How to Choose Crampons

When the mountains are covered in snow and summer’s flowing waterfalls turn into ribbons of ice, traction is the name of your winter travel game. But, when your objectives get more serious, crampons should be your footwear of choice. Whether you’re simply looking to climb a snow gully or become a mixed climbing master, you’re going to need crampons to keep from sliding off the snow and rock. Different crampon types suit different needs, though, so you’ll want to make sure you have the right hardware.

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The Three Types

How you attach a set to your boots distinguishes one crampon type from another and offers insight into their intended use. There are three common attachment methods:

Step-In

Providing the most secure attachment, step-in crampons are a popular choice for technical objectives. In fact, you’ll frequently see them adorning the feet of ice climbers, technical mountaineers, and ski mountaineers. Step-in crampons use a lockable heel tab and a wire toe bail to securely stay in place on the boot. This setup requires that your boots have heel and toe welts for the tab and toe bail to clip into.

Almost all types feature some kind of webbing. For step-in models, the webbing prevents the crampon from taking a ride to the bottom of a route, in the event the attachment comes loose.

Hybrid

These crampons use the same lockable heel tab found on step-in models, but, instead of a step-in toe bail, have a flexible plastic loop that extends over the toe box. Hybrid crampons are commonly used with alpine climbing boots, which sacrifice an integrated toe welt for improved climbing ability without crampons.

Because of this, the webbing loop plays a more significant role on hybrid crampons. It helps keep the front secured to the boot and the heel lock engaged.

Strap-On

Because you can use them with almost any type of footwear, including mountaineering boots, hiking boots, snowboard boots, and approach shoes, strap-on crampons are the most versatile type. For this reason, they suit the person looking for one pair to do it all, although they’re best for walking activities, as opposed to climbing. Using the same type of flexible toe piece as hybrid models, strap-on crampons replace the lockable heel tab with another flexible plastic piece that wraps around the heel.

GO: Step-In | Strap-On

Courtesy: Petzl
Courtesy: Petzl

Number of Points

The number of points featured further indicates a crampon’s intended use. In general, there are two configurations: 10-point and 12-point. 10-points are ideal for basic mountaineering routes and snow climbs—for example, the Lion Head Winter Route. 12-points, meanwhile, are better suited for technical mountaineering routes and ice climbs, like Shoestring Gully.

Front Points

The orientation of the front points also shows where they will excel. Crampons with horizontal front points are best used for snow climbs and glacier travel, as the wide footprint provides more purchase in soft conditions, such as snow.

Vertical front points are the clear choice for ice and mixed climbing. In these instances, the points act like the pick of an ice tool, making them more adept at penetrating hard ice. Also, because the orientation aligns with the ice’s grain, vertical front points fracture ice less than horizontal front points.

Mono and Offset Front Points

Front points also have a number of other distinguishing characteristics. For vertical front points, mono points (i.e., a single vertical front point) have increased in popularity with ice, mixed, and alpine climbers. Mono points offer more precision than dual points and can fit into pockets, cracks, and grooves more easily.

Many high-end crampons allow users to switch between dual and mono points (modular front points). This feature enables climbers to reconfigure their crampons for particular activities and objectives. As another advantage, the front points can be replaced. As a result of sharpening, front points become shorter and less effective over the course of time. To learn more about sharpening your crampons, read 8 Tips to Prep for Ice Climbing Season.

Offset front points are another recent trend. Specifically, the crampon has two front points but one is longer than the other. Offset crampons, whether horizontal or vertical, offer the increased precision of a mono point with the better stability of a dual-point model.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Secondary Points

Secondary points also determine whether the crampon is intended for basic snow travel or technical climbing. As a good rule of thumb, the more aggressive and significant the points directly behind the front points are, the better the crampon is for technical and vertical climbing.

Materials

Crampons are primarily constructed using two materials: steel or aluminum. Steel offers superior durability and corrosion resistance compared to aluminum. Therefore, these crampons are ideal for technical ice, mixed climbs, and alpine climbs. Steel’s strength comes at a cost, however, as these are heavier than aluminum crampons. Due to their lighter weight, aluminum crampons are fantastic for glacier travel, ski mountaineering, and snow climbing.

Anti-Balling Plates

These small pieces of plastic prevent snow from getting packed between your boots and crampons, and are essential if you’re going to be traveling on snow. Anti-balling plates attach to the crampon’s bottom to prevent snow and ice from caking up and sticking while you hike or climb. And, because you’ll likely see at least some snow, they come standard on almost all modern models.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Sizing Crampons

Most every crampon consists of two components, the front and heel pieces, connected by a center bar. The center bars typically have a string of holes, which let you adjust the crampons. In turn, the pair covers a wide range of foot sizes and can be sized to your specific boot. If you have really big feet, however, keep in mind that you might need to purchase a longer center bar from the manufacturer.

Pro Tip: If you already own mountaineering boots, bring them to the shop to test the crampons’ fit. Some brands might fit better, and it’s preferable to figure that out before you’re staring up at that dream ice climb.

Courtesy: Petzl
Courtesy: Petzl

So, Which Crampons Should I Get?

For snow climbs and classic mountaineering routes like Avalanche Gulch on California’s Mount Shasta, a lightweight pair of 10-point crampons with horizontal front points and anti-balling plates, like the Black Diamond Contact, is ideal. Step-in crampons offer better security, but any attachment method will work. Focus on finding a good fit between your crampon and mountaineering boot.

For more technical objectives involving snow climbing and steep ice, such as the Adirondacks’ Trap Dike, 12-point crampons with horizontal points and anti-balling plates are the perfect choice. A step-in attachment—like what you’ll find on the Black Diamond Serac Pro—is preferable.

For vertical ice climbing in the Adirondacks and the White Mountains, a 12-point crampon with vertical front points is the best choice. Crampons like the Black Diamond Cyborg Pro feature a step-in attachment and modular front points, so you can switch between a mono and dual setup. In turn, you can match your setup to the terrain or simply see which way you are more comfortable climbing. And, if you’ll be using your crampons with boots with and without toe welts, consider the Petzl Lynx Modular, known for adjustable bails depending on boot type.

For missions where weight comes at a premium—think alpine routes with some snow climbing sections or ski mountaineering missions in Tuckerman Ravine or on the Cog Railway—check out the ultra-lightweight Black Diamond Neve Strap Crampon. Weighing in at just 1 lb., 4.3 oz., these babies pack a punch without taking up much space in your pack.

GO: Crampons for Mixed Climbing | Mountaineering | Vertical Ice | Winter Hiking

 


Gift Guide: What Your Loved One Needs to Hike Mount Washington in Winter

If you’re looking for the perfect gift for an adventurous friend or family member on your list this holiday, but nothing you’ve seen in the stores speaks to you, consider pivoting away from the “Christmas list” and help them tick something off their bucket list instead.

A winter ascent of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington via the Lion Head Winter Route is a must-do trip for any hiker or aspiring mountaineer. When it comes to the Northeast’s tallest mountain—and the most prominent peak east of the Mississippi—reaching Mount Washington’s summit is an achievement in any season. But, it’s the mountain’s reputation for having “the world’s worst weather,” which is even more notorious in winter, that puts the Lion Head Winter Route on so many people’s life lists and makes it fairly demanding in the gear department. So, to jump-start your loved one on the path to a worthy adventure, supply them with some of the items on this list.

Alpha Guides

1. The Beta

While you can’t give the person on your list the perfect conditions or strong hiking legs, you can give the gift of inspiration with goEast’s “Alpha Guide: Mount Washington via the Lion Head Winter Route.”

2. The Right Amount of Traction

A climb up the Lion Head Winter Route begins benignly enough on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. Trees protect it from the weather, and it’s wide enough for hiking shoulder to shoulder, and starting from just behind the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, climbers simply follow the trail to the cutoff for the Lion Head Winter Route. Depending on the winter, this portion may present anything from ice-covered rocks to well-packed snow. Either way, Kahtoola MICROSpikes are safer than booting up the trail without traction devices and allow for faster movement than hiking in crampons.

3. Tackle the Steeps

Next up is one of the Lion Head Winter Route’s cruxes: a steep, semi-technical, 100-foot-long rocky section. After that, it’s a steep climb toward treeline and the Lion Head proper. Equipment like the Black Diamond Sabretooth Crampon and Raven Ice Axe are essential from this steep portion to the summit.

4. Keep the Inside Warm

Many parties pause just below the crux to don their gear and replenish fluids from the first hour-plus of hiking. If the person on your list has a thermos, like the Hydro Flask 32 oz. Wide Mouth, it’s a great opportunity to have something warm to drink, and battle another of the route’s challenges—staying warm. It’s amazing what a difference a sip of hot cocoa or tea can make for keeping the body warm and spirits high.

5. Remember Their Digits

With average winter temperatures below freezing at Pinkham Notch and in the single digits on Mount Washington’s summit, preparation for the cold is key. An insulated glove, like the Black Diamond Dirt Bag, is fantastic for this section. Yaktrax Hand Warmers are another welcome sight in any mountaineer’s stocking, as they’re excellent for warming frozen fingers when tucked into gloves or mittens. Or, a hiker can throw them into a pocket near their body to warm up their core.

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

6. Brave the Wind

Above the Lion Head proper, hikers encounter another difficulty. The rest of the route is above treeline, thus extending exposure to the full fury of the weather, especially the wind. In fact, the second-highest wind speed ever, 231 mph, was recorded on Mount Washington.

To anticipate these conditions, the climber on your list will want a warm winter hat, like Smartwool’s The Lid, weatherproof gloves, such as the EMS Summit (men’s/women’s), and a neck gaiter (our favorite is the Smartwool Neck Gaiter). They will also want to carry goggles (ideally two pairs, in case one set freezes), a balaclava, like the Black Diamond BD Balaclava, and heavyweight mittens, such as the Black Diamond Mercury (men’s/women’s), in the event of extreme weather.

7. The Right Amount of Insulation

A good puffy coat is mandatory for climbing Mount Washington in the winter. We, in fact, like to carry two. A puffy with active insulation, such as the Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody (men’s/women’s), is perfect for staying warm while you’re moving up the mountain on the coldest winter days. As well, a traditional puffy, like the Black Diamond Cold Forge Jacket (men’s/women’s), is great when you’re taking breaks, standing on the summit, or in case of an emergency.

8. Stay Safe

So that a dream trip doesn’t turn into a nightmare, consider getting the person on your list a GPS watch, like the Suunto Ambit3, which allows hikers to retrace a route backwards or input a route to follow. In addition, an emergency bivy, like the Adventure Medical Kit SOL Escape Bivy, can be the difference between coming home with a great story and being another statistic that proves Mount Washington’s deadly reputation. 28 people have succumbed to hypothermia on the mountain since records started being kept in 1849.

Credit: Tim Peck

9. Pack It All Up

As we’ve already mentioned, a trip up the Lion Head Winter Route requires a lot of gear. Just to name a few essentials, you’ll need crampons and an ice axe for the steep and icy terrain, a multitude of layers, goggles, puffies, and a camera for that mantle-worthy summit shot. So, help the person on your list transport everything in comfort, all without being weighed down, with a high-quality mountaineering pack, like the Black Diamond Speed 40. Designed for carrying crampons and ice axes, it also has enough interior volume to ensure no critical gear gets left behind.

10. Get Help

If you think the person on your list has the desire to climb Mount Washington in winter, but not the necessary skills to get up and back safely, consider sending them with the EMS Climbing School, the oldest climbing school in the East. EMS runs guided trips up the Lion Head throughout the season and also provides a handful of two-day trips involving an overnight at the Mount Washington Observatory.


Opinion: Is Fleece Dead?

In the not-so-distant past, fleeces of varying weights and purposes stuffed our closets and backpacks. You needed stretch fleeces, with their enhanced mobility, for climbing in cool weather, Windstopper fleece for above-treeline scrambles, and trusty 300-weight fleeces just to leave the house in winter. Of course, microfleece suited your summer escapes and offered an outdoorsy alternative to sweaters in winter. In recent years, though, a host of new insulation choices have crowded the fleece out of our closets. In response, we’ve asked ourselves, “Is fleece totally dead?”

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There are far superior technical outer layers…

Fleece is no longer the premier technical outer layer. That much we know for certain, for three main reasons.

Better Fits and Packability

First, packability. When some of us started hiking, climbing, and skiing, down coats packed reasonably well. But, put one on, and you immediately resembled the Michelin Man. The synthetic coats of the day cut a slimmer profile, but packed about as well as fleece.

By contrast, today’s down coats use super-high quality down to create the same amount of warmth, without making it look like you’re impersonating the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, while taking up far less pack space. As well, jackets with synthetic insulation now provide a less-bulky fit and have begun to rival down in terms of packability. Fleece outer layers? They still don’t pack well. And, who really wants to carry a giant pack solely to accommodate a technical fleece jacket?

Lighter Weights

Second, options. Much like the fleeces of the past, available in a wide variety of weights and features, down and synthetic jackets now come in an incredible range of sizes and styles. You’ll find everything from ultralight insulation, like the Arc’teryx Atom SL (men’s/women’s), to heavyweight pieces, like Marmot’s Men’s Guides Down and Women’s Aruna hoodies. Because of this, puffies have replaced fleece everywhere, from slightly cool summer summits to bitterly cold winter belays. Companies are even developing hybrids, like the EMS Impact Hybrid Jacket (men’s/women’s), which combines active insulation with lightweight, stretchy materials to keep weight down and packability up.

More Tech Features

Third, wicking. Within the outdoor community, fleece has long remained a staple for one significant reason: It keeps you warm, all while wicking away sweat. However, the advent of active insulation diversified the options offered. As such, today’s synthetic jackets provide more warmth, offer comparable breathability, and pack better than fleeces of similar weights. For these reasons, puffy vests are a four-season staple for us. As well, you’ll rarely find us in the mountains during winter without an active insulation-based midlayer, such as the EMS Alpine Ascender Stretch Jacket.

While active insulation has fueled the growth of synthetic options, technological advancements have further targeted common issues associated with down – most notably, its susceptibility to water. Hydrophobic down—down that’s resistant to water—and DWR (durable water repellent) treated shells on coats like the EMS Feather Pack (men’s/women’s) have helped minimize this insulation’s Achilles’ heel. No longer pigeon-holed for dry climates, down coats are now commonly used in soggy environments, like the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast.

All that said, abrasion resistance still gives fleece a leg up. It’s comparatively harder to tear.

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…But, don’t be fleeced into thinking it’s dead just yet

Despite synthetic and down insulation filling many of its former roles, we’re not ready to bury fleece just yet. Stretch fleeces, like the EMS Equinox Power Stretch Hoodie (men’s/women’s), are staples of our ice climbing and in-bound ski kits. In addition to being great for cold-weather pursuits, its adaptable design is a must-have for fall cragging. It’s also hard to beat the next-to-skin fuzzy texture of The North Face’s Campshire (men’s/women’s), especially when you’re wearing it around town. Lastly, a cozy microfleece lets you keep up appearances and stay warm while kicking back after a hard day playing outdoors.

For these reasons, fleece isn’t leaving our gear closet just yet.


How to Choose a Climbing Harness

Your climbing harness is a vital piece in the safety chain. But, unlike your rope or helmet, it not only needs to be functional and safe, but it also needs to be extremely comfortable. Every time you take a fall, make a rappel, or sit back to work out a few moves or haul on some gear, your harness becomes the seat you’re sitting in. The bad news? You’ll come across a ton of options out there, all with different features and comfort levels. As such, for both new and seasoned senders, it can be dizzying to know which is right for you. So, how do you make sense of it all?

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Climbing Harness Construction

Step one: Know what you’re looking at, and for the type of climbing you plan to do, know which features are important.

The Belt

The belt, also known as the waist belt or a swami belt by old-school climbers, plays a vital role. It connects the climber to all other parts of the harness, as well as to the rope. More so, no other aspect is more integral to the harness’ overall comfort.

Made from a diverse collection of materials, harness belts come in a wide variety of widths and padding levels. As a good rule of thumb, models with more padding are more comfortable and aimed at climbers who will spend considerable time hanging in the harness, like multi-pitch and big-wall climbers. Harnesses with less padding, meanwhile, are streamlined for those who will not be hanging for an extended period of time—for example, sport and gym climbers.

Belts are more commonly adjusted using a single buckle. However, some styles—usually those accommodating a wide range of waist sizes—use two. While most modern harnesses feature self-double-backing (or speed) buckles, some buckles still require climbers to manually double them back. While speed buckles are great for convenience, you’ll have an easier time putting on a harness while wearing crampons with a manual option.

Pro Tip: Whichever closure method you choose, get in the habit of ensuring your harness is closed properly before you leave the ground. As well, confirm that your knot is tied correctly and your belayer’s device is threaded the right way.

Leg Loops

Usually padded and ventilated to match the belt’s material, leg loops come in two types: fixed and adjustable. Fixed leg loops are built with some stretch to accommodate different leg sizes. For this reason, they provide a fast and easy on-and-off solution for gym, sport, and other climbers who will not be mixing and matching multiple layers under their harnesses. Adjustable leg loops, meanwhile, are great for ice and alpine climbers, who may be wearing thin softshell pants one day and then multiple layers the next. As well, adjustable leg loops are ideal for climbers needing one harness to do it all.

Much like belts, adjustable leg loops use a variety of buckles. Make sure you’re familiar with the type of buckle your leg loops use, and get in the habit of making sure they’re closed correctly before you leave the ground.

