Top to Bottom: Gear to Hike the NH 48

Looking back on some of our early hikes together in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the first thing that sticks out is how much time we spent agonizing over the “right” gear to bring. Always packing at the last minute, we both had many late nights where we considered what to bring and what to leave behind. Indeed, questions like what layers we would need and how much emergency gear is too much kept us up way past our earlier bedtime and often resulted in packs that were bigger and heavier than they should have been.

These days, with many 4,000-footers under our belts, our process is much more dialed. Our packs, as a result, are a lot lighter and smaller. So, what’s our ideal kit for summer hiking in the White Mountains?

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Upper Body Layers

A long-sleeve, hooded sun shirt, like the Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody, is the staple of our kit. It’s no warmer than wearing a short-sleeve T-shirt, with the added benefit of keeping the sun off your arms and head. The long sleeves and hood also serve a second purpose during bug season.

Then, for layering over the sun shirt, we pack three additional layers: a windshirt, a lightweight rain shell, and a puffy.

The most versatile layer, the windshirt easily handles the Whites’ ever-changing weather. From lightweight, ultra-packable nylon versions like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite to more substantial woven jackets, such as the Outdoor Research Ferossi (also available in women’s sizes), these jackets take up minimal space and are perfect for hiking above treeline or if the temperature drops.

As staying dry is one of hiking’s central tenets, a good waterproof hard shell is vital. However, much like windshirts, shells vary in weight and durability. While an ultra-lightweight option like the Outdoor Research Helium Hybrid might be perfect for when you’re wearing a small pack or the chance of rain is slight, a more robust option made with heavier-duty nylon and high-end waterproofing like the Marmot Minimalist Jacket (also available in women’s sizes) makes more sense if the forecast looks wet.

A lightweight puffy, like the Arc’Terxy Atom SL Hoodie (available in women’s sizes), is the final upper body layer. Whether you’re waiting while your hiking partner gears-up in the parking lot, taking in the White Mountains’ fantastic views, or facing a real emergency, a good puffy can be the difference between feeling cozy and being miserable.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Lower Body Layers

When it comes to pants, we keep it pretty simple. A stretchy soft shell is our general go-to, but the exact weight depends on the forecast temperature. If only one pair is in the budget, check out the Marmot Scree—the perfect blend of comfort and durability. Plus, you can add a base layer underneath to adjust their warmth. With June being a fierce bug month, however, the one thing you won’t find us wearing is shorts.

If the weather looks wet, bring along a pair of rain pants, as well. Although the amount of time carrying rain pants far exceeds the time spent actually wearing them, we are always thankful to have them during a heavy rainstorm. Pick something like the EMS Thunderhead for the right amount of lightweight breathability, at a price that won’t break the bank.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Footwear & Trekking Poles

Picking the right footwear is one of the most complicated decisions for spring and early-summer hiking. On some trips, where encountering snow, deep mud, and wet trails is a real possibility, waterproof hiking boots are mandatory. As the snow melts, water crossings get less spicy, and the trails begin to dry, we transition to waterproof trail runners for their lighter weight and ability to provide some protection in muddy, wet conditions. And, as the trails dry further, you’ll find us wearing regular trail runners for the chance to let our feet breathe.

We also carry trekking poles to reduce the strain on our knees and improve balance. Warm-weather hikers will appreciate a pole with either cork or foam handles, like the Black Diamond Trail Pro, as they help absorb moisture from sweaty hands.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Hats & Gloves

With many of the White Mountains rising above treeline, the weather on your favorite summit can be starkly different from what you found in the parking lot. To prepare, we carry a winter hat, as having one can make the difference between enjoying a summit vista or scrambling back down to the trees.

For the same reasons, we also pack a pair of EMS Power Stretch Gloves. In the early spring, we often supplement them with a warmer set of gloves or mittens.

Finally, for sun and bug protection, the venerable trucker cap is a staple of almost every trip. With their mesh backs, truckers vent well, making them ideal for high-exertion activities.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Emergency Gear

When you pack for a day in the mountains, it’s fun to think about summits and good times. But, you should also take a minute to plan for the worst-case scenario. While packing the layers mentioned above checks off some of your essentials, and our guide helps you out with food and hydration, you still need a few more items.

A headlamp, like the powerful and rechargeable Black Diamond ReVolt, is important, just in case the hike is longer than expected. A lightweight bivy can be a lifesaver if someone gets injured and you need to wait for help. As well, a minimalist first aid kit, supplemented with other first aid supplies, helps address trail injuries. Additionally, fire starters, a water purification device like a Sawyer Mini-Filter or purification tablets, and a map and compass (or another navigational device) are all worth the extra weight.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Packs

Although this may seem like a lot of gear, it all fits neatly into a 20- to 30-liter pack. The Black Diamond Speed Series—especially the Speed 22—delivers the space you need in a lightweight, no-frills package. While it may be tempting to bring a larger bag, remember that you’ll end up filling that extra space, resulting in a heavier load, slower times, and maybe a missed summit.

 

Although not every item listed above is essential to hiking a New Hampshire 4,000-footer, having the right combination of layers, equipment, and emergency gear can make your experience safer and more enjoyable—not to mention more efficient. But, the best advice is to get outside and discover what works for you. If you have a key piece of hiking gear, tell us about it in the comments!


The Top 6 Summit Views in the New Hampshire 48

With almost 50 4,000-footers to choose from, picking out just a few with the best views can be as challenging as hiking them. No matter where you hike in the White Mountains, you’re in for a visual treat, but these six take the cake for the most impressive summit views. That is, if you can get up to them.

Easy Hikes

Looking towards Mt. Washington from Pierce. | Credit: Tim Peck
Looking toward Mt. Washington from Pierce. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Pierce

If you are looking for a big view, with a minimal investment in “sweat” equity, try Mount Pierce. It delivers the best view-to-effort ratio among New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers. Beginning from Route 302 in Crawford Notch, a little over three miles of hiking on the gentle (for the Whites) Crawford Path brings you to Mount Pierce’s stunning summit. With its almost 360-degree views, a lot can catch your eye. But, first, you’ll have to avert your gaze from the jaw-dropping perspective of Mount Washington’s southern aspect, the Ammonoosuc Ravine and the Cog Railway.

From Pierce’s summit, you can head back to Crawford Notch. Or, if you’re feeling fit, follow the Crawford Path for an additional 1.2 miles to Mount Eisenhower, another New Hampshire 4,000-footer with fantastic views. From Eisenhower, you can backtrack on Crawford Path or take the Edmands Path to Mount Clinton Road, and then road-walk back to Crawford Notch.

Franconia Ridge from Cannon. | Credit: Doug Martland
Franconia Ridge from Cannon. | Credit: Doug Martland

Cannon Mountain

Another moderate 4,000-footer with great views is Cannon Mountain. Located directly off Route 93, this 4.4-mile round-trip hike up the Hi-Cannon Trail gains approximately 2,000 feet on the way to one of the Whites’ best views.

Once you get to the top, climb the summit tower, and look east for a breathtaking vantage of the iconic Franconia Ridge. On a clear day, you can look past the ridge to see the Presidentials, including Mount Washington. To the south, you can see the Kinsmans and, to the west, the Connecticut River and Vermont’s Green Mountains.

On days when the tram is running, Cannon’s summit gets busy, however. Luckily, the Hi-Cannon Trail has a few great places to sit back and admire the view without the crowds along the way. Plus, you can poke around the summit’s Franconia Ridge side for slides offering solitude and stunning vistas.

 

Moderate Hikes

Franconia Ridge from Garfield. | Credit: Tim Peck
Franconia Ridge from Garfield. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Garfield

Most climb Garfield via the Garfield Trail, which starts at the Garfield Trail parking area off Gale River Loop Road. From the lot, it is five moderate miles to the foundation of an old fire tower on Garfield’s bald summit. From there, you can look out at the entire Pemi-Loop. Here, the distinct peaks of Franconia Ridge extend on your right and Twins and Bonds to your left. In the middle lies Owl’s Head and the eastern half of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. On clear days, don’t forget to look further east towards the Presidentials to find Mount Washington looming on the horizon.

