Winter Presidential Range traverse

Posted by: edk

Winter Presidential Range traverse - 12/11/03 05:39 PM

OK so its not really ice climbing, but I didnt want it to get buried in general hiking.

This has been on my tic list since my first winter visit to the Mt Washington region. I have been thinking that this is the year for it.

Although I have prowled the web and guidebooks and have lots of info I wanted to poll this group and see if anyone has attempted it or done it in the winter?
- how did you find it? which side did you start from?
- what trip preparations did you take?
- Solo?
- incremental or did you camp through?
- how long did it take you?
- guided or unguided?
- Success?
- any other logistical details?

Route finding is a huge issue and more than a few of the stories I have read involve epic long hikes while trying to find the next cairn. so that is my biggest worry. Also a big reason to use a guide (traverse trips aer expensive and scarce IME does 2 - 4 per season).

I just have to do this one for all the obvious pain/suffering reasons.

Posted by: phlan

Re: Winter Presidential Range traverse - 12/11/03 07:08 PM

yes, I know it

IMHO you're better off with minimal "beta" and preparation. As little as possible prior knowledge will enhance the experience... You should, of course, have significant prior winter mountaineering and camping experience, carry and use maps and compass, etc. etc. If you don't have the requisite experience - not recommended.

Here is the essential gear beta: all you need to know is that wearing woolen knickers, Mouse boots and a wooden handled ice axe will score you mucho bonus style points!

We started from the Randolph side. This is a great way to go. I don't know but you can still stay in their hut in winter I think. you need reservations, though if I'm not mistaken.

Best time of year is Feb-March, you can get blasted right off the mountain if Jan. and the days are too short. I don't know how crowded it gets up there these days. Avoid the crowds if possible.

The only other "beta" you need is: have fun - it's not about pain suffering and frostbite you should really be having the time of your life... and you will!

Posted by: chip

Re: Winter Presidential Range traverse - 12/11/03 11:42 PM

EDK, let me know if you need another sufferer to go along. Sounds like fun, sorta.
Posted by: hartmann

Re: Winter Presidential Range traverse - 12/12/03 07:22 AM

I did the trip in January of 93’ with three friends and no guide. We had a very enjoyable trip going north to south with nice weather until late in the 2nd day, then the weather turned real bad real quick. We were prepared so it was no problem. The trip took 2 ½ days camping the first night around Mt. Adams and the second night somewhere past Mt. Jackson hitting all the summits along the way. If I remember correctly, the regulation is that you should have a minimum of 2 feet of snow where/when you camp above tree line. We were on the summit of Mt. Washington at 8 am the second day. We used snow shoes and carried an ice ax and crampons. Although we never used the crampons, I would recommend bringing them anyway. The other logistical detail was getting a guy from IME to drive us from the finishing point (where we left our car) to the starting point. I forget what we paid, but it was pretty cheap. Have fun and good luck.
Posted by: RAF

Re: Winter Presidential Range traverse - 12/12/03 12:57 PM

IMO to do the tic and not epic:

Go North to South. Hike up to one of the cabins on the slope of Mt. Adams and hunker down, waiting for your day. Many winters have a succession of little storms with relatively calm periods in between. This is a serious mountaineering undertaking, so get an alpine start, long before dawn. Knock off Mt. Madison when you first get up there or while you're waiting for your day so you don't need to turn left to pick it up on the actual traverse-- unless your personal style requires doing it with all the other peaks. (I work in business so I have no sense of ethics whatsoever. )

While the days are longer in March, you are statistically much more likely to have gale-force winds that month than in February; you can look it up.

Be extremely fit (i.e., in good shape for carrying a pack uphill for a long ways for a long time). Go with somebody who is equally fit because if you get hypothermia, you may well not realize how irrationally you're acting, plus a companion can tell you your face has frosted. Do not get more than 100' apart on the traverse because you'll get chilled waiting for the slow one, and the slow one won't get good rests. But don't plan on taking sit-down rests.

Carry a sturdy little shovel so that if you are not able to make it all the way in a day or if a storm catches you, you can dig in. Do not try to sit out a storm in the open!

Don't start the traverse in a whiteout; you'll be too slow picking your way along. Pre-research the escape routes; most winters you don't want to go over the lip into any of the ravines; it's better to take the ridges in between, like Lion's Head (which has reflectors on the trees for night descents). Raymond Cataract sucks, but you probably won't die. Etc.

Depending on conditions and fitness, you should be able to get from Adams and over Washington and down from Lake of the Clouds in a day; most parties don't seem to do the Southern Presidentials in the traverse.