GO: Adjustable Leg Loops | Fixed Leg Loops

Courtesy: Petzl
Courtesy: Petzl

Gear Loops

Most harnesses today come with four gear loops, which are designed for holding everything from quickdraws to cams to cordelettes. Made using a range of materials, gear loops come in a variety of shapes that affect how your gear is carried. For instance, you’ll find molded plastic on Black Diamond harnesses and sewn loops on Petzl models. Additionally, positioning varies between brands and impacts how easy gear is to access.

Pro tip: Almost any harness with four gear loops works for sport, gym, and top-rope climbing. However, if you’re planning on carrying a rack on your harness, consider trying the harness on with the rack first. This way, you can make sure you like how your gear is stored, see if it’s easy to reach, and test how it clips and unclips from the loops.

Ice Clipper Slots

If you’ll be using the harness for ice or alpine climbing, consider purchasing one with ice clipper slots. These small pieces of fabric allow for the use of ice clippers—a special piece of gear for racking ice screws and axes. Without the clippers attached, the slots are barely noticeable and add minimal weight. When the clippers are installed, they make organizing winter essentials on a harness easy.

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Haul Loop

Many harnesses feature a haul loop—a loop of cord, webbing, or plastic—on the rear. A useful addition, haul loops let you bring a second rope up routes that require full-length rappels, and further offer many other functions. For example, they’re a great spot to clip a chalk bag or to attach shoes for routes that you walk off.

Pro tip: The haul loops found on most harnesses are not rated to carry weight. Even if a haul loop is rated, you should never belay from or tie into it.

Belay Loop

Designed primarily for belaying another climber, this load-bearing vertical loop connects the two tie-in points. The width varies by the intended use: Many sport climbing harnesses have thinner belay loops to reduce weight and bulk, while general use and trad-focused harnesses often have more robust options to increase lifespan and durability. A feature on some models, wear indicators—different-colored nylon underneath the belay loop and tie-in points—indicate when it’s time to retire a harness.

Tie-In Points

Used primarily for tying into the rope, the tie-in points are the two loops connected by the belay loop. One is on the waist belt and the other is right in the middle of the leg loops.

Pro tip: What’s the difference between a belay loop and a tie-in point? The latter is ideal for use with fabrics, such as climbing ropes, personal anchor systems, and slings, while the belay loop is built for metal products, like carabiners.

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Fitting a Harness

Because everyone is shaped differently, the easiest way to determine a harness’ fit is to try it on. To get the ideal fit, you first want to position the belt above your hips and also be in the middle of adjusting the belt and leg loops. When you tighten the belt, it should be snug but not uncomfortable.

As well, you’ll come across women’s-specific harnesses, which, beyond the colors, are designed differently from the men’s models. Specifically, a women’s harness has a differently shaped waist belt, an increased rise (the distance between the leg loops and belt), and larger leg loops relative to the waist size.

Pro tip: How do you know a harness fits well? The belay loop and tie-in points are centered on the front of your body. If a gear loop sits at your belly button, try another size.

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Suggestions

Top-Roping, Gym, and Sport Climbing

Because almost any harness works well for these activities, make sure to prioritize comfort and fit. As well, none of these climbing styles require carrying an extensive amount of gear, so the number and location of the gear loops aren’t as important.

Traditional Climbing

Trad climbers need a harness with gear loops large enough to accommodate such gear as cams, nuts, and draws. The harness should have enough space for the equipment and carry the weight comfortably. For this reason, and because trad climbers frequently find themselves hanging in their harnesses for extended periods of time, these models typically have more padding than other offerings.

Ice Climbing  

Most ice gear racks fit better on a harness with ice clippers. Because of this, any harness for ice climbing should have these slots. As another feature, adjustable leg loops better accommodate the fluctuating layers worn over the course of the winter climbing season.

Mountaineering

Compared to other climbers, mountaineers don’t spend as much time sitting in their harnesses, and on routes measured in miles rather than feet, ounces quickly turn into pounds. For these reasons, many mountaineering harnesses are stripped down to the essentials. Also, for putting a harness on over crampons and skis, look for leg loops that open all the way.

GO: Aid Climbing | All-Around | Caving | Glacier Travel | Rescue | Steep | Winter Climbing | Work

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A Bostonian's Guide to Fall Foliage

For Bostonians, there’s no need to travel far this fall to find the foliage. In fact, whether you’re looking to hike, climb, mountain bike, or paddle, the Greater Boston area has something to satisfy everybody’s cravings for yellows, oranges, and reds. To begin, start with these five great activities, all within an hour of the city, for a quintessentially fall experience.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Boulder at Hammond Pond

It’s strange to find great bouldering, much less an idyllic fall getaway, behind a mall. But, somehow, Hammond Pond pulls it off. Tucked behind The Shops at Chestnut Hill, just minutes outside of Boston, the puddingstone walls, the pond’s gentle waves, and the rustling of hardwood leaves as they fall to the ground—and the occasional grunt of a boulderer working a problem—combine to make you forget just how close you actually are to civilization.

In addition to the wonderful setting, the season’s cool temperatures are perfect for climbing classic Hammond Pond boulder problems, such as Hammond Eggs (V1), Breakfast of Champions (V3), and Hermit Cave (V4). You’ll find the highest consistency and most classic problems in an area called the Alcove, a steep semi-circle of Roxbury Puddingstone. This type of conglomerate rock resembles pebbles thrown into a still-wet concrete wall and is only found in the Greater Boston area. The Alcove’s orientation protects climbers from cool autumn winds, while the rock receives a lot of sun, keeping it pleasant even on the crispest fall days.

Linking a combination of cobbles and cracks, the Alcove’s most difficult problems are found in the middle of the wall, where the angle is the steepest. The easier problems, meanwhile, are located along the outsides, which are angled more vertically. Because of the Alcove’s short height and limited amount of rock, however, make sure to check out traverses that increase the challenge and volume of climbing. Boulderers beware: Many of the problems here were established decades ago. Thus, given the close proximity to Boston, they possess an ego-deflating blend of old-school grading and slick holds.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Climb Rattlesnake Rocks

Tucked just down the road from Quincy Quarries’ graffitied walls, Rattlesnake Rocks is a classic destination for fall foliage. Rather than the Quarries’ vibrantly colored walls, however, the forest surrounding Rattlesnake Rocks delivers a canopy of gold, auburn, and crimson, while cool autumn temperatures ensure the area’s short, coarse granite walls are at their best.

Consisting of smaller crags spread out over a cliffline, Rattlesnake is much quieter than its multi-use neighbor, giving you some freedom to make the most of your “Rocktober.” And, while moving from crag to crag may be an inconvenience, the autumn-hued forest is made for ambling amongst Rattlesnake Rocks’ various walls and routes.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mountain Bike Around Vietnam

No, not that Vietnam.

For Boston-area mountain bikers who prefer to race through colorful fall forests rather than idly admire them, Vietnam—located in Milford, roughly an hour outside the city—is an ideal outing. Infamous in the mountain biking community, Vietnam holds the distinction of being the first land purchased by a bike association. The New England Mountain Bike Association, or NEMBA, bought a 47-acre parcel to protect it in 2003, and today, it contains notorious singletrack, drops, and jumps. Even better, NEMBA’s parcel connects with other conservation land in Milford, Hopkinton, and Holliston to create an approximately 800-acre area. Legendary for its technical riding, Vietnam’s trails are best known for their rock gardens and steep rollers, as well as their natural and manmade drops and jumps.

Fall is the perfect time for a trip to Vietnam. Its often-soggy, low-lying areas are finally dry, and brisk temperatures enhance traction on the area’s steepest lines. While the forest’s changing colors and the rustling of leaves under tires can produce a meditative calm, don’t let your guard down too much. Fallen leaves add another challenge to Vietnam’s already-taxing trails, as they may hide in-trail obstacles.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Hike the Blue Hills

Hikers in Greater Boston anxious to explore brilliantly tinted fall forests need look no further than the Blue Hills Reservation. Just a short drive from the city, the Blue Hills deliver the perfect place for hiking, as the area’s rocky and once-lush prominences transform from dense grays and greens into a cornucopia of yellow, orange, and red shades.

Although the Blue Hills might not have the elevation found among its northern neighbors—the highest point, Great Blue Hill, stands at just 635 feet tall—the area boasts an impressive 125 miles of hiking trails and 22 named hills. All and all, it’s more than enough to keep even the most enthusiastic fall hikers busy. Proving you needn’t drive north, the various high points offer incredible views of everything from Boston’s skyline to the Atlantic Ocean. Of course, New England’s iconic fall foliage makes these views even more spectacular.

Hikers looking to get a quick foliage fix should head for the summit of Great Blue Hill, a roughly mile-long round-trip hike. On the summit, climb the Eliot Tower for an unrivaled view of the city’s skyline and Boston Harbor. On a clear day, hikers can see as far as New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock. So, take a minute to reflect on the leaf-peeping madness (and heavy traffic) you’re missing out on by staying close to home. Or, have a picnic on the open summit, or continue touring the park’s expansive network of trails.

