Solo Winter Presidential Traverse

Solo Winter Presidential Traverse

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 44.24900°N / 71.331°W
Additional Information GPX File: Download GPX » View Route on Map
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Mar 12, 2020
Seasons Season: Winter


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.

Quick Stats

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

  1. Weather!  I religiously checked the higher summits forecast as well as  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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.  
  4. 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 ( 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.  

Gear List

Disclaimer: I brought the bare minimum and I don’t recommend this as a conservative gear list:

    1. Consumables:
      1. 2 L of water in various Smart Water bottles
      2. 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
    2. Clothes:
      1. Outdoor Research Cirque pants
      2. Synthetic t shirt like what you get from a 5K
      3. R1 hoodie (wore this almost the whole time)
      4. Some Mammut puffy, don’t know model.  Didn’t wear it once.
      5. 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.
      6. Darn tough socks (had an extra pair in the pack too)
      7. 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).
      8. Microspikes.  Wore these 95% of the time.
      9. Ultra light smartwool hat
      10. Buff
      11. Lightweight wool gloves
      12. Black Diamond heavy duty gloves (never wore these once)
    3. Other:
      1. Camelbak HAWG tactical bag (not very light, but it's the lightest pack I currently have). 
      2. Black diamond headlamp
      3. 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.  
      4. First aid kit
      5. MSR carbon folding ski/trekking poles
      6. Ski goggles (useful a few times when the wind/precip got annoying)
      7. 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.
      8. Printed map as a backup (didn’t use)
      9. Smartphone with Gaia pre-downloaded.  Lifesaver!
      10. 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.  

Random Thoughts

    1. 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.  
    2. 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. 
    3. 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.
    4. 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!
    5. 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.

Good luck!


Sunrise seen from shoulder of Quincy with Madison in foreground

3rd Washington summit, 2nd winter summit

Featuring Steven the guy I met on trail

Trail leading toward Pierce

Jefferson summit photo with Washington behind

Low Visibility!



No comments posted yet.



Parents refers to a larger category under which an object falls. For example, theAconcagua mountain page has the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits' asparents and is a parent itself to many routes, photos, and Trip Reports.