FKT: Chris Labosky - Presidential Traverse (NH) - 2024-03-08

Route variation
The Technical Traverse
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
12h 36m 58s

I've been eyeing the Tech Traverse for a few years. The route requires pretty specific conditions--good ice in the ravines and, ideally, a good spring snowpack with firm neve for quick movement up high. After a week of warm temps and rain in early March this year, I saw a cold snap that looked like it might be sufficient to lock up the snowpack above 3,000 feet. The forecast also called for clear skies and low winds on Mount Washington. Unfortunately (for me) the cold front would come in with some overnight precipitation--in the end, about 6" of snow fell on the summit of Mount Washington the night before my Friday attempt. Seeing this in the forecast, I made a trip to White Mountain Ski Company Thursday afternoon to buy some lightweight vert plates, just in case they might come in handy on sections of the route with deep snowdrifts, or where the refreeze wasn't quite deep enough to avoid breaking through a crust (this turned out to be a good decision).

My plan was to treat the Tech Traverse like a trail run, punctuated by ice climbs. So to start, I wore trail runners with microspikes and carried light trekking poles. I wore just stretchy skimo racing pants and a very light semi-windproof top (Patagonia Airshed Pro) (amazingly, I never changed or added layers throughout the day). My pack held my climbing boots, crampons, ice tools, vert plates, harness, one ice screw, one quick draw and one alpine draw, two pairs of light gloves, a light fleece top layer, a Patagonia Houdini, a helmet, a Garmin InReach mini, snacks and two soft flasks for water (one with a squeeze-through filter top). I didn't start with any water since I assumed there would be ample running water in each of the ravines to fill up and refill (this assumption was correct). Given the low winds and full sun in the forecast, and my tendency to run hot, to save weight I didn't pack a puffy. This was a calculated risk, since in the event of injury that hinders movement, hypothermia can set in quickly even in good weather. My other gear choices were also optimized for weight savings (Auftriib Saucer vert plates, La Sportive G-Tech climbing boots, Petzl Sirocco helmet, Petzl Gully ice tools, Petzl Irvis Hybrid crampons, Blue Ice Choucas Light harness). Even with vert plates and climbing boots inside, my pack (a dyneema-construction 35L alpine climbing pack) weighed only about 16 pounds at the start. 

I started around 5:15am at the Appalachia trail head and finished shortly after 5:50pm at Crawford Notch. I reached the Madison Springs Hut in just under 1 hour 10 minutes. I dropped my pack, tagged Madison and returned to the hut where I switched to climbing boots and crampons. I made my way down the Madison Gulf trail, stopping early to don the vert plates, given rotten, breakable crust. The plates kept me from sinking to my waist, but made travel difficult given the schwaky terrain and the need to hike down backwards (face in) to avoiding sliding (the plates are a little slippery, even with crampon points poking through). Once at the bottom of the trail, the bushwhack to the Madison Gulf ice was surprisingly cruiser (at least with the plates on--I think the crust would have been breakable without them). The ice was very wet and thin in places, but provided a few pitches of fine WI3 climbing.

The crux of the day was probably the bushwhack and hike to the summit of Adams--the plates were necessary to avoid punching through, but were hard to manage in a bushwhack that required a fair bit of traversing and spruce wrestling. Then, on the talus above, deep snow drifts between boulders made travel difficult with or without the plates. I summited Adams around 9am--almost 4 hours in. Past Adams, movement was more straightforward. On trail, hiker traffic had packed in the deeper snow drifts a bit and, off-trail, firm neve was the rule rather than the exception. I was able to drink and refill water in each ravine. I went down and up Great Gully in King Ravine (one ice bulge down low, but mostly snow), down Airplane Gully in Great Gulf and up a fun ice and mixed route just climber's left of Airplane (several pitches of low angle ice punctuated by steeper bulges and snow fields). I tagged the summit of Washington at 1:21pm. I descended Central into Huntington Ravine and climbed out Pinnacle (undermined, but climbable treading lightly over a few fragile ice bridges) and kept climbing boots on over to Tuckerman. I descended Right Gully (mud and slush so late in the day), cut across the bowl and climbed out Left-of-Left (probably the best ice on the route). When I got back to the ridge, I switched back into trail shoes for the last time. Running conditions on Crawford Path were quite good (plenty of ice but mostly free of snow--just fine with microspikes on).

I believe the previous FKT for this route was just over 20 hours, but I don't think that party attempted to run any of the trail mileage on the route. With improvements in technical gear since 2017 (mainly, it has gotten much lighter), running most of the thing with boots in the pack has become a much more reasonable option. With better conditions, I think the route could easily be done in under 10 hours. Go get it!