If day-hiking 10 miles feels like too much effort, or if you like to linger, the Garfield Ridge campsite is only 0.2 miles from the summit. Stopping here makes this trip a little more accessible for those looking to step up the effort level or just wanting to take it slow.

Signal Ridge from Carrigan. | Credit: Tim Peck
Signal Ridge from Carrigain. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Carrigain

Another 10-mile out-and-back trip brings you to what many consider to the Whites’ best view, Mount Carrigain. Leaving from the parking lot on Sawyer Pond Road, off Route 302, hikers can follow the Signal Ridge Trail as it slowly gains altitude towards the 4,700-foot summit. As you approach, you’ll gain a ridge that meanders in and out of the trees. In between, a few spots give you a sneak peek of what’s to come. Forge past these appetizers to the main course, the observation tower on Carrigain’s summit.

From the tower, you’ll get an unimpeded view of many of the Whites’ most notable areas. To the northeast, you will see Mount Washington and the mighty Presidential Range with Crawford Notch laid out before it. To the west is a breathtaking view of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Look back toward Signal Ridge to get a great look at the terrain you covered to earn this dramatic view.

Then, after taking in some of the Whites’ hottest vistas, cool off in the numerous pools and eddies found along the river that hugs the Signal Ridge Trail for the first mile.

 

Difficult Hikes

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Bondcliff

If you’re looking to truly “earn” your views, Bondcliff and Madison are strenuous yet rewarding options. Of all the 4,000-footers, Bondcliff might be the best at making you truly feel like you’re in the mountains. With views in every direction and a sheer cliff on one side, it exemplifies the ideal summit. Although none of the hiking up is particularly difficult, there is a lot of it.

From the Lincoln Woods Visitor Information Center, follow the Wilderness Trail to the Bondcliff Trail roughly nine miles to the summit. Standing on the cliff’s side can give you the feeling that you’re on the edge of the world—that is, until you look out. Look to the west to clearly see the eternity of Franconia Ridge. Then, turn your gaze to the right, where the Pemigewasset Wilderness unfolds with the prominent peaks of Mount Bond and West Bond in the foreground and Mount Garfield looming in the background. Turn away from the cliff, and the Pemigewasset Wilderness’ entire western half dominates the landscape.

Mount Washington from Madison. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Washington from Madison. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Madison

For those willing to expend the effort, Mount Madison, located at the end of the Presidential Range, delivers big views after a heavy dose of hiking. While numerous trails lead to the summit, the most common, and perhaps “easiest” way, is to leave from the Appalachia Trailhead parking lot on Route 2. Then, follow the Valley Way Trail to the Madison Hut, before connecting with the Gulfside Trail for just under a half-mile above-treeline push to the top. Despite being under eight miles round trip, this route is rocky, rugged, and gains roughly 3,500 feet in elevation.

The summit delivers a dramatic view of the northern Presidentials and the three tallest 4,000-footers: Mount Jefferson, Mount Adams, and Mount Washington. From here, what’s always striking is the expansiveness and remoteness of the Great Gulf Wilderness—a glacial cirque walled off by the Presidentials’ prominent peaks.

If Mount Adams looks enticingly close, that’s because it is. At a little under a mile and a half away, tagging a second summit is very doable for fit and motivated hikers. For even more of a challenge, the Star Lake Trail, which leaves from Madison Hut, has much better views than Air Line, the normal thruway, and is among our favorite trails in the Whites. Farther down, the AMC’s Madison Hut can turn this long day hike into an enjoyable overnight, or provide the perfect place to stage a summit attempt on Mount Adams.

Honorable Mention

Limiting ourselves to the six “best” summit views forced us to leave several great 4,000-footers off our list. Fantastic cases can be made for others, including Moosilauke, Washington, and Franconia Ridge’s Lincoln and Lafayette. So, whether you agree with us or not, make your case for the Whites’ best views in the comments below.

 


ALPHA GUIDE: The Pemigewasset Loop

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

One of the Northeast’s great backpacking adventures proves that good things don’t come easy.

The Pemi Loop represents the ultimate goal for many New Hampshire peak baggers. It traverses the ridgelines of three different ranges—Franconia, Twin, and Bond—in one epic loop around the western half of the 45,000-acre Pemigewasset Wilderness. With its eight summits and the potential to tick four more via minor detours, the possibility of summiting a quarter of the 48 4,000-footers, all while spending a significant chunk of time in New Hampshire’s largest wilderness area, is a thrilling prospect. More significantly, with huge views, amazing above-treeline stretches, and the reputation for being one of the country’s hardest hikes, the Pemi Loop is a feather in the hiker’s cap and one of New Hampshire’s best, hands down.

 

Quick Facts

Distance: 28-mile loop
Time to complete: 2 to 3 days
Difficulty: ★★★★☆
Scenery: ★★★★★


Season: May through October
Fees/Permits: $3/day for parking at the Lincoln Woods Trailhead
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/whitemountain

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Turn-By-Turn

If you’re coming from Interstate 93, getting to the Lincoln Woods Trailhead is easy. Take exit 32 and follow Route 112, better known as the Kancamagus Highway. After driving through the town of Lincoln and past Loon Mountain, look for the trailhead on your left.

If you’re coming from the North Conway side of the Whites, follow Route 16 to Route 112 (Kancamagus Highway) up and over Kancamagus Pass and past “the hairpin turn” at the Hancock Overlook Parking Area, and the trail will be on your right side.

Credit: Tim Peck
Low on the Osseo Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

The First Climb

Leave the parking lot on the Lincoln Woods Trail, and cross the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River on a suspension bridge. At the end of the bridge, the trail turns right, following an abandoned railroad bed for 1.4 miles to the Osseo Trail (44.082691, -71.581635). At the junction, turn left on the Osseo Trail, and follow the yellow rectangular blazes toward Mount Flume, the route’s first 4,000-footer.

At 4.1 miles long, the Osseo Trail gains elevation moderately for the first few miles before steepening, leading to a series of ladders, and eventually putting you on the Franconia Ridge Trail for a final, short burst to the summit (44.108826, -71.628052). In total, you’ll ascend 3,100 feet on this climb, a significant chunk of the Pemi’s 10,000 feet of overall elevation gain.

Summiting Mount Flume. | Credit: Tim Peck
Summiting Mount Flume. | Credit: Tim Peck

On the Ridge

Before dropping back below treeline on the Franconia Ridge Trail, take a moment on Mt. Flume’s rocky summit to enjoy the view. The Kinsmans, Lincoln, and Interstate 93 are to the south and west. Owl’s Head, the Pemi Wilderness, and the Bonds are to the east. Then, the next step on your itinerary—Franconia Ridge—is to the north. Try not to feel overwhelmed, and just follow the yellow blazes as you start making your way along the 1.5 miles to Mount Liberty’s summit.

The descent off Mt. Flume and across to Mt. Liberty is pretty relaxed. As you near the latter’s summit, you’ll encounter a few moves that require some minor scrambling. While they might briefly slow you down, they also mean you’re getting close to the second 4,000-footer of the day.

Mt. Liberty’s stunning open summit (44.115730, -71.642097) is among the Whites’ best. However, while it’s tempting to linger here to take in the views of Loon Mountain, Cannon, and the Bonds, you still have a long way to go.

Franconia Ridge. | Credit: Tim Peck
Franconia Ridge. | Credit: Tim Peck

Above the Treeline

Next up on the Franconia Ridge Trail are the 1.8 miles to Little Haystack Mountain. To get there, the route drops back below treeline and joins up with the Appalachian Trail at the juncture of the Franconia Ridge and Liberty Springs Trails. Follow the AT’s white dashes as it traverses, culminating in a short, steep climb to the open summit.

