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.
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 seen it. It is not clear if the route they used is the same as what is being done presently.
Please thoroughly read below before considering a serious attempt at the Presidential Traverse FKT
March 25, 2021 Admin Note: After a very thorough discussion with two Regional Editors, we decided to Flag the recent FKT by Ben Thompson. That means the time will stay on the website because it was a fast and terrific effort that should be recognized (and was done in a creative style), but it does not count as the fastest time; the next person has to beat the fastest non-flagged time. Ben had a great run and is fine with this decision (and his Trip Report is very worth reading).
The Presi has greatly evolved over the years, the route was gradually worked out by locals, and has become one of the best and most competitive FKTs in the world. It is one of our Premier Routes, so it now requires a clear and definitive route description in order that people can go all-out trusting that the playing field will be level and fair. Therefor, all future FKTs must stay on the trail (which also preserves the alpine environment), or if it is covered in snow still be very close to it. So running a route on snow is fine (and sometimes may be a good strategy), but one cannot make the course shorter while doing so.
Summary of Presidential Traverse FKT guidelines:
- One must start at either the Appalachia Trailhead (north) or Crawford Notch - via the Crawford Path (south) and finish at whichever you did not start at
- That said, starting in March 2021 we began tracking both Southbound (starting at the Appalachia TH) and a Northbound (starting in Crawford Notch) variations of this route
- The more "traditional", or "main" variation of the Presi Traverse goes Southbound
- One must stay on the trail, or if it is covered in snow, one must follow it as closely as practical
- The one exception to this - in snow conditions only - you may follow the Cog Railway along the northwest ridge of Mount Washington. This allows runners to avoid the precarious edge of the Great Gulf in winter conditions and does little to alter distance
- One must go over all of the following summits: Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Clay (see history below), Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, and Pierce
- A Presi Traverse FKT can be set during any time of the year (see note below), in any conditions, as long as the above guidelines are met
Seasonal variation: In recent attempts (March 2021) runners have experimented with running the route in winter conditions which are extremely variable in the White Mountains. However, "perfect" snowpack can offer excellent terrain for fast times on the route as exemplified by Ben Thompson's 3/23/21 time. There is no distinction between winter vs. non-winter attempts. As is the typical FKT ethos, runners are to figure out which conditions suit them the best.
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 submitting 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. In short, please make sure to summit Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Clay, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, and Pierce. NOTE: it seems everyone comes very close to the summit of Franklin but almost all stay on the Crawford Path, therefore, not truly summiting that mountain.
The Picnic: Run the Presi, close the loop by bike.
There's been a defined route for the Presidential Traverse for decades and it involves summiting Clay. The point is not to summit every President's peak, but to follow the Presidential Ridge. And the ridge definitely includes the summit of Clay.
That said, Malcolm's time is impressive and fast! I'd be excited to see what he could do if he gave it another shot on the correct route. Take it under 4:20!
Aside: My impression is that the only choice in the FKT route is which way you go up Madison. Lots of people take Valley Way and Daniel Webster. Ben Nephew tried Watson's path once. I'd bet all three are within a minute of each other and play to slightly different strengths/plans.
I agree with Ben. It's on the runner to stay on route or make any variations at least as difficult. Skipping Clay is a disqualifier in my opinion and something that could have been prevented with a little research and planning. There's clearly some impressive ability on Malcom's part here. Show us what you can do on the correct route.
Also agree with Ben T here. I’d be fine with seeing Malcom’s time stay up since it’s clearly marked and explained, but that’s not my call. Regarding route up Madison, Ben N and I once agreed that we’d be fine with any ascent route (Daniel Webster is tough to get to, and Ryan only chose it initially “because it’s hard”). Glad to see Ben T agrees.
Edit to say Malcolm’s time should be moved down below Ben’s on the list if possible, to make it clear that it’s not the time to beat.
