred feet of scrambling on more rocks. The sun felt good and I was warm enough with just a singlet and a hat. It was nice to casually make our way over the tricky footing, sometimes running, sometimes not. We passed Adams and made our way through the clouds spilling over the Col between Adams and Jefferson.
Once past Jefferson, the urge to reach the Washington Visitor Center was strong, as we both were running out of water and sick of the crap we were eating. We had to climb another 1,300' or so, but the grade was gentle. We pushed pretty hard for awhile, before slowing down near the summit.
Looking back at where we came from.
The final push was exhausting. My body was holding up well. Not fatigue pain. I just needed a break. And Coke. And some real food. We made it to the top, but the scene was a bit disappointing. Tourists everywhere. I felt out of it. We went inside to the cafeteria looking very disheveled. Nothing seemed appealing. I drank a small Gatorade and a little bit of my Coke. The food I bought was not going to get eaten. Middle aged men kept wanting to talk to us. We needed to get out of there. I was also getting cold and just felt like crap. I put on another layer and we headed out the most direct way down - Lion's Head Trail to Tuckerman Ravine Trail. Instantly we were in the sun, out of the wind, and I warmed up quickly. Back to just a singlet for me. I also felt better moving again. The way down did seem to take a long time with not much running on Lion's Head Trail. At least my body still felt fine. No pain.
Eventually we reached the Tuckerman Ravine Trail that Mike referred to as a jeep access road. I was excited to actually run again. The "road" however, was a littered with rocks and technical. Doh! I just ran as best I could. We hardly saw anyone on the trails all day, but now in the late afternoon, we were seeing a lot of people descending via this trail. It helped keep me running. Faster and faster we would go, anticipating the finish, and getting more dirt mixed in with fewer rocks. Finally, we reached the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and our loop was complete. My crappy watch had the run at 16.7 miles, but Mike's fancier one had it at almost 18 miles. Total time was 6:11:11, with about 5:45-5:50 of moving time. Here's the map:
The ride home went by much faster, even though we were tired. A very full, fun day.