Alpha Guide: Mount Mansfield

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Hike up Vermont’s tallest peak, scramble along an alpine ridge, and bask in 360-degree views, all on an ascent of Mount Mansfield via a section of the Long Trail, the U.S.’s oldest long-distance hiking trail.

The Green Mountain State delivers on this must-do hike up one of the state’s five 4,000-footers. A roughly five-mile out-and-back trip along Vermont’s most-famous footpath, the Long Trail, gains 3,000 feet in elevation on the way to the state’s highest peak. The journey begins by wandering through an idyllic hardwood forest, and eventually earns an extraordinary alpine ridge that delivers you to a rocky New England summit—one of only three places in the state to find alpine tundra. As you take in the views of Lake Champlain, mountain ranges in three states (the Greens, the Whites, and the Adirondacks), and, to the north, Canada, you’ll quickly discover what the Von Trapps meant when they sang, “The hills are alive…”

Quick Facts

Distance: 5 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half day
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery: ★★★★


Season: May through October
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://bit.ly/2GxSR87 

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Turn-By-Turn

When viewed at a distance, Mansfield’s elongated ridgeline resembles a human head, with the various high points named for facial features: the Forehead, Nose, Chin, and Adam’s Apple. The most straightforward way to get to the true summit, the Chin, follows the Long Trail South’s white rectangular blazes beginning on Mountain Road (Route 108).

From Burlington, take Route 89 south to exit 10 for VT-100 South towards Waterbury US-2. Follow this a short way, before turning on VT-100 North. Continue on VT-100 North for just under 10 miles, and take a left on VT-108 North/Mountain Road. After you drive approximately nine miles, the parking lot will be on your right.

If you’re coming from Stowe, there’s a small parking lot on the left side of Route 108, just after Stowe Mountain Resort. Since the lot is small and easy to miss, pay close attention after the resort. If you begin driving uphill on Route 108 into Smugglers’ Notch, turn around; you’ve gone too far.

Once you’ve geared up, walk on Route 108 back toward Stowe Mountain Resort. The trail starts at a break in the trees (44.537126, -72.790910) about 50 yards down the road. Look for an information board and trail marker a short way into the woods.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Getting Started

The hike begins on relatively smooth trail through a hardwood forest. It is well marked and easy to follow. It also starts climbing almost immediately, which is no surprise, considering the trail gains 3,000 feet in a little over two miles and occasionally crosses some small streams.

Around the one-mile mark, the trail becomes rockier, climbing up short, slabby sections. The footing here is not quite as good, but nothing out of the ordinary for anybody who’s climbed some of the Northeast’s 4,000-footers. Trekking poles are helpful.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Taft Lodge

Just past the 1.5-mile mark is the Taft Lodge (44.542551, -72809568), the oldest hut on Vermont’s Long Trail. For a moderate fee, hikers can stay here overnight either on the way to the summit or as part of a longer outing. The lodge, built in the 1920s and recently renovated, sleeps up to 24 and has outhouses and a water source nearby.

Whether you’re day-hiking or backpacking, Taft Lodge is on Vermont’s Register of Historic Places and worth visiting, even if only to have a snack. And, because the lodge is near treeline, it’s also a great place to assess whether you’ll need to add a layer (or two).

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Ridgeline Push

From Taft Lodge, stay on the Long Trail South and continue climbing toward the ridgeline. The trail above the lodge remains rocky, offering hikers regular glimpses of Mansfield’s ridgeline through the thinning tree cover. There are also a few spots to turn around and look south, with Stowe in the foreground and the Green Mountains in the distance. If you’re out of breath due to the elevation gain, spend a few moments trying to spot the unmistakable double-bumped alpine ridgeline of Camel’s Hump, another of Vermont’s classic alpine summits.

In one-third of a mile, the Long Trail South reaches the col between the Chin (the true summit) and the Adam’s Apple. Here, the Hell Brook Trail and the Adam’s Apple Trail join the Long Trail. Since the junction (44.545639, -72.811772) is moderately sheltered, it’s a great spot to add an extra layer before popping further above treeline.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Ridgeline

From the junction, the Long Trail South makes a sharp left, climbing the ridge toward Mansfield’s proper summit, the Chin. This section is open and exposed to the elements. If wind is coming from the west, this will be the first time you feel it.

Near the top of the summit cone, there are a few short-but-exposed sections that require scrambling and careful footwork. As you ascend, try to memorize the hand and foot holds for the descent.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Summit

Mansfield’s summit is a large, flat alpine area that offers plenty of room to spread out. So, find a rock, sit back, and enjoy the broad, open summit (44.5430453, -72.815436) and incredible 360-degree views. Looking west, hikers can see Burlington and Lake Champlain, with New York’s Adirondacks in the distance. To the north is Canada! In the distance to the east are New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Finally, the Green Mountains spill out to the south.

Mount Mansfield is home to 200 acres of alpine tundra, and is one of only three places in the state of Vermont where it is found (Camel’s Hump and Mount Abraham being the other two). In addition to its rarity, alpine tundra is also very fragile and susceptible to human impact. Because of this, please stay on the rocks and in the designated paths when traveling above treeline.

Whenever you can pull yourself away from the summit, just retrace your steps to your car, first by taking the Long Trail North to the clearing. Use particular caution on the exposed portions of the ridge, as they can be harder during the descent. Once you’re back at the junction, continue on the Long Trail to Route 108.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Bonus Points

Hikers not ready to return to their car can make a short (five- to 10-minute) detour from the col to the Adam’s Apple (44.546573, -72.810353). The Adam’s Apple Trail offers great views of the Chin and Mansfield’s other features and is usually much less crowded than the Chin. Since it is also slightly less exposed to the weather, it’s a worthwhile objective if conditions put the true summit out of reach.

A longer detour—and one that requires pre-trip car shuttling or a short road march at the end— is to continue on the Long Trail South from the Chin, crossing all of Mansfield’s features. Over 1.5 miles of ridgeline hiking, you’ll pass the Lower Lip, the Upper Lip, the Mount Mansfield Peak Visitor Center, the parking lot for the Mount Mansfield Toll Road, and, finally, the Nose. From the Nose, hikers can head back to the Visitor Center, and then descend a short way on the Toll Road to link up with Haselton Trail, which ends at the base area of Stowe Mountain Resort. Alternately, arrange to have somebody pick you up at the top of the Toll Road.

Pro Tip: If you do decide to hike the full ridgeline and the weather turns, the Cliff Trail is an early option for bailing out. Connecting with the Long Trail just before the Lower Lip, it descends to Stowe’s Cliff House, near the top of Stowe’s Gondola SkyRide. From there, hikers can follow a marked access road or ski trails to the base area.


Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Kit

  • Traction is at a premium on the exposed sections of Mansfield’s ridgeline. The Asolo Fugitive (Men’s) and Revert (Women’s) are longtime favorites.
  • Lightweight and packable, a windshirt is ideal for any trip above treeline. The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded Jacket (Men’s/Women’s) is perfect for handling the ridgeline’s variable conditions, and much like Vermont’s craft brews, it has developed a cult-like following over the years.
  • A puffy coat is great for cool mornings and cold summits, and is handy to have in case of an emergency. The EMS Alpine Ascender Stretch is a great winter midlayer that’s breathable enough to be worth stuffing in your pack for cool spring and summer days.
  • One minute it’s sunny, and the next, you’re stuck in a downpour. Green Mountain weather can change in a heartbeat, so be ready with the EMS Thunderhead, a reliable and affordable way to ensure you stay dry on your summit bid.
  • In the spirit of the state of Vermont, consider a pair of locally sourced socks from Darn Tough, made in nearby Northfield. Living up to their name, these socks come with a lifetime guarantee.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Keys to the Trip 

  • Depending on the season, you might encounter a Green Mountain Club caretaker at the Taft Lodge. They’re all super nice and great resources for trail information.
  • Vermont takes sustainability seriously when it comes to its trails, so get out before the snow melts, or wait until Memorial Day weekend to climb this ultra-classic mountain.
  • Celebrate a successful summit day at Doc Ponds in Stowe. The bar is packed with Vermont’s best beers (Hill Farmstead, Lawson’s Finest, and Foley Brothers, just to name a few), and the homemade onion dip with housemade BBQ chips is not to be missed.
  • Vermont’s repuation for great beer is well deserved. Since you’re so close, Alchemist Beer’s brewery in Stowe is a must-visit. And, don’t forget to bring your cooler, in case you decide to pick up some souvenirs to bring home!
  • If you’re spending the weekend exploring Vermont, make sure to check out our guides to Exploring Burlington Like a Local and hiking Camel’s Hump.
  • If you’re looking for a great place to camp, the Smugglers’ Notch State Park is just a few minutes away from Stowe Mountain Resort. Sites book well in advance for popular weekends, so make your reservations early.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked Mount Mansfield recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


9 Tips for Taking Your Climbing from the Gym to the Crag

With ropes hung, routes marked, and a trained staff on hand to ensure safety, the rock gym is a great place to learn how to climb. But, pulling on plastic just isn’t the same as climbing on real rock, and many climbers eventually look to expand their horizons to local crags. If you’re considering taking your climbing outside this year but aren’t quite sure where to start, here are some things you need to know.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Pick Your Discipline, Then Get the Gear

Bouldering and top-roping are the main options for most new-to-the-outdoors climbers. Both styles involve some common gear, namely shoes and chalk, but also require some items specific to the activity. Thus, deciding on a style is an important initial step.

Bouldering is a popular way for gym climbers to transition outdoors, because it doesn’t require knowledge about anchor building or belaying. When bouldering, climbers use a crash pad, rather than a rope, to protect themselves when they fall. Bouldering crash pads come in a variety of sizes and styles, and it’s not uncommon to use multiple ones to protect your climb. Although bouldering requires less technical knowledge, the physical climbing encountered is often more difficult than what’s found on top-rope routes.

Climbers who have been top-roping in the gym can replicate that experience outside if they know how to build anchors and have the gear required to do so. The specific gear will vary between locations, but a static line, a few slings, a cordelette, and a handful of locking carabiners—larger carabiners like the Black Diamond RockLock Screwgate are great—will usually do the trick at areas with first-timer friendly setups. In addition to anchor-building gear, invest in a belay device, your own climbing rope, and a harness, if you’ve been relying on a gym rental. Top-ropers should also add a helmet to their kit, as time spent below a cliff exposes you to the threat of something being knocked down on you.

Some climbers who lead in the gym may also want to take the sharp end their first time climbing outside. For those looking to jump right into sport climbing, check out our sport climbing gear list.

2. Get the Guidebook

Doing some research before picking a destination saves a lot of time and aggravation. For example, does the area you’re planning on visiting have fixed anchors, or will you have to build your own? Guidebooks are a valuable resource for learning about what to expect at a climbing area, and offer up information on everything from where to park to what gear to bring. Although guidebooks are helpful, an internet search lets you broaden your knowledge of an area and get up-to-date information about access and conditions.

Pro Tip: If it’s your first time out, avoid routes that the guidebook says require trad gear (camming units and nuts) for building the top-rope anchor.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Pick the Right Location

Choosing the right location for your first time climbing outside can make the difference between success and frustration. Boulderers will want to find spots with a wide variety of problems and safe landings. A few popular destinations for newer boulderers in the Northeast are Hammond Pond, just outside of Boston, Massachusetts; Lincoln Woods, a short drive from Providence, Rhode Island; and Pawtuckaway State Park, about 30 minutes from Manchester, New Hampshire. Fellow gym climbers can also be a great resource, so don’t hesitate to ask around the gym’s bouldering cave about nearby areas to visit.

New outdoor climbers looking to top-rope should seek out sites with easy setups. Ideally, the location will have a diverse grouping of climbs, easy access to the cliff top, and simple anchoring solutions. Greater Boston has a plethora of excellent crags for first-time top-ropers, including Hammond Pond, Quincy Quarries, Rattlesnake Rocks, College Rock, and Crow Hill. So, too, does Connecticut, with Ragged Mountain being a popular destination.

Pro Tip: A 75- to 100-foot static line is a great solution for when the guidebook recommends bringing “long slings” for top-rope anchors.

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4. Partner Up

No matter if you’re bouldering or top-roping, a good climbing partner is critical. Although bouldering can be a solitary sport, it’s much easier and safer (and more fun!) with a partner. A good bouldering partner spots you when you fall and moves the pads underneath you as you climb. They also are great for helping you decipher moves and keeping the stoke high.

A top-roping partner is essential, as they will literally be holding your life in their hands while belaying. In a perfect world, a new outdoor climber’s partner will have more experience and can serve as a mentor through the transition.

5. Don’t Set Your Expectations Too High

Although gym and outdoor climbing have many similarities, the transition may be challenging. For instance, the grades are harder. So, even if you’ve sent all the “hard stuff” indoors, don’t plan on crushing your first day on real rock. You’ll also need to re-train the way you think. Outdoors, the routes aren’t marked with brightly colored tape and may be difficult to follow. In addition, real rock holds may be hidden and may be greatly different from what you’ve encountered at the gym. Along with these points, indoor climbers often start to learn a gym’s holds. While the gym may change specific routes, climbers have likely gotten familiar with approaching particular holds.

