I always check trip reports before doing any long-ish hike so I feel compelled to give back. On Thursday March 12, 2020 I did a southbound hike of the traverse and want to share how it went, what I used and some tips.
I drove up from my place in southeast CT on Wednesday night and slept in my car at the Madison trail head. After getting back to my car, I drove home the same day.
Departure: 3:22am from Appalachia Trailhead (slept in my car on Wed. evening) Madison Summit: 6:24a Adams: 7:26a Jefferson: 8:36a Washington: 10:24a Monroe: 11:31a Eisen: 12:44p Pierce: 1:15p AMC Highland: 2:14p
Total Time: 10:51, Avg Pace 34:01/mile.
Weather was nice, low wind and probably mid-20’s. Overcast but clear in the morning.
Thoughts and Advice
- Weather! I religiously checked the higher summits forecast as well as www.mountain-forecast.com. The days before and after my traverse had 80-100MPH winds. On my traverse the forecast was 30-40MPH, but I never felt more than a stiff breeze briefly while on Washington. Otherwise wind was a non-factor which makes me think the wind was less than the forecast. Had I dealt with 80-100 MPH winds, I probably would have lost hours and perhaps not even finished. So to sum this up: check the weather and go on a nice day.
- Trail conditions: I knew we hadn’t had much fresh snow in several days, maybe weeks, so the trails would be packed down and easy to follow. We also had 6-12 inches forecast which would mean slower travel times so I chose a day just before the storm.
- Know the route. This seems obvious, but I mistakenly took Watson Path instead of Valley Way to the summit of Madison. I had to break trail for about a mile (and lost the trail twice) whereas if I had taken Valley Way, not only would I be on the official Pres Trav route but I would have also saved lots of time. Additionally, I went over Pierce down to the MIzpah Hut instead of doing an out-and-back to Pierce and going back to Crawford Path. Again, this cost me time and also was not the official route.
- Assess your abilities and pack accordingly. I had done about 10 winter hikes prior to the traverse this winter season so I knew I would probably handle the Pres pretty well. I set a conservative goal of 1MPH hour which I ended up exceeding because the trail was so well packed down. I had just read two FKT trip reports by Jeff Garmire who is a MONSTER (www.freeoutside.com) and was very inspired by the minimal gear he uses on FKT attempts. While I am not fast like he is, I decided to bring minimal gear to keep my pack weight down and increase my speed on the trail. I would not recommend doing this unless you are very confident in your winter hiking skills AND you are confident the weather will hold. You are responsible for your safety-- don't think that some random guy on the internet knows more than you about what you can do and what is safe.
Disclaimer: I brought the bare minimum and I don’t recommend this as a conservative gear list:
- 2 L of water in various Smart Water bottles
- 4x snickers bars, 2x larabars, 2x vermont beef sticks, 1x Chick-fil-a sandwich, 1x bag of krave beef jerkey, 1x tube of Hammer nutrition tablets
- Outdoor Research Cirque pants
- Synthetic t shirt like what you get from a 5K
- R1 hoodie (wore this almost the whole time)
- Some Mammut puffy, don’t know model. Didn’t wear it once.
- Cheap shell jacket, High Sierra I think. It cost $10! :D Take that overpriced Arcterix jackets. I wore the shell about 75% of the time.
- Darn tough socks (had an extra pair in the pack too)
- Oboz lightly insulated boots (forget the model. I wore these as a compromise between trail runners and mountaineering boots. They are almost as light as trail runners and used to be waterproof).
- Microspikes. Wore these 95% of the time.
- Ultra light smartwool hat
- Lightweight wool gloves
- Black Diamond heavy duty gloves (never wore these once)
- Camelbak HAWG tactical bag (not very light, but it's the lightest pack I currently have).
- Black diamond headlamp
- Fenix PD35 (?) flashlight. Very helpful going up Madison: I went from cairn to cairn in the dark and used this very bright flashlight to see the next cairn.
- First aid kit
- MSR carbon folding ski/trekking poles
- Ski goggles (useful a few times when the wind/precip got annoying)
- Black diamond front point gaiters. Didn’t need these; wouldn’t wear them again if I had the same conditions. No deep snow = no need.
- Printed map as a backup (didn’t use)
- Smartphone with Gaia pre-downloaded. Lifesaver!
- Earbuds (wore them for less than an hour, but they helped on the climb up Washington)
Tips to Do The Presidential Traverse “Fast”
I use "fast" in quotes because I heard of a Canadian who did a yo-yo winter traverse in 14 hours. Fast is a very relative concept!
- Wait for perfect weather - Have another fast person to push your pace - Don’t stop. I only stopped for more than 15 minutes once at Lake of the Clouds to eat my chicken sandwich. I stopped a few times for things like changing from snowies to spikes, putting in earbuds, and taking photos, but if I did it again I'd just to make these stops faster.
- I didn’t bring any survival gear. I have a SOL emergency bivy that I intended to carry but forgot at home. Otherwise though, I figured that the Pres is busy enough that if I got in trouble, odds were I’d see someone. Is that risky? Yes. You make those calls for yourself as you see fit.
- 2L water was plenty. I was thirsty at the end but I saved a lot of lbs by carrying less. I’ve just been on SO many hikes with liters leftover which seems so unnecessary. Had I been in a more remote part of the Whites, I would have brought more but there are so many other hikers, the risk seemed low.
- As I mentioned, I took the wrong trail several times due to lack of research beforehand. Don’t make the same mistake and make sure you know the route. I also added on a few peaks (Quincy and Franklin) for fun. I wouldn’t do it again but it was fun for my first Pres.
- I met another hiker by chance on Madison. I was ahead for a while but we met up again on Washington and did the rest together. Nice to meet you Steven!
- Steven and I hitched a ride back to Appalachia. People were very nice up in NH!
Thanks for reading. If you are in decent shape, a one-day winter Pres it is very doable. That said, know your limits and think carefully through each risk.
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