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Presidential Traverse info

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  • Presidential Traverse info

    Hope everyone is having a great winter! Just wanted to post a quick topic to see if anyone can throw me some details about the presi' traverse.

    I've been doing research on it and I'm just looking for some pointers, hint, tips, etc from those that have done it already. We're hoping to attempt it in the next month or two.



  • #2
    Lots of good information here:


    • #3
      I prefer it North to South. Get the heavy lifting done early. The northern presidentials are rocky and tough on the body. The southern Presis have a soft footbed and are basically a "coast" once you get over Washington. More important is the weather. You are exposed for a long time. Pick a great day and be willing to delay your traverse if you don't see a good window. Have fun.


      • #4
        Originally posted by Waynald View Post
        I prefer it North to South. Get the heavy lifting done early. The northern presidentials are rocky and tough on the body. The southern Presis have a soft footbed and are basically a "coast" once you get over Washington. More important is the weather. You are exposed for a long time. Pick a great day and be willing to delay your traverse if you don't see a good window. Have fun.

        Thanks! We're definitely going North to South and we're thinking of doing it in May and of course will put it off depending on weather.


        • #5
          Originally posted by aoc-1 View Post

          Awesome! Thanks for the link.


          • #6
            We did an attempt on Feb 19th-20th 2016. Linked below are my planning files. They aggregate a lot of information for the Chauvin guides pages referenced above. You should have a look at the mount washington observatory f6 weather tables and look up past years for the months you intend to go. I compiled an average table of wind speed and direction occurrences as well as unsafe gusts probability for January to March 2011 to 2015 because that was the predominant factor for campsites planning and go/no go decisions. You should know that wind forecast from East to South is associated with low speed winds.

            Winter traverse schedule with full packs:
            Wind Stats table:
            Winter campsite options sheltered from dominant winter winds:

            This is my trip report which I did not post here (wasn't a member yet)


            Nawfel, Ottman and me left at 5 in the morning on Feb 19th from Montreal towards Crawford Notch. As we drove through the eastern townships to a beautiful sunrise on that cloudless day we were excited to embark on an adventure that had been 4 months in the making.

            Some people go hiking because they enjoy the scenery, others because they like to spend quality time in nature, and a few more are driven by the physical challenge of navigating a specific route in a certain time frame. For us on that trip, our motivation was to hike against the elements. To go through something tougher than we ever had before, and build the foundation to tackle greater challenges.

            One can oftentimes be safe in environments most would deem unsafe, it's only a matter of preparing for these situations. When safety is part of your values and you're venturing into unknown territory though, it takes a whole lot of thinking and testing before you reach a point you are comfortable enough to push forward.

            Speed and endurance play a role into safety. One can train as much as they want, but a reasonable pack weight is important for success. I wanted to have what I needed to survive mostly anything reasonably expected in the Whites, but not much more. My net pack weight for this trip was 37 pounds.

            A note on light backpacking though. Some say that speed is safety because you minimize your time exposed to danger. I do not think this mantra applies well to a winter presidential traverse. I believe this only applies to dangers you really cannot overcome, such as avalanches or various debris falls in precarious areas. The caveat here is dangerous events will always happen anyway. The danger on a presidential traverse is weather, which you can be prepared to survive under mostly any conditions. I'd hate to end up dead like some hikers because i tried to go light and fast and got unlucky. 100 mph wind or -30 temperatures are not freak accidents on that mountain range.

            As we were nearing Crawford Notch we got our first good view at the majestic range from the road right by the Mount Washington resort. It was glimmering like the biggest of diamonds from all the now frozen rain that fell during the week. At that point my thought was this was a perfect day for a one day traverse on microspikes, but that's not what I was after.

            We got to the AMC lodge a bit past 9 where we had a full breakfast. Remembering the Cog railway sign I saw on the road I asked at the information desk how was the road there in the winter. Originally we thought about leaving a car in Pinkham Notch, but the northern presidentials being the biggest challenge of the trip from an exposure perspective, it just made more sense to have the car closer to more accessible and convenient bail out routes.

            So we left a car in Crawford Notch, another one at the bottom of the Cog and headed to Appalachia with the third.

            When we got there we quickly set up and went on our way around an hour before noon. As soon as we hit the trail head we put our crampons on. I debated on bringing microspikes for this trip over crampons, but with the amount of ice encountered over the trip, the weight of our packs and the very high winds, I was happy to have the much more solid footing of crampons. One less thing to worry about.

