3 Adirondack Fall Foliage Hotspots

The Northeast, of course, is known for its extensive fall foliage. Added to this, the season’s cool mornings and sunny weather draw many to the region’s network of hiking trails. To combine the two, there’s no better place than the Adirondack Mountains. The backdrop of rugged peaks, reflections on its countless ponds and lakes, and the hardwood forest’s fiery colors create a spectacular, unrivaled scene around the month of October.

While the massive Adirondack Park covering nearly one-third of the state offers countless destinations, below are three of the finest places that combine top-notch hiking with the warm glow of autumn’s changing foliage.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Giant Mountain Wilderness

One of the most popular High Peaks, Giant Mountain offers some amazing views into the Keene Valley area from its summit. However, within the immediate area, a few other less-crowded hikes are just as rewarding. Start from the northern trailhead on Rt. 9N to travel just 2.4 miles to the short-but-steep spur trail to Owl Head Lookout. Here, you’ll get nearly 360-degree views of Giant, Rocky Ridge, Green, Hopkins, Hurricane, and many other nearby peaks.

Also within the immediate area, extensive hardwood glades provide brilliant colors during the season’s peak. For another longer day, look to climb towards Rocky Ridge Peak from the Rt. 9 trailhead in New Russia. A more difficult trek, this hike encompasses over 4,000 feet of elevation gain, but the views start early and continue to Blueberry Cobbles and Bald Peak. Both along the way are worthy targets in their own right, if you don’t want to complete the whole traverse.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Boreas Ponds Tract

Just two years ago, this area of over 20,000 acres opened to the public via a state purchase. Access is from Gulf Brook Road, located off Blue Ridge Road, just a few miles west of exit 29 on the Northway. A few miles down Gulf Brook Road leads you to a new parking lot for hikers. From here, you can hike or bike a decent dirt road into the Boreas Ponds, enjoying the open forest’s brilliant colors on either side. At 2.6 miles, you’ll come across a bridge over the LaBier Flow, itself a magnificent scene. Hang a right at the intersection just ahead, and you’ll soon arrive at the Dam and southern end of Boreas Ponds.

The view towards Panther Gorge, Mount Marcy, Haystack, and other peaks, with the Ponds in the foreground, is one of the Adirondacks’ finest. This newly opened area will likely soon have established campsites and DEC trails to explore, as well. If you are feeling adventurous, the dirt road continues around the Ponds’ east and north sides, offering more wonderful fall views of a forest that has not been open to the public in over a century. Please be aware that bikes cannot be taken beyond the Dam.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Pharaoh Lake Wilderness

The Pharaoh Lake area near Schroon Lake offers a host of trails, most of which are moderate and well marked. Due to its location being a bit farther south, peak foliage typically occurs a week or so after it does in the High Peaks. As such, it offers some spectacular fall color, even after the northern zones have faded. For a longer trip, consider the region’s great ponds and lean-tos, which are ideal for overnights and backpacking treks.

Pharaoh Mountain itself is, perhaps, the area’s most challenging hike. While just barely rising above 2,500 feet, it requires over 10 miles of hiking, with a steep ascent of 1,500 feet. The rewards are nearly 360-degree views of the southern High Peaks, Pharaoh Lake, and Gore Mountain.

Another slightly shorter hike is Treadway Mountain, which starts at Putnam Pond Campground and tops out on a U-shaped ridge that offers unique views of the area. From its open rock, you’ll spot birch standing in previously burned areas and old-growth forests in the wilderness’ northeastern corner, and with so many bodies of water serving as a backdrop, few views capture fall in the Adirondacks quite as perfectly.


Project 100: A Wild Winter for the Good of the Mountains

While most Northeast hikers have heard of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks, few are familiar with the Adirondack Hundred Highest (HH). This peakbagging list is made up of the 46 High Peaks and the next-highest 54 peaks, many of which are remote and trail-less. Anyone who has bushwhacked off-trail above 3,000 feet regularly in the Adirondack Mountains knows the challenges of backcountry navigation, treacherous terrain, and isolation.

