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Skip Schweiss and Chip Roame reward RIA super-hikers with soft beds, sharp rocks and 'junk food' to slog New Hampshire's Presidential Traverse

The Excellent Adventure crew of Tiburon CEO Summit origins glamped it and roughed it on a hike famously dangerous despite low elevation peaks

Monday, July 29, 2019 – 7:46 PM by Guest Columnist Scott MacKillop
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Chip Roame brings equal ardor in leading CEO Summits and leading a sub-culture to mountain peaks.

Brooke's Note: I've followed this outing club's adventures over its eight years and it tracks the rough trajectory of the nascent RIA business during that time. It started out as a scrappy, rag-tag group with a notion, populated mainly by a bunch of dudes with good intentions and testosterone in equal measure. It retains much of that old spirit but is now fully branded, institutionalized and corporately correct in its broad representation, inclusiveness and attentiveness to market segmentation. Different hikes for different folks. Like the rest of the RIA business, it's all about the people, the spirit and the sense of riding the cog railway of sped-up evolution. Scott MacKillop is its able scribe. He meets deadlines and gets all the data points and photographs that we need to make this a cool annual mid-summer feature a little outside the norm. I felt nostalgic editing this piece. I led backpack trips on these trails in my college years as a camp counselor based in East Hebron, N.H. Not for wimps. Some things don't change. There are still adipose tourists atop Mt. Washington that make its summit as surreal as it is athletically satisfying.

In July 1944 delegates of all 44 Allied nations met at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, NH, near the conclusion of World War II. They came together to determine the future course of the world’s monetary system and financial order.

Bretten Woods Conference 1944
Delegates at the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944 set the stage for the post-World War II financial system. (Photo: National Archives)

Exactly 75 years on, our group of financial services executives chose the very same hotel for a different, less serious, purpose.  We came to hike the Presidential Traverse, a 20-plus mile stretch that summits seven rocky, wind-swept peaks named after US presidents.  

Presiding over our Excellent Adventure for the past eight years have been Chip Roame of Tiburon Strategic Advisors and Skip Schweiss of TD Ameritrade, along with friends and family who have joined in the fun but never before in the East. 

This year’s EA crew included 34 hikers, who set a goal of completing the Presidential Traverse in one day, and a group of five friends and family who knew better.  The 13 “founding fathers” who climbed Mt. Whitney together on the first Excellent Adventure came, saw, and conquered as lone wolves.  This year almost half the hikers were accompanied by a spouse, child, or significant other -- a family affair.

But the Excellent Adventure still satisfies a lingering demand of its Type-A core to tempt fates.  The hike is still designed to be covered in one day, even though most trekkers cover it in two or three days.  And there must be “some risk of death.”  

Bear spotted
Skip Schweiss spotted a bear that preferred mowed lawns to rocky outcrops.

Julie Boardman’s 2017 book, Death in the White Mountains, documents 219 deaths since 1849, so the Traverse certainly qualifies.  

Worst weather

Satisfying to that instinct to court danger, the Presidential Range is notorious for having some of the worst weather on Earth.  For that reason, it is often used for mountaineering training by those who plan to climb peaks like K2 and Everest.  

The highest winds ever recorded on the surface of the Earth—231 mph—were recorded at the summit of Mt. Washington, the halfway point in the Presidential Traverse.  

Mt. Washington, at 6,288 feet in elevation, is also the highest point in the eastern US.  That’s less than half the elevation of Mt. Whitney (14,505 feet) or Mt. Shasta (14,180 feet), two previous Excellent Adventure destinations.  But touching all seven Presidential peaks requires 8,800 feet of vertical ascent, the most ever undertaken by the Chip & Skip group in a single day.

But it’s not the wind or the elevation that truly distinguishes the Traverse from previous Excellent Adventures.  It’s the rocks.  The title of a blog post about the Presidential Traverse on a site called 'The Big Outside' pretty much captures it: “Step Onto Rock.  Repeat 50,000 Times: A Presidential Range ‘Death March’.”  

There wasn’t more than 100 feet of smooth trail all day.

Together We Can Do It

Excellent Adventures set the bar high but there is always a feeling that, as a group, we can pull it off.

Crowd on the lawn
Crowd sourcing on the lawn. 

This year more than half the adventurers had been on previous EA excursions. This core group knows and trusts each other on the trail but quickly embrace newcomers and communicate the bonding we-will-not-succumb-to-death ethic.

This process starts with pre-hike activities, a planning session, and a group meal.

This year the pre-hike activities included mountain biking and a warm-up hike. Both activities took place within sight of the mountains we were to climb the next day, building a sense of anticipation.

At the planning meeting, Chip and Skip shared the group’s core values.  They are simple:

  • Return home alive
  • Have fun
  • Attain your personal objectives

Safety in moderation

The first core value used to be “Return home safely,” but had to modified after a few close calls.  Having fun is the easy part.  Attaining your personal objectives takes work.

​ Craig Gordon and Chip Roame ready to climb rocks and blow whistles. ​
Craig Gordon and Chip Roame ready to climb rocks. 