            The weather was beautiful as we were going up the Valley Way trail. Bright sunshine with 30-25 degrees for the whole climb. I quickly found myself going up with nothing but my unzipped base layer top. This trip was a very positive adjustment for me on the layering strategy. I used to think I was a heavy sweater and I was sentenced to end all my day hikes soaked. I always started from the basis of taking layers off if I felt too warm. But it's often too late when I realize I need to take a layer off, I'm already sweating too much. This was just not going to cut it for a presidential traverse. I could not afford to risk getting wet at any point.

            I read Mark Twight's Extreme Alpinism book before this trip. In a chapter he talks about layering strategies in a way that totally makes sense and literally turned upside down my perception of what I should be doing. Start cold, climb in a light kit, add layers when you can't warm up or keep warm when you stop. That is exactly what I did and I ended up not breaking a sweat and wearing the same base layer for the whole trip. Even when it defies reason, stay on the comfortably cold side. I was wearing only my base layer top, the cross country skiing wind blocker, my light polyester vest and my wind blocking balaclava with ski goggles on the west face of Mount Clay fully exposed to 70-90 mph WSW winds and 25 degrees temperature. It didnt make sense, but I felt good, and I wasn't sweating.

            Back to climbing up Valley Way, we came across many hikers heading downhill along the way. It struck me how everyone was very friendly and stopped to have a little chat, inquire what we were up to and update us on the conditions higher up. We kept a slow, steady pace along the way. As we were approaching the Valley Way tent site junction, Nawfel started having cramps in his quads. His pack weighing 10 pounds more than mine was starting to take its toll on him. That day he learned the true cost of carrying comfort on such a hike. We slowed our pace further down and made it to Madison hut at 3h30 pm, right on book time. We walked a few hundred feet down the pine link trail until we found a small clearing with a base deep enough to set up camp.

            We set up our MEC Nunatak 3 tent and headed up Madison. Only a hundred yards up the trail Nawfel bailed out. Even now without his backpack his quads were shot and cramping. As he limped back to camp I pushed on with Ottman towards the summit. We met two hikers going down from the top. They were spending the night but hadn't set up camp yet and told us they might be going further. As we kept walking I thought about MacDonald Barr, wondering where he might have collapsed. Preparing for this trip I had also read Not Without Peril, 150 years of Misadventure on the Presidential Range. I was hoping to learn a few things about other people's mistakes, but as much as I enjoyed the narrative and the historical aspect of the stories, it's mostly a recollection of stupid mistakes made by ill prepared people.

            We reached the summit by 5h30 pm. The wind was getting pretty strong and we were tired and hungry so we didn't loose any time up there. By 6 pm it was getting pretty dark as we were scrambling down the rock pile. I looked towards Star Lake, wondering where Kate Matrosova succumbed a year ago, and saw two headlamps pushing into the night on the trail. We melted a liter of snow each for the next day and went to sleep after a quick bite, exhausted. I was woken up at 9h30 pm by the wind rocking our tent. This was becoming very real now. The process was repeated throughout the night with increasingly stronger gusts until at one point it tapered off, that or I stopped caring.

            We woke up for good at 6 the next morning. I pulled out my cell phone to check the morning's higher summits forecast, and it wasn't looking good. SW Winds of 50-70 mph with gusts to 90 mph increasing in the afternoon to 55-75 with 95 mph gusts from the West. Based on all the research I had done on the impact of wind, our go-no go threshold had been set to 70 sustained with 90 gusts. This was pushing it and the margin of error was now non existent. We discussed it a few minutes and the decision was made that since we would not have the wind to our back, we would try these wind speeds forfeiting the summits and sticking to the Gulfside trail. Our logistics plan included a high wind schedule, and provided we could still stand on our feet in these winds, we were confident we could make it to the car at the bottom of the Cog railway.

            As a side note about communications up the presidential range for Canadian hikers. I purchased a Roam Mobility SIM card I used in my old unlocked hike phone. I took the extended coverage plan with partner networks. Reception was good along the ridge and it's cheap.

            We left the base of Madison at 9 am. Progress was slow with the fresh accumulations on the lee side of Quincy Adams. I thought the wind was not too bad as we were skirting mount Adams, but I knew it would be increasing. It was getting pretty foggy by then. We could still see up to a cairn ahead, but just barely. As we reached the shrubed plains East of Mount Sam Adams the cairns disappeared and the fresh snow pushed on the lee side overnight transformed these into a labyrinth. We wasted 5 minutes trying to find another cairn until we looked at the map and decided we would simply push SW. We had the map folded to show our route into a plastic 11x17 map case that was firmly stretched across Nawfel's backpack. This made for a quick, secure and easy way to navigate. We then reached Edmand's col where I found many good spots to camp.