Neil Luckhurst is a man who knows these realities better than most. Last winter, Luckhurst, 61, became just the second person ever to hike the ADK HH in a single winter season. The challenges of completing the list at any time of year are big enough. But, adding deep snow, icy cliffs, below-zero temperatures, and unplowed approach roads makes for an almost unfathomable task. Luckhurst was driven to accomplish this feat (which he dubbed “Project 100“) not only for himself but also as part of a massive fundraising effort for the nonprofit conservation organization he founded, the ADKHighpeaks Foundation. He raised over $6,500 dollars to support Adirondack conservation and other nonprofit groups.

goEast had a chance to ask him some questions about himself, the project, and the foundation.

Luckhurst finishing Project 100. | Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst
Luckhurst finishing Project 100. | Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst

goEast: How long have you been hiking?

Neil: I began hiking in my early 20s in the Canadian Rockies. I stopped hiking altogether while going to school and starting a chiropractic practice in Montreal and having children. I have hiked, snowshoed, skied, and winter-camped in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Northern Ontario, the French Alps, and, of course, very extensively in the Adirondacks.

goEast: That’s a lot of hiking! You say you’ve spent most of your time in the Adirondacks. How many peaks have you climbed there?

Neil: Approximately 150. I bushwhacked the entire Adirondack Hundred Highest list, including the 46. In addition to that, I have bushwhacked another 50 peaks from the 3,000-foot list, and friction-climbed about 50 Adirondack slides. Also, I have done the 46 in a single winter three times and, all in all, have completed approximately eight full rounds of the 46.

goEast: Impressive! What was the origin of Project 100?

Neil: In the winter of 2001 and 2002, Alain Chevrette and Tom Haskins basically went out and killed the list. Alain did the entire HH list, plus another 30-odd peaks from the 3,000-foot list. Tom did the Lower 54, plus most of the 46er list. In my opinion, this stands as one of the most monumental achievements ever done in the Adirondacks and has rolled around in the back of my mind for years. With Projects 46 [Luckhurst climbed all 46 Adirondack High Peaks in 10 days] and Full Deck [a single, continuous backpacking trip to climb 52 peaks] well behind me, I was mentally casting about for something else to do. Out of the blue, I realized the Adirondack Hundred Highest single winter season was just what I was looking for as a new challenge.

Luckhurst on Cheney Cobble. | Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst
Luckhurst on Cheney Cobble. | Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst

goEast: How many people have completed the Hundred Highest list in winter?

Neil: I only know of five people who have done them all over multiple winters, but there are probably more. However, in one single winter, as far as I know, only Chevrette has ever done this before. I have become the second.

goEast: So, what’s the ADKHighpeaks Foundation?

Neil: Originally, we were born from two internet message boards. One, Adkhighpeaks Forum was founded in 2003, and the other, ADKForum, was acquired in 2007. We started as a simple group of forest preserve hikers and recreational users that cared deeply about the wild places where we choose to spend our time. Over time, we came to realize that it is up to us to help improve the public lands that we enjoy, making them better for those that follow us. After all, we get so much joy and life-enriching rewards from these places that it seems only fitting that we do our part to return the favor any way we can.

Through our combined 5,000-plus membership, we began to look for ways to improve and have a positive impact on the forest preserve areas we use. In 2008, we began a grassroots, “pass the hat” effort, and with minimal effort, we were able to raise $5,000 to purchase needed equipment for the Keene Valley Fire Department’s Wilderness Response Team. The ADKHighpeaks Foundation was born from that effort.

We are now a major source of funding support for a number of endeavors, including the Summit Steward program, Fire Tower restoration programs, Search and Rescue team support, research grants, Adirondack Ski Touring Council purchases, and many, many more.

Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst
Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst

goEast: Why is it important to you to do these “projects” as fundraisers?

Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst
Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst

Neil: Over the years that I’ve been hiking in the Adirondacks, one thing that has struck me is how much work is done by volunteers. Trail work, lean-to reconstruction, SAR, public education, privy construction, and maintenance, etc. A lot of that hard work is done by volunteers. My way of giving something back for all the hiking I do is to raise money for the Foundation through these projects and via our web forum activities [by using projects as advertisements for the organization].

