Your mission: Tag the six tallest summits in the White Mountains in 3 days and 13,000 feet of uphill: Washington (6,288 feet), Adams (5,799 feet), Jefferson (5,716 feet), Clay (5,533 feet), Monroe (5,372 feet), and Madison (5,366 feet).
Your basecamp: The perfect spot for Presidential peakbaggers is on The Bluff, a saddle on the edge of the 5,552-acre Great Gulf wilderness, which holds the largest glacial cirque in the Northeast.
Day 1: Bag the big one first >>> If the weather looks good, tick off Washington today, because it may be in clouds tomorrow. Follow the Great Gulf Trail past numerous cascades to your first test piece: the steep, rocky Great Gulf headwall. Then connect to the Gulfside Trail and Crawford Path, which provide a back-door route across tundra to Washington’s summit-aka “The Rockpile”-and down to the jewel-like Lakes of the Clouds. From Lakes, it’s a short climb to Monroe’s cresting-wave-like summit. Return to camp via the Alpine Garden (14 miles round-trip).
Day 2: Climb hard, escape the crowds >>> Set the alarm on your altimeter watch, because today is a whopper: 10.2 miles, 4,000 feet elevation gain, and a trail that feels decidedly off-trail. Scramble up the Six Husbands, a path avoided by most hikers because it’s super-steep (ascending ladders in spots) and rugged. Tag Jefferson’s crown, then continue south to Mt. Clay and its commanding view of the Great Gulf and northern Presidentials. Drop back toward camp via the bouldery, challenging Sphinx Trail.
Day 3: Finish high and strong >>> For a knee-weakening grand finale, the Madison Gulf Trail climbs straight up to tiny Star Lake. To reach Mt. Adams, boulder-hop the little-traveled Star Lake Trail. Then descend to Madison Hut for a much-deserved break to refuel. One more boulder hop to Madison’s summit, then down the Osgood Trail, where you can see all the peaks and valleys your boots touched this week. Back at camp, cook a big dinner. You’ve earned it.
getting there: Hike the Great Gulf Trail from NH 16, reaching The Bluff campsite at 2.7 miles, just before the junction with the Osgood Cutoff.
guide: AMC White Mountain Guide, 27th edition ($23).
contact: White Mountain National Forest, (603) 466-2721; www.fs.fed.us/r9/white.