            As we reached the junction at mount Jefferson we crossed a group of three hikers. They told us they were turning back, having lost the trail to the summit of Jefferson. I explained the trail they were looking for should have been further up on the right. We left them at the junction and followed their fresh footsteps up Jefferson. There's a steep climb West then the trail goes South West and you come across what I would describe as a nicely groomed ski trail probably 75 feet wide and 35 degrees steep. That's where the previous group's traces stopped. We traversed the incline. This is the only time i used my ice axe because a fall there could have led to a long slide on all that firmly crusted snow. And all i could see was a smooth slope being engulfed in a foggy abyss 150 feet below. We found a cairn a little higher up across and went on our way.

            Walking across Monticello lawn was magical. The fog cleared at ground level leaving only a diffuse gray veil overhead, casting the sun's light every which way as if the ground was luminescent. As we were descending into Sphinx col right past noon we spotted a 12 by 12 ledge protected by large boulders 10 feet below the trail overlooking the col's plateau and the great Gulf. The sky started clearing a little and the wind picked up speed. We got some great views across the valley as we ate and melted snow for our afternoon quart. I had the opportunity to validate 3 camp spots i had previously identified from Google earth scouting. I decided I needed to come back give these a try one day.

            When we moved out of our cozy spot it felt like a whole new ball game. We were getting out of the col going up on that long exposed flank of mount Clay. It became more difficult to walk. Sustained winds at that time were 70 mph with peak 10 mins gust at 88 mph and fastest mile at 93 mph. In all honesty it wasn't as bad as people made it sound. I assumed a wider stance, kept my arms wide with my poles ready to support me during mid stride gusts. I was only thrown to the ground once and sent dancing a handful of times. The worst part was the torque moment of the wind hitting the backpack from the side and putting a strain on my right shoulder. The wind wanted me to face it. And so I did. It was somewhat easier to walk at an angle to the trail, leaning into the wind.

            At 2h30 pm right by Clay's summit Nawfel wanted to take a break. He had no energy left and his quads were cramping again. He had been dressing up too much since we departed Sphinx's col and had been sweating. Ottman rummaged through Nawfel's pack but couldn't find the gels Nawfel craved for. I walked back to him before he had a chance to sit and told him he had no choice, he just couldn't stay here. He had to sit tight behind me and suck it up. We pushed on past the Jewel trail and as the Gulfside trail kept on getting higher up, I decided to stay on level ground and make a beeline to the Cog railway before we reached the end of the Clay loop. After what seemed like way too long, a dark ribbon started to emerge from the whiteness, stretching on both sides as far as we could see. It was quite a sight and a relief.

            We marched down the road and that's when I started to really suffer. People had skied down there and I wished trail magic would hand me a snowboard. As we got below tree line, snow turned to rain and the wind vanished. We crawled back to the car, in pain, we smiled, laughed, and vowed to return.


            • #7
              I'm thinking of going on July 8 of this year. Is the snow usually melted by then?

              Also is it reasonable for a somewhat slower than average hiker to be able to day hike it in 27 hours?

              If you're looking for a comparison, I hiked Phelps, Tabletop, LWJ, UWJ, Armstrong, Gothics, Basin, Haystack, Skylight, Gray, Cliff, Redfield, Marcy and Colden (maybe not quite that order, it was a while ago) from the ADK Loj in about 30 hours, but I think there's quite a few more ups and downs there with Panther Gorge and Avalanche pass, no?
              ADK 46*/46 CATS 5/35 FT 4/28 Saranac 0/6 Bristol 6/6


              • #8
                I used this site when planning my traverse:

                I've never encountered snow in the Whites in July but theoretically it's possible.

                It took us 20 hours, we are not fast hikers and we wasted an hour on the summit of Washington. The traverse is considerably easier than the High Peaks you listed, if you go north to south it's a breeze after Monroe.