On a more personal level, my son Dominic and I did the 46 together as father and son. 10 years ago, he lost his life in an avalanche in the Canadian Rockies. The outpouring of sympathy from the Adirondack hiking community was incredibly supportive to my family and I. This made me decide, with Tim Dubois, to found the Foundation as a way of channeling this support into something concrete. These projects enable me to give back, as well as keep the memories of our hiking adventures alive.


Top 5 Memorial Day Hikes in the Adirondacks for Kids

If you are anything like me, the joy of a new child also means that hiking takes a backseat. Luckily, with some careful planning, hiking with young kids can become a wonderful, new way to enjoy the outdoors. I started bringing my daughter along on short hikes in a backpack-style carrier before she was a year old. To begin, here are some tips for bringing children along and some of the best kid-friendly locations throughout the Adirondacks:

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Getting Started

1. Be conservative with weather, gear, and time considerations

Plan to move slowly with little ones in tow. That being said, start early to avoid feeling like you have to rush. As well, pick a good weather day, and plan to reschedule if the forecast is poor. For gear, pack not only the essentials for safety but also extras for comfort and convenience. Hiking with kids is not the time to go ultralight!

2. Be sure to carry plenty of “fuel”

Be even more conscious of nutrition essentials. Choose food and drink items your kids already enjoy and are sure to get down. Incorporate snacks and fluids into frequent breaks.

3. Make it about the experience and the journey—not a goal or task to be completed

Plan to start with short and easy hikes, with options to cut them short if needed. Along the way, teach your kids to observe the wilderness and learn about nature and history, as their age allows. Add camping or a post-hike reward to create more memories and a love for the outdoors.

 

Where to Go

Here are just a few of my favorite short hikes for young children throughout the Adirondacks:

Courtesy: Bonnie Gross
Courtesy: Bonnie Gross

Mount Severance (Schroon Lake)

Starting off Rt. 9N just south of the intersection with Rt. 74, this hike starts with a fun walk through a tunnel-shaped culvert under the interstate. After a mild 2.4-mile round-trip, you’ll be rewarded with a summit of rocky ledges and views ranging from Schroon Lake to the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness and Paradox Lake.

Sawyer Mountain (Blue Mountain Lake)

You’ll find the trailhead between Indian Lake and Blue Mountain Lake on Rt. 28/30. This 2.1-mile hike takes you through picturesque woods and introduces some very basic but still fun scrambling to your toddlers toward the top. You’ll find the best views—covering the Cedar River Valley to Wakely Mountain—just 100 yards past the summit on a small ledge.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Rattlesnake Mountain (Willsboro Bay)

This three-mile round-trip hike starts off Rt. 22, just across from Long Pond. With “bang for your buck” views, the open summit lets you look out to Lake Champlain and Willsboro Point on one side and Long Pond and Giant Mountain on the other. Don’t worry, though. Despite the name, Northern Timber Rattlers are rare this far north. Please note: This trek goes through private lands open to hiking, but camping and other off-trail activities aren’t allowed. 

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Sleeping Beauty Mountain (Lake George)

At about five miles round-trip, this hike is a bit longer than the others, but offers some wonderful views of Lake George and beyond. Save this one for a nice summer or fall day, as the trailhead (Dacy Clearing) is at the end of a long dirt road accessed toward the end of Buttermilk Falls Road from Rt. 149 outside Lake George, and can be hard to reach during mud or snow season. If you have to park at the Hogtown Lot, you will add an additional three miles round-trip. While you are here, take a side trip to nearby Shelving Rock Falls. As a tip, use caution when hiking near slippery falls with children.

Baxter Mountain (Keene)

Roughly 2.5 miles round-trip, this hike begins on Rt. 9N in Keene. It’s known for nice views, mixed terrain, and blueberry picking when they’re in season. Be aware that while the first lookout offers outstanding views, the actual summit is a bit farther along the ridge. Also, the trail continues past the summit and down to Beede Road, allowing for a thru-hike if you have a car spot available.


The Top 6 Splitboarding Locations in the Northeast

While splitboarding does have many similarities to backcountry skiing, there are some subtle but important differences in the locations where participants prefer to “earn their turns.” First, when in touring mode, one is essentially skiing on two very large, heavy, and awkwardly shaped “skis.” This is simply a snowboard cut down the middle into two halves. Also making an approach more challenging are snowboard-style bindings and boots and the fact that many snowboarders have never skied.

