I've been reading about the presidential traverse and was wondering a few things about the trip. I hope one of you have the answer.
1. A friend of mine and myself are considering doing the traverse in the third week of Feb (15-20). Aiming for 3days/2nights. We have done mid-winter camping before but i hear the Presidentials are a different beast. Currently my friend's itinerary is tentative. Should he not show up, how feasible is it for 1 person to do the hike in winter? carrying the gear is not a problem. concern is on the potential for getting lost.
2. I read there is a 1/4 mile camping restrictions around lake of the clouds and cabins as well as a 2 feet snow rule. Should there be not enough snow, how far is the zone where we can camp without restrictions?
3. If we opt to sleep in our cars before or after the hike, are there any local issues we need to be aware off?
I've been researching the same objective in Feb. From what I've seen, it completing the route is very much dependent on the weather. Doesn't matter how fit you are if the visibility is shit and the wind is knocking you around. I made a summit attempt last March and turned around 400ft from the summit with my partner because we were concerned about losing what little visibility we had left. I plan to bring a "cheat sheet" with the magnetic bearing to the next peak on my attempt and a larger-than-normal GPS to stay on-route.
There have been people who tented above the treeline but the consensus seems to be that it will be extremely windy and miserable sleeping conditions. Visibility is usually poor and you're not able to see the alpine area from the valley floor, so I wouldn't be too concerned.
The guide services that offer the Presidential Traverse usually use the RMC Gray Knob hut instead of bothering with a tent on the route. Didn't make sense to me at first, until I realized that by that point (going from N to S) that you have most of the elevation gain under your belt by that point. It's mostly "downhill" after Mt. Washington and the trail consolidates from there to the AMC Highland Center.
I don't think that the areas would give you much grief about sleeping in your car, but there is a slightly better options to stay for cheap at the Northeast Mountaineering Bunkhouse which is pretty much a hostel but it's by far the cheapest.
People in the area tend to be super nice and friendly. Seems that most people who need a ride back to their cars don't have too many cars pass them by.
I'd be interested in seeing if this would be an opportunity to merge our plans, if you're game to consider that.
1) I've done the traverse solo twice in winter. It all comes down to the weather imo. If you have a good weather window, it's not hard to do solo if you are prepared. A few things I would consider carrying if you are going solo: 1) Sangean DT-400W radio. This will allow you to get up to the minute weather forecasts on demand (necessary as the weather can turn regardless of previous weather reports). Cell service is extremely unreliable up there so forget about relying on your phone. I used one on both my trips and it worked flawlessly. 2) GPS with the route uploaded with bail out points. If you get caught in a prolonged whiteout and you need to navigate, it's indispensable. 3) A helmet. My first trip I was navigating some rocky terrain (which there's a lot of it depending on conditions), a gust of wind came through and I slipped and almost smacked my head on a rock. That could have gone very wrong. I use one now. 4) A beacon. If you break a leg or some other injury, it could save your life.
2) This pretty variable in my experience. I've been up there in Feb when there was pretty much no snow to be found up on the route due to lack of snowfall and wind, also the total opposite. If there's not much snow, you may have to go to tree line depending on where you are on the route which may be a few miles.
3) You might have issues. I've had the rangers nock on my window in the middle of the night. Got booted - I needed to hike in a bit and setup a tent at 1am which I wasn't too happy about. I would make other plans either tenting it off the trail or staying at a hotel, etc.
A few random things. Consider starting super early on day 1. If you get up there and need to hike further than you anticipated to find a suitable tent site, you'll be happy you did. Having extra time is always better than less. Consider using a guide if you don't have much experience. Not really the route to learn on unless you have a fantastic weather window. I've used IME for other trips in the past with goods results. If going guideless, consider having a backup trip planned if the weather is less than ideal. That might curb the urge to go for it on fringe weather conditions. Alternatively, I would consider having say a 3 week window to do the trip and pull the trigger once a good window opens whenever that is. It really is the most important decision/factor in doing the presidential in winter imo.
I appreciate the info - I'll be considering that if I get a chance to make an attempt in Feb/Mar 2023. I am going to get a super early start and shoot to summit Madison before the sun comes up, see what my pace is and try and go for the whole thing in a long day IF i get a great weather window. Otherwise, i'm gonna use the RMC Gray Knob hut.