The Sea to Summit Triathlon is a largely self-supported race consisting of:
How unique is Sea to Summit? At dawn, competitors are swimming at sea level. Seven to 12 hours later they are standing at the highest point in the Northeastern United States.
This is a deliberately small race, with a limited field of 100 experienced triathletes. Each competitor must designate a support person, or porter, who will be present at the start, drive the course (although not alongside the athlete), take away the bike at T2, and chauffeur the athlete down the mountain. For relay teams: as the race progresses one of the non-active team members assumes the role of porter.
The event starts at 5pm on Friday, July 24 with a meeting for racers and their porters at the historic Hamilton House in South Berwick, Maine. Important instructions are given, along with last-minute news. As weather plays a critical role on race day (in the past, the swim has been cancelled due to thunderstorms, the bike has been adjusted due to road construction, and the run has been altered due to high winds or remaining snowpack) this meeting, while brief, is mandatory.
The Sea to Summit Triathlon was developed and refined over 25 years for those looking for a new and unique challenge. Race direction is headed by Andy Scherding and Kathleen Walker of New England Endurance Events.
The swim is a narrowly rectangular single loop in the Salmon Falls tidal river, with large buoys as markers. Swimmers follow the New Hampshire shoreline down-current, then the Maine shoreline back to the Hamilton House. While scheduled for 1.5 miles, this swim may be shortened to adapt to the change in tidal current in the lower part of the Salmon Falls River. Wetsuits are recommended. The water is roughly 15% salt and 85% fresh at this point in the river and is very clean although not always clear — especially in low light conditions. The water temperature is usually in the low 70s F. The exit to the swim will be a bit muddy and rocky. (This is not your traditional carpeted Ironman swim exit!)
Upon exiting the water, athletes will run for 200 meters across the landscaped grounds of the Hamilton House to reach the bike racks. You may wish to have your porter hand you a pair of running shoes or slippers upon exiting the swim. Bikes must have been placed in the racks prior to the swim; they cannot be kept with your porter’s vehicle. Security personnel will watch the transition area. Once you obtain your bike, you have the option of riding out along the gravel path or running with your bike on the grass or gravel to the main road.
For the bike leg, there is no set course: the route which most athletes have taken in the past will be provided to all racers in advance but some athletes do follow other roads — with the exception that racers are forbidden to use the high-speed Route 16 stretch between the start and the town of North Conway, NH. Cyclists must obey all traffic signals as they would on any training ride.
T2 is located at the Wildcat Ski Area parking lot on Route 16, between the Pinkham Notch Visitors Center and the Mt. Washington Auto Road.
Very important: Porters MUST find locations to park their cars enroute that do not inhibit either vehicular traffic or the cyclists. There are many parking lots along the way….use them. Porters should drive ahead, park their car well off the road, then locate the safest location (ideally when the cyclist is going uphill) to hand food or drink to their athlete. Do not hand food or drink out of a car window. There will be race officials driving the roads and violations could disqualify the athlete.
The second transition will be located in the parking lot at Wildcat Ski Area, on the right-hand side of the road. As you climb 2000 feet over the last 11 miles of the bike leg, your porter will have driven ahead and will be waiting to take your bike and exchange your gear. As soon as your porter arrives at T2, he/she should hand over your pack to our race official for examination. That pack must contain, at minimum:
Hiking poles are used by some athletes for the climb but are not required.
All athletes will be checked by a medical professional before being allowed to head out on the run. If at this check you are asked to wait a bit before continuing — perhaps to eat and drink and regain your bearings — please understand this is for your safety and is the honest judgement of an impartial but qualified professional. If you are told that your race must stop at this point, please also honor the request without fuss. By simply getting to this point you have accomplished a very difficult feat, and a turkey dinner awaits as your reward.
Prior to reaching the mountain trail you will be crossing Route 16. Take the same level of care as if you were a pedestrian. Run south (downhill) on the road’s shoulder for 1k (0.6 miles). The Pinkham Notch trailhead will be to your right, and several signs outside the visitor’s center point to the Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail, which will be your only route up the mountain (unless instructed otherwise by officials). This is a 4.4-mile journey from Pinkham Notch to the finish; however keep in mind that for each mile you travel you will average over 1000 vertical feet of altitude gain. The last two miles are the most difficult.
Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail is a very popular trail in the summer and athletes will be sharing it with hundreds of hikers if the weather is ideal. Think of this as a big bonus: for once the hikers begin to understand they have a race in their midst they become our biggest fans. The trail is not considered technical by mountaineering standards but it is extremely rocky and becomes quite steep as you climb the headwall of the ravine.