While backcountry skiers often have no issue with rolling up and down hills or navigating tight icy turns on the way to a climb, many splitboarders prefer an approach that is relatively flat or continuously uphill. Secondly, splitboarders desire the same consistency, albeit in reverse, on their descents. While backcountry skiers can climb a short stretch of flats or rise in the middle of their descent, for a snowboarder, this means getting off your board to skate or carry it. Or, worse, you convert back to touring mode before another conversion to descend again.

Whether you’re a beginner looking to learn to skin at the resort, or a die-hard extremist seeking out that adrenaline rush, the Northeast does have some fantastic places to splitboard.

Courtesy: Magic Mountain
Courtesy: Magic Mountain

Magic Mountain, Vermont

A great way to get the hang of skinning and transitions as a beginner, or to just get some laps in, is to tour on resort trails. More and more resorts that used to frown on uphill travel are introducing policies that allow for such use during certain times, on certain trails, or with the purchase of an uphill pass. Magic, however, takes it a step further. Not only do they encourage uphill travel and riding anytime, anywhere, but they also celebrate it.

Use your own power to climb to the summit for a run. Or, stop to see a summit lift attendant, and they will give you a token to take one lift-serviced run on the house! Doing three or four laps with the skins gets you three or four runs on the lift and spells a free day of riding on a neat little mountain. All they ask is you consider grabbing a burger or beer at the lodge as a thank you! Find Magic off VT 11 just down the road from Bromley Mountain, right outside of Londonderry.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway, New York

If you’re looking to get laps on the resort trails, here, you will have to stick to dawn patrol—only permitted with an uphill pass and outside of operating hours. However, the toll road, which runs up the mountain’s backside, is a local favorite for touring. Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway typically is the first “ski” of the early season and provides a gentle cruise down. For more advanced riders, the toll road can also provide access to the mountain’s many backcountry slides. Find the parking lot by the toll house a few miles from Wilmington, New York, just past the intersection with Gillespie Drive.

Courtesy: Jay Peak
Courtesy: Jay Peak

Jay Peak, Vermont

Offering what most consider some of the Northeast’s best snow and glades, Jay also has some backcountry attractions for splitboarders. Nearby Big Jay and Little Jay mountains offer some expert riding terrain, including the famous East Face of Big Jay. These glades and chutes are accessible via a ridge trail from the resort or a skin up starting on logging roads from Route 242. Be warned, though. This is a remote and challenging area, and you should be prepared, as always, for the unexpected. If you have the backcountry skills and the legendary Jay snow comes through, this can make for an epic tour.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Wright Peak, New York

One of the more popular locations for Adirondack backcountry, Wright Peak offers two primary options. The Wright Ski Trail offers a classic Northeast run linked with hiking trails and other backcountry ski runs. Alternatively, the Angel Slides offer some steeper and more challenging terrain, but must be approached with proper awareness of avalanche conditions and safety. Access to the Wright Ski Trail is off the trail to Algonquin Peak, starting from the Adirondack Loj. The Angel Slides involve a bushwhack approach, leaving trails from the camping areas around Marcy Dam.

Credit: Jim Kelly
Credit: Jim Kelly

Mount Washington, New Hampshire

The many ravines, gullies, and gulfs of the Northeast’s largest peak have long been a mecca for backcountry skiing and snowboarding. Certainly the East Coast’s most celebrated center of backcountry, the famous Tuckerman Ravine area sees hordes of visitors and offers dozens of possible lines. From Pinkham Notch, plan on climbing for two to three hours up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to the main bowl. Most paths down the headwall are expert runs, which sometimes approach 45- to 50-degree angles and may include icefall, cliffs, and crevasses. For a slightly easier run, explore Left and Right Gullies. When you have had enough, the Shelburne Ski Trail offers a fun ride back down.

While the party at Tucks is certainly worth the hype, the “Rockpile” has countless other treasures. For another open bowl with that larger West Coast mountain feel, head to the nearby Gulf of Slides. Starting from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, the Gulf of Slides Trail climbs moderately for 2.5 miles to the base of several large gullies up the ridge between Boott Spur and Slide Peak.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Mount Greylock, Massachusetts

The highest point in Massachusetts is also home to the legendary Thunderbolt Ski Trail. Starting at a parking area on Thiel Road just outside of North Adams, the Thunderbolt climbs over 2,000 feet to get close to Mount Greylock’s summit. This trail was home to many classic downhill races, and in the present, local groups keep this backcountry must-do in great shape. It is steep in sections and definitely an expert run. On a cold day, climb the extra few hundred feet from the top of the ski trail, using the Appalachian Trail, to the summit, where you can warm up in a large stone hut equipped with a wood stove.


The Crux: The NE 115's Toughest Winter Climbs

Climbing all of the Northeast’s 115 4,000-footers is a serious challenge on its own, even for the region’s most experienced hikers. But, how can you take it to the extreme? Simple: Do them all in winter. Joining that elite (and very short) list of hardy hikers requires a special skill set, gear closet, and determination that many lack. Depending on the weather, trail conditions, and other factors, any of these peaks can be perilous to climb in winter. So, here are a few of the biggest challenges, and some tips to make it to the top.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Katahdin

Baxter State Park, Maine

Katahdin is a steep granite cirque in Maine’s Baxter State Park that includes a few different summits, the highest of which is Baxter Peak. Tagging Maine’s highest peak in winter means slogging through a grueling two-day, 13-mile approach across the park’s closed access roads (typically with expedition sleds) to Roaring Brook, and then another 3.3 miles uphill to Chimney Pond. Be prepared for consistent sub-zero temperatures and frequent avalanche danger.

To increase your chance of success, plan early to obtain reservations at the bunkhouses in Roaring Brook and Chimney Pond, rather than tenting. Have a strong group, and give yourself enough time in the park to wait for a favorable weather window to attack the summit. Use the Saddle Trail or the more challenging Cathedral Trail to ascend from Chimney Pond. If your endurance and the weather allow you to summit, you will reach one of the East Coast’s most beautiful mountains.

Courtesy: Matt's Hikes
Courtesy: Matt’s Hikes

Mount Redington

Carrabassett Valley, Maine

Home to one of the least-traveled of the Northeast’s unmarked trails, Redington is a difficult enough climb in the summer. While not especially challenging in terms of bushwhacking, reaching the summit involves a few key unmarked turns and forks on old logging roads. In the winter, you should bring a GPS or a friend who has climbed it before.

The closure of Caribou Valley Road to cars in winter means you should either ski to the crossing of the Appalachian Trail or start where the AT meets Route 16. Either way, you will travel the AT to South Crocker Mountain before beginning the 1.2-mile unmarked trek off the AT to Redington’s summit. Read the stretch’s description carefully in the AMC’s Maine Mountain Guide. To make sure you have arrived, look for an old white canister strapped to a tree on the summit.

Trail signs on the top of Mount Adams. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Trail signs on the top of Mount Adams. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Mount Adams

White Mountains, New Hampshire

While Mount Washington is the King of the Presidential Range and home to some of the nation’s worst weather, its neighbor to the north, Mount Adams, is another worthy challenge. And, in winter, climbing the exposed summit requires the same precautions and gear. You will ascend nearly 4,500 feet, with almost 1,000 feet of that above treeline. Climb the steeper Air Line Trail from the AT in order to take in the majestic views of King Ravine. Then, descend using the easier Valley Way Trail.

Courtesy: Wayfarer
Courtesy: Wayfarer

Owl’s Head Mountain

White Mountains, New Hampshire

A trip to this peak involves over 18 miles of travel. This trek may include sometimes-dangerous water crossings, unmarked bushwhack approaches, and a slide climb, so make sure river conditions are good and you’re comfortable on steep and icy terrain. Many prefer to utilize the Black Pond bushwhack route on their approach. Be sure to proceed the additional 0.2 miles north from the old summit clearing to the new summit proper to make it official.