Courtesy: LEONARDO DASILVA
Courtesy: LEONARDO DASILVA

Paddle the Charles

For taking in the foliage around Boston, don’t restrict yourself to land. Another option, the Charles River delivers a different perspective for viewing the season’s leafy spectacle. Whether from the comfort of a kayak or balanced on top of an SUP, you’ll find the river’s calm waters offer a multitude of trip options for leaf-peeping. Along with the awe-inspiring autumn colors, expect to encounter everything from old forests to city skylines, as the Charles snakes from Hopkinton to the Atlantic Ocean.

With ample put-ins and numerous places to stop for a picnic or to merely enjoy the scenery, the Charles River has an adventure for every level. And, while an out-and-back trip requires the least amount of logistics, it’s easy to stage a shuttle for a one-way trip with a little planning.

What’s even better than lazily floating on the calm waters to soak up New England’s stunning fall sights? Through the russet-colored forest, the occasional rumble of the highway lets you know others are fighting their way out of, or back into, the city to look for something you’ve already found.

 

Do you have a favorite fall trip around Boston? If so, we want to hear about it! Leave your favorite Boston-area fall trips in the comments.


Alpha Guide: The Carter Range Traverse

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Challenging terrain, breathtaking views, and the summits of six New Hampshire 4,000-footers combine to make the Carter Range Traverse one of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains.

Rugged but weather-protected terrain, fantastic views of Mount Washington and the northern Presidentials, a multiplicity of camping options, all without the crowds of some of New Hampshire’s better-known overnights, and foliage that’s among the best in the Whites make this a must-do fall point-to-point backpacking trip. And, for those who want to go luxurious and light, there’s even an Appalachian Mountain Club hut that’s right in the middle of the traverse.

Many hikers begin the Carter Range Traverse at the Carter-Moriah Trailhead on Bangor Street in Gorham. They then head south on the Carter-Moriah, Wildcat Ridge, and Lost Pond Trails for 17-plus miles, crossing six 4,000-footers before ending at Pinkham Notch on Route 16.

Quick Facts

Distance: 17 miles, thru-hike.*
Time to Complete: 2 to 3 days
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★


Season: Late-May to early November (Late September to early October for the best foliage)
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/whitemountain 

*The AMC Guidebook lists this hike ar roughly 20 miles, but our GPX and other independent sources have tracked it as less.

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Turn-By-Turn

Getting to the Carter-Moriah Trailhead is simple. Bangor Street is across from the Androscoggin Valley Country Club on Route 2 in Gorham. From Conway, follow Route 16 North approximately 24 miles to Route 2. Take a right onto Route 2, and look for Bangor Street on your right about a mile down the road. There’s a small hikers’ parking lot a few houses before the end of the street. Park there, and then, walk down to the trailhead (44.3822, -71.1694) at the end of the street.

If you have two cars, leave one at each trailhead. For an alternative, take advantage of the shuttle service provided by the Appalachian Mountain Club. For leaving a car at Pinkham Notch, it’s even easier to find than the Carter-Moriah Trailhead, as it’s right in the middle of Gorham and Conway. If you’re coming from Gorham, just follow Route 16 South for roughly 12 miles, and the building will be on your right. When you’re coming from Conway, Pinkham Notch is roughly 12 miles past the Glen intersection on Route 16 South, and the building will be on your left.

Although there’s limited parking at the Carter-Moriah Trailhead, the Libby Memorial Pool off Route 16 has additional parking. If you end up parking there, it is just a short road walk to the trailhead. As an added bonus, you get to cross a cool hikers-only suspension bridge to get to the trailhead.

Looking northeast from an overlook near Mount Moriah's summit. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Looking northeast from an overlook near Mount Moriah’s summit. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Moriah

On the way to Moriah’s summit, the Carter-Moriah Trail (CMT) gains more than 3,000 feet of elevation over the course of 4.5 miles. The trail itself is easy to follow but relatively nondescript, with the most notable feature being the rock ledge near the summit of Mount Surprise. If you haven’t taken a break yet, this is a good spot, as it is almost halfway to the summit.

After 4.5 miles of uphill terrain, you’ll reach a short spur trail that leads toward Mount Moriah’s summit ledge (44.3403, -71.1315). The views from the summit and surrounding area are among the best in the Whites, with the Northern Presidentials to the west, the Wild River Wilderness and Maine to the east, and portions of the traverse visible to the south.

In the woods near the start of the Carter-Moriah Trail. | Credit: Douglas Martland
In the woods near the start of the Carter-Moriah Trail. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Moriah to Imp Shelter

From Moriah’s summit, head south on the CMT. After a few minutes, you’ll come to a short, exposed downclimb that can be tricky. Be especially careful if you’re carrying a heavy pack. At the junction at the bottom of the downclimb, keep right to stay on the Carter-Moriah Trail. Although the junction is well signed, if you have any doubts from here on out, you’ll be following the Appalachian Trail’s white blazes, so there’s really no excuse for getting lost.

The trail then meanders across ledges and open slab, with great views east into the Wild River Wilderness and Maine’s forests and mountains. Eventually, the trail begins to descend steeply over the open slabs without compromising those views. Along the way, you’ll come across several fantastic overlooks, where you’ll probably find hikers ascending Moriah from the south pausing to catch their breath. Use caution when descending, however, as this section is often icy.

About 1.5 miles from the summit, the trail drops back into the trees, where it begins to flatten out. Almost immediately, you’ll arrive at a well-signed junction with the Moriah Brook Trail, but you’ll want to stay on the CMT. Soon thereafter, the trail crosses a boardwalk through a marsh area before coming to the Stony Brook Trail junction. At the junction, remain on the CMT for 0.75 miles, until you come to a spur trail for the Imp Shelter.

Coming up the Stony Brook Trail and skipping Moriah is an easier way to reach the Imp Shelter. It’s a great option for those starting late in the day on the first day of their trip or for those looking to do a single-day range traverse.

Down a short spur trail, there’s a shelter (44.3291, -71.1502) and five tent platforms (available for $10), with a caretaker present during summer months, as well. Tucked in the shadow of Imp Mountain, this is a great place to spend the night if you’re doing a three-day trip. If you’re doing the traverse in two days, consider pushing on, as you’ve only done one-third of the mileage.

Pro Tip: Since the stream at Imp Shelter is the last reliable water source before Carter Notch, it’s a good idea to refill here.

Looking back on Carter Ridge from Carter Dome. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Looking back on Carter Ridge from Carter Dome. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Up North Carter

If you spent the night at Imp Shelter, the early-morning hike up North Carter on the Carter-Moriah Trail can be a rude awakening. It’s steep and rough, gaining 1,400 feet over the course of roughly two miles. More so, it is probably the traverse’s hardest part, so take your time—there’s a long day ahead.

If you’re looking to catch your breath, a few spots on the way up North Carter have good views north toward Moriah. You might miss them, though, when heading uphill, since you’ll be facing the wrong direction.

About 1.6 miles from the shelter, you’ll stumble onto North Carter’s summit (44.3131, -71.1645). Although it is 4,530 feet in height, the Appalachian Mountain Club doesn’t consider North Carter a 4,000-footer. The col on the ridge from Middle Carter only descends 60 feet (18 m), thus making North Carter a secondary summit of that peak.

Mount Hight and Carter Dome from South Carter. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Mount Hight and Carter Dome from South Carter. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Ridge Running the Carters

Once you’ve climbed to the ridgeline, the CMT mellows considerably along the rolling Carter Ridge. As well, trees shelter the ridgeline, offering great protection from the weather. Occasionally, breaks in the trees offer views both to the east (Maine, the Baldface Range, and the Wild River Wilderness) and to the west (the Northern Presidentials). And, because Carter Ridge isn’t a straight line, a few opportunities offer a glimpse of what lies ahead.

About a mile from North Carter’s summit, the trail surmounts Middle Carter (44.3031, -71.1673). Although you’ll get great views before and after the summit, the summit itself is wooded and nondescript. And, because you’re near a wilderness area, the summit itself isn’t signed. Look, instead, for a cairn.

From Middle Carter, the trail descends gradually to the col between Middle and South Carter. At this point, it climbs gently toward the summit of the latter peak (44.2898, -71.1762). About a half-mile from the col, be on the lookout for a very short spur trail to South Carter’s official summit. Again, there are no signs, but it is pretty hard to miss the small cairn. And, although the summit has no real views, an outlook sits a few steps away on the other side of the trail. Your next objectives—Mount Hight and Carter Dome—dominate the horizon to the south.

To reach them, continue south on the CMT for 0.8 miles as it heads downhill toward Zeta Pass. While it descends quickly at first, it then meanders through the woods and over boardwalks as it nears the pass.

