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Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

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Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby Acumen » Fri Dec 21, 2012 3:42 pm

Hey,

So I am planning to do the Presidential Traverse in late January with a few people. I have done Washington this time of year via Lions Head, is that basically what I can expect the Traverse to be like?

I am considering using a pulk, more for fun/training than anything else, as I have never used one before but recently picked up some stuff to make one on a whim. I would like to do Denali in 2014 and figure getting some pulk experience is a good idea.

I would probably load the pulk with snow, or maybe use it to carry some gear for anyone who wanted to lighten their load or was going slowly. I am cautious though, because if it became a burden strapping it to my pack might be a bad idea with the wind potential. I also have never done this route, so I would not take it unless I hear from someone who has done it that it would be fine.

Plan for the group right now is microspikes and crampons, no skis or snowshoes. That sound OK?

Also wondering if people think beacons and/or probes need to be carried. (I do not own a beacon at this time, also have read that it is debatable if the beacons actually have any benefit over immediately and furiously probing but I guess that is another thread.)
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby divnamite » Fri Dec 21, 2012 6:33 pm

No need for a sled, but if you want, why not. Bring snowshoes just in case, also ice axe would help a lot if you ever find yourself needing to bail off some sketchy terrain.

Acumen wrote:Also wondering if people think beacons and/or probes need to be carried. (I do not own a beacon at this time, also have read that it is debatable if the beacons actually have any benefit over immediately and furiously probing but I guess that is another thread.)

No need to beacon or probe. But there is no debate about beacon's benefits.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby hikerbrian » Fri Dec 21, 2012 8:35 pm

Don't bring a sled or skis. Most of the route will be wind-scoured rock and ice, completely unsuitable for a sled or skis. Furthermore, winds can be pretty heavy, heavy enough to blow your sled off the mountain, which would be ungainly for the person attached to it.

If you choose to hit the peaks, you'll find the various talus fields to be a pain in the ass. Ice at times, then deep snow drifts, then wind-scoured rock. If you're in crampons, you'll wish you were bare booting; if you bare boot, you'll wish you had more traction. And every time one of those deep drifts blocks your path, you'll debate furiously with yourself if it's worth putting on the 'shoes for a quarter mile. There is no good single footwear for the entire traverse.

No need for a beacon or probe. If you find yourself in Huntington or Tucks, you've made a very serious miscalculation.

I'd make the call regarding snowshoes at the trailhead and based on the previous week's weather. You'll only really want them for the approach and decent, and if you have to bail. You can suffer manageably through the drifts on the ridge without them. But don't underestimate their value for the various bail out routes.

Finally, The Traverse is quite a step up from just an ascent via Lion's Head. Lion's Head is pretty well-protected right up until you approach the summit. For the traverse, you'll be exposed to the full brunt of the weather for miles and miles. If you're going to do it as a backpack, you'll need at least two days of reasonable weather, which is not all that common. If you want to do it in a day, you better have perfect conditions and be comfortable going light in difficult terrain in the dark (days are short in January). Navigation also is not trivial. There's so much rime ice that the cairns, even the huge ones, become difficult to identify, especially when visibility is bad (i.e. almost always). You'll want to be really good with map and compass or GPS.

Hope that helps. If you've got the skills, it's a tremendous route.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby kozman18 » Fri Dec 21, 2012 11:26 pm

Ditto on the sled. If the wind comes up (as it is surely to do) you would not be happy. A beacon is overkill unless you are forced to bail into the Great Gulf, where the snow can get pretty deep and steep (but not like Tucks or Huntington). Have a bail out plan for points along the way -- if the weather turns, it's really hard to find your way off the ridge without an idea of your bearing (GPS waypoints are ok, but I would have some compass bearings pre-tuned in case the GPS quits).
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby nartreb » Sat Dec 22, 2012 7:20 am

I have done Washington this time of year via Lions Head, is that basically what I can expect the Traverse to be like?


In very round numbers, double the elevation gain and triple the mileage. Keep in mind also that having done the LHWR on one particular day is not necessarily a good predictor of what the ridgeline is like on another day.

The usual routes for the traverse would actually be less steep than LHWR, but I still wouldn't recommend a sled, for the reasons others have mentioned. Might be an interesting training exercise, but if this is your first winter traverse I wouldn't multiply the difficulties.