6. If You’re Climbing on a Rope, Learn Some Basic Skills

If you’re going to be climbing on a rope, get familiar with some basic skills. Even something that you’ve been doing in the gym, like belaying, can be complicated outside due to hazards like rocks, uneven ground, and roots. Furthermore, if a climber is heavier than the belayer, the use of a ground anchor might be necessary. Speaking of belays, if you had to execute a belay escape, could you? To prepare, spend a few minutes at the end of each gym session to practice these skills before going outside.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

7. Hit the Books (and Not the Guidebook)

Before heading to the crag, take a moment to hit the books, and brush up on the techniques and systems needed for outdoor climbing. A Falcon Guide: Toproping is one of many great books available to new outdoor climbers. For climbers interested in learning to advance their systems, in addition to their skills, to the next level, Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills covers everything from basic to advanced topics in all climbing genres.

8. Safety is Critical

Whether you’re climbing inside or outside, the sport is dangerous. But, the outdoors has far more hazards to manage. Here are a few tips to keep you safe:

  • Close your top-rope system by tying a knot at the end of your rope. That way, you can’t lower the climber off the end.
  • Always be mindful about where the cliff edge is, especially when you’re setting up a top-rope anchor. Anchoring yourself in while building your anchor is a great way to stay safe.
  • Rocks break and nearby parties sometimes knock stuff off while they’re setting up. Wear your helmet even when you’re not the one climbing to protect your head.
  • Boulderers should scout the descent and be comfortable with it before committing to the climb.
  • For boulderers, falling is almost as important of a skill as climbing. Practice correctly falling—ideally, with slightly bent legs to absorb impact, and avoid leading with your hands to protect your shoulders, arms, wrists, and fingers—and spend some time identifying safe landing zones before you head up.

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9. Take a Lesson

If you’re interested in getting outside but don’t feel confident doing it yourself, sign up for a lesson with the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School. In no time at all, the Climbing School’s AMGA-accredited guides will have you familiar with the fundamentals of building a top-rope anchor and mitigating outdoor climbing hazards.

Can you think of any other gym-to-crag tips? Share them in the comments!


Don't Be a Fool. Stop Doing These 10 Things While Climbing

Every year, we celebrate April 1st with practical jokes and hoaxes. But, if you’re practicing the following climbing habits, the joke’s on you. Here’s a list of 10 safety tips for you to employ this year, so that you’re not climbing like a fool.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. The end is near

It seems every year there’s another story about a climber making the foolish, dangerous, and potentially deadly mistake of rappelling off the end of their rope. Easily avoid this imprudent error by tying stopper knots at the ends or otherwise closing the system before you rappel.

2. Reckless rappelling

In addition to stopper knots, learning the right way to rappel can prevent you from looking like a fool. Start by extending your rappel device and using a third-hand back-up. Don’t know what we’re talking about? Here’s a good video from the AMGA showing the whole process.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Don’t lower your guard

These days, both sport climbs and ropes come in a wide variety of lengths, increasing the odds of making the misguided mistake of lowering your partner off the end. Make sure the joke isn’t on you by tying a stopper knot on the free end before you start climbing.

4. Crack jokes—not your head

Whether it’s falling debris from above or an impact during a fall, your head is exposed to all sorts of danger when you go rock climbing. Considering that helmets have gotten increasingly light and comfortable, in addition to protecting you from a potential head injury, you’d have to be a fool not to wear one at the crag.

Rapping-Lost-in-the-Sun

5. Does the trick every time

Sometimes, the oldest tricks work best. For example, the tried-and-true act of checking to make sure the climber’s knot is tied correctly and the belay is rigged properly before you leave the ground is an excellent way to avoid a joke that falls flat.

6. Aging antics

While some old tricks work great at the crag, old gear certainly doesn’t. We get it—climbing gear is expensive. But, risking serious harm or death over the cost of a sling, harness, or rope is more than foolish; it’s dumb. Learn about your gear’s lifespan and replace it accordingly. Not sure where to start? Check out our goEast article “When Should I Retire My Gear?”  

7. Cleaning anchors is no joke

A potentially catastrophic mistake commonly seen at the crag is climber-belayer miscommunication when cleaning anchors. Before hastily heading up a route, confirm your course of action with your belayer, and stick to the plan. Even better, stop being a clown, and learn the right way to clean an anchor.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

8. Buffoonery at the belay

There’s plenty of time for tomfoolery at the end of the day, and the real trick is getting everyone home safely. Since the belayer literally holds the life of the climber in their hands, all of the attention should be focused on them—not on clowning around at the base of the climb.

9. Don’t be a one-liner

Driving to the crag alone is awesome…April Fools! Don’t do this—it’s expensive, it’s bad for the environment, and most crag parking lots have a limited capacity. Try carpooling, even if it’s only for part of your drive. While you’re at it, check out these outdoor podcasts to keep the drive from getting monotonous.

10. The price of the put-on

Thinking that access, fixed gear, and keeping the crag clean just happen is the pinnacle of buffoonery. Consider donating to the Access Fund, or a local climbing association, like the Rumney Climbers Association or the Gunks Climbers’ Coalition. Better yet, volunteer for a cleanup day, or perform the ultimate stunt by practicing Leave No Trace.

 

Do you have a good tip to avoid being the crag jester? If so, we want to hear it! Leave it in the comments below.


Three Crags for Early Spring Rock Climbing

With spring’s mild weather arriving early this year, it’s time to venture outside, and remember what it feels like to be on rock. If you’ve spent the winter pulling plastic or you’re simply excited to get outdoors, check out one of these excellent early-season climbing destinations.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Lincoln Woods, Rhode Island

Just minutes outside Providence sits Lincoln Woods State Park. Home to some of New England’s best bouldering, it’s a frequent first stop for many of the region’s climbers. Thanks to its southerly location, it’s rarely exposed to as brutal of a winter, often making the problems dry and climbable, while snow still buries other popular areas.

With various boulders scattered throughout, “The Woods” almost always has something to climb, no matter the conditions. In fact, it’s possible to do everything from chasing the sun to hiding from the wind or even avoiding an unexpected spring shower. Even better, because most of the park’s classic boulders are in close proximity, it’s easy to move between them in search of better conditions or a different grade. Just use the park’s loop road and a handful of well-developed climber paths.

In March and April, cool mornings and evenings provide the perfect temperatures for finding friction on the area’s granite boulders. Later, cool nights keep the bugs at bay. Further making The Woods a great early-season destination, the wide variety of problems, in terms of both style and grade, allows climbers to acquaint themselves with crimps, cracks, and slabs while gradually increasing the difficulty.

While bouldering might be the primary attraction here, Goat Rock has a small amount of top-roping. This roughly 30-foot tall cliff offers some easy slab climbing on its flank and some truly hard climbing on its steep, overhung face. If you are planning on top-roping here, either bring some trad gear or a long static line for anchor building, and beware of broken glass.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Quincy Quarries, Massachusetts

Quincy Quarries is another fantastic early-season destination. Located just seconds from I-93 near Boston, it offers great single-pitch routes on solid granite, as well as a smattering of fun, moderate bouldering. And, just like Lincoln Woods, it is often dry and climbable well before the region’s other areas.