                • #9
                  I would be going either east to west, starting at Pinkham Notch and ending at Crawford, or vice versa. The 27 hours is kind of important though because if I miss that bus I'd be stuck at Pinkham for another 1-2 days doing it without a car...
                  ADK 46*/46 CATS 5/35 FT 4/28 Saranac 0/6 Bristol 6/6


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by bfinan0 View Post
                    I would be going either east to west, starting at Pinkham Notch and ending at Crawford, or vice versa. The 27 hours is kind of important though because if I miss that bus I'd be stuck at Pinkham for another 1-2 days doing it without a car...
                    Presidential traverses usually either start or end with Madison, which is more easily accessed from Randolph. Starting at Pinkham would add mileage and time over a tough trail. I think it would still be better than starting from Crawford.


                    • #11
                      Why would that be, when Pinkham is over a thousand feet higher than Randolph? Also I'd prefer an extra mile or two on the trail over 6 miles of Route 2 to end it...

                      Also, I figured staying with the A.T. except for the little spurs up to Adams and Jefferson seemed like the obvious move...
                      ADK 46*/46 CATS 5/35 FT 4/28 Saranac 0/6 Bristol 6/6


                      • #12
                        Another question - it looks like I would have the choice of starting at 11am or 8pm, with the buses and trains out being at approximately 8am, 3pm and 7pm.

                        I'm thinking since it'll take about 24 hours, the 8pm start makes the most sense, to have the first 1/3 of the traverse in the dark, but hopefully get out before the second sunset?
                        ADK 46*/46 CATS 5/35 FT 4/28 Saranac 0/6 Bristol 6/6


                        • #13
                          There are private shuttles, Uber or hitchhiking or forums like VFTT to hook up a ride so you are not stuck on the bus schedule. If you are staying at the some of the hostels or cheaper hotels that hikers stay at, from late May to Early July you should find someone doing the traverse.

                          In General, starting at Appalachia is easier than the longer walk up from PNVC. While PNVC is higher, you lose elevation from there and the trip up from that side to Madison is steeper and harder. (Descended that way to PNVC back in 1996 when we had one car & had stayed at Madison Hut on a multi-day trip. We did South to North and stayed at LOC & Madison, Back then, the Crawford Notch care-taker allowed us to borrow her car so we could spot ours at PNVC.

                          Did the one day trip back in 2006, going north to south stayed at either the Colonial Inn or Hiker's Paradise in Gorham. It was part of a charity benefit that was run through VFTT for the Brain Tumor Society. Certainly no speed demon but managed to start at 4:00 AM and finish at Crawford Notch by 7:00. Since Thunderstorms are a possibility in late afternoon up there, if I was really considering starting at either 11:00 AM or 8:00 PM, I'd opt for the PM providing it was close to a full moon.

                          Honestly, I'd look at starting at Appalachia, either using meet-up groups (not my choice) or VFTT and as we get closer to Memorial Day, you should find people planning trips. Assuming you are willing to spot your car or help spot your soon to be new hiking friend's car. The bus schedule is conducive to picking people up from huts or dropping them off so they can get to another hut before dinner, they are not designed for Presidential loops or other full day trips. (A bike is good thing to bring to close up 1/2 Presi-traverse, Franconia Ridge Traverse or Carter -Moriah)
                          Last edited by Mike P.; 04-15-2017, 02:06 PM. Reason: typo


                          • bfinan0
                            bfinan0 commented
                            Editing a comment
                            Yeah I don't even have a car to get to New Hampshire or have any friends who hike. And I'm worried about being too slow for most meetup groups/other forum members. So I'm kind of forced to take a bus the long distance from Rochester, NY into New Hampshire. At that point, a shuttle or an Uber wouldn't even change anything except maybe which end I start from, but even then, it's just sacrilege for me to start at the lower elevation since by default it adds an extra 1500 feet of gain.

                        • #14
                          Would snow be gone in early July, late June? Most likely, you may find some insignificant amounts in the woods before breaking out of treeline or just getting back into trees, or between Eisenhower and Pierce or a snowfield on Jefferson that lingers usually but none requiring traction or snowshoes.


                          • #15
                            Tons of good advice here and on the internet in general re: the presi. Will add this bit: half of our group arrived way way too late at our campsite, it would have been nice for us to get a really really solid night's sleep the night before, and there is a motel very close to one of the starts. Should I ever repeat this adventure, I would likely opt to get that solid night's sleep / breakfast before heading in.

                            Needless to say we were pretty peeved at the guys arriving so late :-/ Have fun, what a day. Definitely tackle Adams first, get it over with, for sure, softer footing at the tail end when your knees are already wobbly.