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.
When estimating how much time a hiker will need to complete the traverse It’s also a good idea to factor in possible weather delays. Over the years, I’ve talked to several people who, after traveling to NH from various parts of the country, were forced to abandon their traverse attempt due to rigid travel schedules after encountering bad weather during the hike.
Exactly. But once you have the expected time documented for a “fair weather” hike as shown, you can start padding it out with extra times to account for weather delays. It’s also a good tool to literally have in your pocket, so you can add in those bad weather delays while on the hike and figure out how far you’ll be able to get before you have to call it a night or bug out.
This is much less of an issue in the eastern US, but altitude is another factor that will tend to slow your pace, especially on uphill climbs. I start to notice this at 5000-6000 feet higher than I live, and it just gets more noticeable as I go even higher. A JMT hike would be a good example of when this needs to be factored in your planning.
You are correct about it not usually being a problem on the east coast. I can feel myself tiring quicker up around 5,000ft and higher. Fortunately out here that is only really an issue on a handful of peaks, and even then its a very limited amount of time.
Out West do you have any rules of thumb about how much harder it gets as you get higher? Like 10% slow down per 2000ft?
Once you have the route, segment lengths, and elevation gain/loss in a spreadsheet (or tabular form), you can go wild with adding in different pace formulas for descents or different terrains (boulder fields,afternoon snow fields,carrying 4 gallons of extra water). But no, I’m not aware of any rules of thumb. The pace formula used here is linear, although there’s nothing preventing you from applying different paces during the course of the route.
I find that my pace on level ground and descents at altitude is about the same as it is at sea level, but going uphill is when I notice a big difference. I live in NE Ohio at about 700 feet elevation. Depending somewhat on how steep it is, at 8000 feet I probably go 1.5 mph uphill rather than 2.0 mph; at 10000 I probably go 1.25 mph and at 12000 I may slow down to 1 mph. Above 12000 maybe .75 mph and above 14000 maybe .5 mph (eg Nepal). Your mileage may vary, as they say. ; )
What about adding in any time for descending steep/long grades? Some people (especially when fatigued) are a bit slower and more cautious on the declines (taking perhaps the same time as an incline).
This is certainly true for me, due to being really careful with my knees. Very few hikers go slower downhill than I do. I’d love to have those springy young knees I used to have back again.
Estimate your pace, then multiply by two for the Presidentials–because they do not really have trails. Instead, much of the “trail” is just a marked rock scramble. I thought it was just me until I met two through-hikers who had been regularly walking 20 miles/day who were complaining that they were down to 10 miles/day through the Presidentials. Impressive mountains, but it is easy to bite off more than you can really enjoy.
Great article. Doing stuff like this can save lives. I think that regardless of minutiae, the simple concept of pretrip planning, familiarizing oneself with the terrain and topography, and planning accordingly is solely lacking in the city- centric outdoors community. This is fantastic “boots on the ground” advice.
Thank you for this information. Hiked this for the first time this July. Got caught in a hail storm on Jefferson. Thank goodness I brought gloves and a winter hat. My partners lips were blue. Found the time estimates to be very accurate. The weather is not to underestimated. We had 30 feet visibility for nearly all of the time spent above 4500ft. If we didn’t bring a compass and a map we would have gone the wrong direction a couple of times.
That must have been scary. Definitely need a compass if you can see where you are going. There are a lot of trails that intersect up there and you can get seriously lost.
Luckily my partner was a very experienced and a super-fit mountaineer, so I wasn’t as scared as I would have been. If I was by myself, I would have turned back on Adams.
BTW, We did pass some total idiots in the freezing rain in cotton cloths and crappy shoes, drinking beer, and smoking weed. Stumbling over the path in terrible physical shape, and totally lost. We sent them in the right direction but they were so over their heads and incapable of recognizing it. I keep wondering if I would hear about them on the news later. That was actually the scariest thing I saw.
Would you please comment on pros and cons of starting from App Parking Lot (Randolph Path Crossing) vs. starting from Dolly Copp Campground (Daniel Webster Trail)? Previously I’ve done the Northern Prez Traverse 4x each time starting on Danny W Trail. And I’m curious why you are chose your starting point. I’m hoping to do the entire Prez Traverse in 4 weeks. So I am planning things out now. Hope to hear from you. Thank you!
Makes perfect sense to me…starting someplace where you can get parking and enjoy the solitude of climbing Madison alone. There really is no downside to what you propose. Most people climb via Valley Way because that’s what Alltrails tells them to do, not it makes any difference. Maps are power. Glad you own one. :-)