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The East’s most dramatic trek tops eight peaks exceeding 4,000 feet (including 6,288-foot Mt. Washington). Each summit is a life-lister unto itself, but link them up and you’ll complete the biggest adventure east of the Rockies. That’s assuming you avoid getting stalled by a whiteout or turned back by storms: Unpredictable weather above treeline makes this a serious undertaking any time of year, and in winter, winds exceed 100 mph every four days. Yet some of our writers have tackled New England’s gnarliest peaks in its least-forgiving season, and they say the rewards are equal to the challenge. “It’s downright Himalayan in winter, and its cozy hut system is the best in the States,” says Northwest Editor Michael Lanza (“The Presidentials,” February 1996), who has hiked both. Whichever season you attempt this legendary 23-mile route, study up on the bailout points before striking out.
Do it Although some tackle it in a day, most sane hikers take two to three days. Climb 3,500 feet over 3.8 miles on the Valley Way Trail to 5,366-foot Mt. Madison. Then hike south on the Gulfside Trail and Crawford Path, tagging Adams, Jefferson, Clay, Washington, Monroe, Franklin, Eisenhower, and Pierce. Jackson and Webster aren’t considered part of the traverse (Jackson isn’t named for the president, and Webster doesn’t exceed 4,000 feet), but you may as well tack them on. From Jackson’s summit, you can look back, and yes, gloat over your route before descending to the Crawford trailhead.
Driving Drop a shuttle car at the AMC’s Highland Center (on US 302). From Randolph, drive 1.5 miles west on NH 2 to the Valley Way parking area.
Map/book AMC’s Presidential Range Map andWhite Mountain Guide ($10 and $25, wmonline.org)
Contact (603) 466-2721; outdoors.org