On Madison ascent routes: I think Pine Link should be off limits simply because it starts several hundred vertical feet higher than the other trailheads (~1700ft vs ~1300ft) and isn't any longer. That'd probably cut several minutes off the ascent.
Yeah, forgot about Pine Link.
Agreed. Clay must be included. I was under the impression the power to amend the route only belongs to the current holder. When I resurrected this dormant FKT in 2009, Ian Torrence has ascended via Howker Ridge but had not included Clay. I chose to ascend via DWS because I though it was more aesthetically pleasing. I also chose to add distance by adding Pierce and still bested their time. Malcolm, your time is very impressive, but let’s follow the “rules” to keep the competition and spirit alive! Looking forward to your next attempt!
Sorry for the drawn out comment ?
Ben Thompson's time is the FKT, He ran the full route. If someone runs an ultra course that is short, it is not counted as a record. There is no extrapolation. I also don't agree with the choice of picking a route up Madison. I did always DW to set the FKT. I only tried Watson's Path because I had the FKT at that time. Valley Way is a quicker way up, and it would be too bad to have Ben Thompson lose the FKT to someone doing a different route. Changing almost 25% of the route is quite significant. While Ben is OK with this, if everyone starts doing this, it defeats the purpose of having an FKT where you can actually compare times. Why not change descent routes, or 4 miles in the middle of routes? The logic that allows an optional start would certainly justify something like skipping Clay if there was little difference in elevation gain.
My bad, I guess I misinterpreted our conversation when you planned to try Valley/Watson instead.
But since Ben T is the record holder it’s his call now, right?
I am planning to make an attempt for the Presi FKT in the fall. Due to the logistics of the one way route and shuttle system, I plan on starting the run from the Valley Way trail unless a legitimate reason if given for why this should not be considered an FKT. Aesthetically, I like the Daniel Webster trail for this traverse; however, I believe the Valley Way trail improves the logistics of this FKT for those who do not live in the area.
Lee, we're having trouble viewing your Strava activity. I think it must be a privacy thing. If you log out of Strava and try to view it you'll probably see what I mean. Please check the privacy settings, and make the activity public. Thanks!
I believe that I fixed the issue.
Hello, I am planning to attempt a prezi FKT this fall, should weather/timing permit. However, I want to clarify a few things about this route here before attempting:
1. Is the Valley Way ascent with the out and back to Madison now the accepted route?
2. Neither Lee nor Ryan seem to have actually summited Jefferson -- they simply ran past the summit cone but did not ascend the rock pile to the summit. Is this acceptable? (See their strava tracks to confirm this). It is not a huge time addition but at least a minute, given the rough scramble to the summit marker.
3. Lee used the trail along the cog railway to the summit of Washington, rather than the trail further towards Great Gulf. It certainly saves some time, is this acceptable?
Your run is super inspiring!!
Just wanted to chime in and say that:
1) I think Valley Way should be acceptable though not required.
2) Bummer that folks skipped the Jefferson summit. We shouldn't do that!
3) Yeah, I think people should stay on the trail in the summer!! In the winter, I think going off trail should be okay and only tagging the peaks (Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Clay, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce) should matter since it's fairly standard practice to go off trail in the winter. There's no risk of hurting the alpine vegetation when it's covered in snow... The only reason I bring this up is that I'm fairly convinced that the Presi Traverse would be faster on a perfect winter day with the rocks covered up.
I just set a new FKT on the Presidential Traverse of 3:42:38. Full report soon. I had one snafu and took gulfside by mistake instead of airline up Adams so I had to go back and tag the summit. This added at least 5 min but no other major route issues. GPX file on strava, link: https://strava.app.link/T15gC9OtLZ
Since Jordan raised some route questions, I also wanted to ask what people think about a S->N traverse? Would that be acceptable for an FKT? The southern end is over 600 ft elevation higher, so going south to north would involve 1200 ft less elevation gain. I think S->N has not been done because hitting the northern Presis while tired might be challenging and the descent going N->S down the southerns is so gentle and fast. But, I think that for a ridge like this, either direction should acceptable. Similarly, for a loop, clockwise or counterclockwise should be acceptable.
