Month: February 2007

Northern Presidential Traverse

Thursday Feb 1, 2007

s5000417Yesterday I went for a trail run/hike. I had a few days off and and this week seemed like a good time to do something I have been wanting to do for awhile. I have day hiked pretty long distances above treeline in the winter before but I have always done it in spectacular weather. I had always wondered if light weight fast hiking was possible in real winter weather. What I wanted to do was a winter Presidential Traverse but spotting cars etc. was not possible seeing I would be alone. What I came up with was a loop traversing over the Northern Presidentials including Mount Washington from the AMC Pinkham Notch Camp. I would start on the Old Jackson Road to Madison Gulf Trail across the Osgood Cutoff to the Osgood Trail then across the Gulfside Trail then down from Mount Washington via the Lion’s Head Trail. Here is a pdf map. (This will dowload in a new window and may take awhile.)

Because of the shallow snowpack I was able to run the first 4.7 miles. This brought me to the Osgood Trail about 2.5 miles from the summit of Mount Madison. From there I starting hiking as fast as I could uphill to treeline. At treeline I geared up for the wind took some pictures and started the traverse of the Northern Presidentials. The wind did begin to pick up as I approached Madison and the footing got more difficult. I could tell then that the traverse was going to be a bit slower than I had hoped. When I reached the top of Madison there were two people on the summit. These would be the only people I would see all day except for one person just before Pinkham. 

From Madison I descended quickly to the Madison Hut then continued on the Gulfside Trail to Thunderstorm Junction. At this point I did a quick there and back to summit Adams. On my descent to Edmunds Col I hit some deep snow that was slowing me down and tiring me out. Even a short section of thigh deep snow would nearly halt me. At this point I put my MSR snowshoes on and kept them on all the way to Mount Washington. The footing was icy in most places but those short sections of blown in snow made me keep the snowshoes on. The aggressive points on the MSR shoes handled the ice well and the snowshoes seemed like the best compromise.

The trip up Jefferson was uneventful as was the descent down to Sphinx Col. The climb up Mount Washington was grueling but went reasonably quickly. From the summit of Washington I took off the snowshoes and was able to jog down to the Hermit Lake Shelters. At Hermit Lake I stopped to remove some clothing and then continued my jog to my car at Pinkham.

This was a difficult trip and it helped me get a better understanding of how fitness, mobility and your goal is affected by equipment. I wanted to better understand the difficult balance between equipment, mobility and safety. I have been training by trail running for the last couple of years and wanted to see if it was possible to bring that trail running mindset to the winter. I know the low snow year we are having was critical to a trip like this. 

Safety is an important factor on all mountaineering trips. There is no doubt that with light equipment your ability to wait for a rescue is limited. On the other hand your speed is enhanced, so getting to and descending an escape route is also enhanced. A light pack also decreases the chance of falling or injury in a slip particularly in windy weather. That however does not mean it is impossible to get hurt, just less likely. Therefore it would be foolish not to have some plan. The balance between these things is affected by your fitness as well. One must be fit enough to take advantage of the light gear or the whole system breaks down. This is the balance we all have to make in the mountains, what to carry, and choosing the right trip for your ability is the critical balance we must strike as mountaineers

Here are the statistics;

Trails: Old Jackson Road, Madison Gulf, Osgood Cutoff, Osgood, Gulfside, Lion’s Head 
Type of Trip: Loop
Distance: 18.5
Elevation Gain and Loss: 6870 feet 
Time: 7 hours 53 minutes

To give you an idea of what I carried here is a list;

This is what I wore to treeline

Footwear Garmont Flash XCR with Kold Kutter traction screws
Wool socks
Patagonia Cold Weather Tights
Polertec Tights
Med Weight Long Sleeve Cool Max Shirt
Light Pile Zip Tee
Wild Things Wind Shirt (no hood)
Light Gloves
Buff Headband

This is what I put on for the above treeline section
WildThings EP Hooded Jacket
Dachstein Wool Mittens
Warm Hat
Neck Gaitor
Marmot Precip Pants

This is what I had in my EMS Aqua Day Pack

Patagonia Micro Puff Jacket
Patagonia Micro Puff Pants

Marmot Precip Jacket
Petzl Headlamp
Garmin Geko GPS with the Route and Escape Routes Programed In
National Geographic TOPO Map with the Route and Escapes Routes on it
Cell Phone
Spare Batteries
MSR Denali Snowshoes

Here are the conditions on the summit of Mount Washington during my time above treeline 

4 PM
Jan 31
W 54 mph
blowing snow; freezing fog
3 PM
Jan 31
W 47 mph
freezing fog
2 PM
Jan 31
W 39 mph
freezing fog
1 PM
Jan 31
W 40 mph
freezing fog
Jan 31
W 51 mph
light snow; blowing snow; freezing fog
11 AM Jan 31
W 53 mph
light snow; blowing snow; freezing fog

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Posted by Marc Chauvin in Selected Posts From My Old Site