How long does it take to hike a Presidential Traverse?
That depends on a lot of factors, but there is a way to figure it out using a navigational aid called a Time Control Plan.
Time control plans (TCP) are used to estimate the time and required to reach a destination and predefined waypoints along the way. Planning a TCP forces you to carefully study your topographic maps before you start a hike and take into account individual or group factors that can increase or decrease your pace. It’s also a useful tool to help you gauge whether you’re ahead or behind schedule, so that you can plan contingencies, such as stopping to camp before dark or turning around because there’s no way you can make your destination before nightfall.
How to Create a Time Control Plan
Creating a time control plan is a straightforward process:
- Determine your route.
- Estimate your pace.
- Measure the distance and elevation gain between points along your route.
- Calculate the time of travel between those points.
- Add rest break times
Once you’ve completed this process, you can compile the data in a table which shows the cumulative distance and elevation gain you expect to travel and how long it will take you.
As a practical example, I’ve created a Time Control Plan for a Presidential Traverse, but you can apply the same process to create your own TCP for any hike or backpacking trip.
Determine your route
There are many possible trails you can hike to complete a Presidential Traverse. At a minimum, you need to climb Mounts Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, and Pierce, although some people summit additional peaks too. There are also many different combinations of trails you can hike to climb these mountains.
If you’re not familiar with the trail system, the best way to figure out the route is to hike it with someone who’s hiked a Presidential Traverse before. If that’s not possible, you can plan your route using the AMC White Mountain Guide which describes all of the possible trails you can use, their length and elevation gain, or you can derive this information from the AMC’s White Mountain topographic maps.
In the following example, I’ve planned a route that starts from the Appalachia Parking Lot below Mt Madison on Rt 2 outside of Gorham, NH. This is a pretty typical, non-winter route that has one more challenging segment that climbs Mt Adams via the Star Lake Trail.
|Valley Way||Appalachia Parking Lot (1306')|
|Randolph Path Crossing|
|Watson Path Crossing|
|Mt Madison Hut|
|Mt Madison Summit|
|Mt Madison Hut|
|Star Lake Trail||Buttress Trail|
|Mt Adams Summit|
|Lowes Path||Thunderstorm Junction|
|Gulfside Trail||Israel Ridge Path, north junction|
|Israel Ridge Path, north junction|
|Mt Jefferson Loop, north end|
|Mt Jefferson Loop||Mt Jefferson Summit|
|Gulfside Trail Junction|
|Gulfside Trail||Sphinx Trail Junction|
|Mt Clay Loop, north end|
|Jewell Trail Junction|
|Mt Clay Loop, south end|
|Great Gulf Trail|
|Trinity Heights Connector|
|Crawford Path||Mt Washington Summit|
|Lakes of the Clouds Hut|
|Mt Monroe Loop||Mt Monroe Summit|
|Crawford Path||Mt Eisenhower Loop, north end|
|Mt Eisenhower Summit|
|Mt Eisenhower Loop, south end|
|Mt Pierce Summit|
|Crawford Path Trail head|
Estimate your pace
The next step in creating a TCP is to estimate your pace. The AMC’s White Mountain Guide uses the following formula, often referred to as “book time” to estimate hiking pace on established hiking trails: 2 mile per hour and 30 minutes for each 1000 feet of elevation gain. If you hike at this pace, it would take you 1.5 hours to hike a distance of two miles with 1000 feet of elevation gain.
People who don’t hike a lot will travel at a much slower pace, especially if they’re climbing up a steep hill. Large groups of hikers are also slower because they take longer breaks. But some people hike much faster than book time, which is why you may want to incorporate a different pace estimate into a TCP. I explain how to do this below.
Measure the distance and elevation gain between points along your route
While the AMC White Mountain Guide lists all of the segment lengths and elevation gains displayed in the table below, you can also derive this information from a topographic map or a mapping program like Caltopo using an elevation profiling tool. This is handy when you hike off-trail or on trails that don’t have guide books with this information.
|Trail||Point||Segment Distance (miles)||Cumulative Distance (miles)||Segment Elevation Gain (Feet)||Cumulative Elevation Gain (feet)|
|Valley Way||Appalachia Parking Lot (1306')||0||0||0||0|
|Randolph Path Crossing||0.9||0.9||650||650|
|Watson Path Crossing||1.5||2.4||1300||1900|
|Mt Madison Hut||0.5||3.8||650||3550|
|Mt Madison Summit||0.4||4.2||550||4100|
|Mt Madison Hut||0.4||4.6||0||4100|
|Star Lake Trail||Buttress Trail||0.3||4.9||100||4200|
|Mt Adams Summit||0.4||5.3||900||5100|
|Lowes Path||Thunderstorm Junction||0.3||5.6||0||5100|
|Gulfside Trail||Israel Ridge Path, north junction||0.1||5.7||0||5100|
|Israel Ridge Path, north junction||0.5||6.2||0||5100|
|Mt Jefferson Loop, north end||0.2||7.1||200||5300|
|Mt Jefferson Loop||Mt Jefferson Summit||0.4||7.5||600||5900|
|Gulfside Trail Junction||0.2||7.7||0||5900|
|Gulfside Trail||Sphinx Trail Junction||0.6||8.3||0||5900|
|Mt Clay Loop, north end||0.1||8.4||50||5950|
|Jewell Trail Junction||0.8||9.2||400||6350|
|Mt Clay Loop, south end||0.3||9.5||50||6400|
|Great Gulf Trail||0.5||10.1||450||6950|
|Trinity Heights Connector||0.2||10.3||150||7100|
|Crawford Path||Mt Washington Summit||0.2||10.6||150||7300|
|Lakes of the Clouds Hut||1.5||12.1||0||7300|
|Mt Monroe Loop||Mt Monroe Summit||0.3||12.4||350||7650|
|Crawford Path||Mt Eisenhower Loop, north end||1.2||14||0||7650|
|Mt Eisenhower Summit||0.25||14.25||300||7950|
|Mt Eisenhower Loop, south end||0.3||14.55||0||7950|
|Mt Pierce Summit||1.7||16.25||300||8250|
|Crawford Path Trail head||3.3||19.55||50||8300|
Calculate the time of travel for each segment based on your pace
If you can maintain a “book time” pace, it will take you 14 hours to hike a 19.55 mile Presidential Traverse with 8300 feet of elevation gain, as shown in the table below.