Yes, you can go either direction. Part of planning for an FKT is deciding which way is faster for you, and picking the best conditions.
For routes, while there are options for summiting some of the Northern peaks, Valley Way is required at this point since this is the current FKT route. There has been some choose your own adventure in recent years, with runners taking different trails that make it impossible to directly compare times. I doubt this is going to be an issue now, as Valley Way is the fastest route, but want to make sure the choose your adventure doesn't spread to other routes. For staying on the trail, I think this is critical to routes such as this, where going off trail (intentionally....) and posting evidence of this may present some issues with the WMNF.
First, congrats Jordan on the new FKT! That is some seriously fast running on really technical trails, which anyone who has run or hiked the traverse can appreciate. I like that you used Beacon for the effort and think it would be cool for you to run the traverse South to North too to see how your efforts compare. To answer your questions, it was my first time running the traverse, and although I looked over maps, I was figuring out the trail on the fly. I would have a much better understanding of the route if I ran it again. I used the trail along the cog railway because Ben Nephew used that variation in his 2013 effort. I personally think that slight variations and new ways of running a route (like starting from Valley Way or running from South to North) make these experiences unique and meaningful to the individual that runs them.
Hi all, thanks for weighing in here. I just wanted to agree with Lee that slight variations I brought up are not a huge issue in my eyes. I brought them up before my attempt only clarify the route so as to avoid any potential questions afterwards about whether I was on the correct route, not to question the legitimacy of his FKT, which was impressive!!
However, I agree with Ben Nephew that we should stick to a common, accepted route for the majority of the traverse, i.e. Valley Way, hitting all the summits, and descending Crawford Path. I doubt it will be an issue going forward now that we've clarified it here for future runners.
A common, accepted route is not exactly what I was saying. To compare times, you need to run the route you are trying to get the FKT on, it doesn't have to be accepted. This is what is done on the vast majority of the other FKT's, with very few exceptions. Variations make it difficult or impossible to compare times, which is the main objective here. It's a race course. Everyone ran the same route as the FKT holder for many years, this recent issue has only been happening for a couple of years. Not sure why, I don't see it happening on other FKT's. Some of the trails to the ridge are vastly different, even if the mileage is similar. Valley Way is a sidewalk compared to Daniel Webster or Watson's Path. Very few of us would have chosen Daniel Webster, it was not accepted, but that was the FKT, much to Ryan's amusement.
Not sure if the "Presidential Picnic" is a joke or not, but I did the traverse N-S and bike shuttled a couple days ago solo in 11:22:08 (#covid, no shuttle & hitchhiking being sub-optimal this summer). Hike was unsupported, but I picked my bike up in Crawford, so I suppose that would make this self-supported? If this category is real, unsupported would mean Presi hike-a-bike to Jeff Notch bike, right? Makes me laugh, but I can think of 5 people reading this thinking about strapping a carbon frame to a packboard... https://www.strava.com/activities/3675872802
Good hike, fine weather. Left Appalachia at 6:05am, hit Crawford at 3:15pm or so, moving for about 7 hours, elapsed about 9. Didn't really run. Couldn't get hungry all day, which for me means borderline bonk. Cheers to the hut croos / CC that put in the taps at the high huts, despite not opening this summer! Bike over Jefferson Notch took 90 minutes or so. I bet someone fast could do this in 5:00 flat!