The Northern Presidential Range from Mount Hight. | Credit: Douglas Martland
The Northern Presidential Range from Mount Hight. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Carter Dome and the Mount Hight Detour

From Zeta Pass, the Carter-Moriah and Carter Dome Trails temporarily merge, both headed for Carter Dome’s summit. Soon, however, they split at a junction (44.2789, -71.1737), with the CMT taking a slightly longer route with a detour to the outstanding overlook atop Mount Hight. If time is of the essence and you want to skip Mount Hight, take the Carter Dome Trail (blue blazes) directly to the top of Carter Dome. It saves about 0.2 miles, but you’ll be skipping one of the hike’s key highlights.

To get to Mount Hight, a subpeak of Carter Dome, simply continue following the AT’s white rectangular blazes. After a few minutes, the trail begins to climb steeply. Although some effort is involved, keep hiking: The alpine zone and 360-degree views of the Presidentials, the sections of the Carter Range you’ve traversed so far, and the Wild River Wilderness are well worth it. When you can peel yourself away from the summit (44.2759, -71.1702), continue along the CMT and AT, until it intersects with the Carter Dome Trail, a short distance below Carter Dome.

Compared to Hight, Carter Dome is unimpressive, with a small open space and some competing summit cairns (44.2674, -71.1792). The summit’s northwestern side also has an overlook toward the Northern Presidentials.

Fall foliage behind Carter Lake. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Fall foliage behind Carter Lake. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Carter Notch

From Carter Dome, the CMT descends into Carter Notch. Here, the trail is steep with several sections where you’ll want to watch your footing. About halfway down the trail is a nice overlook, where you can see the Carter Notch Hut with Wildcat Ridge as a backdrop.

The CMT spills out into Carter Notch at the junction at Carter Lake. If you’re spending the night at the Carter Notch Hut (44.2588, -71.1951) or just looking for snacks and water, follow a short spur trail left, past two small lakes for 0.1 miles. Built in 1914, the hut offers full services during the summer months, as well as self-service during the rest of the year. Those thinking of spending the night in one of the two bunkhouses can make reservations with the AMC.

If you’re continuing on toward Wildcat Ridge, turn right instead, following the trail along the edge of Carter Lake and then up as it begins to climb out of the Notch. Since the trails around Carter Notch are maze-like, pay careful attention, so you don’t get lost and lose any time.

Fall foliage from near the top of Wildcat D. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Fall foliage from near the top of Wildcat D. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Up Wildcat Ridge

Whether you spent the night at the hut or continued to push on, the 0.7-mile climb up Wildcat A is a tough one. The trail travels continuously over rough terrain, gaining elevation with a series of long, traversing switchbacks. Since the best views are behind you, use that as an excuse if you need to take a break.

You’ll know you’re near the summit when the trail briefly levels out. The summit (44.2590, -71.2015) itself is inconspicuous—just a small cairn a few feet off the trail. But, just before, an overlook delivers good views of Carter Dome, the Notch, and the Hut.

Mount Washington with Tuckerman (left) and Huntington (right) Ravines from below Wildcat C. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Mount Washington with Tuckerman (left) and Huntington (right) Ravines from below Wildcat C. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Across the Ridge

Wildcat Ridge rolls along across Wildcat’s five named peaks—A, B, C, D, and E. Although only two count as official 4,000-footers (A and D), you’ll still have to earn each one, as even their short elevation gains seem like real work this late in the traverse.

The most notable of the subpeaks is C, mainly because of the stellar views of Mt. Washington’s Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines on the descent. Be careful, as well, on the descent off C into Wildcat Col; a few of the sections require some easy downclimbing.

The sights and sounds of civilization indicate you’ve climbed out of the col and are nearing the summit overlook atop Wildcat D (44.2493, -71.235). It’s the first summit on the trip that’ll be crowded with non-hikers—Wildcat’s gondola runs near D’s summit on fall weekends—but you can at least appreciate that your climb up was much more challenging. And, if the crowds are minimal or it’s off-hours, the observation platform is a great place to admire Mount Washington.

The trail approaching Carter Dome. | Credit: Douglas Martland
The trail approaching Carter Dome. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Down to Pinkham

From the overlook, the trail meanders over Wildcat E and soon thereafter begins to descend. Easily one of the Whites’ hardest hikes, descending the Wildcat Ridge Trail may be even more demanding than ascending it. Rocky, slabby, and at times extremely steep, the trail even features rock and wooden steps to ease hiking on such vertical terrain. As it plummets down two miles and roughly 2,000 feet of elevation, people who are carrying big packs, have tired legs, or are uncomfortable negotiating exposed terrain should consider taking the shortcut down the Wildcat Mountain Ski Area.

Near the bottom of the Wildcat Ridge Trail, take the Lost Pond Trail for an easy 0.9 miles to Pinkham Notch. Although this route is longer than just finishing out the Wildcat Ridge Trail, it eliminates the need to cross the Ellis River.

As another reason doing the traverse from north to south is advantageous, after passing the final summit, hikers can quickly scamper down the ski slope to the resort’s parking area, instead of continuing on the steep and rugged Wildcat Ridge Trail to the Glen Ellis Falls Trailhead. The preferred hiking trail is the Polecat Trail, a 2.2-mile green circle that gently weaves down the mountain. From Wildcat, hikers can do a quick road march back to Pinkham Notch.


The Wild River Wilderness from Mount Hight. | Credit: Douglas Martland
The Wild River Wilderness from Mount Hight. | Credit: Douglas Martland

The Kit

  • The EMS Refugio 2 Tent is a great choice for those who feel that staying in the hut is too luxurious but aren’t psyched on going super-lightweight. Weighing roughly a pound and a half more than its ultralight sibling, the Velocity 2, the Refugio delivers plenty of space to stretch out and has voluminous vestibules for storing gear.
  • The Sawyer Mini Filter makes access to potable drinking water easy. Simply screw it onto a water bottle or rig it to your hydration bladder. Or, even drink right from the source using the included straw.
  • After a long day on the trail, appetites are high, but the motivation to cook is low. A canister stove like the Jetboil Flash makes preparing dinner as easy as pushing a button.
  • Super small and compact, the Sea to Summit Ultralight Sleeping Pad is perfect for keeping pack size down and doesn’t disappoint when it comes to comfort.
  • The EMS Mountain Light 20 is warm, compressible, and cozy, making it perfect for trips like the Carter Range Traverse. Open the super-versatile bag up for unseasonably warm weather, or wear your jacket to bed and cinch the hood for those cold fall nights.

Foliage from near the top of Wildcat D. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Foliage from near the top of Wildcat D. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Keys to the Trip

  • From mid-September through mid-May, the AMC’s Carter Notch Hut is self-serve. During the self-service season, a bed is provided and so is the use of the hut’s stove, cookware, and utensils. While neither dinner nor breakfast is offered during the self-serve season, you can ditch the weight of a tent and stove. The cost is $45 a night for AMC members and $54 a night for non-members. However, it’s always a good idea to reserve a place in the hut in advance.
  • Although the Carter Wildcat Traverse is pretty straightforward, it’s always smart to carry a map, and the White Mountains Waterproof Trail Map is a good one. In addition to being helpful in the event you get turned around, it’s also perfect for getting stoked before your trip and scheming up the next traverse once you’ve checked the Carter Range Traverse from your list.
  • After a couple long days of GORP, granola, and freeze-dried meals, you deserve something decadent. Treat yourself to an incredible cupcake (or two) from White Mountain Cupcakery.

Current Conditions

Have you recently hiked in the Carters or Wildcats? Have you done the complete traverse? What did you think? Post your experience in the comments!


Guide's Pick: Layering for Fall Rock Climbing

The coalescence of mild temperatures, perfect friction, and the lack of bugs makes fall the best season for rock climbing in the Northeast. And, if you’re lucky enough to call the Gunks your home crag, like EMS’s New York Climbing School Manager Eric Waldron is, fall sending season can last into December. In fact, Eric, an AMGA Rock Instructor who has guided in the Gunks for Eastern Mountain Sports since 2002, can’t remember a year when he didn’t guide a rock climbing trip at least one day this late in the season.

What makes the Gunks a great late-season climbing destination? The area’s south-facing cliffs get sun all day, thus helping keep the rock warm and creating what Eric calls a “radiator effect” that results in comfortable climbing, even on days when temperatures in the parking lot are in the 20s. However, as with many fall climbing destinations, it’s a challenge to have the right combination of layers for warmth while you’re racking up in the parking lot or sitting at a shady belay, but not be overdressed when you’re sweating through a crux or pulling a classic Gunks roof into the sun.

No matter if you’re heading out for an Indian Summer day in September or nabbing a nippy November day at the crag, Eric’s fall layering strategy will keep you climbing in comfort all throughout autumn.