Best of luck and weather!
Posted by: Mike Rawdon

Re: Winter Presidential Range traverse - 12/12/03 01:30 PM

Here's a relevant question that's been in the WAY back of my mind for a few years: how do you deal with a stove in a place like the Alpine Graden. I mean, you need to be able to camp/cook effectively in modest winds e.g. 40 mph if you're going to tackle the traverse. So does cooking in the tent absolutely require a hanging cartridge stove? OK, maybe the hanging is not so essential, but I have always had white gas stoves that need to be primed, and even a 20 mph wind down in the trees has made the stove a PITA to light and run. I couldn't imagine trying to use my stove (currently a MSR Whisperlite) in the open, windscreen or no. The one stormy trip we tried to use it inside we almost burned the vestibule off my new tent
Posted by: RAF

Re: Winter Presidential Range traverse - 12/12/03 02:13 PM

<<how do you deal with a stove in a place like the Alpine Graden>>

Why would you camp in a tent on the Alpine Garden? I mean, there are reasons there are no trees there!

For the actual traverse, for which I would start out hydrated to the point of overflowing, I would leave my stove at Crag Camp and carry 3-4 liters of warm liquids with me. For a camp or bivouac, for which I would prefer to be in a snowcave to a tent, I would have 2 cans of Sterno (large size) per person and a small aluminum pot and metal Sierra cup. It's slow but better contained than an open-flame stove, plus the nights are long and you're not likely to be distracted by what's on TV.

Again, my ingoing assumption (and m.o. in my younger days) has to do with picking the day and not going in conditions in which you're likely to be pinned down. Once you're on the traverse, if the weather deteriorates, bail out, don't wait it out.

BTW on my first (and failed) Presidential traverse, I frosted 9 of my fingers and my face. We had a 3.5# Optimus 111B stove and 4 # of fuel for the monster. Stop the madness!
Posted by: Plumbutt

Re: Winter Presidential Range traverse - 12/12/03 09:11 PM

Great thread guys!

I am planning a winter Presidential Traverse myself hopefully this Jan or Feb '04. Was gonna do it solo, but I'm currently looking for a partner.

Posted by: RangerRob

Re: Winter Presidential Range traverse - 12/12/03 11:04 PM

I wouldn't recommend doing it solo unless you have done it already and are THOROUGLY comfortable with it.

Posted by: crackers

Re: Winter Presidential Range traverse - 12/13/03 07:00 PM

North to south for sure.
after two winter debacles, i soloed it in winter. It was exhausting, about 20 hours. Didnt hit all the peaks. it was a wild experience.

south to north you get more than a thousand extrafeet of elevation.

mike rawdon: dig a hole in the snow and get in it. or use rocks to build a windscreen...improvise...
Posted by: webmaster

Re: Winter traverse preparation - 12/13/03 10:56 PM

So what skill set do you need to undertake this type of epic?

What would be some similar trips to help you ramp up for such an attempt?

Posted by: phlan

Re: Winter traverse preparation - 12/14/03 10:29 PM

The best "apprenticeship" is some years of just single or multi-day winter camping and mountaineering trips. When I first started with this stuff I did lots of solo winter trips to the Daks and stayed at Marcy Dam in the lean to's for days at a time and roamed through the high peaks summiting most of them in winter eventually. The idea is just to get comfortable with being outside and in the cold for extended periods.
I have to say it was ultimately the most rewarding thing I could have done to build up this kind of experience slowly, all by myself. I never felt like I needed to be guided up anything that I wanted to climb.
After a few years of this I was ready for the Presidential Traverse, which I did with a group of similarly experienced friends.
Especially in a small group everyone should be strong and experienced and you all have to watch out for each other.
You also have to gain as much experience as possible judging weather conditions. As someone else said, you don't want to be out there when the weather is really bad. This kind of Mountaineering or any serious Mountaineering is all about waiting for the right conditions and even then you have to be prepared for things to change- the mountains are unpredictable sometimes.
My best partner in the mountains was literally someone who grew up in the mountains- his father was a ranger in the Daks. People like this develop a "sixth sense" about the mountains which is invaluable. Reinhold Messner also writes about this. If you know when to retreat, you will be much more likely to survive in the mountains. So many accidents you read about could have prevented only if... the "unlucky" victims had known when to turn back.
Posted by: crackers

Re: Winter traverse preparation - 12/16/03 03:32 PM

I went backcountry snowboarding out west for years before doing my silly solo trips. You really need to build up weather sense and lower the old ego. You've got to be ready to say, nope, not today and get the hell out, especially if you're solo.

i find that general fitness is really importatnt too. Its so much nicer to be super fit and ready for much more than you're going to face.
Posted by: Plumbutt

Re: Winter traverse preparation - 12/19/03 02:09 PM

Check out these photos from a Presidential Traverse attempt by someone on my web site forum, they are pretty good.
Posted by: groundhog

Re: Winter traverse preparation - 12/19/03 07:59 PM

Great pics... reminds you of how gruesome the whites can get! My last experience on Washington in winter (many years ago) was under stellar conditions - crystal clear, cold, bluebird skies during the day... at the start, under starry skies, I remember ice crystals falling as if from no where. Planning a traverse for this New Years - hope the conditions are better than those in the pics!
Posted by: paborden

Re: Winter traverse preparation - 11/27/12 01:44 PM

Planning on hopping on the presidential traverse early next year. Anyone want to join me?