On a typical weekend day, the crowds can be intense on top of Little Haystack Mountain (44.140476, -71.645905). So, instead, consider stopping on a rocky outcropping a little south of the actual summit before the juncture of the Franconia Ridge and Falling Waters Trails to take in the view, get a snack, and avoid the masses.

The Franconia Ridge Trail’s 1.7-mile stretch from Little Haystack’s summit to Mt. Lafayette’s is among the White Mountains’ most iconic. It is entirely above treeline, with views in every direction. In two pushes, you’ll cross Mt. Lincoln (44.148682, -71.644707) and Mt. Lafayette (44.160717, -71.644470), the third and fourth 4,000-footers of the day.

Much like Little Haystack’s, Mount Lafayette’s summit is often crowded on a nice weekend day, with hikers doing the Franconia Ridge loop. Since you’ll be heading in a different direction from most after Lafayette, however, follow the Garfield Ridge Trail for a few minutes to find equally great views, without all the crowds. On a clear day, the view to the west, with Garfield in the foreground, followed by the Twins and the Bonds, and then the Presidentials in the distance, is fantastic.

The Garfield Ridge Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Garfield Ridge Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Crux

Although the beginning of the Garfield Ridge Trail closely resembles the Franconia Ridge Trail’s best stretches, this 3.7-mile section is the crux of the Pemi Loop’s first half. Dropping sharply before steeply climbing back up towards Mt. Garfield’s summit, the trail is rough, and the elevation change is dramatic. Moreover, at this point, the miles are starting to add up—more than 13 so far—and you might be running low on water. Garfield Pond (44.187107, -71.619034), on your left just before the trail starts heading up again on the final climb to Garfield’s summit, is the first on-route location since leaving Lincoln Woods to refill bottles.

Once you’ve made it to Mount Garfield (44.187298, -71.610764), pause on the open, rocky summit to savor your fifth 4,000-footer of the day in the company of great views in every direction. Look right to admire your traverse across the entire Franconia Ridge. Then, look left to see how much farther you’ve left to go, with the Twins and Bonds before you. Turn around to admire the Pemi’s far edges and, on a clear day, to see all the way to Stowe, Vermont.

Garfield Leanto. | Credit: Tim Peck
Garfield Lean-to. | Credit: Tim Peck

Call it a Night

From Garfield’s summit, continue following the Garfield Ridge Trail downhill for a short distance to the spur trail for the Garfield Shelter—a three-sided wooden lean-to—and tent site (44.190086, -71.607002) at mile 14.3. For backpackers planning on doing the Pemi Loop over three days, this is the logical place to spend the first night ($10 per person a night). The area is managed by the Appalachian Mountain Club, and space is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. However, it tends to fill up on prime hiking weekends.

Even if you’re not staying at the Garfield Shelter, consider filling your water bottles at the spring located at the spur trail’s junction. It is one of the easiest and best water sources on the whole Pemi Loop.

If you’re planning on completing the loop in just two days, we recommend pushing on toward Galehead Hut (44.187927, -71.568810), which is just under three more rugged miles from Garfield’s summit. Also managed by the AMC, this hut is a great option if you’re looking to go light. Although the hut is a more expensive overnight option, during prime hiking season, it comes with a multi-course dinner the night you arrive and a hearty breakfast the next morning. The food is top-notch. ($113 per night; make reservations in advance). It also has the only real bathroom you’ll see on the trip.

If camping is your preference, the route to Galehead Hut also has a handful of places that meet the White Mountains’ rules and restrictions to pitch a tent (no camping within a quarter mile of any trailhead, hut, or shelter). Don’t camp directly on the trail!

Galehead Hut from an overlook above it. | Credit: Tim Peck
Galehead Hut from an overlook above it. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Halfway Point

Regardless of where you end up staying, Galehead Hut is the trip’s halfway point and near Galehead’s summit. To get there from the hut, follow the Galehead Spur Trail 0.4 miles. The round trip is quite moderate, especially compared to what you’ve been doing. While the summit (44.185150, -71.573586) is surrounded by trees and has no views, near the top, a great overlook offers a spectacular view of the Pemi Wilderness, the Bonds, and Galehead Hut at South Twin’s western base.

The spur trail to North Twin. | Credit: Tim Peck
The spur trail to North Twin. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Twinway

From Galehead Hut, follow the Twinway 0.8 miles to South Twin’s summit (44.187832, -71.554558), the loop’s seventh 4,000-footer. Don’t be lulled by the short mileage, however. This is the loop’s hardest ascent, and is slow-going, thanks to the elevation gain (1,200 feet) and the trail’s roughness. After a day of being above treeline, you’re about to hit some wooded summits. So, take a moment to enjoy the view from South Twin before pushing on.

If you’re doing the “full” Pemi, leave your pack just off South Twin’s summit, and take the North Twin Spur Trail, a 2.6-mile round-trip hike with 750 feet of elevation gain to the summit of North Twin (44.202591, -71.557816), your eighth 4,000-footer. The traverse to North Twin is fairly moderate, with a couple of rocky steps on the final climb. Once you get there, take a picture at the summit cairn, appreciate the lack of view, and backtrack to South Twin.

Once back on South Twin, follow the Twinway roughly two miles to the trail junction near Mount Guyot (44.168594, -71.535614). Still feeling ambitious? If so, drop your pack, and continue along the Twinway for 1.3 relatively easy miles (2.6 round trip) to Zealand Mountain’s summit and “bag” the journey’s ninth 4,000-footer. Just don’t go to Zealand expecting a sight, as it’s in contention for some of the Whites’ most uneventful summit views.

The Bondcliff Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Bondcliff Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Bonds

If Zealand isn’t in the cards for you, take the Bondcliff Trail at the Guyot junction. From the junction, the trail is briefly above treeline, with fantastic views east into the Pemi, before dropping you at the spur trail for the Guyot Campsite (44.161049, -71.537468).

Guyot Campsite has a shelter, six four-person tent platforms, and a composting toilet. At 0.2 miles from the trailhead, Guyot is the logical second night for backpackers hiking the Pemi Loop as a three-day trip ($10 per person a night, first-come, first-served). Its spring, which is a little ways down the spur trail, is also a reliable place to find water.

From the Guyot Campsite junction, continue on the Bondcliff Trail a short way to the West Bond Spur Trail (44.158905, -71.537270). This is the “must-do” of the optional summits, and perhaps the hike’s best, because you really feel like you’re in the middle of the 45,000-acre Pemi Wilderness. So, drop your pack and make this one-mile round-trip side hike. Ascending a mere 350 feet, West Bond (44.154804, -71.543610) gets you the tenth 4,000-footer of the Pemi Loop. From the summit, you can’t see a road or any signs of civilization, no matter which direction you look.

Climbing near Guyot. | Credit: Tim Peck
Climbing near Guyot. | Credit: Tim Peck

Back on the Bondcliff Trail, follow it uphill, mainly through the trees, for 0.5 miles before poking above treeline on Mount Bond’s summit (44.152889, -71.531250), the trip’s eleventh 4,000-footer. From Bond’s summit, you get a great view of what lies ahead, as the Bondcliff Trail winds towards the sheer walls of Bondcliff.

Bondcliff

Before leaving Mount Bond’s summit, get a hat, gloves, and windshirt ready. While the 1.2 miles between Mount Bond and Bondcliff are quite scenic (and among the Whites’ most beautiful), they are also either at or above treeline, leaving you exposed to wind and weather. Feeling warm and comfortable will allow you to enjoy the excellent views from the Bondcliff Trail as you approach the loop’s final summit, Bondcliff. No matter if you’re starting to get anxious for the hike to be over, or you don’t want the fun to stop, the numerous false summits on the way to the top can play mind games with even the most resilient of hikers.