Merino Tee

At the core of Eric’s layering strategy is a short-sleeve 150-weight merino shirt—a staple for soggy spring, sweltering summer, and frigid fall days. A layering system is only as good as its foundation, and a short-sleeve merino tee works great by itself on mild days in “Sendtember” and also pairs well with warmer layers for cooler days. At one point, Eric had only one of these shirts—thankfully, wool naturally resists odors—but he quickly acquired two and, before he knew it, had one for every day of the week.

Hybrid Insulation

Eric will frequently wear a hybrid insulation piece, like the EMS Impact Jacket, on top of his merino tee. Using a combination of insulation around the core and stretchy material in the shoulders and arms, layers such as the Impact Jacket (men’s/women’s) provide enough warmth when you’re stopped at a belay, but allow for free range of movement when you’re making the long reach for the jug on Arrow or jamming up Ken’s Crack.

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Stretch Fleece

No layering list is complete without the iconic EMS Power Stretch Fleece, and it’s no surprise that it’s one of Eric’s long-time favorites. Of course, Eric might be a bit biased. Over a decade ago, he was one of the guides who helped bring this favorite piece from the packs of climbing school guides to the shelves of your local EMS. It all began when some guides were asked to bring their most-coveted layers to the EMS design team. Every single one produced a threadbare, stitched-back-together prototype version of the now-classic fleece, and a legend was born.

Offering the same great freedom of movement, warmth, and wicking as the original, the EMS Power Stretch Fleece Hoodie is perfect for everything from chilly September ascents of Son of Easy O to December jaunts up Directissima.

Wind Layer

Fall in the Gunks often means that the sun and warmer conditions are only a rope-length up the wall away, but you never truly know what weather, including cutting autumn winds, is waiting up above. In the event of unexpected wind conditions, a small, lightweight layer that packs into itself—like the Smartwool PhD Ultra Light Sport Hoody—lives on Eric’s harness. Weighing virtually nothing, this super-light layer resists the wind and has saved the send train from derailing more than once.

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Puffy Jacket

In his 15-plus years of guiding in the Gunks, Eric has learned to avoid the crowds and the lingering in line they can cause. However, climbing a classic like High Exposure sometimes involves queuing up, and here, having a high-quality puffy pays dividends. Whether you’re waiting at the base of that must-do climb or taking in the view while waiting your turn on the GT Ledge, a puffy like the EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket (men’s/women’s) keeps you cozy while you sit tight and get psyched to send. It’s lightweight and sneakily warm, thanks to water-resistant 800-fill down insulation. Eric has been toting his highlighter yellow one around the Gunks for years and is proud to report that it has only needed one patch in its hard life.

Pants

While Eric’s long legs and thin waist are great for ticking classic Gunks routes, they make buying pants a challenge—that is, until he discovered the Kuhl Renegade. The all-season softshell Renegade comes in a wide variety of waist sizes and lengths, with combinations to suit climbers of all sizes. Stretchy construction, articulated knees, and a gusseted crotch offer more than enough freedom for casting out over the void and heel-hooking across iconic routes like Erect Direction.

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Under It All

For Eric, keeping his core warm is more important than the rest of him. Because of this, he wears significantly fewer layers on the bottom half of his body than his upper half. While Eric will wear Kuhl’s Renegade pants for almost every fall climbing day, he will occasionally pair them with a light- (men’s/women’s) or mid-weight base layer (men’s/women’s), like EMS’s Techwick, depending on conditions.

Risking too much information, underneath is a pair of wicking ExOfficio boxers. Eric suggests a new pair every day, despite the packaging claim of “17 countries. 6 weeks. One pair of award-winning underwear. (Ok, maybe two.)”

Approach Footwear

For fall footwear, Eric likes to wear a pair of sticky-soled approach shoes with Smartwool socks. While guides can cruise up Gunks classics in just their approach shoes, the increased traction benefits mere mortals while navigating everything from carriage roads to bouldery approaches. Lastly, although climbing in socks is a faux pas, sometimes cool fall weather calls for favoring form over function. Thus, it’s amazing how much warmer a thin layer of wool keeps your feet.

Accessorize

Speaking of thin layers, a hat like Smartwool’s The Lid easily slides under a helmet, keeping your head and ears warm on even the coolest fall days. As well, a good pair of belay gloves not only keeps your hands from getting beat up but also provides a nice touch of warmth.

To learn more about layering for fall firsthand, to brush up on your climbing skills, or to get a great tour of the Gunks, call Eric at the EMS Climbing School, New Paltz today!

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8 Reasons Everyone Should Have a Puffy Vest

If you’re like us, puffy vests hark back to long-forgotten memories of Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future. However, thanks to the advent of active insulation, the puffy vest (Men’s/Women’s) is back and more versatile than ever—so much so that we find ourselves using one everywhere from windy ridgelines in the summer to icy-cold chairlifts in the winter. Best of all, as they’ve gotten more adept in the outdoors, they’ve also gotten more stylish, making them great for both romping in the mountains and cruising around Hill Valley. Here are eight reasons you should add one to your gear closet this season.

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1. It’s the do-it-all layer

Whatever the season, we always have a puffy insulating layer in our packs. Sometimes, if it’s cold enough, we’ll even carry two. But, often, what we really want is to keep our core warm on the move without overheating. And, this is where puffy vests with active insulation really shine: They provide enough insulation to keep you warm, and due to their breathable fill and sleeveless fit, they also prevent you from overheating while you’re in motion. Seriously, when was the last time you went on a hike, climb, or ride and complained your arms were cold? Keeping the core warm is what counts.

2. You hardly ever need to take one off

As climbers in the early 2000s, we were inspired by Mark Twight’s book Extreme Alpinism and adopted many of the ideas presented into our own outdoor activities. One that’s stuck through the years is the “action suit”—a couple of layers that are rarely taken off during activity. An active insulation vest fits perfectly into this system, especially when it comes to cold-weather pursuits: It provides enough warmth when the pace slows, while its ability to breathe and vent heat is great for fast summit pushes.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. They weigh nearly nothing

Along the same lines, there is no sense in carrying around a jacket with sleeves if you don’t need them. And, simply choosing a vest over a jacket offers considerable weight savings. For example, look at the listed weight for one of our favorite active insulation pieces, the Outdoor Research Ascendant: A large men’s Ascendant Hoody tips the scales at 13 oz., while its counterpart, the Ascendant Vest, comes in at a mere 7.8 oz. Imagine how much you’ll save if, instead, you swap out that old heavy fleece jacket.

4. They take up less room in your pack

Speaking of that fleece jacket, opting for an active insulation vest saves space, too. Because vests use less material and fill than jackets, they take up far fewer inches in a pack—enough that you’ll be able to sneak in an extra layer for the next trip, or simply downsize your pack.

5. No annoying bunchy arms

Annoyed by how all your layers bunch in the arms? Or, how the sleeves of your top layer pull up the sleeves of your lower garments? Vests obviously minimize these issues. Furthermore, puffy vests deliver better mobility, with almost as much warmth. And, they are less likely to ride up when you’re reaching above your head for that next axe placement on Shoestring Gully.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

6. There’s less wear and tear

Whether you’re hiking through the near-treeline thicket on a windy fall day, scratching up the Lion Head Winter Route, or transitioning from up to down on an epic backcountry spring skiing mission, you’ll probably be wearing an insulating layer. And, the elbows and forearms on it are going to take a beating, especially if you’re wearing a puffy jacket. Avoid this problem by choosing a vest instead.

7. Improving on a tried-and-true design

Historically, fleece has been the go-to material for midlayers, as its breathability often gave it an advantage over puffies. However, the advent of active insulation essentially nullified that. Particularly, active insulation puffy vests are lighter, more packable, more wind resistant, and warmer than their traditional fleece counterparts.

8. They’re cheaper

Another great thing about puffy vests with active insulation is, since they use less material than their full-sleeved equivalents, they’re typically less expensive.

 

Have another reason puffy vests are the way to go? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Alpha Guide: The Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

The Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle offers moderate climbing in an incredible setting on one of the Northeast’s most iconic mountains.

Break away from hopeful summiteers on the Lion Head and Tuckerman Ravine Trails and head to Huntington Ravine and the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle to find relative seclusion on one of the region’s busiest mountains. This must-do moderate alpine climb on Mount Washington, New England’s tallest and most infamous mountain, racks up the fun while delivering incredible exposure, an unprecedented view of Huntington Ravine, and one of the best pitches you’ll find anywhere, the Fairy Tale Traverse.

Quick Facts

Distance: Roughly 6 miles, loop up the Pinnacle and down the Lion Head.
Time to Complete: Full day
Difficulty: ★★★★ (5.7, Grade III)
Scenery: ★★★★★


Season: Late-May to October
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/whitemountain 

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Turn-By-Turn

Most climbers approach Huntington Ravine from the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center in Gorham, about a 30-minute drive from North Conway. Getting to Pinkham Notch from North Conway is very straightforward: Simply follow Route 16 North. Roughly 12 miles past the Glen intersection, the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center is on the left.