Hey all, I’ve been asked to give some thoughts on the discussion taking place on Ben Thompson’s Strava about his route choices during his recent (insanely impressive!) FKT. As I have stated in previous comments above and on Strava at other times, I took care to to stay on the defined route and respect the alpine/AMC’s policies, which made it slightly longer than previous efforts. I asked that future efforts do the same. I do worry a bit about straightlining becoming a slippery slope and it becoming an alpine free-for-all, no matter the season, in order to make the run the same length as Ben’s — which is the shortest presi traverse length I have seen (I think?). All that said, I am of two minds, as winter use policies in the alpine clearly allow for choosing your own line, no matter the mode of travel (skis, running, etc.). I think that going forward, it might be good to clarify whether this route, as Ben argues, is just about tagging the summits and ending at the correct trailheads, or if it is a particular route (trail) that should be defined. I guess I’m slightly in favor of the latter, but very open to what the community chooses. Winter efforts should be allowed and listed as the same given that it’s part of choosing your conditions, as should direction choice in this case, given that that wasn’t specified beforehand. Although, perhaps for other traverses, direction should be specified early on to avoid such ambiguity in the future, so that times may be compared, which is part of the fun! Bottom line: an incredible effort during the run and also in the months (years?) you spent thinking about this effort and it should be listed as the fastest time.
Thanks so much Jordan! I'll spell out my thoughts below. None of this is to say that I'd be upset or object if the community decides on a different path.
As I've said before (even on this comment thread back in 2019!!), I'd argue for a view of the Presidential Traverse as any route that starts/ends at Crawford/Appalachia and summits Pierce, Eisenhower, Monroe, Washington, Clay, Jefferson, Adams, Madison. In the summer, you need to stay on trail to protect the alpine vegetation. But, in the winter, feel free to take whatever route seems best so long as the snow coverage is good enough. I think this reflects the norms and ethics of above treeline travel in the Whites. For example, camping above treeline is explicitly allowed by the forest service when there is enough snow. Also, skiing the ravines or the Washington summit where it's completely acceptable to go off trail with snow coverage.
Whether or not we want the Presi FKT to be a purely winter game, I think it will get there some day. I think allowing winter off-trail travel biases the calculus a little bit more towards winter. But, the route is already naturally a bit biased towards the winter (assuming "perfect" conditions which probably happen a few days a year), so maybe that's okay. At the moment, the time is still beatable in the summer, but is 3 hours possible in the summer? I think someone (not me!) will eventually go under 3 hours and it will happen in the winter.
It's sort of besides the point since we're discussing the principles rather than my specific run, but after re-assessing, I don't think I actually went any faster by straight-lining up Washington. I went and looked at my paces from my March 11th attempt where I stayed approximately on the Crawford path all the way to the summit. My split from the Crawford/Westside junction to the summit was actually 30 seconds faster for that March 11th run even though I was running a touch slower overall. So, honestly, for future runners, I don't recommend that straight-line route! The snow conditions were a bit worse and that slowed me down despite the distance being shorter. This is clearly evident from my mile splits where that mile was by far the slowest of the entire run.
The way I think about the N-S vs S-N speed. Crawford Notch is 600ft above Appalachia. So, imagine we have a 0.75 mile route that smoothly descends 600ft versus a 0.75 mile route that smoothly ascends 600ft. Why 0.75mi? This makes the slope of our idealized example similar to the overall slope of the Presi traverse. Based on my paces, in the winter, the ascent route would take ~10.5 minutes at a 14 minute/mile pace. The descent would take 5.25 minutes at a 7 minute/mile pace. That means a S-N is probably around 10.5 - 5.25 = 5.25 minutes faster holding all else equal. In winter conditions, I suspect this calculation is just about right. In summer conditions, I think the S-N advantage is much smaller and maybe even zero. First, that 7 minute/mile pace downhill will be more like 9 minute/mile. Second, because going S-N has steeper, more technical descents.
If people are interested, we could split the FKT into a N-S and S-N subcategory. This has precedent (e.g. the JMT). I would have zero objections to that.
Anyway, hopefully these thoughts are useful for future runners. I did the run I wanted to do and I'm hopeful that we'll see more winter attempts in the future!!