The pre-hike dinner at the Wayside Inn on the banks of the Ammonoosuc River was festive, but restrained.  There would be plenty of opportunity to let go at the post-hike celebration the next day.  Now it was time for one last equipment check and a shot at catching a few winks.   

Hike-day started early.  The bus to the trailhead arrived at 3 am, as scheduled, unlike the bus last year, which arrived about an hour and a half late.  Only one hiker forgot their headlamp. Someone was carrying an extra lamp. So far, so good.

By 4 a.m. we were on the trail. The test is immediate.  It ascends 4,000 feet in the first 3.5 miles—that’s about 40% of the vertical for the day just to reach the first summit.  

Because we were hiking in the dark and New Hampshire signage is sparse, different groups took different trails on our ascent.  They were all steep.  

We reached the base of Mt. Madison’s summit by sunrise, then started the long, windy scramble over the cloud-shrouded boulder-field leading to its peak. One down, six to go.

What, No Bears?

Last year’s Excellent Adventure in Alaska was dominated by bears.  Even though we never saw one, we knew they were all around us.  We saw their steaming scat on the trail.  We saw the impressions their bodies made in the trail-side grasses where they had been napping.  See: Chip's and Skip's 'Excellent Adventure' breaks RIA stereotypes, sheds risk aversion for 'gut-busting' Alaska hike; black bears, grizzlies and moose, oh my!

Sepi Zoufonoun [friend of Chip] shares a laugh with Alex Potts, a stalwart.

To keep them away, we dangled bear bells and cans of bear spray from our packs.  Some of us carried even more potent forms of deterrent.  They let us pass peacefully through their domain, but they were always in our minds.  They still are.

Our hike in New Hampshire, much of it along the Appalachian Trail, was dominated by wind and rocks.  The wind on the summits of Mt. Madison, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Jefferson was estimated at 60 to 65 mph, often making it hard to balance on the slick boulders that cloak these peaks.  

Our clothing popped and snapped as the wind whipped through the craggy heights.

The wind brought with it a fast-moving cloud cover that sometimes made navigation difficult at higher altitudes.

 In the boulder-fields there is no clear trail. You find your way by following stacked rock markers called cairns.  When the clouds blew in, the cairns disappeared. 

Before we arrived at Mt. Washington, the 4th Presidential peak, the wind had reached 83 mph—greater than hurricane force.  Fortunately, when we got there it had died down a bit, and the sun had emerged from the clouds.

Half Time

Besides being a very windy place, the summit of Mt. Washington is also a very busy place.  There is both a road and a cog railway that goes all the way up.

The Mt. Washington peak famously crawls with motor-and-train tourists and has a restaurant that dishes out pizza, chili, and other munchables appealing to hungry hikers.  

Leader Skip Schweiss with author Scott MacKillop enjoy a moment of respite amid granite, scruffy pine and the whip of wind.

The five members of the EA crew who knew better than to attempt the entire Traverse, took the cog railway up to meet the rest of us as we drifted onto the summit.  Their support and encouragement were greatly appreciated.        

Most of the EA through-hikers set out from Mt. Washington with renewed vigor (or at least pizza-filled bellies), committed to finishing the rubble-strewn Traverse.  A handful of wiser sojourners used the cog railway to head down for a shower and a refreshing beverage.  

Finishing Out 

The wind was less of a factor later in the day, but greeted us in force at or near every subsequent summit.  The rocks, however, followed us everywhere.  

Ron Carson lent his flair. His friend, Reinie Benoit, impressively covered the whole traverse.

The Outdoor Project blog describes the rocks on the Traverse this way: “The rocks are unstable, uneven, and can be treacherous when wet.”  

Yes, and then some.  Describing the Presidential Traverse as a rocky trail is like describing the Grand Canyon (another previous EA destination) as a very large trench.  It fails to capture the magnitude of the matter.

Like the bears we never saw in Alaska, I will never forget the relentless rockiness of the Presidential Traverse.  If you took your eyes off the trail in front of you to admire the beauty of the White Mountains, you were going to trip on the rocks and fall--guaranteed.  

Focusing on rocks for 14 hours straight etches a groove in your brain just like worrying about bears all day.  

The trail from Mt. Washington descends toward Mt. Monroe, Mt. Eisenhower, and Mt. Pierce.  Although the group spread out along the trail over the remainder of the day, the sub-groups were within a mountain, or so, of each other.  

Rocks are a great equalizer.  

They turn greyhounds into bulldogs and basset hounds.  We carefully picked and plodded our way through the rocky obstacle course and took on the remaining summits one-by-one until, at last, we were done.

The 'junk food ' celebration begins

About 14 hours after our adventure began, the trailhead began to fill up with spent, but fulfilled hikers.  Skip, being one of the first off the trail, made a quick trip to a local store and returned with cold beverages and junk food of all varieties.  

Not the Rocky Mountains but surprisingly rocky.

Nobody was worried about the calories.  I slipped into my flip flops and reflected on how great life can be once the pain stops.

It’s hard to explain the raw emotion that is unleashed at trail’s end, and the depth of the feelings expressed between weary comrades, but this text exchange does a pretty good job:

Alex Potts (CEO of Loring Ward): " I just got off the trail where are you?"

