Presidential Traverse Under the Super Moon

Camping & Backpacking / Features / ZZBLOG POSTS

We stepped out of the brush for, as far as I could tell, the last time, and clicked off our headlamps. It only took a minute for my eyes to adjust to a full moon. It floated off to our right, casting long shadows across the alpine tundra in front of us, easily bright enough to keep us from stumbling on every rock, but the peaks ahead were just silhouettes along the horizon.

Any mountain that advertises itself as having “the world’s worst weather,” must obviously be a pretty serious objective in the daylight. So for me, it was obvious. Of course! Let’s try it in the dark!

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Known for it’s sudden mood swings, abnormal cold, and extreme winds, Mount Washington has never been an objective for the faint of heart and certainly not when it’s undertaken as the crown jewel of a 22-mile Presidential Range traverse. But any hike becomes a completely different experience when it’s done without the aid of the sun. Visibility is the first and most obvious thing to go. Visibility to see incoming weather, the trail, the summertime views. Not that this is entirely a bad thing, the mountains at night are surreal. Try your hardest, no matter where you go, to get a cool, clear night. As it gets dark, the most spectacular views very quickly shift from below you, to above you.

The Mount Washington Observatory as seen on a night time hike in early September.

The Mount Washington Observatory as seen on a night time hike under the supermoon earlier this summer.

But probably the most important piece of gear that you can bring on any hike like this is a good headlamp. True, we didn’t use it for the majority of our late-night trek, but having something you can count on is essential. Any who knows, maybe you’re brave enough to try a hike even without moonlight. My pick: the Petzl Tikka R+. The active lighting technology is not only extremely cool, but incredibly functional when you’re going back and forth from looking at the cairn in the distance, to the trail at your feet, to the map in front of your face.

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And definitely try and time it so that you can experience both sunset and sunrise from up high. With a Prezi Traverse, you probably won’t have much of a choice, but on anything shorter it’s worth watching the sun go down on one side, only to have it come up on the opposite side hours later. It’s a strange realization and proof of all those astronomy lessons you got in school. Not to mention just being above the treeline for sunrise or sunset is one of the most spectacular displays of color and light on earth. Imagine having both of them rolled into one hike!

It might not hit you until later on, but the next thing that goes is your stamina. Those of us who can’t survive completely on hiking also can’t disrupt our entire sleep/wake cycle days in advance to become nocturnal. So by the time we finished in Appalachia the next morning, I had been awake for approximately 28 hours, the last 15 of which had included nine peaks and 8300 vertical feet of elevation gain. Add another six hours until we got home, and I was destroyed.

Food was my best solution. Don’t plan on having a sit-down meal at 2:30 in the morning, instead bring a lot of little, energy-dense snacks that you can pick on every hour or so to keep your sugar levels up and mind entertained. I did it with a good supply of Honey Stinger Waffles, Cliff Shot Blocks, and Snickers bars.

Also have a good supply of water. What’s normally available in the Appalachian Mountain Club huts along the way, becomes a little harder to get once the huts are shut down and everyone’s asleep for the night. In an emergency, it’s there, but I’d rather not barge in and risk upsetting anyone not as crazy as I am. A 3 liter Camelback, topped off at Mizpah Spring Hut before it got too late, came down to it’s last few sips as I was strolling into the parking lot the next morning.

Any hike you think you know becomes something totally new after dark, just as long as you’ve done the right planning and have all the right equipment for it. Give it a try, take your favorite daytime hike, sleep in a little bit, and head out just before dark. And if you’re up for the challenge, a beautiful night entirely above treeline on the Presidential Range is a spectacular take on the nightlife.

Ryan Wichelns


Ryan began climbing Adirondack peaks at age 13. An avid skier, rock and ice climber, and mountaineer, his passion for the high places hasn’t slowed. He’s since become an Adirondack 46er, spent three weeks hiking, biking, and paddling to bisect the Adirondack Park, and climbed Mount Rainier along with countless other weekends outdoors in the Northeast. Ryan is a junior journalism major at the University of Rhode Island with hopes of writing about his future adventures and making climbing into a career. Follow him on Twitter @ADKSherpa!