Presidential Traverse

Gear Selection
The Cooking System
The Clothing System
The Food System
The Sleeping System & Miscellaneous
The Route
The Whiteout Navigation Plan
The Escape Routes
Emergency Strategies

The Presidential Traverse is one of the most difficult winter mountaineering challenges in the Eastern United States. It is such a challenge not because of any technical difficulty, it actually only requires basic crampon and ice axe skills, it's challenge comes from the objective hazards and logistical difficulties. The objective hazards are mainly centered on the weather and footing. The logistical difficulties center around pack weight, food packing and gear selection. Modern day climbers who are focused on the technical difficulties of a route often ignore many of the skills that are required for a successful Presidential Traverse.

On a perfect series of days the Presidential Traverse can be as easy as a walk. Unfortunately, the weather in the Presidential Range is seldom that good. The biggest weather problem that one encounters is usually the wind. Mount Washington is notorious for its unrelenting winter wind. But the wind, regardless of how difficult it makes a traverse, is not the only weather problem. The Presidential Range can see wild temperatures, fog and precipitation along with the wind. Another weather factor is the humidity. It is difficult to go for more than a couple of nights without having most of your gear damp, including your sleeping bag.

Footing is the other problem. With such high winds it is not unusual to have vast areas above tree line blown clean of snow. The footing in these areas can be rocky with sections of ice. The ice requires that you walk with crampons. The crampons however create a real threat of twisted knees or ankles when you are in the rocky sections. The decision of whether to wear crampons or not is always difficult and seems more like a choice between the lesser of two evils with no real "right" answer. With some combination of wind, fog and cold temperatures and the aggravatingly short intervals between rock and ice the idea of putting on and removing the crampons as the terrain dictates is almost never an option. It seems you either have them on or off and your left second-guessing your decision for most of the day. The other footing problem is in deep soft snow. If there are areas that are bare of snow from the wind, then there are areas that collect the snow. Sometimes these areas are soft enough to require snowshoes, making the decision of what to put on your feet even more complex. It may be tempting to leave those snowshoes behind at the start of the trip but given the wide variety of terrain you will cross on a traverse it is almost never a smart move to not have them. Often they are carried for insurance in case you need to bail off the ridge into one of the drainages to get out of the weather. Once down in the trees snowshoes may be the only way you will be able to make progress!

With the weather and footing in mind, we need to adapt our skills in gear selection, lightweight packing, and food selection to deal with them. We also will need to keep in mind weather and footing as we route plan, particularly when it comes to our time plan, campsite selection and whiteout navigation.

Chauvin Guides International, P.O. Box 2151, North Conway, NH 03860 Voice: 603-356-8919