Skip Schweiss:  "Picnic tables. Beer."

Alex Potts: "I’m going to cry."

When everyone was accounted for, the group hit the road back to the Mt. Washington hotel.  By 9 pm we were showered, refreshed and ready for our celebration dinner.  And for the post-dinner trip to a watering hole called The Cave.  (We’re not sure if the original Bretton Woods delegates ever visited The Cave, but if they didn’t, they should have.)  Time to rejoice!  

We told stories, relived the day and said our goodbyes.  As with every EA post-hike celebration, the room was full of magic. Something special happens when individuals accomplish a monumental undertaking together. They share a bond that is theirs forever.

Notable performances

A few members of the EA crew had exceptional days on the trail.  Olivier Garrett, a newcomer, blistered the trail, climbed every peak on the Traverse, and still came off the trail more than an hour before the next hiker.

Rusty Vanneman, his daughter Becca, and my fellow Coloradan, James Passarelli, continued past Mt. Pierce (the last Presidential) and climbed an extra mountain, Mt. Jackson (not named after the president), before joining the rest of us at the trailhead for a cold one.

Plush sleeping conditions lent excellence to the adventure.

Diego (an Alaska veteran) and Dante Oliverio, the sons of Billy Oliverio (another Alaska veteran), danced over the rocks and boulders so lightly that they seemed unconstrained by gravity. Their boundless energy, athleticism, and good cheer were inspirational.

Next year Chip and Skip will be raising the bar again.  They have invited next year’s participants to join them on the famed Cactus-to-Clouds hike in Palm Springs, Calif., a 21-mile march from the desert floor to the top of Mt. San Jacinto—a 10,400-foot vertical ascent.  

Maybe, the bar can't be raised. The reviews of this year's epic hike tell the story:

“…the greatest elevation gain of any trail in the United States.” (AllTrails)

“One of the hardest hikes in the world.”  (Backpacker Magazine)

“…one of the most dangerous and deadly hikes in the country…a Darwinian tool to weed out the foolish and unprepared.” (The Desert Sun)

“Hardest hike in America? That’s a bold claim, but hikers of Cactus to Clouds trail can certainly make it with a straight face.” (Great Palm Springs blog) 

Join us?  At least you get to take the tram down from the top of San Jacinto.  And there are always short-hike options for those who have enough sense to take advantage of them.


Roster of Excellent Adventure 8.0 Participants

West: Arizona, California, Colorado, Texas

  • Jeffery Dunham (Dunham & Associates)
  • Amy Gibson (fiancé of Michael Schweiss) 
  • Craig Gordon (RBC Correspondent & Advisor Services)
  • Scott Hanson (Allworth Financial)
  • Jimmy Kalb (Jeffery Dunham crew)
  • Scott MacKillop (First Ascent Asset Management)
  • Paul Mathieu (official photographer for EA 2019)
  • Billy, Dante, & Diego Oliverio (United Planners)
  • James Passarelli (Complect)
  • Alex Potts (Loring Ward)
  • Chris Riggio (Strategic Insight)
  • Chip Roame (Tiburon Strategic Advisors)
  • Laura Tarbox (Tarbox Family Office)
  • Jessica Trotter (TIAA Bank)
  • Skip, Lisa, & Michael Schweiss (TD Ameritrade)
  • Matt Walker (Tarbox Family Office)
  • Craig & Kathryn Wietz (First Rate)
  • Sepi Zoufonoun (Chip Roame crew)

Midwest: Missouri, Nebraska

  • Reinie Benoit (Ron Carson crew)
  • Ron Carson (Carson Wealth)
  • Lee McColgan (Ron Carson crew)
  • Will Morales (Ron Carson crew)
  • Frank & Carol Trotter (Retired—formerly EverBank))
  • Rusty & Becca Vannerman (CLS Investments)

East: Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and North Carolina    

  • Jeff Cacciatore (Jeffery Dunham crew)
  • Ben Cukier (Centana Growth Partners)
  • Olivier Garrett (Frank Trotter crew)
  • Cynthia Hardwick (Bill Van Law crew)
  • Brian Link (State Street)
  • Dan & Jillian Tobias (Passport Wealth Management)
  • Bill Van Law (Retired—formerly Raymond James)

 


Related Moves

After a 2018 cash scare, Scott MacKillop got a $1.5 million lifeline and -- boom -- RIAs rewarded his flat-fee TAMP with 1,000% AUM growth in 35 months

First Ascent now has $1.1 billion in RIA AUM and reached a sweet milestone -- its founder has a take-home salary and apparent sustainability.

June 14, 2021 – 8:41 PM

Skip Schweiss exit from TD Ameritrade means the RIA custody business lost its most visible corporate-paid advocate -- for the moment

TD's now ex-managing director of advisor advocacy is set to become the FPA president, but most peers agree the 58-year-old is poised to 'write his ticket' with another custodian or national RIA

August 5, 2020 – 9:33 PM


Mentioned in this article:

Tiburon Strategic Advisors
Consulting Firm
Top Executive: Charles Roame




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