Directions are just as easy for climbers coming from the north. From Gorham, just follow Route 16 South for approximately 12 miles, and the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center will be on the right. Ample parking is available in the main lot. However, it’s common for the main parking lot to be full on busy weekends; in this case, use the overflow lot on Route 16, just south of the Visitor Center.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Approach

The approach to the Pinnacle takes two to 2.5 hours for most climbers. It begins on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail (TRT), which starts in back of the Visitor Center. This segment of the TRT is a rocky dirt road that consistently heads uphill. Follow it for about 1.7 miles, until it intersects with the Huntington Ravine Fire Road.

At the junction (44.263844, -71.277946), turn right onto the Huntington Ravine Fire Road, and follow it for about a mile, until it intersects with the Huntington Ravine Trail (HRT) (44.267830, -71.277084). The fire road is wide and flat and ideal for making good time.

Once on the HRT, follow it uphill into Huntington Ravine. The trail starts off quite mellow, but turns to boulder hopping and then talus slogging as climbers get farther into the ravine. Pinnacle Buttress is the prominent ridge on the climber’s left (south) side, and as the ravine’s most striking feature, it is hard to miss. Keep hiking up the HRT, until a well-worn climber’s path branches off left. Follow it across a stream coming down Pinnacle Gully and to the left-facing gully that marks the start of the climb. There’s a nice spot to gear up at the climb’s base (44.274509, -71.288536); just be conscious of rock fall.

For a faster approach, drive up the Mount Washington Auto Road to the seven-mile mark and then hike down the Huntington Ravine Trail, until it intersects with the climber’s path. The descent takes hikers across the Alpine Garden and then down into Huntington Ravine. Once in the ravine, the HRT is steep and exposed, so exercise caution, especially if the rock is wet. This approach isn’t for everybody, but it only takes about 40 minutes, and for an additional advantage at the end of the climb, your car is right nearby.

On top of the first pitch. | Credit: Tim Peck
On top of the first pitch. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Opening Pitches

Most climbers break the route’s first 300 feet into two 150-foot pitches. Marking the start of the climb, the first begins by climbing the bottom of the prominent left-facing gully (5.easy) to a ledge, and then continues up and right over a slab and a right-facing corner. The final corner is the pitch’s crux (5.5), but it is well-protected and easy to read. There’s a nice, albeit mildly exposed, ledge to belay on atop the corner.

The second pitch follows a well-worn footpath around bushes and over a couple of slabby sections toward an obvious alcove below another right-facing corner. The climbing itself is generally quite easy (5.2), with the crux being a step out of a runnel and onto a slab. At the alcove, there are ample gear options on climber’s right for building a belay anchor.

Pro Tip: Since getting off the Pinnacle in a storm can be an ordeal and will require leaving gear, it’s a good idea to plan on re-confirming the weather as you enter the ravine and again before you start climbing. And, while going up may not be the best option, if you’re caught in bad weather mid-climb, there are easier variations on climber’s left.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Business

The third pitch leaves the alcove and climbs the right-facing corner. Although not apparent at first glance, the corner protects well enough, with a pin in the middle and options for gear both above (medium cam) and below (small nut). The mantle onto the ledge atop the corner is the crux of the climb (5.7).

The third pitch continues above the ledge, and it is easy to get off route here. The most obvious route climbs directly up, eventually reaching an overhang with several fixed pins. But, that’s the 5.8 variation. If you do it, some thoughtful climbing takes you straight up through two pins. Then, step out left for a couple of strenuous and exposed moves protected by two more pins. Above the overhang, easy terrain heads up and right toward the Pinnacle’s final pitches. Belay here.

Remaining on the traditional route (and thus keeping the grade at 5.7) requires splitting the third pitch in two. Once atop the initial corner, head left to another corner and then climb back right up a ramp to a belay. From the belay, leave the ledge, and head down and left on a ramp until you’re under a chimney. Climb up through the chimney and to another belay ledge near the Pinnacle’s final pitches.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Interlude

Whichever variation you choose, the two routes rejoin in the easy terrain just below the Pinnacle’s last pitches. Most climbers do a very easy and short fourth pitch to get to the bottom of a large, bushy area.

Pitch 5 heads through the alpine scrub and toward a small rock step. If you’re heading for the Fairy Tale Traverse—and you should be, unless the weather is starting to turn—climb the step’s right side (5.6), hugging the edge of the arete. Continue along the edge of the arete for about 100 feet, until you reach a ledge and block near the start of the traverse. Belay here.

Since the climbing along the arete is awkward and has considerable exposure, it may feel like you’re off route. You’re not, however. If you’re at all uncertain, there are a couple of pins just left of the arete that serve as signposts.

The Fairytale Traverse. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Fairy Tale Traverse. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Money Pitch

As you belay atop Pitch 5, glance around the block. You’ll see a horizontal crack cutting straight across a smooth granite face. A little below, the face drops away, and Pinnacle Gully opens up. The upcoming pitch, known as the Fairy Tale Traverse, is fantastic. The climbing is excellent, the setting is one of the best in the East, and the exposure is tremendous. Once you start traversing, be sure to savor the moment; climbing doesn’t get much better than this.

From the belay, step down below the crack, and begin traversing, using the crack for your hands and friendly edges for your feet. Traverse the crack (5.5, ample protection) across the face, and then, follow it up for about 20 feet to a large platform. Belay here or top out first by climbing a small 25-foot step up to the blocky terrain atop the Pinnacle.

The final pitch before the top of the Pinnacle. | Credit: Tim Peck
The final pitch before the top of the Pinnacle. | Credit: Tim Peck

On Top of the Pinnacle

With the technical climbing behind you and ample places to sit comfortably, the top of the Pinnacle provides a perfect setting for switching from climbing to approach shoes, stashing the rope and rack, and getting ready to make your way back to Pinkham Notch. Before leaving, take a moment to soak up the fantastic view, with the Wildcats and Carters stretched out before you and Henderson Ridge to your left.

Pro Tip: Have a windshirt and puffy coat somewhere easily accessible in preparation for the unknown weather ahead.

Crossing the Alpine Garden. | Credit: Tim Peck
Crossing the Alpine Garden. | Credit: Tim Peck

Crossing the Alpine Garden

From the top of the Pinnacle, climbers should continue moving up the mountain, following a well-traveled footpath through the delicate alpine grasses. Eventually, the footpath gives way to a steep section of rocks and boulders that leads to the Alpine Garden Trail (44.273743, -71.292091). While it can be tempting to forge ahead toward Mount Washington’s summit or Pinkham Notch, the boulder field offers a great view of the top of the Pinnacle, and puts the route’s exposure into stark relief. Give the route one last glance before you continue on.

Located on the unprotected flanks of Mount Washington, the Alpine Garden Trail will likely have conditions different from what you experienced in Huntington Ravine. If you stashed a windshirt or puffy at the top of your pack, you’ll likely be reaching for it here. To head down via the traditional descent, follow the Alpine Garden Trail (AGT) south for a little over a half-mile to its connection with the Lion Head Trail (44.265045, -71.295601).

If you’re intent on continuing up to the summit (or if you took the Auto Road approach), turn right on the AGT and aim directly for the humongous cairn atop the intersection of the AGT and the HRT. From there, head uphill on the HRT for 0.3 miles, until it intersects with the Mount Washington Auto Road at the junction with the Nelson Crag Trail. Follow the Nelson Crag Trail 0.8 miles to the top, or if you parked at the junction, hop into your car and drive down.

Pro Tip: If you’re making a summit attempt, use good judgment, and consider the weather, time of day, and your own energy reserves before heading up. While it’s only a mile, the steep and rugged nature of the climb— combined with the weight of a rope and rack—can make it a long, slow slog.

Descending Lion Head with Tuckerman's Ravine in the background. | Credit: Tim Peck
Descending Lion Head with Tuckerman Ravine in the background. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Normal Descent

Assuming you take the normal descent route, the Lion Head Trail (LHT) below the Alpine Garden isn’t made any easier by your climbing gear’s additional weight. Hugging the outside of Tuckerman Ravine, the LHT offers a rocky, steep, and direct path to treeline. If the weather cooperates, the Lion Head proper (44.264.042, -71.291275) is a great place to stop, admire the view, and give weary legs a rest.

After dipping below treeline, the Lion Head Trail’s steep and rocky nature changes. Specifically, this section features some short up-and-down areas, slabs, and tree roots. Pay careful attention when navigating, as it is frequently wet. Finally, 1.1 miles after joining the LHT from the Alpine Garden, the trail connects with the Tuckerman Ravine Trail just below HoJos.