|Trail||Point||Segment Distance (miles)||Cumulative Distance Hiked (miles)||Segment Elevation Gain (Feet)||Cumulative Elevation Gain (feet)||Segment time (minutes)||Cumulative Elapsed Time (hours:minutes)|
|Valley Way||Appalachia Parking Lot (1306')||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Randolph Path Crossing||0.9||0.9||650||650||46.5||0:50|
|Watson Path Crossing||1.5||2.4||1300||1900||84||2:10|
|Mt Madison Hut||0.5||3.8||650||3550||34.5||3:45|
|Mt Madison Summit||0.4||4.2||550||4100||28.5||4:10|
|Mt Madison Hut||0.4||4.6||0||4100||12||4:25|
|Star Lake Trail||Buttress Trail||0.3||4.9||100||4200||12||4:35|
|Mt Adams Summit||0.4||5.3||900||5100||39||5:15|
|Lowes Path||Thunderstorm Junction||0.3||5.6||0||5100||9||5:25|
|Gulfside Trail||Israel Ridge Path, north junction||0.1||5.7||0||5100||3||5:25|
|Israel Ridge Path, north junction||0.5||6.2||0||5100||15||5:40|
|Mt Jefferson Loop, north end||0.2||7.1||200||5300||12||6:15|
|Mt Jefferson Loop||Mt Jefferson Summit||0.4||7.5||600||5900||30||6:45|
|Gulfside Trail Junction||0.2||7.7||0||5900||6||6:50|
|Gulfside Trail||Sphinx Trail Junction||0.6||8.3||0||5900||18||7:10|
|Mt Clay Loop, north end||0.1||8.4||50||5950||4.5||7:15|
|Jewell Trail Junction||0.8||9.2||400||6350||36||7:50|
|Mt Clay Loop, south end||0.3||9.5||50||6400||10.5||8:00|
|Great Gulf Trail||0.5||10.1||450||6950||28.5||8:35|
|Trinity Heights Connector||0.2||10.3||150||7100||10.5||8:45|
|Crawford Path||Mt Washington Summit||0.2||10.6||150||7300||10.5||9:00|
|Lakes of the Clouds Hut||1.5||12.1||0||7300||45||9:45|
|Mt Monroe Loop||Mt Monroe Summit||0.3||12.4||350||7650||19.5||10:05|
|Crawford Path||Mt Eisenhower Loop, north end||1.2||14||0||7650||36||10:55|
|Mt Eisenhower Summit||0.25||14.25||300||7950||16.5||11:10|
|Mt Eisenhower Loop, south end||0.3||14.55||0||7950||9||11:20|
|Mt Pierce Summit||1.7||16.25||300||8250||60||12:20|
|Crawford Path Trail head||3.3||19.55||50||8300||100.5||14:00|
While the AMC White Mountain Guide lists all of the estimated hiking times listed above (based on a book time pace), you can calculate your segment travel times with a different pace using the following formula:
((Segment Distance (miles) / Mph pace without elevation gain) x 60) + ((Segment elevation gain (feet) / 1000) x Minutes required to climb 1000 feet)
For example, if you hike at 3 miles per hour and can climb 1000 feet in 20 minutes, it would take you (2/3 x 60) + ((1000/1000) x 20) or 60 minutes to hike 2 miles with 1ooo feet of elevation gain.
If you use kilometers and meters, you can simply substitute them into the formula above replacing miles and feet.
Once you’ve computed the new segment times, you can add them all up and get a cumulative time estimate for a given route and pace. If you’re creating a TCP in a spreadsheet, this is an excellent reference for calculating cumulative column values.
Adding rest break times
No one hikes a complete Presidential Traverse without stopping a few times to refill their water bottles at the Madison Springs Hut or the Lakes of the Clouds Hut, or to grab a chili dog at the Mt Washington Cafeteria. If you figure on 20-minute stops at the huts and an hour-long break on Mt Washington, you’ll want to add another 1:40 to your Presidential Traverse Time Control Plan.
About the Author
Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:
- Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide, 30th ed.
- AMC White Mountain National Forest Map Set
- White Mountains Map: New Hampshire and Maine
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