Wikipedia describes the Presidential Traverse as follows: "A Presidential Traverse, as it is known to hikers in the Northeast, is a strenuous and sometimes dangerous trek over the Presidential Range of New Hampshire's White Mountains. Contained almost entirely in the 750,000-acre White Mountain National Forest, the Presidential Range is a string of summits in excess of 4,000 feet. To complete the traverse, one must begin at either the northern or southern terminus of the Presidential Range and finish at the opposing end. As there are multiple definitions for the Presidential Traverse, what happens in between is a question of debate..." While many hikers have claimed that doing the traverse without tagging the summits is valid, this seems counter to the definition of a range traverse. The minimum traverse, from Madison to Pierce, is 18+ miles, according to recent GPS tracks from some of the FKT runs. For most hikers, the northern trailhead is near the town of Appalachia, and the southern trailhead is Crawford Notch. A good topo map is here. This page gives distances, elevation gains and "typical" hiking times.
Note about Mt Clay: As far as we can tell, most recent FKT aspirants have gone over the summit of Mt Clay via the Mt Clay Loop Trail. Malcolm Groves did not summit Clay, but rather just contoured around the summit via the Gulfside Trail. Groves seemed to indicate that since Henry Clay was not a U.S. President summitting his namesake peak would not be required for a "true" Presidential Traverse. Groves beat Ben Thompson's earlier time by 2m43s. However, Thompson did summit Clay, so it is worthwhile to try to estimate how much time Groves might have saved by skipping that peak. Since both runners submitted GPS tracks via Strava, this is relatively easy. It took Groves around 14m13s to do the Clay section via the Gulfside Trail, and it took Thompson 17m34s via the Mt Clay Loop Trail, a difference of 3m11s. This comparison suggests that Thompson should still be credited with the FKT, but only by about 30 seconds! We would suggest that future FKT aspirants should summit Clay, as seems to be more standard.
Judith Maddock Hudson wrote of the early history of the Presidential Traverse for the Randolph Mtn Club Newsletter:
The first "marathon" in Randolph's records was a relatively relaxed walk, undertaken in September 1882; its participants were Eugene B. Cook and George Sargent. 3 The pair left the Ravine House at 5:03 a.m., traversing Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Clay and Washington, where they spent an hour and a quarter, "during which time we luxuriated in refreshing rest, feasted with the greatest relish and desire, and ended by enjoying the fascination of the inexhaustible view." They continued over the Southern Peaks, descending to the Crawford House, and then returned to the Ravine House via the Cherry Mountain Road, arriving at 1:24 a.m., where "our worthy host appeared and welcomed us in, [and] we found an inviting table awaiting the prodigal walkers." Total distance, 42 miles, 1,212 yards; total actual walking-time, 17 hours, 33 minutes, with an additional 2 hours, 45 minutes devoted to rests as well as meals at the summit of Washington and at the White Mountain House (at the junction of the Cherry Mt. Road, northwest of Fabyans). At the time, Cook was 52 years old, and Sargent was still a young medical student (who had first come to Randolph in order to improve his frail health). Their goal had been to accomplish the trek in a single day, and they were not walking for speed (they averaged 2.1 miles per hour for the total time elapsed).
Cook's and Sargent's "audacious tour de force" (so termed by Appalachia's editor) was not replicated for many years. The next documented range run occurred on July 12, 1904, when Appies Herschel Parker and Warren Symonds began the trek from the Crawford House at 6 a.m., first ascending Webster by trail and then having to bushwhack to Jackson and on over to Clinton. Parker wrote: "The exertion required to reach the summit of Mt. Clinton via Mts. Webster and Jackson appears to the writer to be fully equal to that required to traverse the remainder of the Crawford Path and all the Northern Peaks to the Ravine House." 4 The two reached the Ravine House at 8:15 p.m., "where supper was taken and a lantern kindly furnished us by Mr. Watson...we set out for our long walk back to Crawford's in inky blackness with the rain descending." After sheltering from a thunderstorm in an empty freight car, they made their way over the Jefferson Notch Road 5, down the other side, and reached the Crawford House at 4:15 a.m.. Total mileage, about 43 miles; total time, 22 1/4 hours, an average of about 1.93 miles per hour total elapsed time, though with less than 18 hours actual walking time. For both parties, the range walk was a gentlemanly pursuit, more a test of endurance than a quest for speed.
Ryan Welts seems to have ignited recent FKT activity on the Presi when he ran the Traverse (including Pierce) in 5h7m44s on Sept. 5, 2009, about 4 weeks after setting the FKT on the Pemigewasset Loop. Prior to Welts, the fastest time we are aware of was from an unofficial "race" of one version of the route (not really the "classic" route) on Sept. 13, 1988. Ian Torrence and Steve Smith ran the race from Dolly Copp campground to Crawford Notch in 5h25m on September 13, 1998, summitting Madison (via the Howker Ridge Trail), Adams, Jefferson, Clay, Washington, Monroe and Eisenhower (but not Webster or Pierce) along the way. The race provided no aid stations, but the runners refueled on top of Mt. Washington. Torrence felt it likely that others had done the traverse faster, but knew of no faster time.
HOWEVER: It has been reported by an anonymous poster that Mike Gallagher and Ned Gillette ran the Traverse in 4h46m way back in 1968, while training for the US Olympic Nordic Ski Team. This is being reported based on Gallagher's training log from the time, though we have not see it. It is not clear if the route they used is the same as what is being done presently.