"My White Mountains odyssey"


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  1. #1
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    Jul 2001
    Thomaston, CT

    "My White Mountains odyssey"

    My White Mountains odyssey

    Barry Matulaitis

    For the past 17 years of my life, I have been taking hiking and backpacking trips to mountains throughout northern New England.

    Many of the trips I have taken have been strenuous, leaving me tired but happy at the end of a long hiking day. While I have done some serious hiking, having climbed to and from the summits of roughly 200 different New England peaks, nothing compares with a recent trip that I did in New Hampshire's spectacular Presidential Range.

    On Friday, July 30, I left my Stratton home at 3 a.m. and drove to the Great Gulf Wilderness parking area 10 minutes south of Gorham on Route 16 to begin my quest to climb all seven Presidential summits as part of a marathon loop hike. The drive was an adventure in itself as I fought to stay awake. I had gotten only two and one half hours of sleep the night before as anxious anticipation of the trip kept me awake for much of the night.

    Along the way, I nearly had head on collisions with two moose. I was forced to use all of my driving skill and the brakes on my car to avoid a serious accident. I swear that I can still smell the rubber burning.

    When I arrived at the parking area and started hiking at 5:35 a.m., I set off down the Great Gulf Trail, crossing the Peabody River on a suspension bridge and then turning right onto the Great Gulf Link Trail. After a flat 1.3 miles of hiking, I arrived at the Daniel Webster Trail at Dolly Copp Campground and proceeded to climb roughly five miles to the summit of Mt. Madison.

    From there, I proceeded on to the summits of Adams and Jefferson. Madison and Adams rewarded me with spectacular views, while Jefferson's summit was in the fog. Thus far, the hike was a success, as my legs felt strong and I was relaxed and focused. However, I knew that I still had a long way to go, and the difficult miles ahead would require intelligent pacing, proper hydration and a willingness to cope with physical and mental fatigue.

    After summiting Jefferson, I proceeded over to Mt. Washington. Some hikers violently complain about the presence of the summit buildings and the cog railway, and while I must admit that they do detract somewhat from the wilderness experience, I can also appreciate the history that surrounds them. Every time I approach the highest summit in the northeast at 6,288 feet, I get chills (and not just from the usually windy and cold weather), even though I have climbed the mountain eight times.

    From Mt. Washington, where I relaxed in the summit building for a little while to build up my strength for the rest of the trip, I descended a mile and a half on the Crawford Path to Lakes of the Clouds Hut to refill my water bottles. At this point, the sun had been beating down on me for several hours on a warm and humid day and I was beginning to feel its effects. Getting out of the sun into shaded areas helped me a great deal.

    After a short, steep climb to the summit of Mt. Monroe from the hut, it was down the trail for roughly two miles to the summit of Mt. Eisenhower. From there, I hiked over to Mt. Pierce and then went down into the trees to Mizpah Hut. At this point, I had been hiking for roughly 21 miles and had climbed over all seven Presidential Range summits, traversing a 15-mile area above treeline. It was 2:45 p.m., and I took a water and food break at the hut to steel myself for the return trip.

    I proceeded southeast on the Dry River Cutoff Trail to the Dry River Trail, and then due south for a short distance to the Isolation Trail. The Isolation Trail seemed to take forever for me to climb, as it was a steady, grueling ascent to the ridge between Mt. Isolation and Mt. Washington. When I finally reached the Davis Path after two miles of climbing the meandering trail, I was relieved but realistic, for I had many miles to go before I slept.

    One of the most difficult parts of the trip followed, as I made the climb up the Davis Path to the junction with the Boott Spur Trail on Mt. Washington's shoulder. I was forced to stop and rest several times, as my legs were cramping up on me and I was becoming more and more tired.

    Finally, I reached the top of the ridge, turned right on the Boott Spur Trail and began descending.

    By this time, I was hiking on fumes. I constantly reminded myself not to step onto loose rocks, as a sprained ankle would definitely have ruined my day. When I reached the Boott Spur Link, I turned left and descended into Tuckerman Ravine over enormous boulders. Some of these were the size of a small house, and I was grabbing onto anything I could get my hands on to lower myself to the ravine floor.

    The hardest part of the hike was now over, but I could feel myself deteriorating physically. In addition to being slightly dehydrated, my legs were throbbing from the buildup of lactic acid that had accumulated over the roughly 28 miles that I had now hiked. I was also hungry, tired and mentally fatigued from the length of the trip, which was by now six miles longer than I had ever hiked before. On top of this, large blisters had formed on my feet, and I had no recourse but to ignore the pain and move on.

    An easy three-mile walk on the Raymond Path was followed by a left hand turn onto the Old Jackson Road, and shortly, the Madison Gulf Trail. Now exhaustion began to get the better of me. At one point as I was hiking along the Madison Gulf Trail, I tried to sit down beside the trail and was so tired that I actually fell backwards into some bushes and just stared blankly at the sky for several minutes.

    Eventually, I reached the junction with the Great Gulf Trail, turned right and walked the 2.8 miles back to my car. By this time, it was dark, and I had switched on the head lamp that I had brought along with me. On the several occasions when I sat down beside the trail to rest, I turned it off and just listened to the sounds of birds chirping and the rustling of animals in the woods. Despite my extreme exhaustion, I was able to appreciate the serenity of being in the woods and was thankful to be a part of such an array of natural wonders.

    When I finally arrived back at my car at 9:20 p.m., I nearly collapsed with a combination of exhaustion, relief and excitement. I had just pulled off the greatest physical accomplishment in my life by hiking a total of 36.2 miles over seven mountains over rough terrain and on one of the warmest and most humid days of the summer.

    To cap it off, I was hiking alone, with nobody pushing me to go faster or encouraging me. It was just me and the mountains. Although this hike was preparation for my through hike of the Appalachian Trail next year, it will be something that I will always remember, for I pushed beyond my limits and past the point of normal exhaustion to another plane of existence. To those who question my sanity and criticize me for my decision to go it alone, I simply say, "Dare to act on your dreams."
    I ski double black diamonds.

  2. #2
    Just for "fits and giggles" I estimated the elevation gain on this hike.... 10,000' +/- a few hundred.

  3. #3
    What an well written article and a delight to read. Thanks for the post, Greg!

    The Presie traverse from Mt Madison to Mt Jackson is 21.7 miles, 8,800' of elevation gain with a book time of 15:15. Add the 4.2 mile hike up to Madison with its 4100' of gain and one grueling climb of 12,900'.

    What a haul!

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