While the heartiest among us come here year round, the season really picks up in early March, when area climbers begin longing for “real rock.” During warm weeknights and weekends, you’ll often find locals sending the most popular routes on C Wall, K Wall, M Wall, and Knight Face. Most parties seem to top-rope a variety of routes during their sessions, moving around the crag from one easy-anchor setup to another. You’ll also encounter some solid trad climbing and even a few sport routes. Whichever style you choose, be forewarned. The grades are old-school, and the layers of graffiti covering the first 10 feet off the ground only make the routes harder.

As long as it’s sunny, the Quarries can deliver a great outing even on the coldest of spring days. The walls of Little Granite Railway Quarry, noted in the Boston Rocks guidebook as A-F walls, form a natural reflector oven, heating the surrounding area as much as 10 degrees above the ambient temperature. If you end up there on one of those days, definitely check out C Wall’s many top-ropeable routes.

Of course, because the Quarries is a multi-use urban park, the climbers tend to head elsewhere once areas to the north and west “open up.” But, this shouldn’t deter you from checking out the early-season scene. Moreover, once you’ve spent a day or two placing your feet on spray-painted nubbins, the friction everywhere else will feel fantastic.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Pawtuckaway State Park, New Hampshire

Pawtuckaway State Park, or P-Way, in southern New Hampshire is best known for its bouldering. But, it’s also home to some fun top-roping and short-but-challenging trad climbing. Because of this, Pawtuckaway has become a popular destination. Generally, it’s the perfect place for getting in early-season pitches and problems while you wait for winter to leave and before the bugs arrive.

Top-ropers will want to visit P-Way’s Lower Slab for its selection of easy-to-set-up moderate climbs and the large open space at the bottom of the cliff. These factors also make this a popular area for large groups.

While the Lower Slab is ideal for rediscovering technique and working noodley winter arms back into shape, the Upper Cliff—located a short walk uphill—offers some stellar crack climbing that can either be top-roped or lead on traditional gear. Before you tape up, don your hand jammies, or go au naturel, however, be aware that what the cracks lack in height, they make up for in difficulty, and the ratings are old school.

Tim-P-Way

No trip to P-Way is complete without trying at least one of the area’s renowned boulder problems. A short walk from the cliffs, the Round Pond area receives a lot of sun, and is home to a diverse group of problems. Thus, it’s an ideal place to visit early in the season. Also a short walk from the cliffs, the Boulder Natural area is home to many of Pawtuckaway’s classic problems.

Don’t forget to visit Pawtuckaway’s Blair Woods bouldering area. Separate from most of P-Way’s other climbing areas, Blair Woods delivers a large amount of easily accessible and moderately rated problems without the crowds. Like everywhere else in Pawtuckaway, bring the bug spray just in case, and be prepared for the park’s skin-eating coarse granite.

What’s your favorite early season crag? Tell us about it in the comments!


8 Reasons to Choose Waterproof Trail Runners

Anybody who’s working through the Northeast’s 4,000-footers should have a pair of waterproof trail runners in their footwear arsenal. Lightweight and blocking out moisture, they’re the perfect shoe for getting to the summit and back quickly on those less-than-perfect spring, summer, and fall days. Don’t believe us? Here are eight reasons they’re the ideal rainy hike footwear.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Light is Right (Even When It’s Raining)

Everybody knows that a pound off your feet equals five pounds off your back. Since that adage holds true even when it’s dumping buckets, wearing these shoes is a great way to avoid a difficult choice between heavier hiking boots and lighter-but-not-waterproof trail runners. Not only will they allow you to maintain the hiking efficiency that you’re used to from regular trail runners, but they also provide almost as much weather protection as boots.

2. The Skinny on Being Heavy

Boots are also stiffer and less responsive, reducing your body’s efficiency. For every pound you put on your feet, you expend five-percent more energy. Five percent might not sound like much, but on a four-hour hike, that’s more than 10 minutes. Think of it as an extra 10 minutes to linger at the summit after the weather breaks.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Flash the Flats

Waterproof trail runners let you move fast and keep your feet dry on soggy spring days or when you encounter unexpected showers. Since they’re designed specifically for running, you can race across that ridge, sprint ahead of that shower, or see just how fast you can cover that flat.

4. Warming Up to the Idea

Although trail runners might not be as warm as boots, especially traditional full-leather hikers, their waterproof liners add just enough coverage to make them suitable for cool spring weather or a little bit of snow lingering high up on the ridge. Even better, they adapt great on those days that start cold but warm up fast.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. Find Their Niche

Make the most out of waterproof trail running shoes by using them for the right types of hikes and conditions. Longer trips with lengthy stretches of flat ground and numerous short water crossings, like Bondcliff in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, are the perfect place to ditch the boots so you can cover the flats faster. They’re also ideal for shorter hikes, like Camel’s Hump in Vermont, where the support of boots isn’t needed—especially when you’re traveling through rainy and muddy conditions.

Pro Tip: When water levels are high, getting past a water crossing requires more than the right footwear. Check out this guide on safely crossing backcountry rivers.

6. No Need to Give ‘Em the Boot

Spring conditions—mud, rain, and repeatedly getting wet and drying—shorten the lifespan of both shoes and boots. Ironically, getting wet is what commonly leads to the demise of waterproof liners, as moisture brings minute dirt particles into the space between a boot’s exterior and its inner membrane. Here, the particles then slowly abrade the liner. Because waterproof trail runners are traditionally less expensive than boots, it is less painful to replace them when their time has come.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

7. Quivering for a Pair of Trail Runners

Even though trail runners are typically less expensive than boots, no one wants to be constantly replacing a key piece of gear. One of the great things about them is, they are an essential arrow in your quiver, truly shining during mud season and rainy days. Because of this, it’s not uncommon to get a few years out of a pair.

8. The Right Choice for the Right Day

Maximizing your time in the mountains is all about matching the right gear with the right conditions. Waterproof trail runners are perfect for logging miles in damp spring weather or whenever your trip has a high probability of mud and rain. Although they’re a key piece of gear, a lot of occasions still call for traditional hiking boots, as well as non-waterproof trail runners.

 

We want to know which types of footwear you wear hiking. Let us know in the comments!


EMS Alpine Ascender Stretch: The Every-Condition Jacket

You might think that creating an article for goEast is as simple as sitting in front of a computer and writing about your favorite trip, piece of gear, or outdoor activity. However, the reality is, for most articles, you spend just as much time outside taking photos, recording GPS tracks, and refreshing your memory of a trail’s nuances. With deadlines looming this winter, we’ve often had to take trips in typical Northeast winter conditions—think cold temperatures, high winds, and snowy weather. It’s here that we’ve come to appreciate the EMS Alpine Ascender Stretch.