Just on Little Monroe: In my mind, the reason Little Monroe was never mentioned was because no one conceived you could do a Presi and just chop Little Monroe. Every other summit could be chopped and you could save time. If you hit Monroe and continue on the fastest route, you will go over Little Monroe, unless you go off trail. The only way you could chop Little Monroe and stay on trail would be an out and back to Monroe, which would be slower. I can’t remember exactly what it looks like in person, but based on a topo study Little Monroe is absolutely a part of the Presi ridge line, if the Presi ridge line traverse is your base definition for a Presi traverse.
Yeah, I guess there are three definitions then: "exact trail", "ridge line", "main peaks". I think I've mistakenly referred to the "main peaks" version as "ridgeline" before, which is not quite right. The "ridge line" one is funny because by that measure, we should be doing things super differently: up either Osgood or Howker ridge, over Mt. Quincy Adams in between Madison Hut and Adams, definitely over Little Monroe, over Mt. Franklin, and then finish over Jackson and Webster and down Webster Cliff. I've actually thought it'd be nice to add another FKT for the "Full Presi" or "Aesthetic Presi" which would do that route. I think it comes out to something like 24 miles and 11k gain.
Ben, I have to point out that you used the ridgeline definition to flag Malcolm's run and now appear in favor of another definition. Evolving thinking is all good, of course, as it seems yours has, but I do think we need to establish some consistency here so that future runners can know what they need to do. Mt. Clay is not, by definition, its own peak. Nor is Little Monroe. They are both part of the ridgeline. If "main peaks" is the approach it should only be that: main peaks, forget Clay. But, given that Clay was chosen to be part of the route a few years ago, it's now part of the route. So, "main peaks" is out, "ridgeline" is out (although I do like the idea of a "Full Presi Ridgeline" route!). So what do we have: a traditional route. The traditional route is not quite ridgeline nor main peaks, but a way through these particular mountains that has been done for the better part of a century now. Seems like that's all we've got, so we should stick to it? Don't mean to push back too hard here, so definitely don't take it as such, it just seems to me as if there is a bit if a double standard in play with respect to Malcolm's run.
Again, whatever is decided I believe should apply to future runs, I don't want to take away from your effort out there, it should stand, no doubt.
I also agree that the future of this route is in the winter, which is a bit of a shame in my view, as it decreases accessibility given that the perfect day will appear only for a few days each year. But, on the other hand, such a situation demands commitment to the route and perhaps multiple attempts to find the right day (as you did), which could be pretty cool and might set this route apart as unique and elusive.
I think I agree with you here. I propose that we stick to Jordan's route going forward with the single modification that the Cog line is allowed in the winter. I feel pretty strongly about the Cog modification just so people aren't forced to run along the lip of Great Gulf. Thanks for thinking so clearly about this!
And yeah, maybe we should go out for an "Full Presi Ridgeline" run sometime this summer and set a baseline! That route would probably only be competitive in summer conditions just because the added below treeline sections don't get enough traffic to be fast in winter.
The "Full Presi Ridgeline" is also nice since both the start and finish are at approximately the same 1300ft elevation so there's no obvious imbalance in terms of direction.
I love the knowledge and passion that Jordan, Jack, and Ben have poured into this - a great discussion! After reading your thoughts plus an exhaustive internal discussion, we deemed it best to Flag Ben's recent FKT. It was a terrific effort, plus being so creative as to possibly re-define how future FKTs are done. Our concern was not that it was done on snow (clever tactic!) but that he strayed a little too much from the standard line. That was certainly not intentional on his part - it's hard to follow a trail when one can't see it. The Presi has evolved, with the route itself up for continuous debate, but with the level of competition we're seeing now that isn't fair - we have to upgrade the route description so everyone is doing the same thing, so everyone knows when they bust their guts it will be on a level playing field. I explained this in a Note in the Route Description. Thanks - good job!