Please do plenty of reading in advance about Mt. Washington to fully understand and appreciate the unique conditions that can occur on this mountain. Weather near the top invariably is much different from at the bottom — or even at the midpoint. The race benefits from the assistance of park rangers, amateur ham radio operators and members of clubs such as the AMC. We will have volunteers sweeping the run course from Wildcat to the summit via Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail, as well as a staffed checkpoint at the AMC lodge alongside Hermit Lake (at the base of the ravine). At Hermit Lake our staff will have a limited amount of emergency supplies and food for any URGENT need that arises. There are public restrooms near this lodge, and a few hundred yards further up the mountain is a hand-pumped well for additional drinking water.
You are allowed to bring your porter or another companion along for the climb as long as they are physically fit and have signed the pre-race waiver. While there is a privately owned shuttle service that carries hikers back down the mountain, it is first-come-first-served with no advance purchases allowed, so we suggest having another friend or family member drive up to the top to meet you at the finish.
The Tuckerman’s trail is well marked but there are other trails leading up the mountain. Please be warned: if you take one, you are on your own. However, every trail intersection is well marked so it would be difficult to venture off in error.
Your race is not over until you tag the sign at the top of the Rock Pile at the summit.
With a start time of 5:15am, athletes are expected to have concluded their swim by 6:30. The most critical time cut-off, however, will be at T2, at the end of the bike leg. Athletes must have arrived at Wildcat Mountain by 1:30pm and have passed a medical check in order to be allowed to continue. Additional athlete cut-offs are 3pm at the AMC shelter near Hermit Lake, and 5pm to be an official finisher at the mountain top.
Under no circumstances will an athlete be allowed to proceed as an official racer if they miss any of these cutoff times. Should they continue they will be considered to have left the race, with no further assumption of responsibility by the event organizers. All vehicles are ordered off the mountain by toll road staff at 6:30pm, and it’s a long walk down.
Please understand the reasons why these limits have been put in place. As the sun sets (much earlier on this, the eastern side of the mountain) the conditions on the headwall and at the summit can be extreme (up to 100 mph winds and freezing temperatures, even in summer). Hundreds of hikers have died on Mount Washington. However, many thousands enjoy the trails and the incomparable beauty each year — if they are prudent, respectful and exercise caution as they venture to the top of New England.
When the idea for S2S was first proposed to the White Mountains National Forest, the field limit was set at 50. As the race has sold out each year, the limit has been gradually increased and starting in 2019 we hosted 100 racers — large enough for some great competition and camaraderie yet small enough so as to not lose this day’s special quality. Once we reach 100 race registrations, the directors will start a waiting list. As experienced athletes know, out of 100 hard-training athletes someone is going to get injured. So don’t dismay if you find the race to be sold out — simply write us!
The weekend starts with a mandatory pre-race meeting/Q+A at the Historic Hamilton House (40 Vaughan’s Lane, South Berwick ME) on Friday July 24 at 5pm. The athlete and his or her porter both must pick up their race packet during the 90 minutes prior to this meeting, then both must attend the presentation — even if you have competed at S2S before. There will be no race day packet pick ups. The start of the race is too early in the morning to be fixing problems and answering questions…that’s what Friday evening is for!
Upon crossing the finishing line you will be greeted with a medal, space blanket and nutrition. There are indoor facilities, restrooms and cafeteria nearby in which to warm up or relax. There is no official race vehicle to take you down the mountain. Most racers ride down with their porter or, if the porter has accompanied them on the climb, with a friend or family member who has driven to the summit on the (toll) auto road. There is a private shuttle service available but advance reservations are not allowed, so it’s possible extremely late finishers may not be able to find a ride back to Wildcat (T2).
At Wildcat, a turkey dinner with all the fixins’ awaits you. Each racer and his/her porter dine without additional charge. Friends and family members may purchase a meal ticket for $20. Kids eat free.
The demand for relays at S2S has always been strong, and it’s perfect for friends who are also racing an Ironman, marathon or cycling event this season and are looking for some training or a post-race alternative that’s fun and different. Still, for athlete safety there remain qualification standards in place — although they are less strict than those for the individual competitors. See the registration page for qualifying standards. And while two- or three-person relay teams are allowed, note that there will be just one awards category for the top three teams.
The Salmon Falls Tidal River generally has good water quality; however there was one year in the recent past when the results of water testing did not meet our standards. Because of this, the race has a back-up swim venue at nearby Knight’s Pond (site of the Pumpkinman Triathlon). The waters there have never failed a test!
We do receive requests from athletes looking for a porter for race day. And we hear from triathletes who’d like to observe the event one year before registering — yet still be in the thick of the action. So, the S2S race directors serve as a sort of clearinghouse for matching up competitors and porters. If you need a porter — or are entertaining the idea of being one — please write us!
The S2s goes back to the mid-1990s, and for years the race’s support people have been informally referred to as “sherpas.” In recent years, the 18 indigenous tribes of Nepal have made it known that they would prefer that the name be reserved for members of their tribes. We were pleased to make the switch to “porter.”