The one saving grace here is the flat and very well maintained (but rather boring) 2.6-mile section of the Lincoln Woods Trail. You’ll pass through when you start and finish your journey from the trailhead at the Lincoln Woods Visitor Information Center. Overall, Owl’s Head has a very remote wilderness feel to it that makes the long day worthwhile.

Courtesy: LakePlacid.com
Courtesy: LakePlacid.com

Allen Mountain

Adirondack Mountains, New York

Allen offers a little bit of everything. There are several river crossings, winding meadows, woods climbing opportunities, and a steep slide climb finale. Due to its roughly 18-mile round-trip distance, it’s sometimes confusing to approach. As well, because of the deep snow often faced on Allen Brook’s final, very steep slabs, this one can be challenging. Luckily, the DEC recently replaced a long-destroyed bridge over the Opalescent River, alleviating a fording concern.

In addition, the state purchased new lands surrounding the peak. So, future hikers should stay tuned to new routes potentially opening up. For now, start at a trailhead located a mile from the end of Upper Works Road, off Tahawus Road. Follow the trail to Flowed Lands via Hanging Spear Falls for just under four miles. Soon, break right onto the unmarked but well-traveled and obvious herd path to the base of the slide and straight up to the summit ridge. Enjoy the beautiful views of Panther Gorge and the High Peaks to the north from a lookout located just beyond the formal summit.

Courtesy: LakePlacid.com
Courtesy: LakePlacid.com

Seward Range

Adirondack Mountains, New York

Any time of the year, the Sewards are a challenging hike, but the closure of Corey’s Road adds 3.5 miles each way. Depending on conditions, consider skiing this long stretch in and out. Added to this are the Western Adirondacks’ deep snows and some sparsely marked trails, and these peaks, as a result, become a major challenge. You should plan an early start, use the Calkins Brook approach, and be sure to research the route.

The Calkins Brook approach will bring you to the ridge near Mount Donaldson. This path allows you to “T” the ridge, tagging Emmons to the right (south), and Seward to the left (north). The range’s isolation and remoteness have a wonderful feel in winter, but their rewards demand a long day of effort. Unless you are exceptionally fit or planning an overnight, avoid the temptation to add nearby Seymour Mountain.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Basin Mountain

Adirondacks, New York

Basin lies deep in the Eastern High Peaks’ Great Range. This means there are only a few ways up, and all involve long approaches and very rugged terrain. In addition, several steep ledges, frozen ladders, and frequent ice bulges make this trek particularly difficult in winter. As with many of these peaks, it’s valuable to carry a general mountaineering ice axe to assist with some tricky sections.

For a greater challenge, consider adding Saddleback Mountain to create a larger loop hike. Or, for the expert HaBaSa route, include Haystack within your itinerary. Be aware, though, that this will add obstacles to an already-difficult trek up Basin Mountain: for instance, Saddleback’s cliffs and Little Haystack’s icy ledges. Typically, an approach starts from the Garden Trailhead, travels past Johns Brook Lodge, and then climbs past Slant Rock, and on up the Great Range Trail. If the skies are clear, some wonderful views of the likely-more-crowded Mount Haystack and Mount Marcy, along with many other High Peaks, are yours for the taking.

 

Do you have another peak that you think is even harder? Let us know in the comments!


A Guide to Northeast Sufferfests

If you’re hiking in the Northeast, and you see someone dressed as Wonder Woman flying by, accompanied by a small white wolf, chances are you’ve just met Alton and Cole. Look fast, because you’ll have a hard time finding a more extreme duo. Alton, a licensed mental health clinician by day, is an accomplished triathlete who was nationally ranked in her Ironman days. Today, she spends most of her time power-hiking monster treks that would bury the average day-hiker, often in fluorescent superhero costumes with her Shiba Inu companion.

Any hike they take on isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you’re feeling ambitious, this is where Alton recommends taking a look. However, exercise some caution: Some of the routes described are extremely difficult undertakings, and should only be attempted by hikers with the appropriate experience, gear, skills, and fitness.

1. Hut to Hut Traverse, White Mountains, New Hampshire

The “Hut to Hut” is a gnarly route that connects each of the AMC’s eight mountain huts. It stretches more than 50 miles over rugged terrain, and has a mind-blowing 16,000-plus feet of elevation gain. Alton crushed it in 21 hours straight, solo in 2011.