Back on the trail where the day began, the Tuckerman Ravine Trail leads climbers down the final 2.3 miles to Pinkham Notch while losing 1,800 feet in elevation. Don’t let the width deceive you, however. The trail is very rugged and presents more of a challenge than most will want at this point in the day. On a positive note, it allows you to walk side-by-side with your climbing partner, and offers an opportunity to relive the day’s best pitches, which always seems to make the descent go by faster.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • The average high temperature on Mount Washington’s summit in July is 53°F. Because of this, it’s smart to always pack a puffy coat, like the lightweight, packable, and hooded Arc’teryx Atom SL (men’s/women’s).
  • A trip up the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle involves a lot of hiking through rough terrain with a heavy pack, which is made easier with the use of a trekking pole. Black Diamond’s Distance FLZ Trekking Poles (men’s/women’s) offer the support needed for the hike in and out of Huntington Ravine, and can easily be stashed up and stowed away in your pack while you’re climbing.
  • Hauling climbing gear into Huntington Ravine is no easy task. Luckily, you can lighten your load with Black Diamond’s new Ultralight Cams (.5, .75, #1, #2, #3).
  • A lightweight rope is another easy way to keep pack weight down. The Sterling Nano IX 9.0 mm is a great choice for those heading into alpine terrain. First climbed in 1928, the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle has no monster pitches, and 60 meters is more than enough rope.
  • The Black Diamond Speed 22 is the perfect pack for a trip up the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, big enough to handle a rope, rack, and multiple layers, plus food and water, and also compresses well and fits great while you’re climbing.

On the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
On the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Mount Washington has rightfully earned the reputation as “home of the world’s worst weather.” So, consult Mount Washington’s forecast before leaving, and if the weather isn’t in your favor, consider another objective.
  • The Northeast Ridge is a classic route on one of the Northeast’s most popular mountains. Consider getting there early or climbing during the week to avoid the crowds.
  • This route has no bolted anchors. So, if you’re planning on three-piece anchors at every belay, plan your rack accordingly. A normal rack for the route might be 10 cams (0.3, 0.4, 0.5, 0.75, 1, 2, 3, with doubles of 0.5, 0.75, and 1), a size run of nuts (5-13), a couple of small tricams, and eight to 10 alpine draws. Climbers comfortable at the grade might bring a little less, while leaders near their limit might want to bring a little more.
  • A big day on the Rockpile deserves a big meal. Margarita Grill is located right near the intersection of Routes 302 and 16, and serves drool-worthy nachos and gigantic burritos.
  • If you’re not sure you’re up for leading the route but really want to climb it, the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School will be happy to guide you up it.

Current Conditions

Have you recently climbed the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle? What did you think? Post your experience in the comments for others!


How to Choose a Backpacking Stove

Energy gels and bars are great for day trips in the mountains. But, if you’re spending more than just a day out, odds are you’ll eventually want something more substantial (and warm) to eat, which often involves using a stove. Which stove, you ask? Well, that depends on what exactly you want to heat up. These days, there’s a camp stove to satisfy everyone, from those who simply want to boil water to forest-bound foodies. For the best option to cook your next backcountry breakfast, campsite cuisine, or mountaintop meal, keep reading.

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Fuel Type

Backpacking stoves are distinguished by fuel type, and fall into three main categories: canister, liquid fuel, and alternative fuel. Canister and liquid fuel stoves represent the majority you’ll see on the trail. However, in recent years, alternative fuel stoves have seen a surge in popularity.

Canister Stoves

Powered by prepackaged canisters holding a pressurized butane-propane blend, canister stoves are incredibly easy to use—just screw the stove to the canister and fire it up. Coming in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, canister stoves vary from simple, super-light burners to full integrated systems. Requiring very little maintenance (shy of changing fuel bottles), they deliver reliable performance in three-season conditions and are also quick to light. Big picture, you don’t have to worry about fuel leaking out of the bottle.

Canister stoves do have some drawbacks, though. For one thing, it can be difficult to gauge just how much fuel is left. Another issue, some super-light stoves have difficulty supporting a larger pot, while the larger, integrated systems may be tall and tip prone. Additionally, for models without built-in pressure regulators, cold weather or high altitudes can freeze and depressurize a canister, causing the stove to stutter. Also, compared to white gas, prepackaged fuel is expensive and may be harder to find outside of the United States. Lastly, the prepackaged canisters cannot be refilled and recycling them may be frustrating, as most municipalities have special rules in place.

READ MORE: How do I know how much fuel is left in my canister?

Pro Tip: If you’re going to use a canister stove in cold weather, storing the fuel canister in a warm place—your jacket pocket while you’re moving or your sleeping bag while you’re sleeping—will make it less likely to depressurize.

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Integrated Canister Stoves

With an integrated canister stove, all the individual components (canister, burner, pot, and lid) work together. Due to their interlocking nature, they have a high energy transfer rate between the burner and pot and excel at heating water quickly. They are quick and simple to assemble and, on many models, nest inside the cooking pot for easy storage while you’re moving. And, for folks who hike in varying group sizes—sometimes solo, sometimes with friends—you can customize the pot for your particular outing.

Liquid Fuel Stoves

Reliable and time tested, liquid fuel stoves are known for their versatility and ability to run in a wide variety of conditions. More commonly powered by white gas, some models, such as the venerable MSR Whisperlite International, use any kind of liquid fuel—kerosene and diesel included. This makes them popular with people who travel to locations where canisters or white gas could be hard to acquire. Unlike canister stoves, liquid fuel stoves use special refillable bottles. In turn, backpackers easily know much fuel they have at any given time, can reuse the same container, and only bring as much as they’ll need.

One downside is, they require priming, a finicky process. Liquid fuel stoves also need periodic maintenance. The jets and fuel hose can get clogged, especially when fuels other than white gas, which may have more impurities, are used, and the O-rings occasionally need to be replaced. Another drawback, liquid fuel stoves tend to be heavier and don’t pack as well as canister options. And, since spills suck, don’t forget to keep your fuel bottle sealed at all times when not in use.

Some stoves, like the MSR Whisperlite International, can operate using either liquid or canister fuels, making them even more versatile.

READ MORE: Should I use a canister or liquid fuel stove?

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Alternative Fuel Stoves

Alternative stoves use everything from wood to denatured alcohol to solid fuel tablets. Wood-powered stoves, for instance, burn twigs and small sticks and let you hike without carrying a fuel canister or bottle. Denatured alcohol stoves are super-lightweight, have very few parts, and use a fuel that is inexpensive and readily available. Solid fuel stoves are light and inexpensive but, as a drawback, may leave a residue on your cook pot.

In recent years, alternative fuel stoves have seen an increase in popularity. But, because they each have unique limitations—most notably, they do not burn as hot or boil water as quickly as canister or liquid fuel stoves—their use remains niche. Still, they make nice complementary stoves to more traditional options.

GO: Canister Stoves | Liquid Fuel Stoves | Canister or Liquid Fuel Stoves

Courtesy: MSR
Courtesy: MSR

Other Considerations

When choosing your next backpacking stove, fuel type is just one consideration. Weight, boiling time, simmering ability, and lighting method are other factors that should influence your purchase.

Weight

It’s easy to be lured by a stove’s lighter weight. However, when comparing stove weights, remember to account for the fuel and required cook set, especially when comparing standard models to integrated systems.

Boiling Time

Almost all backpacking stove manufacturers tell you how long it takes for a particular stove to boil a liter of water. And, if boiling time is your most important criterion—say, for that cup of coffee or that Good To-Go Thai Curry—consider an integrated canister stove. Their extremely efficient transfer of heat from the burner to the pot often results in the fastest boiling times. Just don’t expect to replicate these exact results on your next backpacking trip on the Pemi: Stoves are typically tested at sea level in 70-degree Fahrenheit temperatures with no wind.

Simmering

For a stove that does more than boil water, you’ll want to choose a model with a simmering option. Liquid fuel stoves generally offer the easiest degree of heat control. However, with a little practice, more complex dishes can even be cooked on an integrated system.

Lighting Method

Many stoves today ignite via a button (or “piezo”). This handy feature increases the ease of operation, but we still suggest carrying matches or a lighter just in case. However you light it, once your stove is going, don’t ever cook inside the tent—carbon monoxide kills!

Courtesy: MSR
Courtesy: MSR

So, Which Stove Should I Get?

Although most models you’ll find at EMS are fairly versatile, here are a few activity-based suggestions:

Solo or fast-and-light: Consider a simple canister stove. If that’s not light enough, check out a denatured alcohol or solid fuel option.

New to backpacking or just eating freeze-dried meals: Integrated systems are easy to use and boil water very efficiently.

Going out with a large group: Liquid gas stoves are perfect for large groups, and for this reason, they’ve been a staple of NOLS and Outward Bound trips for years. Pro tip: Going out with a large group and love coffee? Supplement your liquid gas stove with an integrated stove for quickly brewing that crucial cup of coffee in the morning.

Can’t decide: Check out the MSR Whisperlite Universal, which can use either IsoPro canisters or liquid fuel.