On Bondcliff (44.140419, -71.541260), savor the loop’s last summit—number 12—and one of the 48 4,000-footers’ most unique. Aptly named, Bondcliff features sheer cliffs, which make for incredible photos. From the summit, look back, and think about how far you have come, as the entirety of your trip is visible, from Flume to Bond.

Descending the Bondcliff Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
Descending the Bondcliff Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

Homestretch

You would think that, with the last summit out of the way, the rest would be easy, but sadly, it isn’t so. From Bondcliff, you’ve got a lengthy 6.2-mile trek along the Bondcliff Trail back to the Lincoln Woods Trail. There is usually water to be found in the streams along your descent, and if you find yourself running low, it might be a good time to fill up. While the rest is either downhill or on flat ground, it takes a deceptively long time.

The end of the Bondcliff Trail brings you to the Lincoln Woods Trail, the same route on which you started. From here, it’s 2.9 miles along an abandoned railroad. While your legs will enjoy the flat ground, the old ties can interrupt your stride enough to make this last bit harder than it need be. After 2.9 miles on the Lincoln Woods Trail, look for the suspension bridge where this crazy journey began.


The Kit

  • A Sawyer Mini Filter is a small investment for having easy access to potable drinking water.
  • If you’re looking to go lightweight and keep your pack as small as possible, the minuscule yet comfortable Sea to Summit Ultralight Sleeping Pad is a must have.
  • The old adage of “light is right” applies particularly to objectives like the Pemi Loop. The simple and cleanly designed Black Diamond Speed 50 has just enough space for everything you need with no room for “extras,” keeping your kit pared down and you moving fast.
  • After a full day on the trail, you’ll be ready to eat anything, but the last thing you’ll want to do is fiddle with a stove. The MSR Reactor is lightweight, packable, virtually unaffected by temperatures, and boils water quickly. And, don’t forget to pack a lighter.
  • A sun shirt like the Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody is a perfect choice for hikes like the Pemi Loop, with extended, sun-exposed sections above the treeline. Quickly becoming a staple of our summer hiking kits, sun shirts provide simple UV protection, reduce the need for sunscreen and bug dope, and help keep you feeling fresh.
  • A UV Buff is another excellent addition to any Pemi Loop gear list. It provides protection from the sun and wind on exposed ridges, and can double as a bandage in an emergency.

On the Bondcliff Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
On the Bondcliff Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • The Pemi Loop is committing and bailing off it can be difficult if you only have one car. From both Garfield and Galehead, it’s possible to drop down to Thirteen Falls in the middle of the Pemi, and hike back to the Lincoln Woods Trail via the Franconia Brook Trail. That trail is another former railroad bed, so it is easygoing for the 10-plus miles back to your car.
  • Although the Pemi Loop is an awesome goal and great accomplishment, you don’t have to do the whole thing in one go. Break it in two by using the Franconia Brook Trail.
  • While it’s tempting to soak in the numerous incredible summit views, those doing the hike in two days will want to keep their breaks short, as the days are long to begin with.
  • You’ll pass numerous streams on the Bondcliff Trail’s final descent and the East Pemigewasset River on the Wilderness Trail. Those ahead of schedule will love the chance to dip their feet in the cool, refreshing water.
  • Although the Wilderness Trail can be the trip’s most tedious part, spend it marveling that it was once part of the White Mountains’ largest logging railroad system.
  • We love Wayne’s Market in Woodstock for post-hike sandwiches. Pro tip: Call your order in at (603) 745-8819 as soon as you get cell service, so it’ll be ready and waiting for you.
  • If you’ve spent a couple of hot days on the trail, Lady’s Bathtub in Lincoln and Crystal Cascade in Woodstock are great places to take a dip.

Current Conditions

Have you done the entire loop or even a piece of it recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!

Header photo credit: Jeff Pang


Staying Fueled Up On Long Hikes

Staying fueled up for a hike requires much more than just taking enough snacks. Rather, it’s something that starts before you even leave your house and doesn’t end until you’re back safe, completely refueled from all that exercise.

Eating before you’re hungry and drinking before you’re thirsty are important parts of keeping your energy up while you’re climbing hard, but that can mean several different things. While there’s no 100-percent “right” way, a few key principles will keep you feeling strong, even on your longest days.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Before the Hike

The first key to fueling your quest begins before you leave. If you’re like most people and have a long drive to the trailhead, use that time to get a jump on the day’s calories and hydration. If you have an unusually long day ahead, you might want to start even before you get into the car with something simple, like oatmeal, cereal, or a bagel.

Depending on how far you have to travel, your arrival at the trailhead might be closer to lunch than breakfast. Whether it’s a breakfast sandwich from the local coffee shop, a pastry (or two), the classic peanut butter and jelly, or even leftover pizza, get something in your stomach, and give it a chance to digest before pulling into the trailhead parking lot. Remember that it’s significantly lighter and easier to leave the trailhead with a full stomach and a bottle of water in your belly, instead of carrying them in your pack.

It’s also worth noting that if you have to drink coffee in the morning, caffeine—in addition to being a performance enhancer—is a diuretic. Although coffee is perfect for getting to the trailhead, it also leaves you slightly dehydrated, so plan accordingly.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

During the Hike

What to Eat

While you hike, a good rule of thumb is to consume between 100 and 150 calories per hour. For fast-paced activities, energy bars and gels are a great way to get the calories you need while on the go. When a fast pace intersects with a long distance, however, something simple, like peanut butter and jelly, honey, or Nutella sandwiches, is a great way to celebrate a summit (or break) and provides an excellent “real food” alternative to supplement bars, gels, and chews.

For more moderate-paced outings, “real” food is the way to go. While the more traditional among us will reach for either store-bought or homemade GORP, cookies, Goldfish, and tortilla chips are all hiking favorites as well. Also, sandwiches, leftover pizza, and quesadillas all pack easily and will make you the envy of your fellow hikers. The thing to remember here is that personal preferences vary, and you should bring food that you will actually want to eat—not have to force down.

Lastly, it’s a good idea to pack some extra food in case of an emergency. Stash a couple of highly caffeinated gels in your pack, just in case somebody bonks. There’s one in every group, and these always seem to work to get them up and moving again.

What to Drink

When it comes to staying hydrated on hikes that just take a few hours, one 32-ounce bottle will suffice. For hikes longer than 10 miles, trail runs, and traverses, two 32-ounce bottles or a two-liter hydration bladder does the trick. If it’s really hot out or the distance is huge, you can always add a bike bottle. Using a GU or Nuun hydration tab in your bottles not only adds a little taste but also helps replace electrolytes lost primarily through sweat. For longer outings, it can be nice to carry an extra hydration tab if you’ll be refilling at a stream or hut.

For the “camels” among us (and the coffee drinkers who arrive a little dehydrated), moving from a traditional 32-ounce bottle to a Nalgene Silo is an easy way to pack a bit more liquid without a significant weight penalty. Another thing to consider is the use of bottles versus a hydration bladder. Although a hydration bladder is incredibly convenient, it’s easier to keep tabs on how much you’re drinking during the day using bottles.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

After the Hike

No matter if you brought a full-course meal or subsisted off gels, there is something special about eating when you come back from the mountains. It also helps your recovery to have a meal 30 to 45 minutes after you finish hiking. Moreover, after a long day along the trails, you’re usually ready for something more substantial than the typical hiking fare.

The key here is to start replacing all of the calories you burned over the course of the day. A simple way to ensure you’re getting enough is to pack a post-hike meal to have at the campsite or on the car ride home. Did you plan a last-minute trip or didn’t think that far ahead? No worries—just head out to eat. But, beware: It’s amazing how much you can spend on the “value” menu after a long day in the mountains.

 

 

 

 


A Guide to Trail Running Shoes: Basic Types & Characteristics

In theory, trail running should be one of the simplest sports to understand: Find a nice stretch, lace up your sneakers, and go. However, as the sport has matured, the idea of what constitutes trail running has shifted. In response, the shoes have evolved to accommodate everything from running technique to terrain.