Best Memory: Finishing! Also, experiencing and learning a massive portion of the trail system.

Worst Memory: Exhaustion at mile 45, and the brief doubts about the desire to finish.

Advice: Leading up to an attempt, get plenty of sleep beforehand. Try this as a “day” hike, and you’re guaranteed to look like the walking dead by the end. Also, avoid spending much time at the huts. The comforts can tempt you to stick around, and the time will add up!

Alton Ultrahikes
Photo courtesy of Alton Eckel.

2. Winter Mahoosuc Traverse, Mahoosuc Range, New Hampshire and Maine

This route contains well over 30 miles and 10,000 feet of vertical, including what many consider to be one of the Appalachian Trail’s hardest stretches. Doing it in deep snow and sub-zero temperatures is simply unheard of. Last winter, Alton and Cole, with a few superhero friends, defied the odds and became the first to complete a full winter traverse in a single day, at 22 hours.

Best Memory: Working as a team to literally survive this one. Passing Cole through treacherous icy boulders and crevasses covered in deep snow in the dark was pretty rad.

Worst Memory: Thinking we might not finish in under 24 hours, and water supplies freezing up.

Advice: Don’t attempt this one solo. You will likely break trail in snowshoes all day, and there are very few bail-out points.

Alton Ultrahikes
Photo courtesy of Alton Eckel.

3. Winter Great Range Traverse, Adirondack High Peaks, New York

This is a classic Northeast challenge that spans over 26 miles and adds over 10,000 feet of elevation gain. The extremely rugged trails, exposed ledges, and cliff scrambles help explain why Backpacker Magazine once labeled this the third-hardest day hike in North America. I had the pleasure of joining Alton and her crew for this hike last year in an especially icy February. Alton hiked it in about 15.5 hours, while I limped into the finish about an hour later.

Best Memory: Catching the sunset on Haystack. Our whole crew grew silent and took it all in during a true Zen moment.

Worst Memory: Honestly, nothing. That day went really well.

Advice: Be sure to have crampons, as you are bound to hit loads of steep ice.

4. Northern Presi “Ravine Day,” Presidential Range, New Hampshire

This is a custom route Alton, Cole, and her boyfriend Nate crushed this summer. It is basically a combination of ascents and descents on the Northern Presidential Range’s steepest and most terrifying trails. Head up Caps Ridge, down the Sphinx Trail, up an abandoned Adams Slide, down into the Great Gully, up King Ravine, down Buttress, up Six Husbands, and finally back down Caps Ridge, for a total of 20 treacherous miles and nearly 11,000 feet of elevation gain. The power couple completed this in a mind-blowing 13 hours.

Best Memory: Exploring so much technical trail and a pile of challenging rock routes, all in one trip.

Worst Memory: Missing the sunset on Jefferson’s summit by a mere 15 minutes.

Advice: Only attempt this hike if you are very comfortable on steep rock slab.

Alton Ultrahikes
Photo courtesy of Alton Eckel.

5. Winter Pemi Loop, Pemigewasset Wilderness, New Hampshire

This loop hike runs roughly 34 miles around the western half of the Wilderness, over New Hampshire’s highest peaks outside of the Presidential Range, and includes a total elevation gain of about 10,000 feet. Alton and Cole became the third female and the first dog to complete a full winter Pemi in a single day. Alton likes this one so much, she has done it three times, all between 14 and 16 hours!

Best Memory: The thrill of victory when completing this myself, and then later with Cole. Also, a great sunset on Mt. Bond during my last trip.

Worst Memory: Anxiety before this trip. I’m rarely nervous before a hike, but this one had me thinking of all the things that could go wrong.

Advice: Pack smart to stay light. A heavy pack will wear you down on these 30 mile-plus days.


