Van Buren Traverse

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Van Buren Traverse
Drive 96 miles
Hike 14 miles
Difficulty Strenuous

This traverse is one that is often not even considered as a route. Many people pair Mount Eisenhower and Mount Pierce, or Mount Jackson and Mount Webster]], but few decide to do all four. Although there is a significant dip between Jackson and Pierce down to about 2500 feet, this is still a very doable and rewarding traverse filled with breath-taking views, lots of time on the ridgeline, and 3 official 4000 footers (Eisenhower, Pierce, Jackson). That being said, with 14 miles of distance and 7000 feet of elevation gain, you either need to be prepared to move relatively quickly or to start very early. Book time for a hike of this distance and elevation gain would be approximately 10.5 hours. It earned this name because Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States, is the earliest president to not get a mountain named after him.

Driving Directions

Head north on I-91. After 53 miles, take exit 19 to merge onto I-93 S. In 22 miles take exit 40 for US 302/NH-10 E Toward Bethlehem/Twin Mtn. In 0.2 miles merge onto NH-116 W/NH-18 S/US 302E/Dartmouth College Rd/Main St. Continue to follow US 302 until arriving at the AMC Highland Center in Crawford Notch. NOTE: The main parking lot is Highland Center guests only. Park in the lot about 50 feet beyond the entrance to the main lot, by the train station.

Hiking Directions

There are two ways to do this hike: either starting from Webster and making your way up towards Eisenhower, or beginning by ascending Eisenhower and moving towards Webster. I recommend the latter for two reasons. First, the huge majority of road-walking will be at the beginning of the day, and it’s always nice to have the car right there when you finish hiking. Second, there are more routes down to the Highland center around the Jackson/Webster area, meaning it’s easier to bale out due to time constraints later in the day. Eisenhower/Pierce essentially force you to commit, as there are no routes down besides completing the trail or turning back.

To ascend from the Eisenhower side, begin by walking a few hundred yards back in the direction you drove from. You should come to Clinton Road before long. Follow this for 2.2 miles (it’s a scenic road walk, basically just a paved trail through the woods). You will then come to a parking lot at the base of Edmand’s path. Follow Edmand’s path for 2.9 miles until it intersects with Crawford path. There is a moderately steep section on Edmand’s path early on, and another slightly steeper one near the end. Shortly after you break treeline, you should reach a junction of a large number of trails between two peaks. There should be signs which will point you towards the relatively steep ascent of Eisenhower’s peak. The ascent itself has amazing views, as does the summit. If you look southwest, you can see your final destination, Mt. Webster. Follow Crawford Path down from the summit of Eisenhower. In 1.2 miles, this will take you to the summit of Mt. Pierce. 0.9 miles from there (and with about 1400 in elevation loss) you will reach the AMC Mizpah Spring Hut. Although this is closed in the late fall and winter months, it provides a convenient, clear area to have lunch at during these times. From early May through late September, you can go inside to refill water and eat at the tables. There are also small springs at this area from which you can refill water if you must. If it is late in the day or people are tired, descend the 2.6 miles on Crawford Path to the AMC Highland Center. If you still have plenty of energy and time, take the Webster Cliff Trail. In 1.7 miles and after gaining around 1800 in elevation, you will reach the Mt. Jackson summit. Again, there is a route directly down from here if conditions will not allow you to push on to Webster, following the 2.6 miles on the Jackson trail down. Otherwise, continue 1.3 miles on the Webster Cliff trail to Mt. Webster. Although this is NOT an official 4000 footer (it’s at around 3900 feet), there is a great view over the trail you will have just walked, and a straight-down cliff, which can be cool to look out over. From here, hike down the 2.4 miles on the Webster Trail. You’ll then have about 200 yards more of road walking to return to the parking lot.

Advice & Anecdotes

It is highly advised to stay in a cabin (Billings, John Rand, or Ritchie Smith) the night before to reduce the drive in the morning. This is certainly a full day of hiking, and you do NOT want to be descending Webster in the dark. Although it doesn’t have any one particular steep section on the descent, most of the trail is rocky and root-filled, providing numerous tripping hazards in the dark.

Also, bring plenty of water during the times that Mizpah Spring Hut is closed. 3 liters barely saw us through our hike, and there are few things worse than running out of water.

If you finish and there’s still plenty of daylight, a 0.1 mile walk to Gibb’s falls is very rewarding, especially if it’s warm enough to swim. This leaves from the Crawford path, just next to the Highland Center. Ask one of the guides at the front desk (staffed 24/7 year round) if you need help.

Trip Reports

November 2, 2013 Group: 5: Mac Murphy (leader), John French (co-leader), Lainie Caswell, David Cavagnaro, Rachel Margolese Weather: Mid 40’s on the ground, high 30’s on the summits. Very little wind. Great visibility (except clouds over Washington. The usual.) Route: From northeast to southwest, as described above. Time: 8 hours

Trail Notes

November 2, 2013 Essentially perfect condition

Recommended Gear

For 3 season hiking, regular gear. For winter hiking, snowshoes and microspikes should be enough. Crampons and ice axes should be unnecessary.