So my friend and I are hoping to get a crack at the Presidential Traverse between Christmas and the New Year. I have been looking at the current mountain conditions and it seems that the area is still pretty bare in terms of snow. That being the case, I am assuming the traverse would be harder since there is a greater chance of exposed rock/difficult terrain while making the traverse across the ridge crest (gotta love the "Rockpile"). I was thinking of taking Howiker Ridge in order to tag Madison first (Valley Way doesn't go to Madison?) and probably follow the Gulf-side trail. I was wondering if anyone has been up there recently or has even tried to nab this objective in winter conditions (if so, definitely props to you).
I'm already humbled by the reading that speaks of the Traverse as a very serious winter objective, especially given the winds and cold in the Whites this time of year. Word is some folk try to make the 11 mile alpine terrain portion into a dash in order to avoid the most exposure. Would you recommend camping below the treeline with an alpine start as a two-day excursion; or maybe a dash across the alpine section and camp by the Lake of the Clouds Hut (word is that the hut is pretty exposed to wind given its position near a col); or would you recommend making a super early alpine start and, weather permitting, haul for Eisenhower and the southern end of the Traverse in one long day (bringing camping gear for an emergency bivy)?
I don't recommend trying a one-day traverse with an overnight pack unless you are in Olympic shape. I'd give that advice in summer. In winter, you go when the conditions will let you, and you bail at the first sign of trouble. Camping by LoTC or Madison hut only saves you a couple of hours of hiking, you're better off sleeping in a motel and starting earlier and traveling lighter. If you plan to carry camping gear, plan to spend two or three days on the traverse.
Even in a year with more normal amounts of snow, the above-treeline portions are pretty windswept. You might well find that you never use your snowshoes (but if you do need them, you *really* need them.) You'll find some bare, icy patches, and some shallow snowfields, and some drifts. Haven't been there lately but I suspect there's been enough snow to fill in the cracks, so it won't really be any rockier than usual. Check for recent conditions reports on trailsnh.com