Making the Transition to Winter Hiking

Often, people treat autumn as a grieving period for their hiking season’s end. The early onset of freezing summit temperatures and the Northeast’s late spring snowpacks can mean that avoiding the trails costs you six months of the year. Instead, with a little planning, knowledge, and preparation, you can get comfortable conquering mountains year-round. Here are a few pointers to get you started.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Gear

While much of the gear you have broken in on summer treks can be useful for winter hiking, you need to add some key weapons to your quiver to fully make the shift.

yNov_16_1_@jthomas_adkerTraction

One of the first gear concerns has to be traction, which is required to hike safely on snow and ice. For early season freezes or hard-packed trails, Kathoola’s Microspikes are perfect. Made with elastic rubber uppers that can easily stretch on and off nearly any shoe or boot and sturdy chains and spikes that dig into the crud to keep you from slipping, these are a must.

Microspikes will work for 90 percent of frozen trails, especially on beginner hikes, but some of the ice-covered routes above treeline and flows you will eventually encounter require a little more. Crampons provide a more substantial bite, but require more practice to use safely. Look for pairs like the Camp XLC 490 that are light, adaptable to nearly any boot, and are not designed for vertical ice—a condition rarely encountered in hiking and mountaineering.

Finally, you will need snowshoes to carry you over fresh powder and keep the trail packed safely for others. Even when the parking lot has no snow, carrying snowshoes is key for those high-elevation drifts, and in places like the Adirondacks’ High Peaks, they’re required by law. For years, MSR was the go-to brand for hiking, but now, others like Atlas and Tubbs offer great products, as well. I use the Tubbs Flex line, partly because I love the ease and fit of the boa enclosure binding system.

Hydration

Hydration is a second important consideration. While I love the convenience of a bladder in the summer, I avoid them in the winter months. Insulation for their tubes, blowing water out of the mouthpiece after each sip, and other tricks can keep bladders flowing in extreme cold, but for me, it’s not worth the risk or effort. The last thing you want in the middle of a below-zero, big-mileage day is your water freezing up.

Instead, get a few wide-mouth Nalgene bottles, as narrow-top designs freeze quicker. Keep the screw tops from freezing by storing them upside down, so the air/water interface freezes first, insulate them with a bottle cover or even a thick wool sock, and store them in your pack.

Boots and Gloves

Finally, you need to keep your hands and feet warm when facing extreme cold. Wicking layers, insulation, and exertion will protect your core most days, but feet and hands can freeze up quickly when the mercury drops and your hiking party stops.

So, look for waterproof and insulated boots like the Merrell Polarand 8. Additionally, bring several pairs of gloves and socks, as even the best will eventually “wet out” on long hikes, leaving hands and feet susceptible to frostbite.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Tips and Tricks

As you hike more and more in the winter, you will surely find little tricks and tips that work for you. Here are just a few that have helped me out:

Remember, it’s almost as important to stay warm as it is to keep cool. It sounds crazy, but working up a sweat and soaking your layers can become, at best, uncomfortable or, at worst, can contribute to hypothermia. So, start the hike a little cold and be sure to remove layers as you heat up to regulate your temperature.

Protect your skin. Bright winter sun reflecting off snow cover can sunburn you as fast as the sunshine on the beach. Cold wind can also leave it windburned. To prepare, bring the sunscreen and facemask along as needed.

Choose your food wisely. Bring food that is easy to eat on the move and won’t become inedible if frozen. Long summit picnics are less common in winter conditions, and breaking teeth on frozen treats is not fun.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Where to Go

To begin your adventure, start off small, get your gear dialed in, avoid winter hiking solo at first, and always carry a map and compass. But, in these conditions, things like route-finding skills and weather become even more important, and hiking with crampons or snowshoeing through deep powder can take some getting used to, as it utilizes different muscle groups. When you are ready to give it a go, here are a few easy hikes to tackle on a bluebird day that are sure to get you hooked and ready to tackle some bigger peaks.

Mount Jo, New York

A short round-trip loop hike of just 2.3 miles from the Adirondack Loj will provide you with upfront views of Heart Lake and many of the High Peaks, like Algonquin.

Mt. Tom, Vermont

From behind a covered bridge in Woodstock, VT, this easy trail of switchbacks climbs just under 1.5 miles one-way to the south summit for nice views of the town and surrounding mountains.

West Rattlesnake Mountain, New Hampshire

This two-mile round-trip hike through gorgeous oak forest rewards you with great views of Southern New Hampshire from its summit’s open ledges.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre