AT Hike One Year Away
In late 2009, I'm planning a winter hike of the White Mountains using the Appalachian Trail. This will be my first time on the AT in the area, but I am used to winter camping down in Virginia. My route will basically be from Glencliff to Gorham. I have a few questions that I would like answered.
1)Does the trail actually cross the summit of Mount Washington? Or does it simply pass near the base? The topo maps that I have are confusing on that.
2)I've been reading the Chauvin Guides page on the Presidential Traverse. Are there any other resources that you all recommend?
I don't think the AT officially crosses over the summit, it skirts around the summit a few hundred feet from the top.
Chauvin Guides website is a great resource, might be the best out there right now. We have had some discussions on this forum as well
It definitely crosses the summit of Washington. Older maps show it following the Gulf Side Trail, newer maps show it follow the Crawford Path to the summit then descend by the Trinity Heights Connector. It also passes very near the summits of Jefferson and Adams before crossing the summit of Madison.
Gotta tell ya, tho. Winter camping in Virginia is not going to prepare you for winter hiking above tree-line in the Whites, let alone the Northern Presidentials. Much of what you propose to do will involve above tree-line travel, starting with Moosilaukee, and the Kinsmans. Franconia Ridge is highly exposed to weather and dangerous. Ice and chest deep snow drifts are the norm. Winds gusts of 80-100 mph are common occurences. Many have died in white out conditions caused by fog and blowing snow. Beyond Franconia Ridge there may be no broken trail. Generally folks climb to the summits along trails other than the AT, leaving much of the AT buried in snow and not packed out. Trail signs may be under several feet of snow. Even with GPS it may be impossible to find a way through. At this point you're still at least 20 miles from Washington.
Weather at best is unpredictable in all mountain ranges. To attempt this without a constant source of weather information would be insane. To attempt it with no previous experience of above tree-line travel in winter at this latitude would be fool hardy at best, suicidal at worst.
Without snowshoes, crampons, plastic mountaineering boots, -20 sleeping bag and a ton of other equipment on a list too long to put here this trek will be impossible. With no previous familiarity with the trails and mountains in question the task would be difficult at best.
These mountains are not to be toyed with in winter. They are extreme and extremely dangerous. True you may get a bluebird day and have great hiking weather, but what you propose to do will take a week or more and the chances of their being good, clear weather for that period of time is zilch.
Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this:
Study the trail descriptions of the trails along your route. Read the chapters on winter hiking and camping. Educate yourself as much as you can, then educate some more.
Think about this long and hard before undertaking it. I know folks who have winter hiked in these mountains for years who wouldn't consider doing this, though I'm sure there are experienced folks who would and could do this. I don't know if you're one of them because I don't know you and I don't know your experience.
Thank you for responding, I really appreciate it. What trails or trips would you recommend beforehand in the White Mountains that would help prepare me for the trip?
No doubt, its a huge undertaking. For example, you have to plan out what your preferred method of flotation will be. Most likely snowshoes. You'll need them below treeline, but likely not above. Many people take a chance and don't bring them on the Presidential section. That's just one area that needs to be carefully planned.
Several of the mountains that you would cross on an AT trip would make good winter practice runs. For example: Moosilaukee would get you above tree-line, exposed to the weather, but still have a quick retreat to the the shelter of the woods below tree-line. In the southern Presidentials Mounts Pierce, Jackson or a Pierce/Eisenhower loop would be a good chance to check gear and navigational skills above tree-line without great risk, though still to be taken as a serious undertaking, as are all winter climbs in the Whites.
A trip along Franconia Ridge would be a good precursor to tackling the Northern Presidentials.
Seriously, get the White Mountain Guide. It is the bible for hiking in the Whites, and it will immensely help you plan your trips.
I am not a guide, nor am I an expert winter hiker, but if you get up here I can either hook you up with some experienced people for one or more hikes, or take you myself.
Backpacker Magazine just launched a whole bunch of AT content. One correspondent spent 10 months doing the trail and lots of the info in online at: