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Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby nartreb » Wed Jan 09, 2013 6:38 pm

I'm not clear how big your group currently is, and whether you're considering adding one newbie or two. Are you confident that your group will be able to make and abide by decisions when necessary? (e.g., do we turn back now?)

Have these people ever been camping in the winter? At least been skiing? Know how to recognize and treat frostbite or hypothermia?

Everybody has a first time, but a winter Presi Traverse probably shouldn't be it. If you've never put up a tent before, you dont' want to be figuring it out in a whiteout during hurricane-force gusts.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby kozman18 » Wed Jan 09, 2013 7:12 pm

I will send you a report if I go. The temps look really good for this weekend (WARM), but there is some rain forecast and the summits may be completely socked in. I have all winter to make the trip, so might wait for a clearer (colder) weekend. The views are killer -- I would hate to hike for 2 days in the clouds.

I weighed my pack last night (may be leaving tomorrow). 38 pounds total, without water bottles (4 pounds) and my lunch food (2 pounds). Seems about right for a winter trip.

I agree with Nartreb, a presi traverse is a big first step if you have never winter camped/mountaineered. There's nothing really technical about the trip (other than sometimes cramponing on loose rock), but things can go wrong really quick in the Whites and that's when having some experience is a safer bet. If the rest of the team is experienced (and is willing to bail out if needed), and you make honest assessments along the way, then it might ok risk-wise. Obviously, it's your call.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby Acumen » Wed Jan 09, 2013 7:46 pm

Currently we are 5, more like 2 groups, one of 2 and one of 3, who are doing it at the same time. The group of 2 have hiked together before and are experienced in alpine and winter camping. They will be sharing a tent, cooking equipment etc. Friend 'A' knows them through his climbing gym.

Group of 3 is friend 'A', friend 'B' and myself. Friend 'A' and I are experienced backpackers in conditions down to shoulder season, have done day trips up Washington in winter, and mess around with Ice Climbing. Friend 'A' and I may be considered newbies in the scope of this trip, depending on your definition, but we at least have a couple days of experience with crampons, axes, high winds, heavy loads, and general backpacking. If it was just me and friend 'A' I would feel comfortable.

The addition of friend 'B' is what concerns me. He has no backpacking or mountaineering experience, but is very athletic. Despite my best and repeated efforts to get him out there a bit ahead of time it does not look like it is possible under anything even remotely close to the conditions expected at this point.

I have voiced my opinion on it many times but as of right now it is a go. Anyone been in a similar situation? Am I over thinking this thing?
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby kozman18 » Wed Jan 09, 2013 9:56 pm

There is some truth to the saying that you are only as strong as your weakest link. Sounds like he is physically able to make the trip. But, if the winds pick up, you end up in a whiteout, get lost, caught in a storm, or someone gets injured, will he be able to handle it?

It's a weird place when the weather turns -- disorienting and harsh. On a trip a few years ago, with a guy who was not real strong, we turned around (over his objections) because we were moving too slowly to get to our objective and back safely (Gray Knob to Mt. Washington and back in a day). By the time we got back to Gray Knob, the wind was blowing about 70-80 (inside the cabin, salt shakers were sliding up and down on the table as the cabin rocked). If we got caught out in that wind it probably would not have turned out very well. I relay this boring story because it always surprises me how fast things change, and usually not for the better. Even if your friend is fit he might find himself in a bad spot and will need to be able to get out of it (and you may need to rely on his help if you are the one injured). And, you gotta be willing to call it quits when the time comes.

Having said that, you could always head up Valley Way with him and assess as you go. Have a plan to cut the trip short if he struggles at all. Not a great alternative to some experience, but better than nothing. You could hike Madison, Adams and then, if you think it's a no-go, head down to Crag or Gray Knob for the night and then bail out in the morning. That would be a safe way of giving him a test run.

Good luck.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby nartreb » Thu Jan 10, 2013 8:10 pm

It really comes down to trust. Will this guy make the effort to tell you if his toes are numb, even if it means abandoning the trip?

I don't think I'd take him, personally. If I did I'd have a hair-trigger for turning around. Assessing as you go is reasonable enough, but bear in mind that time-to-disaster can be very short if somebody doesn't have basic cold-weather survival skills. It's really hard to evaluate somebody who's wearing a bunch of winter clothing, so you have to count on him to let you know if he's having any kind of trouble. By the time he's stumbling, you're in deep do-do.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby EastKing » Sat Jan 12, 2013 2:44 pm

Acumen wrote: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.


I know I am writing from the West Coast but I developed my love for hiking and mountaineering in the White Mountains (I am very familiar with the terrain and the weather there) and I often bring many newbies into the mountains (note: see SP members BearQueen, and CascadeCohen). Before I take anyone on a large trip they usually go on a number of dayhikes so this way they know what to expect. It toughens them up and makes them become much smarter for the next hike.

For your safety and friend's safety don't take him on this trip. Great physical shape cannot take into account route finding skills, self arrest skills, and overall knowledge of the mountains. Sometimes what a person doesn't know can kill a person. He will not be able to recognize an avalanche slope or sense when intimate danger is coming. I doubt he will understand the concept of starting out cold when you begin a climb. Also if he doesn't like the hike after the first mile you will be hitting yourself. Even if you check his pack he is likely to forget something vital to the trip. It will not be fair to him or you.

My personal suggestion: Take him to Mount Marcy and Marcy Dam another time and not on this trip. Marcy Dam is at a low elevation and close to the road. Mount Marcy can also be done in a day as well. Maybe that first trip there will give you all the answers for this and future trips. Also you will be close to safety in case anything happens.

Whatever you do good luck on this trip and be safe. Write a trip report when you get back.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby kozman18 » Sun Jan 13, 2013 5:24 pm

My partner and I bailed on the traverse this weekend, so I don't have any info on conditions (went ice climbing at Smugglers' Notch instead). Too warm in the Whites (!). Forecast was for rain/freezing rain, with little chance of any views. Record high temperatures -- it would have been more like a late spring hike than a true winter traverse. I am not hoping for -40 wind chills, but it would have been depressing to hike in the rain in January (done that before on Mt. Washington -- it sucks).

We are going -- just a matter of weather. If I head up before you, I send a report.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby Acumen » Mon Jan 14, 2013 5:26 pm

Great news everyone. My insistence finally paid off and we took a last second 3 AM trip up to the High Peaks this weekend. We camped at Lake Colden via Algonquin for a 6 mile 3000 ft gain day. It was warm, around 40F, maybe 20F with windchill at the summit, but there was snow and ice and it was enough to give the newbie and idea of what to expect. He came to the conclusion that he needed more experience. A smart decision.

Several people have bailed on the trip last second. We are down to 3, and I feel very comfortable with the group. I wrote up a draft plan and sent it out to get feedback from the rest of the group, I would love to hear what you all think:

Day 1: Appalachia to Sphinx Col. This is 8/9.5 miles, 4700 foot total
elevation gain, 1600/2200 foot total descent. The campsites are high
or lower down the trail depending on weather, that is what determines
the mileage and descent. Figure 11 hours hiking, so if we wake by like
4:30 AM and are moving at 6 AM we should be in camp at 5 PM.

Day 2: Sphinx Col to past Eisenhower, Edmund's and Crawford's
junction. This is 6.3/6.8 miles, 2200/2800 foot elevation gain, 2000
foot descent. Campsite from day 1 is what determines total mileage and
ascent. Figure 8 hours, so if we are up at 7 AM, moving by 9 AM, we
should be in camp around 5 PM.

Day 3: Eisenhower, Edmund's and Crawford's junction to Crawford
trail-head. 4.8 miles 200 foot gain, 2800 foot descent. Figure 4
hours, so up at 7 AM, moving by 9 AM, at the trail-head by 1 PM. Then
an hour wait for a cab, an hour cab drive, headed home at 3 PM get
back around 10 PM with a victory diner stop.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby kozman18 » Mon Jan 14, 2013 8:12 pm

It’s great that you got a read on him before going -- and that he was honest enough to bow out.

I think the total elevation gain from Appalachia to Sphinx Col is 5,850 (not 4,700) if you include the summits of Madison, Adams and Jefferson (which is “required” for a true traverse). It’s 4,100 feet from the trailhead to Madison summit; almost a 1,000 feet from Madison Hut to the summit of Adams, and another 600 foot rise over Jefferson. 8 miles distance is about right.

That’s a really long day from the trailhead, which doesn’t leave much room for miscalculation/bad weather (planning to be at camp by dark is cutting it thin). The problem is that if you fall short of Sphinx near dark, I don’t think there are any good camping options other than backtracking to Edmands Col (according to Chauvin, there is apparently a place to camp down the Israel Ridge Trail) or to the RMC facilities (the Perch or even Gray Knob). If forced to do that, you lose distance/elevation and it makes Day 2 longer (but totally doable). That’s not a bad fall back plan though.

Other than this kibitzing, the plan makes sense to me. Have fun.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby Autoxfil » Wed Jan 16, 2013 8:58 pm

Acumen wrote:They have no experience with backpacking or mountaineering.



I would only take that person on a trip which you feel super-comfortable on. Since you're here asking for advice and obsessing over details, I think you see the traverse as at least a bit of a challenge and adventure for yourself. That's not the time to learn how to guide. Leave them at home. They might be fine, but they might ruin your trip or get hurt. Tell them to take a guided Lion's head trip while you guys are up there if they want to do something.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby EastKing » Thu Jan 17, 2013 6:19 pm

Acumen wrote:Great news everyone. My insistence finally paid off and we took a last second 3 AM trip up to the High Peaks this weekend. We camped at Lake Colden via Algonquin for a 6 mile 3000 ft gain day. It was warm, around 40F, maybe 20F with windchill at the summit, but there was snow and ice and it was enough to give the newbie and idea of what to expect. He came to the conclusion that he needed more experience. A smart decision.


Great call! He got a good summit, great experience and knowledge that he needs more experience before taking on something harder. This was a total win-win. Smart move and good leadership!

Your trip looks solid. I hope everything works out well. Put up a TR on the main page when you complete the trip.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby Acumen » Fri Jan 18, 2013 3:17 pm

Alright so summit conditions as of 9:45 AM are -22 F, 71 MPH wind, -67 F with windchill.

We are starting a little later due to the shuttle we are taking after leaving our car at the end, that combined with what you said Kozman and the winds, probably shooting for Israel day 1.

We actually did suggest the guided Lions Head trip, and he is going on it! We will all be up in the alpine at the same time which is kind of cool.

Hopefully I will be able to post a trip report, although given the conditions I am not holding my breath on getting very far.

Thank you everyone for all the great advice! See you on the other side.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby kozman18 » Fri Jan 18, 2013 8:36 pm

Good luck -- looks like a cold/windy night tonight, especially if you end up on the west side of the ridge.

Post a report when you return.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby Acumen » Tue Jan 22, 2013 3:01 pm

Thanks again everyone!

Had a great time, I guess I will not do a trip report since we did not get to finish, but it was still an awesome trip.

We got up Madison, Adams and Jefferson on day 1. Camped down in Sphinx Col, although we did have to hike via headlamp for the last 30 minutes or so due to a slightly later start as that was when we could get a shuttle. The cairns run out pretty quickly on Sphinx, we could not find the trail and camped much higher up than we would have liked, on a sheet of ice. It was interesting.

Had a weather radio and day 2 they were predicting 90 MPH gusts on summits over 5000 by the afternoon, we went back up to the base of Clay to investigate, and decided that it would be better to bail out via Sphinx than try to push forward and maybe take the Cog out.

Sphinx was difficult, we found the trail, where the cairns runs out it goes down a steep ice chute to the right if anyone reading this is headed that way. We had to break trail from Sphinx to Pinkham Notch, it was slow and difficult. We turned around at 9 AM and got to the Notch at about 6 PM. Crampons and an ax were a must have, lots of steep ice-flow getting down the first half-mile or so. One group member had snowshoes to break trail once it flattened out which helped, but probably we all should have had them.

Talked to a group of people at the Notch still getting off Washington when we got there. They summited separately at 9 and 10 AM, but then had total whiteouts, peak gusts of 108 MPH. They had to team up to be able to flag out and find their way down as even the group of 3 was to small to do this on their own when they previously tried. They said it was seriously scary, and they were more than a little worried about what they were going to do for a while. Hearing their story took away some of the sting from the decision to bail on our attempt. Ice climbing in perfect conditions the next day took off the rest.

Headed back up in 2 weeks for the North Conway Ice Fest, probably wont have another chance to complete the traverse this winter, but next year we will be going back.
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Re: Late January Presidential Traverse - Conditions? Pulk?

Postby Bark Eater » Tue Jan 22, 2013 3:32 pm

Acumen, glad you got back down safely. I had a January experience years ago camping in the Great Gulf and doing targeted climbs on the northern Presidentials in extreme cold/wind conditions. It was barely tolerable pushing to get up and back down below treeline as quickly and safely as possible. I couldn't imagine traversing the whole range in weather like that. Seems like the coldest weather of the winter crept up on the weekend you chose. Better luck next time!
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