The Ascender’s versatility managed to give us a good time up and down this ultra-classic route.

On a recent reconnaissance trip up Mount Washington via the Winter Lion Head Trail, the Ascender proved its merits. There, we made frequent stops—in spite of the winds gusting up to 100 mph—to gather waypoints and shoot photos for an upcoming article. Layered under our hard shells while we were above treeline, the Ascender performed equally well when we dashed across the Alpine Garden as it did while we stopped for photos. Throughout, it breathed on the move and insulated when we stopped, thanks to its Polartec Alpha insulation. Overall, the Ascender’s versatility managed to give us a good time up and down this ultra-classic route—always a concern during the short days of winter. In part, this was due to not having to dig around our packs for a puffy every time we stopped.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

A recent ice climbing trip in Crawford Notch further highlighted this go-to layer’s value. Ice climbing’s mechanics involve working hard and getting warm while climbing, only to stop and freeze at the belay. The misery builds up if you’re pausing here to take notes or photos for an upcoming article, like we were. The Ascender proved its versatility once again, however. That day, we wore it as our outer layer and found that it breathed while on the go and still kept us warm when we stopped. As well, the insulated hood fits well over a climbing helmet. We also appreciated the large internal pockets for stashing a notebook, camera, snack, and gloves.

These days, it seems every innovation gets labeled “game-changing.” But, the EMS Alpine Ascender truly is the next step forward.

The Ascender looks and functions like a traditional puffy coat, making it easy to pigeonhole. But, we’ve discovered that it’s so much more. In fact, this winter, we’ve used the Ascender just as much as a traditional midlayer as we have as a lightweight belay jacket. Accentuating that, the Ascender is much warmer and more packable than a traditional fleece midlayer, and you can still wear it like a standard soft shell.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

These days, it seems every innovation gets labeled “game-changing.” But, the EMS Alpine Ascender truly is the next step forward. Particularly, its overall construction increases the functionality of an essential layering piece.

Over the past year, we’ve tinkered a lot with active insulation. With the Ascender, we’ve been trying to find the perfect application for it within our layering strategies. At the end of it all, we’ve concluded that it will be either on our bodies or in our packs on most trips. Whether you’re freezing on the ski lift and then shredding downhill, working hard while ice climbing and cooling off while belaying, or doing any other activity that involves varying exertion levels in cold environments, the Ascender should be a key part of your layering system.


10 Tips for Backcountry Skiing This Spring

Although most people consider skiing a winter sport, true aficionados of sliding on snow know that the season’s best turns often occur during the spring. While ski resorts celebrate the season with Gaper-Days and pond skims, backcountry skiers enjoy not just the milder weather, but also everything from fewer crowds to a more stable snowpack. So, with longer days and warmer temperatures on the horizon, here are some tips for making the best out of one of skiing season’s best parts.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Location, location, location

The Northeast is replete with outstanding backcountry options for spring skiers. Mount Moosilauke and the Cog on Mount Washington are great intermediate spots, as is Vermont’s Camel’s Hump. In Maine, Sugarloaf Mountain offers backcountry-like skiing, accessed via touring gear or snowshoes on Burnt Mountain. Just don’t forget to buy an uphill pass. And, of course, spring in Tuckerman Ravine is a rite of passage for every New England skier. Pro Tip: Go on a weekday, so you don’t have to enjoy it with every other New Englander.

2. Play the conditions game

There’s nothing worse than driving a couple hours to the mountains, only to find that the snow has already melted. Before you settle on a location, do some research. For forecasted areas, like Tuckerman Ravine, read the avalanche forecast. It typically hints at skiing quality, too. For the rest, between Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, you should be able to figure it out.

Credit: Douglas Martland
Credit: Douglas Martland

3. Wherever you go, start early

In spring, snow typically melts during the day and freezes at night, and within this cycle, the best runs happen when the snow has softened but hasn’t become slushy. An early start is often necessary, as you want to be at the top of your run to take advantage of that magic moment. It’s better to be on top of a line too early, rather than too late, as you can always wait for the snow to soften.

4. Protect your skins

Nothing kills the uphill pace (and stoke) faster than waterlogged skins. In addition to being heavy, they attract snow, causing it to build up on your ski’s underside. Pretty soon, you’ll be off on the side of the skin track, scraping snow off your skin. To avoid the indignity, treat your skins the night before with a skin wax, like Black Diamond’s Glob Stopper. Also, make sure at least one person in your group tucks a bar into their pack before hitting the trail.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. Protect your other skin

The only thing worse than turning red from the indignity of scraping your skins is the red you’ll turn if you forget sunblock. The spring sun might not feel strong, but the skin on your ski isn’t only what needs protection. Snow reflects the sun up at you, exposing you to its intensity from above and below. So, be sure to apply sunscreen before arriving at the trailhead and throughout the day.

6. Just say no to postholing

Soft spring snow is especially prone to postholing, which is the quickest way ruin a skin track or ski run—and get yourself exiled from the local backcountry ski community. Postholing is particularly egregious in the spring, since the likelihood of a storm undoing the damage is low. Prevent postholing by traveling on skis designed for touring, by splitboarding, or by using snowshoes.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

 

7. Find the shades

The reflected sun also poses a threat to your eyes. Fortunately, on many spring days, sunglasses are suitable for both the ascent and the descent. Get a good polarized pair, and say goodbye to goggle tan lines.

8. Drink up

Spring’s warmer temperatures typically mean more sweating while touring, and more sweat increases your chances of dehydration. During the spring, get in the habit of bringing more water with you and stopping more frequently to drink than you would in the winter, or consider using a hydration bladder. While these can be difficult in the freezing cold, spring’s warmer days make them a reliable option.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

9. Don’t forget the puffy coat

Spring skiing in the backcountry often exposes you to two entirely different seasons, with summer weather in the parking lot and winter at the top of your run. Because of this, we regularly tuck a puffy (or two) into our packs. It’s lightweight and always a welcome sight when you wander into winter.

10. Wax your skis

Speaking of snow conditions, earning your turns loses a lot of its enjoyment when you suffer from sticky skis on the descent. Having a freshly waxed pair, then, is especially beneficial in slushy spring snow. Even better, wax your skis with a warm-weather wax to avoid those grabby moments. Interested in tuning your skis at home? Check out this goEast article for some great tuning tips.

 

Spring ski season frequently comes to an abrupt end in the Northeast, as seemingly huge snowpacks melt out over the course of a few days. Because of this, every spring ski day is precious, so follow these tips to make the most out of the season’s last hurrah!


