Hey guys, I have hiked many times in the winter in the whites. but I have only started on the north end. My buddy wants to go up washington and down the southern range this time. I have the maps and can see the trails going up to washington... but what do people advise for a winter approach? He is somewhat newer so I need to keep it pretty simple... Thoughts?
The simplest approaches are the Lion Head Winter Route from the east, and the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail from the west. The LHWR leaves the summer LH near the mouth of Tuckerman Ravine and climbs to the north edge of the ravine. When it first hits the side of the ravine it has one little (ten feet or fewer) near-vertical scramble followed by a short boulder-shaded section that's usually icy, and there's also a significant section of switchbacks that feels a bit exposed. Crampons advised, and some people suggest ice axes (I used mine once after a spring rain turned everything to ice). The Ammo trail feels safer - there's just one spot by the waterfall where you really don't want to slip. Both are heavily traveled, so expect hard-packed trails where some kind of traction will be helpful.
As you know, the main issue is not the trail but above-treeline conditions. Inevitably, both routes I mentioned keep you above treeline for a while. Winds are often from the west, so the LHWR might be more sheltered on its lower section, but somehow the Lion Head itself often feels windier than the summit.
How far down the southern presis are you planning to hike? If you've not been down the Webster Cliff trail before, be advised it's on the steep side for the end of a long day (not a scramble, just tiring). Crawford Path is much gentler (and has lots of parking).
I'd pack the snowshoes - your ascent route will probably be boot-packed all the way to the summit, and the above-treeline section all the way to Mt Pierce usually stays windswept enough not to get real deep (though with a gentle wind at just the right angle, all bets are off) but parts of the southern ridgeline don't get a whole lot of travel. It's been a low-snow winter so far - current depth only a couple of feet. Still, that's enough for snowshoes to be useful.