elichten wrote:A friend and I are planning a truncated winter traverse of the Presidentials, and I'm looking for some guidance on a few topics:
1. We only have two days so we're not sure if we'll be able to do the whole thing given the likely conditions. We would like to hit Mt. Washington for sure...any advice on routes?
2. We've only got one car and it doesn't look like the AMC shuttle runs in winter...any suggestions on other ways to get from our trail exit back to our car?
In my opinion, the most logical option for a truncated Presidential traverse that includes Mt. Washington and can be done with a single car is to park at the Great Gulf Wilderness trailhead on Route 16 and hike the northern Presidential plus Mt. Washington via the Gulfside Trail plus any number of combination of trails (or the Mt. Washington Auto Road - actually not a bad option in the winter) to get up and down to the main ridge. The geography of the region lends itself to this option - the northern presidentials form a sort of semi-circle around the Great Gulf, especially if you include the Chandler Ridge of Mt. Washington, so a loop makes sense. Bear in mind that if you do this using the auto road, the total distance is not any less than the full presidential traverse, in fact it may be a couple miles longer, though the elevation gain is less and it is overall easier due to the fact that the auto road portion, while long, is very straightforward and goes quickly. I believe this distance is something on the order of 20 miles. In good conditions, and later in the season when the days are longer, this can be done as a day hike (in fact it's the only way I've done this particular route, though I've done the full traverse as a multi-day trip), but this time of year I certainly wouldn't recommend that. There is of course the issue of where to camp, since the middle portion of the hike - in other words, where you'd want to make your camp - generally lies well above treeline, but this issue is not really any different from the standard winter presidential traverse, and your camping options would be the same as for the standard traverse - either some distance down the Randolph Path or Israel Ridge Trail on the west side, between Mt. Adams and Mt. Jefferson, or a little ways down the Sphinx Trail, between Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Clay. If you can make it that far I'd recommend the latter for three reasons: 1) it is a shorter distance to treeline, 2) it tends to be more sheltered since it's on the east side of the range and prevailing winds are out of the northwest, and 3) you have less to go the next day. On the other hand, the Sphinx Trail tends to see less use in the winter than the Randolph Path, therefore it can be difficult to follow, especially after a major snowfall. If the weather is particularly bad, you can also follow option 1 to the Perch lean-to, but that involves a fairly significant detour, with an elevation loss and gain of something like 1000 feet. You could also conceivably camp on the ridge itself (in one of the cols or other flat areas), but I wouldn't do this unless you are certain that the winds will be light and that there's enough snow to build some sort of barrier.
A number of variations here, but hopefully this will give you some idea of the options for what you're looking for.