New England's Top 3 Manmade Ice Crags

Anybody who’s slipped on black ice knows that it can form in the most unexpected places. When that ice starts to freeze vertically, we, as ice climbers, typically want to climb it. How that desire manifests is sometimes quite ironic, however. In the Northeast, you’re equally likely to find climbers swinging their way up a roadside culvert, an abandoned quarry, or the walls of an old railroad cut as you are an alpine classic, like Shoestring Gully.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Auburn Ice Canyon

When most people think of ice climbing, their minds turn to frozen waterfalls, alpine cliffs, and remote gullies. What they don’t think of is shopping plazas, busy roads, and concrete, much less Worcester, Massachusetts. However, that’s where they’ll discover one of Massachusetts’ most popular ice climbing destinations: Auburn Ice Canyon.

Located at the corner of Worcester, Millbury, and Auburn—just minutes from the Mass Pike and Route 290—Auburn Ice Canyon started as a flood diversion channel for the greater Worcester area. Later, some discovered that the channel’s steep walls and melting snow above consistently icing over created steep ice climbs. Although the entrance can be seen from the busy local road, Route 20, you’ll find the best climbing and longest routes by following the culvert to its end. Here, the rock walls turn to concrete and the channel into a tunnel.

Because Auburn Ice Canyon is a drainage, its floor may consist of varying levels of water. Thus, the best time to visit is after a long-enough cold stretch, which then freezes the canyon’s floor. Popular with beginners and experts alike, Auburn Ice Canyon delivers routes steep enough for strong climbers to get a workout, and top-rope friendly attitude that newbies will appreciate. Leaders, beware: Suspect rock and interesting top-outs may make straightforward-looking climbs spicier than anticipated.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Quincy Quarries

Although most people associate Quincy Quarries with rock climbing and graffiti, you’ll also find solid ice climbing at this close-to-Boston locale. Operating as a quarry from 1825 to 1963, Quincy Quarry earned the nickname “The Birthplace of the Granite Industry,” as places and businesses across the nation used its stone. More prominently, the Bunker Hill Monument features it to some degree.

For the best ice climbing at QQ, start with “A Wall,” the first wall on the left after you make the five-minute approach from the parking lot. Depending on conditions, QQ has as many as five distinct ice flows, each providing 35-foot vertical climbs with multiple variations. The climbing itself is Scottish-like, mixing sometimes quite-thin ice with rock moves and turf sticks. This is especially true at the starts of the routes, with the best ice usually found higher up.

Of course, the ice here can be ephemeral. As a good rule of thumb, hold off on visiting until after a heavy rain or snow followed by two to three nights of colder temperatures. Although the ice usually hangs around once it comes in, it doesn’t survive every thaw. So, before you set up your top-rope, it’s a good idea to scope out A Wall from across the “Cove.” And, if the ice has unexpectedly come down, you’ll find fantastic dry tooling on Layback Corner and M Crack on M Wall (both 5.8) and on Finger Flux (5.11) in the nearby Swingle’s Quarry.

As you work your way around QQ, you’ll easily notice remnants of the historic operation. Climbers regularly use the old “staples” for anchors, and even some “feathers”—shims used to help split the granite—are still in the rock. Particularly, you’ll see one at the base of a route on A Wall. And, if history is your thing, make sure to check out the Granite Railway on the Quarry’s backside. Established in 1826, it was the country’s first railroad and is now a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Find it by walking down the path between J and K walls.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keene Railroad Cut

Keene is known as a quiet college town located on the New Hampshire-Vermont border. However, long before Keene State was founded, the city, like many in New Hampshire, was based around manufacturing. In part, the Cheshire Railroad spurred this development, carrying goods to market and outdoor enthusiasts (including Henry David Thoreau) to Mount Monadnock and the surrounding region. Although the railroad hasn’t run since the 1960s, the send train runs all winter on the Keene Railroad Cut’s walls, provided it’s cold enough.

Approaching the climbing is easy, as it’s a short walk from an obvious pullout on Route 12 near the city limits. Even better, the approach is almost always packed down, thanks to the snowmobiles that frequent the Cheshire Rail Trail. This 42-mile long trail begins near the the Massachusetts border in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire and ends in North Walpole, New Hampshire.

You’ll know you’ve made it to the Keene Railroad Cut, or simply the Railroad Cut, when you get there. Here, the walls sharply rise above the old railroad bed, and numerous ice flows line its sides. Most routes stand between 20 and 30 feet tall, and while short in stature, they deliver steep climbing. And, convenience isn’t only found in the location and approach here. As well, sturdy trees, fixed anchors, and straightforward walk-arounds make top-roping a simple affair. Thus, it’s a popular destination for newer climbers and locals looking for a workout.

Pro Tip: Play nice with the snowmobilers, and keep your kit out of the middle of the trail. Their cooperation is key for access.

 

Although these three spots are not natural treasures, their local outdoor communities appreciate them for their easily accessible, close-to-home ice climbing. Have a manmade spot you’d like to share? Leave it in the comments, so we can check it out!


Alpha Guide: Mount Washington via the Lion Head Winter Route

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Take on a genuine mountaineering challenge by going for a winter ascent on the Northeast’s tallest peak. 

Mount Washington is the pinnacle of winter mountaineering in the Northeast, and the Lion Head Winter Route is the trail of choice for many looking to summit this iconic mountain. Although this is the least technical way to summit the “Rock Pile,” mountaineers will be challenged by everything from the route’s steep, icy terrain to the mountain’s notorious “worst weather in the world.” Depending on the day, you could find yourself huddling behind one of the summit’s buildings, trying to escape the wind, or proudly posing in front of the summit sign while taking in grand views of the Presidential Range.

Quick Facts

Distance: 8.2 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery:★★★★★


Season: November through March
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/whitemountain/recarea?recid=78538

Download

Turn-By-Turn

Parking for the Lion Head Trail is at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Pinkham Notch Visitor Center in Gorham, just north of Jackson on Route 16. It’s about a 25-minute drive from North Conway or Gorham.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Gearing Up

The Pinkham Notch Visitor Center (44.257320, -71.253052) is a great place to get ready. The gear room, in the basement, has tables and benches that are perfect for getting organized, tying your boots, and doing those last-minute gear checks. It also has bathrooms and a water fountain, and snacks and meals can be purchased upstairs.

Equally important, the AMC posts the Mount Washington Observatory’s daily Higher Summits Forecast and the Mount Washington Avalanche Center’s daily avalanche forecast on a cork board in the visitor center’s basement. Make sure to read both! And, while you’re there, sign the winter hiker register, too.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Starting Out

To get on the trail, leave the basement, and follow the sidewalk towards the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center’s main entrance. Continue past the entrance and around the back of the building to the large sign marking the beginning of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which you’ll take for the first 1.7 miles and more than 1,000 feet of elevation.

The easy-to-follow Tuckerman Ravine Trail begins as a very rocky dirt road and is wide enough to allow side-by-side hiking. Depending on the weather, trail conditions range from ice-covered rocks to packed snow. In most cases, starting out in MICROspikes is usually a good idea.

From the Visitor Center, the trail is moderate for the first few minutes, and then begins to climb consistently. As it climbs, an occasional path cuts off to the left, heading over to the Sherburne Ski Trail. A bit higher up, there is also a signed cutoff to the right for the Huntington Ravine Trail (44.261887, -71.269882). Hikers should ignore all of these cutoffs.

Trees protect this portion of the trail, keeping the wind and wind chill at bay. And, although the trees also limit the views—especially compared to the awesome ones you’ll get once you’re above treeline—the Tuckerman Ravine Trail does pass a few key scenic spots as it climbs out of the valley. The most notable are the two bridges that cross the Ellis River and the Cutler River and the waterfall—or icicle, in this case—Crystal Cascade. It might be tempting to dig the camera out, but don’t stop. You have a long way to go, and the days are short this time of year.

If the weather permits, you’ll also get a preview of the Lion Head as you move up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, giving you an appreciation for the route’s expansive scale and how much distance you have left to travel.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Cut Off

After about 1.7 miles, the junction with the Huntington Ravine fire road (44.263844, -71.277946) is on the right. The junction is well-marked, with a sign pointing toward the base of the Lion Head Winter Route. The wide, flat fire road makes for easy hiking. Take it a short distance to a junction (44.264603, -71.279106). Look for a rescue cache on the trail’s opposite side for confirmation.

The flat area at the Winter Route’s base is a great spot to grab some food and water and add a layer. Most people, too, put their crampons on here and get their ice axe out.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Rock Step

The steeps on the Lion Head Winter Route come pretty quickly. Climbing along a tree-lined trail, the route gains almost 1,800 feet in elevation.

While most of the climbing is on steep but easy snow, there is a short, 30-foot, rocky section near the beginning that has some exposure. Almost all the guided parties carry a short section of rope to use as a hand line, but it is probably unnecessary if you are comfortable climbing in crampons.

Pro Tip: The Lion Head Winter Route is the Whites’ most popular guided winter route, and there is sometimes a bottleneck at the rock step. So that you can maintain your pace, try to stay ahead of guided groups, if you see them gearing up at the base.

Above the rock step, the route continues up, staying in the trees until it eventually breaks treeline. Around treeline, you’ll find numerous spots along the side of the trail to take a break (44.264332, -71.286575) and enjoy the excellent view of the Wildcat Mountain Ski Area across the notch. Since you’ll be fully exposed to the wind from here on, now is a great time to don your above-treeline gear. On windy days, remember full-face protection, including goggles.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Lion Head

From treeline, the trail continues up over open, rocky terrain towards Lion Head proper (44.264.042, -71.291275). As you climb, you’ll probably feel the wind speed increasing. And, be on the lookout for another steep and exposed section just before the Lion Head. It’s easy, but you don’t want to fall.

As you approach the Lion Head, you should evaluate the weather, the wind, and your group’s motivation. If the wind’s too strong, the weather’s getting worse, or it has taken longer to get here than anticipated, this is a good place to turn around without significant consequence.

Crossing the Alpine Garden

Above the Lion Head, the trail continues along the edge of Tuckerman Ravine, crossing the Alpine Garden. If it is a nice day, enjoy the view of the ravine in all its splendor. But, don’t get sucked too far left, especially if it’s windy. You don’t want to get blown in!

This section is also likely to be one of the hike’s windiest segments. Since the trail here is mostly flat, it’s a great idea to hustle across as quickly as possible. The prevailing wind is west to northwest; so, once you are in the shadow of the summit cone, you’ll likely get a brief reprieve.

After a short time, the trail intersects with the Alpine Garden Trail (44.265045, -71.295603). Some scrub here makes a passable wind break, but you’ll probably want to keep going. From the junction, continue straight on the Lion Head Trail.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Split Rock

The trail begins climbing again after the junction, crossing a couple of open snowfields on the way towards Split Rock (44.265850, -71.301437). Since there are few landmarks here, route finding is critical. Moreover, the consequences of a sliding fall on this section are significant, so make sure to have your crampons on and ice axe ready.

Split Rock is easily identifiable: As the name implies, it’s a large boulder that is split in half. Split Rock is also the last place that offers passable protection from the weather before you reach the summit. Many parties choose to take advantage of the flattish area and windbreak to grab a snack, make a final determination of the weather, and prepare for their summit push before following the trail through the boulder itself. Once you’re ready, the next junction (44.265980, -71.302155) is just a few minutes ahead.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit Cone

The Lion Head Trail traverses west for a short ways before connecting with the Tuckerman Ravine Trail at a large cairn. From here, turn right and follow the cairns uphill on the final 0.4 miles to the top. Frequently, this section provides a respite from the wind. Enjoy the break, as the wind will only increase as you near the top.

The Tuckerman Ravine Trail leads to the first sign of civilization—the Auto Road (44.269550, -71.302048). Shortly thereafter, you’ll pass the tracks for the Cog Railway, before you come to the final small hill leading to the summit (44.270424, -71.303375).

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit Pose

If it is a nice day, spend some time to enjoy the summit view of the Presidentials and the surrounding White Mountains. More likely though, ripping winds and cold temperatures will have you taking shelter by the buildings and putting on an extra layer before you make your way to the summit sign to get the requisite shot.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Getting Back in One Piece

To quote the world-famous mountaineer Ed Viesturs, “The summit is just a halfway point.” Although getting back to Pinkham Notch is as simple as reversing course, you have ample opportunities to get lost or disoriented above treeline, especially when the weather is at its worst. So, take the time at trail junctures to ensure you’re descending in the right direction, and look for memorable landmarks. Most notable are the large cairns marking the Tuckerman-Lion Head junction, Split Rock, the scrub at the Alpine Garden Trail junction, and the flat area on top of the Lion Head. As you make your way towards treeline, look for several sets of reflectors attached to the trees for descending at night or in deteriorating conditions.

