The following related questions are answered in the Death March FAQ:

This page answers many questions about doing a one day Presidential Traverse and other big one day hikes in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. You may also want to read about my Presi Traverse of 2001. There are also some notes on other "big hikes", the term "Death March" is often used to describe them.

Q. What is a Presi Traverse?

A. There is no official definition of a Presi Traverse (the widely used shorthand for Presidential Range Traverse). I define it to be a one day traverse of most or all of the peaks of the Presidential range which have trails. It thus excludes John Quincy Adams (though he was a president) and includes Clay and Franklin (though neither was a president, and neither peak is an official 4,000 footer). Many, perhaps most, people exclude Franklin, as it is a trivial "peak", and cannot be traversed (only one trail, so has to be an out and back).

The minimal traverse goes over Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Clay, Washington, Monroe, Franklin, Eisenhower and Pierce. Often Jackson is added, more rarely Webster also. Since my definition has nothing to do with the names or elevations of the peaks, I believe that a full traverse should include Jackson (named after the State geologist, not the president!) and Webster. Given the length of even the minimal traverse it is understandable that many people are fully satisfied by doing it.

Most people do it from North to South, as this gets most of the elevation gain, and most of the rock hopping, out of the way relatively early. The easiest way up Madison is by the Valley Way to the hut, and then up and down the Osgood trail, but some prefer to take the steeper and rougher Watson Path, traversing the summit of Madison. A longer and more difficult alternative (rarely done) is to use the Howker Ridge Trail to do Madison. Beyond Madison there is no choice, the Gulfside is followed to Washington, then the Crawford Path to its junction with the Webster Cliff trail, taking all the loops over the summits.

Those doing the minimal traverse then go up to the summit of Pierce and return to the Crawford Path which they follow to the road. Otherwise the Webster Cliff trail is followed, either just to Jackson (exiting by the Jackson branch of the Webster-Jackson trail) or all the way to Webster. In the latter case there are two options, exit by either the Webster branch of the Webster-Jackson trail, or continue on the Webster Cliff trail to the road.

Q. How long is a Presi Traverse?

A. The minimal traverse is 19.8 miles with 8,500 feet of elevation gain. The table below gives figures for the minimal traverse and the more common extensions.

Distances, Elevation Gains & Book Times for Presidential Traverse
Route Distance Elevation Gain Book Time
Madison to Pierce 19.8 8,500 14:10
Madison to Jackson 21.7 8,800 15:15
Madison to Webster, Webster-Jackson 23.0 9,050 16:00
Madison to Webster, Webster Cliff 23.8 9,050 16:25

A separate page gives the distances and elevation gains on the segments of the minimal traverse, together with an Excel spreadsheet that you can modify. You can also read a trip report on my 2001 Presi Traverse attempt.

Q. Where can I get water and food during a Presi Traverse?

A. The minimal traverse passes by Madison hut, the Mt. Washington summit and Lakes of the Clouds hut, longer traverses also pass by Mizpah hut. Water can be obtained at all of these locations. Most people doing the traverse will reach Madison hut before breakfast, so left over brownies will not be available. It is possible to eat a full lunch at the Mt Washington summit, and to buy snacks at the remaining huts.

The huts and summit must be used with discipline. They greatly diminish the amount of water that needs to be carried, but there is a temptation to stay too long there.

Q. How long will it take to do a Presi Traverse?

A. This is difficult to predict, as for most people it is a significantly longer trip than usual. It is one thing to beat book time on a ten mile and 3,000 foot day, quite another to even match it on a twenty mile day with more than double the elevation gain! I would guess that hikers who normally beat book time by about 20% should anticipate requiring at least full book time on a traverse.

The good news is that, beyond Washington, there is no sustained elevation gain, though late in the day even the 300 foot climbs required to summit Monroe and Eisenhower seem long. Also the Crawford Path is a good smooth trail.

Q. How do I prepare for a Presi Traverse?

A. There are two components to preparing for a traverse: endurance and climbing. You should certainly do a few very long hikes like the Bonds, plus shorter hikes with substantial elevation gain, like Madison and Adams. If you live in the Boston area the Blue Hills are a good place in which to train when you cannot go up north. Expect the traverse to be tiring in spite of your training unless you are exceptionally fit. Read about how I trained for my 2001 attempt.

Q. Logistics of a Presi Traverse?

A. Ideally you should spend the night before and the night after the traverse in northern New Hampshire. Cars should be spotted the night before and plans made for a very early start. Most people try to start some time between 4 and 5 AM. You may want to read how we did it.

As a minimum you need one car at the end of the traverse, and a second one to take you to the start. If more cars are available it is a very good idea to leave one at the Cog Railway base station, this will allow you to bail out by either the Jewell or Ammonoosuc Ravine trails in case of bad weather or fatigue. If planning to exit by the Webster Cliff trail a car should be left at the Crawford trailhead, that allows you to bail out at Pierce or Jackson.

Q. When do people do a Presi Traverse?

A. The most popular day is the Saturday closest to the Summer Solstice, to get as much daylight as possible. All you really need, of course, is a long day. Checking the times of sunrise and sunset shows that there are more than 15 hours of sunlight from some time in late May until some time in late July. That is only 30 minutes less than the longest day, and probably makes little real difference.

Since Mud Season, which makes serious training on the trails rather difficult, often lasts until Memorial Day I prefer to do it later rather than sooner within that window.

Q. What is a moonlight Presi Traverse?

A. You select a night with a full (or almost full) moon and pray for good weather. Usually you start from Appalachia early enough to get to the summit of Madison by sunset, then you go over the ridge, celebrating sunrise on Washington or Monroe.

With good weather this can be a magic experience, but given the unpredictability of weather in the Presidentials it is a high risk trip.