I'd carry snowshoes unless I was *very* confident in my ability to get out without them. You most likely won't need them on the route, but without them you have far fewer bailout options.

Beacons are way better than blindly probing -- IF the person searching has been trained. As others have said, though, you don't need either one. Either one is a bit like wearing a helmet while jumping off a cliff - better than nothing, but not terribly reliable, especially compared to staying out of danger in the first place.

There is no good single footwear for the entire traverse.


On many days, MicroSpikes are a good compromise - extra traction on packed snow/rime (not suitable for hard sloping ice,of course), and still able to walk on bare rock without breaking an ankle.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby geeyore » Sat Dec 29, 2012 7:11 am

Have done Lion Head and many other winter ascents in the Presidentials including via Huntington and Boot Spur, but here's what's happened on several scratched attempts to do the Traverse:

Whiteouts with 20 feet visibility
70 to 100 MPH+ winds
Off-route on bailout
Cairns not visible (Adams)
-20F temps (-30 night)
Generally impossible weather

All of the above is what makes the Traverse a challenge, up and down Lion Head is not really an equivalent. Willingness to try another day is important.

No on the sled, and iffy on the snowshoes. But definitely bring crampons, an axe, and gaiters. Plan on 2 - 3 full days. Single day is highly unlikely. As someone else mentioned, know your bailouts, the weather can go haywire quickly.

A book I've been wanting to read is "Not Without Peril, Tenth Anniversary Edition: 150 Years of Misadventure on the Presidential Range of New Hampshire."
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby Acumen » Fri Jan 04, 2013 5:09 pm

Thank you for the detailed replies everyone. I really appreciate the support here.

So Axe is definitely coming, crampons as well. Microspikes are getting the cut as I talked to the group last night and they are not bringing them and have a lower base-weight then me so I need to cut down. I will bring snowshoes to the trail-head but decide day of. Pulk is cut. We are planning on 2 days, with a 3rd taken off just in case. I am bringing my -30 bag and double pad. I wrote up a gear list with weights. If anyone is interested, I will post it.

I have a good compass and map. Group will have a GPS. Tucks has been put the list of bails not to take. Found some great info on bailouts, waypoints, and compass bearings here:

http://www.chauvinguides.com/presitrave ... iguide.htm

Oh, couple last and important questions...

This is a pee bottle trip right? What are the logistics of #2 on a trip like this?

Two pairs of Goggles?

I am a little concerned about headwear still. I am planning on bringing Smartwool balaclava, and a heavier fleece (Seirus Hoodz) balaclava. I was thinking about sewing my neoprene facemask onto the facemask of the fleece, along with a peice of wire, to create a nice snug nose fit and reduce the pieces of gear I am fumbling with in high winds with gloves/mittens. Also about cutting a mouth opening into the fleece and enlarging the holes in the neoprene. This along with goggles and the hood of my eVent jacket makes up my entire head system at the moment (besides the DAS parka hood for in camp). Does that seem like a good plan? Is that enough? None of my other layers have hoods and I was not planning on bringing any other hats/neckgaiters.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby geeyore » Mon Jan 07, 2013 4:06 am

Your headgear sounds OK to me. One pair gogs OK but two if you have 'em. Heavy duty mountaineering mittens and also one or two pairs of extra gloves are good things to have. Plastic boots are a necessity.

A 50 foot length of light rope (cordalette) can be useful if your team is caught in a whiteout.

The several times I (we) tried my default assumption was always -20F temps and 25MPH+ winds, which is kind of normal for the Presidentials in January/February.

Good luck, who knows you may end up with a great 2-3 days of perfect weather and a great Traverse.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby geeyore » Mon Jan 07, 2013 11:02 am

By the way, there seem to be quite a few YouTube vids on the Presidentials in winter which could be instructive. I just searched for "presidential traverse," and got some good results.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby Acumen » Mon Jan 07, 2013 5:26 pm

Bringing a wool liner, windstopper polartech gloves, insulated eVent gloves and OR Alti Mitts. Have Bartuntses and have some thin strong cord suitable keep us together in a whiteout.

Probably more like -20F 50MPH+ guaranteed, -30F 100MPH likely, -50F 200MPH possible, no?

Yeah there are some impressive videos out there. Here is one my friend took from our trip last year (I was in the observatory entrance eating):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUONjVwbljI

His stated -30 is with windchill. Overall I feel well very well prepared. It is just the last few details and the efficiency of system I am mulling.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby kozman18 » Mon Jan 07, 2013 6:00 pm

Acumen wrote:This is a pee bottle trip right? What are the logistics of #2 on a trip like this?


Pee bottle? Yup. #2? You should bring a couple of blue bags and haul it out -- not cool to just bury it in the snow.

I am heading up there for a traverse -- maybe this weekend. The trail above treeline can be icy/rocky depending on conditions, which is hard on the feet if wearing full crampons for an extended period. I am planning on carrying microspikes. Snowshoes might not be necessary, unless you have to bail. Then you might really need them. Weight is always the issue -- a 40 pound pack is a good target.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby geeyore » Tue Jan 08, 2013 3:32 am

Acumen wrote:Probably more like -20F 50MPH+ guaranteed, -30F 100MPH likely, -50F 200MPH possible, no?
His stated -30 is with windchill. Overall I feel well very well prepared. It is just the last few details and the efficiency of system I am mulling.


All of the above is possible.

Sorry, didn't realize you'd been up Washington in winter. That makes a difference, you know the conditions.

I've also been up many times in conditions like your video. Blue sky, moderate winds, -20F. That's all tolerable when you're prepared. It's the whiteouts that make it suck. They can introduce all sorts of unpleasantness.

Have you tried vapor barrier liners? I experimented with cheap disposable painters gloves from Home Depot directly against my skin, followed by midweight gloves and the combination is amazingly effective. Makes the hands look like prunes at the end of the day though. It's a cheap experiment.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby H2SO4 » Tue Jan 08, 2013 2:12 pm

"Probably more like -20F 50MPH+ guaranteed, -30F 100MPH likely, -50F 200MPH possible, no?"

The average temperature on the summit of Mt. Washington in late january is +4F, the average wind speed around 50 MPH, and it has not gotten down to -50F in over 100 years, I would say this is a bit exaggerated.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby nartreb » Tue Jan 08, 2013 3:42 pm

A bit dated, but a good read:
http://www.davidalbeck.com/hiking/worstweather.html - includes a summary of Mt Washington weather.

More recent numbers:
http://www.mountwashington.org/weather/normals.php

I would say subzero F temps are pretty much guaranteed at night, and would be only somewhat remarkable in the daytime. Wind is extremely variable - it can be totally calm, but expect 30mph+ even on the days that *arent* hurricane-force. 200mph+ is too rare to worry about (has never happened in January since the anomemeter was installed around 1930) but 100mph+ happens several days every winter. A more practical measure: expect hurricane strength gusts on 2/3 of January days.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby Acumen » Wed Jan 09, 2013 3:42 pm

Blue bags are a go, and definitely would like to here how your trip goes if you do head up this weekend. I am at about 40 pounds before food and water and with gear split and only approach clothes on.

About 5 minutes after that video was taken we got hit with a whiteout. Goggles froze over. Trail disappeared. I have not tried vapor barriers but I was thinking about bringing some bread bags along just in case. I had not thought of vapor barrier gloves, I may try out your idea. I think I have a box of the blue nitrile gloves floating around.

That's good news about the temperature being warmer that I thought. I have been watching the weather up there the last few weeks and I guess that it has been colder than normal so far this year, but it is looking better for the near future. Those websites are awesome, it is not hard to appreciate Mt Washingtons weather.

Alright so here is another question. A mutual friend of mine, and another person coming on this trip, wants to come. They have no experience with backpacking or mountaineering, although they have been reading TFOTH and do have some idea of what they are getting into. He has or has access to all the necessary equipment. He is very busy, and will have no time to do a trip beforehand to drive somewhere to go over things in snow or on ice, might be able to spend a day just in the woods down here where it is going to be like 50F. He is in great shape, the physical aspect I am not worried about. I am nervous about him coming along, but my other friend is all for it and it seems he likely will. What does everyone think about it? I can't tell if I am being too cautious about it, or if my friend is being too laid back.
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