The final crux for hikers will be reversing the rock step and the terrain just above it. Once again, many guided parties use a rope here, but those comfortable climbing in crampons should be fine simply downclimbing.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • The Lion Head Winter Route is steep and often icy. Because of this, an ice axe and crampons are essential equipment. The Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe and Contact Crampons are great choices.
  • The combination of high winds, snow, and ice often necessitates the use of goggles, like the Smith I/O 7, to protect your eyes and maintain vision. We suggest bringing a second pair in the event one freezes.
  • Summiting Mount Washington in the winter is a long day even in the best conditions—not to mention, the days are shorter this time of year. A headlamp like the Black Diamond Revolt helps prevent getting caught in the dark and provides peace of mind if you fall behind schedule.
  • It’s easy to get disoriented or lost above treeline on Mount Washington, especially if it’s snowing and the wind is howling. A route plan, pre-set waypoints on a phone-based mapping app like GAIA GPS, and a map and compass as backup are all extremely valuable when you’re trying to stay on course no matter the weather.
  • A heavy puffy coat, like the Black Diamond Stance Parka (Men’s/Women’s), and summit mittens, such as the EMS Summit (Men’s/Women’s), are must-haves for extreme cold. Using chemical hand warmers is also a great way to keep your hands warm.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Mount Washington’s reputation for the “world’s worst weather” is well-deserved, and weather conditions play a huge role in any successful ascent via the Lion Head Winter Route. Before you head out, make sure to read the Mount Washington Observatory’s Higher Summits Forecast. If the conditions don’t look right (for instance, high winds are forecast or the temperatures at higher elevations are just too cold), consider a different trip for the day: A hike up to HoJo’s at the base of Tuckerman Ravine or skiing the Sherburne Trail is a nice alternative that never leaves the protection of the trees.
  • Similarly, if the weather starts to turn during your hike, bailing is a smart decision. After all, the weather rarely gets better the higher you go, and the “Rock Pile” isn’t going anywhere.
  • Before leaving the Visitor Center, take a moment to make sure the Lion Head Winter Route is actually open. Its opening depends on the amount of snow received, and in recent years—like the 2017-2018 winter season—it has not opened until late December.
  • Early starts on Mount Washington are par for the course. The AMC’s Joe Dodge Lodge is a great place to stay if you want to roll right from bed to the trail. Accommodation options include private and bunk rooms, with most options encompassing breakfast and dinner.
  • Not confident doing this journey yourself? Consider a guided ascent of Mount Washington with the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School. EMS guides have climbed the “Rock Pile” hundreds of times each winter, and have the skills and knowledge to get you up and down the mountain safely. And, if you’re looking for more than just the up-and-back, consider combining a guided climb with an overnight at the Mount Washington Observatory.
  • Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co., or simply The Moat, is the place for Conway-area climbers to eat, grab a pint, and brag about everything from their successful summits to just how bad the weather was above treeline.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked the Lion Head Winter Route on Mount Washington recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


Outings for a Presidents' Day in the Presidentials

Presidents’ Day falls on the third Monday of every February. In the Northeast, New Hampshire’s White Mountains make the perfect place to celebrate the holiday. Home to nine 4,000-footers named after past Presidents, they offer numerous outdoor activities with a historical connection. So, whether you’re looking to ski, climb, or hike, here’s how to have a genuinely Presidential Presidents’ Day.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Forget the White House – Visit the White Room

Presidents’ Day originated in the 1880s to commemmorate George Washington’s birthday. For those looking to slide on snow while also honoring the nation’s first President, the slopes of Mount Washington deliver something for everyone.

The Sherburne Ski Trail, often called “the Sherbie,” links the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center with HoJo’s, the caretaker’s cabin at Hermit Lake. Dating back to the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps, established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of his New Deal Legislation, built the Sherbie just for skiers. Considering the innovations since then, most will find the Sherbie sufficiently broad for turning and never extremely steep. As David Goodman notes in his book AMC Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast, the Sherburne never exceeds 24 degrees and is as much as 60 feet across at its widest point.

Although many advanced skiers view the Sherburne Trail as a quick way to descend from the steeper Tuckerman Ravine, it’s a worthy destination by itself. Because of its moderate pitch and tree-lined location, it’s a great place to head when the weather above treeline is unfavorable, if avalanche danger is high, or to just gain confidence on less-consequential terrain.

The trail, however, is for downhill use only. You can access it via the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which also leaves Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. Heading up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, skiers will notice various entry points to the Sherbie on their left. As another popular option, you can cut over below HoJo’s to avoid the trail’s flat upper portion.

Of course, the Sherbie is just one of Mount Washington’s fantastic ski routes. You can find other intermediate backcountry skiing along the Cog Railway, while the Gulf of Slides and the iconic Tuckerman Ravine present more advanced options.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Better than Climbing the Political Ladder  

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

In the 1970s, Congress officially moved Presidents’ Day to the third Monday of February to give federal workers more three-day weekends. But, many believe that the move also broadened the holiday’s scope by additionally commemorating Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 15th). If you fall into this camp, get your presidential celebration started on Mount Lincoln.

While most people get to the summit via Franconia Ridge, ice climbing Lincoln’s Throat is the most direct way up. Viewed from a distance, Lincoln’s Throat is the pronounced gully between Lincoln and Lafayette that tops out on Franconia Ridge just below Lincoln’s summit.

The route also offers a bit of everything (except crowds) for alpine climbers. You’ll hike or bushwack off trail, do steep snow climbing, climb a single moderately rated WI3 ice pitch, and have the opportunity to summit a 4,000-footer. Or, if you choose to descend down the Old Bridle Path, you’ll get in two 4,000-footers.

If Lincoln Throat’s sole ice pitch isn’t fully formed, is rotten, or is over your head, consider alternatives. However, those involve mixed climbing, and not the type you’re thinking of. Instead of rock and ice, you’ll find krumholtz and snow. These might be less treacherous, but they’re also slower and more frustrating.

Consider making this trip early in the season or in low-snow years. But, if you’re going when heavy snow covers the ground, be sure to bring snowshoes, an avalanche kit, and the knowledge of how to navigate avalanche terrain.

Of course, if this President-worthy climb gives you a case of the willies, you can always check out the beginner-friendly Willey’s Slide in Crawford Notch. It’s not on a peak named after a President, but on a clear day, you’ll get a great view of the southern Presidentials.     

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Don’t Settle for Fake Views

Over time, the public consensus about Presidents’ Day has broadened even further. These days, we think of it as a celebration of all past Presidents. Fortunately, the White Mountains include eight more 4,000-foot peaks named after Presidents (Adams, Madison, Jefferson, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, and Garfield) or with a Presidential-sounding name. For the latter, Jackson is actually named after New Hampshire State Geologist Charles Jackson, not the seventh President, Andrew Jackson.

Of these, Mount Pierce—named after the only President born in New Hampshire—and Mount Garfield are both great options for a moderate day hike with fantastic views. For more of a challenge, Mount Adams (named after John Adams) is one of the Northeast 115’s toughest winter climbs. And, if you’re supremely motivated and the weather is good, consider attempting a Presidential Traverse. In one trip, you’ll hopefully bag Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, and Jackson.

Although the President might spend his days in the White House, you can get out of the house, away from the office, and into the fresh air to honor our nation’s past leaders. Let us know how you spent your Presidents’ Day in the comments below.