Because of this, shopping for the “right” trail runner can be a daunting task. Deciphering the various classifications and their meanings is essentially akin to learning a new language. And, while I wouldn’t let the lack of the “right” pair keep you from speeding along some dreamy singletrack, having the proper shoes keeps your feet happy, maximizes your performance, and maybe even helps prevent injuries.

The Basics

Trying to categorize trail runners is pretty difficult, as the industry doesn’t have any specific criteria. Further complicating matters, as trail runners adapt to athletes’ growing needs, several characteristics overlap between categories. As such, for many, personal preference dictates use.

For lack of a better system, the heel-toe drop classifies each type. This simple measurement indicates the difference between the height of the heel and the toe box, creating a spectrum that runs from barely-there minimalist shoes, such as the Merrell Vapor Glove, to cloud-like maximalist types, like the Hoka One One Speedgoat.

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Barefoot

A zero heel-toe drop, no arch support, no cushioning, and a wide toe box identify barefoot trail runners. Outdoors, this basic design offers your feet slight protection from common hazards like thorns and sharp rocks. In other words, they’re only slightly better than actually being barefoot.

The philosophy behind barefoot shoes is, over the last hundred-thousand years or so, the human body evolved to run without big, supportive footwear. Barefoot runners argue that today’s traditional running shoes have altered the way we move—by encouraging landing on our heels instead of on our toes. As a result, those in this camp have turned to shoes like the Vibram FiveFingers Classic Multisport.

Barefoot runners additionally believe that this biomechanical shift in stride has not only made us less efficient, but has also increased our injury risks. Those using this technique will tell you that the lack of a thick, protective sole and a layer of cushioning between them and the ground makes them feel more connected to the trail. In turn, the design supposedly results in more comfort when you run technical terrain.

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Minimalist

Minimalist shoes are often referred to as, and are mistaken for, barefoot shoes. This confusion exemplifies why, in recent years, classifying trail runners has become convoluted. The dividing line is, people who like the idea of barefoot running but want more support and cushioning opt for a minimalist pair.

These shoes commonly feature some heel-toe drop, but the ramp (or drop between the heel and toe) is, well, minimal. As well, they combine the feeling of a barefoot shoe with some of the more traditional features. Like barefoot trail runners, minimalist styles encourage landing on the forefoot rather than the heels.

Minimalist shoes, such as the La Sportiva Helios 2.0, are perfect for East Coast trail runners who are looking to find their natural stride but are concerned about the trails’ many obstacles. Specifically, a more protective sole and a small amount of cushioning can be a welcome barrier against sharp rocks, pointy acorns, and rough roots.

Although I am not a minimalist devotee, I love these shoes for short runs on moderate terrain when I’m trying to be fast. Sadly, being a bigger person and not the smoothest of striders, I have to ditch my pair for longer distance runs.

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Traditional

Traditional trail runners constitute the majority of the shoes at your local Eastern Mountain Sports. As the name implies, these are constructed in a similar manner to those you’ve been wearing your entire life. These types, like the La Sportiva Wildcat 3.0 (one of my all-time favorites), have more padding in the heel than in the forefoot, which creates a noticeable ramp and encourages a heel-first stride.

Perhaps the best case I can make for traditional trail runners is, to quote the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Many of us, myself included, have been running without issue in this type since our first steps, and changing shoes, along with technique, could be inviting disaster.

Because of this, I log most of my miles in traditional trail runners. Although barefoot and minimalist runners may feel more connected, I have found that, thanks to the additional cushioning, I can run over objects they have to avoid.

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Maximalist

Differing from the three aforementioned categories, maximalist shoes don’t emphasize heel-toe drop. Rather, they shift the focus to cushioning. Here, the incredible amount of material between the sole and footbed clearly identifies this style. Just check out the Hoka One One Speedgoat to see what I mean.

If the idea of bounding down mountain trails while feeling like you’re hopping along clouds is appealing, these shoes might be for you. Maximalist trail runners believe that the additional cushioning is easier on their joints and reduces fatigue, helping to prevent injuries and keep them running longer.

The negative, however, can be a loss of ground-feel. And, in my experience, the additional height may reduce your control when you’re running technical trails or steep downhills.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Other Considerations

Of course, this is just a simple breakdown of today’s trail running options. You still need to consider a handful of other factors when picking your next pair, such as:

Waterproofing

In my experience, a non-waterproof trail runner is ideal for about 90 percent of my journeys. They’re cooler, allow your feet to breathe better, and dry quickly when they get wet. The only time I choose a waterproof model, like the Brooks Cascadia 11 GTX (the waterproof version of an all-time favorite), is for colder runs in early spring and late fall.

Tread

When thinking about the type of tread you need, keep in mind a few things. Most importantly, have a clear picture of which type of trail running you envision yourself doing.

For instance, runners striving for the mountains will want a shoe like the Salomon Speedcross 4, a style with a more aggressive tread and deeper lugs. On the other hand, people who might be running some roads on the way or who plan to do less-technical terrain like rail trails will find a less-aggressive tread, such as those on the Salomon X-Mission 3, is ideal.

Foam or Rock Plate

Most trail running shoes, barefoot runners excluded, offer some protection against hazards by incorporating foam or a rock plate into the midsole. Those that use the former as a means of protection benefit from more cushioning and shock absorption, while trail runners utilizing a rock plate have better trail feel and more precise foot placement.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

While finding a type of shoe can be daunting, know that the only wrong choice is not getting off the road and onto the trail for your next run. Over the years, I have experimented with all kinds of trail runners, and even though I’ve settled on a traditional pair, I still incorporate minimalist shoes to work on my stride and exercise under-used muscles. And, I think about buying a pair of Hokas every shift I work.


Beyond 48: The Northeast's Hardest Hiking Checklists

For many people, just getting to the top of a New Hampshire 4,000-footer is a big accomplishment. For others, summiting all 48 of the state’s 4,000-footers is the ultimate goal and a sign that you’ve “made it” as a New England hiker.

But, for a select few, the White Mountains and New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers get in your blood. So, the idea of stopping at just 48 seems ludicrous. For these people, they move on to tackling more challenging ways to summit the New Hampshire 48, whether by linking them, attempting them in different seasons, or exploring them by different trails.

The view from the Southern Presidentials. | Credit: Sean Greaney
The view from the Southern Presidentials. | Credit: Sean Greaney

The Big Hikes

In many cases, hiking your first 4,000-footer involves getting out of your comfort zone, accepting a new physical challenge, and returning to your car with a blend of jubilation and exhaustion. Perhaps it’s the desire to recreate this feeling that leads some to move on from the 48 summits to the White Mountains’ classic long, hard hikes.

Presidential Traverse

The most notable, the 18-plus mile Presidential Traverse climbs over 8,500 feet while summiting seven New Hampshire 4,000-footers. For planning out your journey, this includes Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, and Pierce. Some ambitious hikers even continue the extra couple of miles to tag the summit of Mount Jackson.

Carter-Moriah-Wildcat Traverse

Although the Presidential Traverse gets most of the attention and has more climbing, many insist that a Carter-Moriah-Wildcat Traverse is more difficult. Helping it earn this reputation, its steep rock trails and 7,200 feet of climbing take you over six 4,000-foot summits. Here, that list covers Moriah, South Carter, Middle Carter, Carter Dome, Wildcat A, and Wildcat D. However, losing the majority of the elevation previously gained and having to reclaim it near the middle at Carter Notch really make the Carter-Moriah-Wildcat Traverse feel difficult.

Pemi Loop

While traverses are great, sometimes you want to go big but only have access to one car. Here is where the Pemi Loop rules. The route, as you may know, combines two of the White Mountains’ classic traverses—Franconia Ridge and the Bonds—into what Backpacker Magazine has labeled the country’s second-hardest day-hike.

Covering over 30 miles and 9,000 feet of elevation gain, this legendary loop hike tags the summits of nine New Hampshire 4,000-footers. This time, you’ll reach Flume, Liberty, Lincoln, Lafayette, Garfield, South Twin, West Bond, Bond, and Bondcliff. The truly ambitious and fit will then add the summits of Galehead, Zealand, and North Twin for an almost 40-mile day that summits 12 peaks.

Credit: Hannah Wohltmann
Credit: Hannah Wohltmann

Gridding

Although the big hikes present equally large challenges, they can all feasibly be done in a day. For those looking for a longer-term commitment, on the other hand, you can attempt “gridding.” Gridding is defined as hiking every New Hampshire 4,000-footer in every month of the year. These journeys amount to a grand total of 576 summits and appeal to those of us who love checking boxes off our lists.

Until this January, completing the grid was considered a multi-year objective—that is, until Sue Johnston of Littleton, NH, became the first person to do it in a calendar year. And, according to the definitive website for gridders, 48×12.com, only 70 people have completed the whole shebang.

Named for the 48 x 12 spreadsheet used to document ascents, gridding adds the challenge of facing each and every mountain in all possible conditions. That covers the snow and ice of winter to the mud of spring to the heat and humidity of summer to the treacherous leaves of fall.

Credit: Jeff Jacobsen
Credit: Jeff Jacobsen

Red-Lining

If the idea of gridding sounds overly ambitious to you, red-lining will sound downright crazy. While hiking the New Hampshire 48 and gridding revolve around summiting the White Mountains’ highest peaks, red-liners seek to hike every mile of every trail, including viewpoints, campsites, and spur trails (approximately 1,420 miles) found in the AMC White Mountain Guide.

If that sounds like a lot of mileage, take into consideration that many of the trails are out-and-backs or crisscross with others. Typically, this forces red-liners to hike far more miles than just the 1,420 miles required.

Named after the act of highlighting completed trail sections, red-lining is most frequently done over multiple years. What’s truly incredible about it is, considering its relative closeness to major metropolitan areas and hiking’s surging popularity, only 35 people have finished the endeavor. One includes EMS customer Bill Robichaud, who we featured back in 2015:

Redlining the White Mountains

While summiting all 4,000-footers is an incredible accomplishment, you don’t have to stop there! New Hampshire’s White Mountains can be explored and experienced in so many different ways. Whether you want to repeat your favorites, tackle the hardest, grid, red-line, or invent some new way to keep the challenge alive, just remember that the 48th summit doesn’t have to be your last.


Tuned Up: Your Spring Mountain Bike Walk-Around

If you’re like me, sometime over the next few weeks, you’ll be digging your mountain bike out of the basement, garage, or shed and hitting the trails for the first time since last fall. If you’re also like me, the last time you thought about your mountain bike was when you rode it way back in October or November.

Whether it’s the shorter days, the impending stoke of skiing, or just the fact that the seasons change too quickly, I seemingly never take the time or care to go through my bike before winter. Although it’s tempting to just dig your bike out of storage and go for a rip, a few simple actions before heading out on that first ride can set you up for a great season while preventing a lot of aggravation.

Credit: Mark Turner
Credit: Mark Turner

Clean Up Your Act

The first thing to consider is some spring cleaning. Whether you buried your mud-covered bike in the back of the basement or gave it a good scrub before the off-season, a thorough washing now lets you start with a clean slate and makes the following steps significantly easier.

Cleaning your bike is pretty simple and can easily be done in the driveway or backyard. All you need is a hose, a stiff-bristled brush for components like cassettes and chains, a soft-bristled brush or sponge for your bike’s frame, and some dish detergent or bike wash.

One thing to remember when using a hose on your bike is, you want to avoid anything high pressure. Especially in sensitive areas like the headset, bottom bracket, and hubs, think gentle rain—not a fire hose. The great thing about washing your bike is that it’s the perfect activity for those first warm days of spring. You get psyched to ride as you wait for the end of mud season.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Get On a Roll

With your bike clean, now is the time to start visually inspecting it. A great place to begin is the tires. How is the tread? Is there much left? What about the knobs? Are they peeling off? While there is no “penny test” for mountain bike tires, a good rule of thumb is that if you’re questioning how much life they have left in them, it’s probably time for a new set.

After checking the tread, inspect them for any signs of damage. Make sure there are no small holes in the tread and no embedded objects. After that, go over the tires’ sidewalls to check for cuts and tears. Keep in mind that a damaged tire is never going to get any better, and nothing kills early-season stoke more than being plagued by flats. If you’re running tubeless tires, add in some of your favorite sealant before heading out.

Oh, and one more thing—don’t forget to inflate your tires before hitting the trail!

With your tires all set, give your rims a closer look to check for any dings or dents. Next, elevate the bike, and spin its wheels to make sure they don’t wobble.

As well, check the spokes to ensure none are loose. Wobbling and loose spokes mean your wheels need to be trued. If you don’t have a truing stand at home, bring your wheels to the shop before your first ride to prevent an unfortunate tacoing situation.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Don’t Stop Now

Before tackling the season’s first gnarly descent, first make sure your bike will stop. Most mountain bikes today are running disc brakes. These give pretty obvious cues when they need work, as, if they are out of alignment, they will make a scraping sound when the wheel spins. The silent enemy of many hydraulic disc brakes, however, is air building up in the fluid. While you can find a bunch of great resources online for bleeding your own brakes, the only thing I’ve ever accomplished by trying to do it is getting frustrated. Bring it to a pro—they get paid to be annoyed.

Now you’re ready to roll-check your bike’s brake pads. To do that, simply remove the wheel, and give them a look. Most pads start with 3 to 4mm of compound on them and should be replaced when they get to 1mm. Don’t feel like measuring? Take a peek at what new pads look like the next time you visit the bike shop to drool over your dream rig. If your pads have less than half of what you see on the new ones, replace them, and be amazed at how much better your bike stops.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Get Crankin’

Nothing sucks the joy out of getting back on your bike more than shifting issues. Before heading out on your first ride, examine the teeth on your cassette and chainrings to ensure none are bent or missing. Next, shift through the gears. Unless you shift, you shouldn’t hear any popping or skipping between cogs.

While you’re looking over the drivetrain, you should also check your chain length. If it’s stretched out, replace it. Remember, waiting to replace wearing drivetrain parts can be expensive, as a single worn part can accelerate the wear of other components. Also, nothing is more deflating than when a snapped chain has you mountain hiking instead of mountain biking.

With everything still clean, be sure to lube up the drivetrain before your first ride.

Credit: Mark Turner
Credit: Mark Turner

Suspension

You paid good money for your bike’s suspension, so make sure it’s in working order before you hit the trail. While much of your bike’s suspension requires an expert’s hand, a simple examination of your fork and shock seals (if you’re riding a full-suspension bike) can save you a lot of hassle down the road. If the seals either look to be dry and cracking or have fluid buildup, it’s probably time to get your suspension serviced.

If you’re riding a full-suspension mountain bike, having all of the bushings greased and tightened is good preventative maintenance. Doing this now is an easy way to avoid excessive wear and expensive fixes later. Sadly, this can be a complicated job, and is most easily left to your local bike shop. With the bushings ready for a season of abuse, set the sag, and be ready to roll.

Don’t Forget To Accessorize

Did you take an epic fall last season? Before heading out, scrutinize your helmet’s condition. If it’s had any significant impacts or any cracks, it’s time for a new one. Helmet technology seems to improve every year, allowing them to vent better while providing more protection. These days, you can get a helmet with MIPS technology, which reduces the impact to your brain in the event of an accident, for under a hundred dollars.

The type of person who discovers their bike still covered in last season’s mud is the same kind of person who will find their hydration bladder with water still in it. Surprise—you’re growing something! Even if you did clean and dry your bladder before storing it, I like to pop a cleaning tablet in to make sure I am starting from a good place.

Since you have your hydration bag out, clean all of last season’s empty gel packets and energy bar wrappers out of it. Once you take out all of the junk, make sure your pack has a spare tube, a pump or CO2 inflator, a chain master link, a multitool, and a small first aid kit.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Let Us Do It

If you like riding more than working on your bike, or simply don’t feel comfortable doing everything yourself, bring it to one of EMS’ fantastic bike techs, and let them get you ready for the season! Just remember: You’re not the only one digging a bike out from behind a pile of skis, snowboards, and snowshoes this spring. So, the sooner you get your bike in the shop, the quicker it’ll be ready to hit the trail.

 

Of course, you could do what I’ve done for the majority of my mountain-biking life and just pull your bike out and ride it. But, that has never worked out particularly well for me. It’s amazing how spending just a few hours on maintenance before the season can save you hours of aggravation—and perhaps even add days of riding.


Heavenly Pants: Three Scenarios for the PrAna Stretch Zions

Whether you’re meeting friends at the crag or that special someone for coffee, the Prana Stretch Zion Pants deliver the performance needed for outdoor pursuits, along with the look for fashionably navigating everyday life. Because of their versatility, the PrAna Zions have become a staple of many outdoorsy men’s and women’s wardrobes over the years. But, out of all possibilities, there are a few ideal scenarios to have these rugged pants on you.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Scenario One: The Lunch Lady

Most days at lunch, you escape your desk to stroll around the wooded trails surrounding your office building, trying to squeeze a little bit of nature into your sedentary work life. A few weeks ago, you were shocked to discover a proud boulder with a steep face standing alone in the forest not far from your office. Upon closer inspection, the face appeared to have enough holds to make it climbable, even if the slopey top out looked a little sketchy. Since discovering “the office boulder,” you’ve haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.

Over the last week, your lunchtime walks have turned into bouldering sessions, as you work the moves on what you’ve started calling The Lunch Lady. Although the PrAna Stretch Zion Pants haven’t helped you send yet, their good looks have fit right in around the office, while their stretchy material has allowed you to spend your breaks with The Lunch Lady without having to change between work and play.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Scenario Two: Hiking for Answers

This project at work is killing you. You’ve been stuck in the same spot all week, and you still haven’t made a breakthrough. It seems your best ideas come when you’re the farthest from your computer. Tomorrow, you’re going to hike before work.

It’s still dark outside when the alarm goes off. “There’s nothing like an alpine start to a work day,” you think to yourself as you pull on your PrAna Stretch Zion pants. You begin your hike as the sun rises and the morning’s cold darkness begins to ebb. You’re thankful you wore your Prana Zion Pants as you’re pushing pretty hard to make it to the office on time, and their breathable fabric is helping you stay comfortable in the warming air.

Descending to the car, it hits you: the key to your project! You’re so excited when you get to work, you forget to even change out of your hiking clothes. Not only did nobody notice, but instead, everyone has complimented you on how good you look today.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Scenario Three: Trying Without Trying

Everyone is meeting at the climbing gym this Thursday night and then heading out for drinks…including her. You’ve liked her for a while, and this might be your best chance to impress her with your skill on the walls and your banter at the bar. But, you don’t want her to think you’re trying too hard, either.

You walk into the climbing gym, wearing the same PrAna Zions you graced at the office, and pull your harness on over them. Of course, you did roll up and snap the pants’ legs, hoping she’ll notice your footwork on the wall. So far, so good: You’ve styled most of the routes you’ve been on, and thanks to the Zion’s abrasion-resistant material, you look no worse for wear. You’re sure she’s impressed, but you can’t let her know you’re trying, either. Removing your harness, you notice your pants still look great, so you play it cool, leaving for the bar in what you climbed in and knowing that, worst-case scenario, if she throws a drink at you, at least your Zions are water resistant.

 

From the outdoors to the office, the classroom to the crag, or the boulders to the bar, the PrAna Zion Pants will get you there in style.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Bouldering in the Ocean State: Lincoln Woods

To all but the locals, referring to Rhode Island as a climbing destination sounds like a joke. Even some struggle to believe that the nation’s smallest state is also home to some of the region’s best bouldering at Lincoln Woods (or, more simply, “The Woods”). In fact, some climbers even struggle to know where Rhode Island is.

I have two friends from the Ocean State who crisscrossed the U.S. on a climbing trip and claim they were treated like celebrities everywhere from the Red River Gorge in Kentucky to Bishop, California. Why? Because no one had ever met someone from Rhode Island. The most common thing they heard on their trip was, “Rhode Island…That’s near Cape Cod. Right?”

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Southern New England’s Secret

Perhaps it’s for the best that the rest of the country hasn’t learned of The Woods’ high-quality granite blocks. After all, it’s located just minutes outside of Providence, an hour from Boston, and an hour and a half from Hartford, making it an easy day trip for many in the Northeast’s major metropolitan areas.

Also, with a plenitude of moderate problems, The Woods is an attractive destination for groups of mixed abilities. Weekends here can get a little crazy, but don’t worry. There are plenty of problems to go around and solitude can be easily found by visiting the more out-of-the-way boulders. Be warned, though: To me, many of these challenges felt hard for their grade.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Why It’s Popular

Like its proximity to the area’s big cities, The Woods’ bouldering logistics are also incredibly convenient. Unlike many New England crags, The Woods has an abundance of parking, with multiple lots to service the diverse user groups frequenting the park. In all my years going here, I have never struggled to find a spot for my car.

Furthermore, a paved road loops around the park and comes within a short distance of many of The Woods’ classic boulders, making navigation a breeze and climbing typically only a short walk away. Additionally, many of its quality sites are adjacent to each other, allowing climbers to hop from boulder to boulder with relative ease. 

For me, once snow’s on the ground, I gravitate from climbing shoes to ski boots. However, at Lincoln Woods, you can find something to climb year-round. Some boulders sit in the shade or frequently get a cooling wind, making for comfortable climbing on the warm days of spring and summer. And, for the cold days of late fall and winter, plenty sit in the sun or reside in spots that seem to hold warm air.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

So Much to Do

Many will spend years just trying to visit all of the park’s boulders, never mind send every problem. But, for your next visit, consider checking out some of The Woods’ can’t-miss spots at least once and trying some of its must-do problems. Here’s a look at some of its more popular areas, all within an easy walk from your car. And, the best part is, all of these spots are about a five-minute walk from one another, so try them all!

The Great Slab/Wave

A short walk down the road from the park’s main entrance and around the pond brings you to The Great Slab/Wave, considered one of The Woods’ most iconic problems. Depending on who you talk to or where you get your beta, this popular boulder is either called The Great Slab, after the imposing slab you see from the road, or The Wave, after the boulder’s most notorious problem.

Climbing The Wave (V2) is a rite of passage for Lincoln Woods boulderers and should not be missed. Like the many problems here, don’t let its moderate grade fool you. The Wave is hard and combines a wide variety of climbing styles, forcing you into steep terrain and requiring you to use everything from slopers to cracks.

The Ship’s Prow

If the leaves are off the trees, you can see the Ship’s Prow from The Wave, as it’s just across a well-used dirt path. An extremely popular boulder, the Ship’s Prow sees a great deal of traffic, thanks to its proliferation of easy-to-moderate climbs and confidence-inspiring flat landings. It’s not uncommon to find a group of beginners projecting here, next to hardcore climbers warming up.

Although this spot is home to multiple fun problems, the Ship’s Prow Traverse (V1) is the area’s must-do route. You’ll find that it traverses roughly half of the boulder before topping out at the rock’s highest point.

The Iron Cross Boulder

If you look left, across from the pond as you approach The Wave, you’ll see a few boulders scattered up the hill. Following a well-established path, head up the hill to three of The Woods’ most notorious boulders.

On the far right is the the Iron Cross Boulder. Much like The Wave, this boulder gets its name from its most notable problem, The Iron Cross (V4)—which itself is known for a signature iron-cross move.

Shorter people, be warned: The starting hold on The Iron Cross is pretty high off the ground, and I have witnessed all sorts of trickery—from stacking pads to jumping to getting a boost—to reach it. If the starting hold is a little too high, or you’re just looking for something more moderate, the vertical wall facing the road holds a bunch of fun—albeit tall—problems.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mack’s Traverse

To the left of the Iron Cross Boulder is Mack’s Traverse, which is also named after its signature problem. Mack’s Traverse (V2) crosses nearly all of the boulder’s entirety from right to left and is another classic problem that lures you in by looking easier than it is.

But, to send Mack’s Traverse, you need good beta and even better footwork. Like any classic at a high-traffic area, it seems that the boulder’s every hold is ticked, making where to go misleading at times. Furthermore, the problem is steeper than it appears. As well, because of the incredible amount of traffic it sees, the feet are pretty slippery. In fact, if you forget to keep pressure on them, you’re sure to slide off.

If Mack’s Traverse isn’t happening for you, you’ll find a handful of easier straight-up climbs on the right end and the face. And, if they seemed too easy, just walk down the short hill to the Warm-Up Cave, where you’ll find some of The Woods’ hardest problems.

Warm-Up Cave

Like all listed above, the Warm-Up Cave also sees a lot of traffic due to its high-quality problems and proximity to the park’s entrance. Although you’ll find a number of harder problems here, its easier routes keep beginner and intermediate climbers busy, too.

In spite of its harder climbs, the most notable problem at the Warm-Up Cave is within nearly every man’s reach. Neil’s Lunge (V4) starts in the boulder’s middle on a half-moon flake. Move up the flake to a small crimp, and then, psych yourself up for a dynamic lunge move to better holds.

Looking for something easier? The Cave Warm-Up (V1) follows a fun and obvious line of good holds to the boulder’s highest point. Be warned: Although you’ll encounter all positive holds, at some point, you’ll realize you’re pretty high off the ground, which can be a little intimidating.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

These problems are an awesome place to get started, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. And, while Mountain Project or a guidebook has even more listed, over the years, locals have shown me all sorts of hidden variations and challenges. Of course, the only way you get that type of beta is going directly there. Like I said initially, there is no bad time to visit…so, attempt these challenges at the first available opportunity.


Running the Wapack Trail

Named for the mountains marking the beginning and end—Mount Watatic in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, and North Pack Monadnock in Greenfield, New Hampshire—the 21.5-mile Wapack Trail opened in 1923, making it one of the United States’ oldest interstate trails. Crossing both public and private lands, the Wapack of today is virtually unchanged, except for some re-routing to adapt to changing conditions.

Whether you’re looking to attempt the entire trail in a day or run it in sections, the Wapack has something for everyone. At the same time, it goes through the traditional New England landscape, cresting rocky ridges and descending past dark forests. If, however, you just want to sample the choicest parts, here are some of the Wapack’s must-do runs.

The summit of Pack Monadnock. | Credit: Tim Peck
The summit of Pack Monadnock. | Credit: Tim Peck

Pack Monadnock

Miller State Park, located off Route 101 in Peterborough, New Hampshire, is home to Pack Monadnock (or, simply, “Pack”), which is one of my favorite portions along the Wapack. In fact, you can tell how great this run is because, despite its many negatives, I find myself there on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. Honestly, this run is so good I routinely have to force myself to go other places at lunch.

It may be a paradox, but the bad thing about this trail is that it’s so great. It has interesting terrain, it’s short enough that it attracts people of all fitness levels, it’s steep but not so much that it can’t be run, and it offers amazing views.

However, because it’s such a great trail, it’s also quite popular, which means it also has a parking fee, a heavily traveled road, and a bunch of buildings on it. Pack’s positives far outweigh its negatives, though. For example, the bathrooms at both ends can be a welcome sight, and the running water at the summit means there’s no need to carry bottles or hydration bladders.

Mount Monadnock from Pack. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Monadnock from Pack. | Credit: Tim Peck

Running Pack Monadnock

Leaving the Miller State Park parking lot, the Wapack Trail climbs 1.3 miles while gaining a little under 1,000 feet to the 2,290-foot summit of Pack Monadnock. Feeling winded? Don’t let the steep and challenging nature of the trail scare you off. The first quarter-mile is the hardest. After that, the trail flattens out and becomes less technical, at least by New England standards. If the initial climb hasn’t left you too blurry eyed, look out when the forest opens up and take in the awesome view of Temple Mountain and Mount Monadnock as you cross the breaks.

While not technically on the Wapack Trail, a few variations let you add mileage, increase difficulty, and take in more stunning views. The most natural thing to do is create a loop by descending the Marion Davis Trail from Pack Monadnock’s summit. Roughly the same length as the Wapack Trail, the Marion Davis Trail is a little less steep and technical, making it a much easier descent on tired legs.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Add in North Pack

There are plenty of occasions when I want to run Pack Monadnock but need or want to run farther than three miles. In these situations, traveling over to the summit of 2,276-foot North Pack Monadnock (or just “North Pack”) is the perfect solution.

When I stand on Pack’s summit, North Pack looks only minutes away, but in reality, it’s a fun two-mile run across a wooded ridge. Not very technical, and with the exception of a few steep parts at the beginning and end, this section is perfect for picking up the pace, at least if you have the legs to do it after ascending Pack. In the fall, leave the energy bars at home, as wild blueberry bushes are abundant around the summit.

Looking to add even more challenges or cover different terrain? Divert from the Wapack to the Cliff Trail to add an extra half-mile as well as some trickier conditions on your way to North Pack’s summit, and then, on the way down, follow the Wapack Trail back to Pack (and, eventually, to your car).

Pack from North Pack. | Credit: Tim Peck
Pack from North Pack. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Watatic

Marking the trail’s southern terminus is 1,832-foot high Mount Watatic. Here, the Wapack Trail leaves from a well-marked parking lot off Route 119 in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, and on busy weekends, you’re likely to see cars lining the road, as the lot reaches capacity quickly.

Mountain runners will love running the Wapack Trail on Mount Watatic, as it packs plenty of vertical, crosses diverse, demanding terrain, and features a bald summit with incredible views of Mount Wachusett. On clear days, even the Boston skyline is visible! What’s truly impressive is that it does this all in just a little over a mile.

Looking for an additional challenge? Just do what the runners of the Wapack and Back (the double-length trail race along the Wapack) do when they reach Watatic’s parking lot in order to hit the 50-mile mark—run up it, over it, and back a second time.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Go Big on New Hampshire’s Small Mountains

It’s believed that the Native Americans named these mountains, and that “Pack” means little. While they may be small in stature compared to some of New Hampshire’s larger mountains, the Wapack is capable of delivering big days. For those looking for a full-sized outing, running the Wapack from beginning to end is a worthy challenge.

But, don’t make the same mistake I did: Take the trail seriously. Running the Wapack is no joke, with technical terrain and fickle New England weather—wet and slippery in the spring, hot and humid in the summer, leaves covering obstacles in the fall, and snow and ice in winter—thrown in. And, it’s not just the nature of the trails and the weather that make this climb difficult. Additionally, the route ascends approximately 4,600 feet over its 21.5 miles, and with numerous short and steep up-and-downs, its relentless nature can exhaust even the heartiest trail runner.

Before You Go

While signing up for the Wapack and Back race is one approach, running the Wapack Trail self-supported is a fairly easy undertaking. First, the Wapack is very well marked, with yellow blazes and cairns on the ridges; in most instances, just a quick look around will reveal one. Secondly, the trail passes plenty of places to stash extra food and water. Or, because of some sections’ easier nature, you can have people of all skill and fitness levels meet you along the way with something to eat or drink or maybe even give you that much-needed pep talk.

With the exception of going through the whole thing, I have only highlighted runs at this awesome trail’s beginning and end, and there are so many other good routes in between. Get out to explore this historic trail, find your new favorite run, and maybe even challenge yourself to do it all, whether in sections or all at once.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck