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.


Alpha Guide: Ice Climb Shoestring Gully

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Easily accessible alpine-style climbing at a modest grade and in an amazing setting make Shoestring Gully a must-do climb for ice climbers of all levels.

An ascent of Shoestring Gully in New Hampshire’s Crawford Notch is a rite of passage for aspiring ice climbers in the Northeast. Offering 2,500 feet of varied climbing, an incredible view of Crawford Notch, and an alpine feel without the above-treeline weather and exposure, Shoestring Gully is perhaps the best moderate ice climb in New Hampshire.

Quick Facts

Distance: 4 miles round-trip and 2,200 feet of elevation gain
Time to Complete: Half day
Difficulty: ★★★ (WI2, Grade III)
Scenery: ★★★★


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Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Turn-By-Turn

Shoestring Gully is located off Route 302 a few miles south of Crawford Notch and the AMC Highland Center, with the best parking at the Webster Cliff Trailhead (44.170673, -71.388153). The parking area accommodates anywhere from five to 10 cars, but space fluctuates depending on snowfall. This is a popular climb, so parking spots fill up quickly. There is additional parking available along 302 in both directions, but will add roughly an extra half-mile of hiking in each direction to your outing.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Acing the Approach

From the Webster Cliff Trailhead, the most straightforward approach to the gully is crossing Route 302 and hiking up the Webster Cliff Trail. The trail is flat and, after you walk for a few minutes, comes to a bridge that crosses the Saco River. Take the bridge across, and at the trail junction slightly uphill from the river (44.171936, -71.385475), turn left (upstream) onto the Saco River Trail. The trail is often icy, however; if you find that’s the case, this is a good spot to put on either MICROspikes or crampons.

Follow the Saco River Trail for approximately 0.5 miles, until you see the climber’s path leading uphill on the right (44.175751, -71.391571). Looking for a clue that this is the right gully? As a great landmark for heading uphill, a large boulder displays large painted trail markers for the Saco River Trail. Also, thanks to the popularity of this climb, the approach heading uphill is usually pretty broken in.

Historically, climbers have approached by parking roughly a half-mile further north on Route 302 and crossing the Saco at an old dam. Over the years, however, the crossing has gotten a bit spicy. Although this approach puts you directly below the gully and is shorter overall, it also means a road march back to the car on the descent.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Getting to the Start of the Climb

The climber’s path slowly gains altitude as it steadily moves into Shoestring Gully. Once in the gully, the trail steepens as you ascend a bouldery stream bed that gradually opens up near the first ice flow. If you haven’t yet put on your crampons, this is the place to do so, as this section is often slippery, and the “real” climbing is fast approaching.

After roughly 1,000 feet of elevation gain, climbers will encounter the day’s first ice flow (44.178432, -71.386986) at the top of the stream bed. Just below this bulge, a well-worn flat spot is perfect for getting kitted—harness, helmet, crampons, ice tools, rope, and protection—for the climbing above. It’s also a convenient place to have a drink and a quick bite to eat before the rhythm and mechanics of climbing are involved. From the trailhead, it’s roughly 45 to 60 minutes to get here.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The First Ice Bulge

Most years, Shoestring Gully has a short (20- to 30-foot), moderate ice bulge at the base of the climb. The bulge’s right side is typically less challenging, but one of the joys of Shoestring Gully is the opportunity to increase or decrease the climb’s difficulty to meet your skill level. On top of the bulge, climbers will find trees on both the gully’s left and right sides to use as anchors. As a tip, building an anchor on the left side offers a better view of followers, while building it a little higher on the right provides an easier transition to the snow pitches that follow.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Snow Pitches

After the first ice bulge, the next few rope lengths of the gully typically consist of moderate snow with a few interspersed ice patches. Climbers use a variety of techniques to move through this terrain, depending on experience, comfort, and conditions. Some parties will simply pitch out the snow, as they would on any other type of multi-pitch climb. Others will shorten the rope and simul-climb—that is, climb together with running protection between them. No matter how you choose to approach this terrain, however, the ice patches and occasional trees on the gully’s sides provide protection and anchor opportunities.

This section is also a great place to give your calves a break and show off your French technique (or practice it), thanks to the angle and nature of the snow. When the snow starts to transition to ice, the pitch begins to steepen, and the gully’s walls grow in prominence, build an anchor, and get ready for the day’s most technical climbing (44.17893, -71.385422).

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Climb Some Ice

The next three to four rope lengths are Shoestring’s “Ice Pitches.” They begin with a one-to-two pitch climb up several steps of moderate ice, before eventually transitioning to steep snow. The most consistent ice in this section is typically on the gully’s right side.

After a brief snow climb, the gully widens and becomes comparatively steeper. From here, there are three ways up. The rightmost variation climbs the line that hugs the wall on climber’s right and is generally considered the easiest route. The center variation heads directly up the middle of the gully, putting climbers on steeper—closer to WI3—and more difficult ice. Heading farther left puts you on even slightly steeper ice. Beware not to take the fun climbing on the far left variation too high, as it eventually climbs out of the main drainage and will require some bushwacking to get back on course.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

No matter which option you choose, the gully narrows after about two more pitches, with terrain turning into a combination of snow and intermittent ice patches. Trees line the left side, providing some protection and anchor-building opportunities. After roughly one-and-a-half rope lengths of snow-ish climbing, exit the gully into the woods.

Pro Tip: Parties that move quickly through the Snow Pitches can sometimes catch up to slower climbers just starting the Ice Pitches. Although the much-wider gully makes the Ice Pitches a tempting place to make a pass, be careful to avoid tangled ropes or getting stuck at an unprotected belay below a climber who’s raining down ice.

The optional WI3 finish looking thin. | Credit: Tim Peck
The optional WI3 finish looking thin. | Credit: Tim Peck

Optional Finishes

Shoestring Gully offers two alternative finishes for those looking to do more than simply slog up the snow at the top. The first option involves climbing the obvious rock wall on the climber’s right roughly one rope length below the woods. The climbing is moderately rated at 5.5, but finding protection can be tricky, especially if the ice is thin. The second alternative is found above the rock finish, and involves climbing a corner with ice rated up to WI3.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Descent

From the proper finish, climbers should continue walking into the woods until they reach the Webster Cliff Trail (44.179947, -71.382828). The path to the Webster Cliff Trail is often well-broken in, making it easy to locate. The intersection of Shoestring Gully and the Webster Cliff Trail is a great spot to regroup, pack away the climbing gear, and have something to eat. Once everything is packed and you’ve refueled, simply follow the Webster Cliff Trail back to Route 302 and your vehicle. As you head down, make sure to stop at the overlook just a few minutes from the top for a fantastic view of Mount Willard, Mount Willey, and the rest of Crawford Notch.

If you didn’t bring MICROspikes, leave your crampons on for the descent. The Webster Cliff Trail descends several steep sections and is often extremely icy. You’ll want the extra traction.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Never climb steep ice without a helmet. Shoestring Gully gets a lot of traffic, and the potential for someone knocking ice down is high. The Black Diamond Vector is a long-time favorite for its great fit and minimal weight.
  • Lugging a heavy rope 2,500 feet up is no fun. Consider lightening the load with the Sterling Rope Fusion Nano 9.0 dry rope.
  • The Black Diamond Dirtbag Gloves are just warm enough for most winter days, durable enough for ice climbing, and offer enough dexterity to handle the rope, making them a key to any Shoestring Gully kit.
  • Whether you’re pitching it out, simul-climbing, or mixing the two techniques, an ascent of Shoestring Gully often involves several stops and starts. A jacket like the EMS Alpine Ascender is the perfect insulation piece, as it keeps you warm when you’re stopped at the belay, but breathes when you’re on the move.
  • Winter days are short, and everything from conditions to other parties makes it longer than anticipated. Avoid getting stuck in the dark with the super-bright and easily rechargeable Black Diamond Revolt.
  • The Petzl Caritool Evo can be added to most harnesses and makes it easy to keep your climbing gear organized.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Get there early! This is a popular climb, and arriving early is the surest way to beat the crowds. And, thanks to Shoestring Gully’s moderate grade and fun climbing, expect to encounter people of all abilities—from people taking their first turn on the sharp end to climbers going ropeless.
  • Shoestring Gully gets lots of sun, so it’s a great option even on cold days.
  • Be willing to do variations. There are ample opportunities to pass slower parties by doing different (and sometimes harder) variations of the route’s pitches.
  • If you finish with time to spare, consider climbing to the summit of Mount Webster, approximately 1.5 miles further up the Webster Cliff Trail. Or, consider climbing another of the area’s moderate multi-pitch routes, including Willey’s Slide, Flume Cascade, and Silver Cascade, to name a few.
  • If you worked up an appetite climbing, Fabyan’s Restaurant, located across from Bretton Woods, is nearby, or head into North Conway to visit Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewing Co., which is the place for climbers to congregate.
  • Not sure if you’re ready for Shoestring Gully? Contact the EMS Climbing School to arrange for a guided ascent, or spend a day brushing up on your ice skills with one of our guides.

Current Conditions

Have you climbed Shoestring recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!


Getting Ready for Backcountry Ski Season

Ski season is in full swing in the Northeast, with many New England-based backcountry skiers having already earned their first turns. Of course, with skiing in Tuckerman Ravine extending often into July, the reality is that now is just the beginning of the season. If you haven’t stepped into your ski boots yet, however, no worries. You still have a lot of time left! So, make the most of it with these tips to get you primed:

Skis

Tuning your skis is one of the simplest things you can do to prepare for the upcoming season. Doing so requires a little free space, a few simple tools, and a little elbow grease, making it a great way to pass time while waiting to get out there. Of course, if you don’t feel comfortable, bring them into the shop now, and beat the rush that occurs upon the season’s first real snowfall.

Want to learn more about tuning your own skis?

Bindings

While your skis are on the bench, take a minute to inspect your bindings. Start by checking their mounting screws to make sure none are loose. If you encounter a loose screw, back it all the way out, and add some wood glue or epoxy to the hole before re-inserting and tightening the screw. Or, as another option, bring it to your local shop to have a pro do it. Next, give your bindings a visual inspection to ensure the binding itself has no cracks or loose screws, before finally clicking in your boots and making sure they still securely attach.

Pats-Peak-skinning

Skins

One of the main disruptors of early-season tours is skin failure. So, before you’re midway to your first pow day, make sure your skins are up to the challenge by giving them a good inspection. Is there a bunch of dirt and debris that should be removed? Are they still sticky? If not, it might be time to re-glue them. Is the skin showing much wear? Are the tip and tail connectors in good condition? As these small parts see significant use, tip and tail connectors are a common place for a skin to fail. Is it simply time to buy new skins? Remember, it’s better to make this decision yourself, rather than waiting for the universe to decide for you.

If your skins look good to go but you’re planning on using them with a new set of skis, make sure they are trimmed to match the skis’ shape. Using a skin-cutting tool, trim the skin to cover the ski’s base while leaving the ski’s edges showing. Exposed edges give your skis some bite on ascents with steep or icy traverses.

Beacon

If your tour plans include some avalanche terrain, now is the time to get your avvy kit in order.

To start the season off right, treat your beacon to a fresh set of batteries. As a rule, old-fashioned alkaline batteries work best for beacons, while lithium-ion and rechargeable ones should be avoided. Checking with your beacon’s manufacturer is the simplest way to ensure you’re using the proper battery. However, alkaline batteries can leak, causing corrosion of a beacon’s contacts and negatively affecting its performance. So, if you didn’t take your beacon’s batteries out before storing it over the summer, check the contacts for corrosion as you replace the batteries.

If you have an extra beacon, now is the time to confirm that it’s functioning with a range test and a couple of practice searches. If you don’t have an extra one, consider getting together with your ski partner or group to confirm that everyone’s beacons function properly. Even better, this serves as a great chance for early-season avvy practice, and lets everyone you ski with re-familiarize themselves with their equipment and the basics of conducting a search. While you’re at it, check out the Backcountry Access website, which has a series of detailed videos designed to help skiers and riders improve their avalanche transceiver skills.

Pro Tip: Many newer avalanche beacons feature updatable firmware. If your beacon is updatable, check the manufacturer’s website to make sure yours is using the latest software.

Earning-turns-at-cannon

Probe and Shovel

Just as with your beacon, you’ll want to be familiar with your avalanche probe and shovel before you need it. Before the season starts, spend some time practicing assembling them quickly. While you’re at it, confirm that your probe’s shock-cord still works. If it doesn’t, it’s time for a new one.

Hit the Resort

Thanks to snowmaking, Northeast resorts are far more likely to have skiable terrain than the backcountry early on. Take the opportunity to ride the lifts, find your ski legs, and make some low-consequence turns. Of course, if you’re committed to earning your turns, many resorts have something to offer skiers who like to go uphill as much as down. Places such as New Hampshire’s Cannon Mountain sell “skinning” tickets and have designated uphill travel routes, while ski areas like Vermont’s Magic Mountain not only allow free skinning on their slopes, but also reward skiers and splitboarders who climb the 1,700 feet to the resort’s summit with a ticket for one free lift ride via their “Hike One, Ride One” program.

Skinning at the resort has numerous benefits for backcountry skiers, as it allows them to build fitness for the upcoming season, dial in transitions, and, most importantly early on, confirm that their gear is in good workable condition in a comparatively controlled environment. Every mountain has unique rules and restrictions, however, so make sure you know its policy before you go. The United States Ski Mountaineering Association is a great resource for uphill policies across the U.S.

Early-and-empty

Repair Kit

Things break. To be prepared for these types of failures in the mountains, always carry a repair kit. A good one can mean the difference between an inconvenience and an epic.

For day trips, a multitool is extremely valuable, good for clearing ice from tech fittings, making a binding adjustment, cracking a beer in the parking lot, and doing far more. It’s also worth adding the various bits you will need to repair your boot or binding and a driver for the bits. Another lightweight addition to your kit, a spare ski pole basket can save an unfathomable amount of aggravation. The same can be said about skin wax. A few blocks weighing just a few ounces can prevent snow from building up on your skis, saving energy and frustration.

Additionally, we like to bring two or three ski straps—basically, the duct tape of the backcountry ski world. Extremely helpful, the material can be used for everything from holding your skis together to fixing a boot. And, speaking of duct tape, we carry that, too! Lastly, complete your kit with a few extra binding screws and tip and tail loops for your skins.

First Aid Kit

Since many backcountry areas don’t have ski patrol or pre-placed rescue equipment, the knowledge to provide first aid and the gear necessary to treat and evacuate a patient are essential. A good backcountry skiing-specific first aid kit starts with the staples: gauze, bandages, and ibuprofen. We then like to add a few ski-specific items, including a bivy or small sleeping bag to keep an injured person warm.

Seeing that cold is the enemy, we also tuck in a few hand warmers, as they are great for everything from an emergency to a morale boost. As well, a SAM splint fits into most packs and makes splinting easy. We’ve also gotten into the habit of bringing along an extra set of batteries, in the event that a headlamp dies or someone shows up to the trailhead with a beacon but no batteries.

Carrying a rescue sled is a good step to safety and self-sufficiency. If building a makeshift sled to evacuate an injured skier seems overly complicated, you can simply carry one of the numerous lightweight models sold for backcountry skiing.

Finally, it’s extremely critical to know how to use the equipment you’re carrying. If you’re heading into the backcountry this winter, seriously consider taking a wilderness first aid or wilderness first-responder course. SOLO offers classes throughout the Northeast.

Helmet and Goggles

If you’re backcountry skiing in the Northeast, you’ll most likely be carrying a helmet and goggles. Before the season starts, inspect your helmet to ensure that it has no cracks or dings. If the inspection gives you any doubt about its reliability, upgrade! Also, spend a few minutes cleaning your goggles, and give them a coat of anti-fogging Cat Crap.

Did we miss anything? Share with us your favorite tips for the preseason in the comments!

Sunrise-skin-change


The Top 6 Outdoor Podcasts

Getting to our favorite places to hike, climb, or ski often involves a long time riding in the car. As a solution to keep the drive from getting monotonous, tune in to one of these great outdoor podcasts. While they won’t make the miles go by any faster, they’ll certainly make your trip a bit more stimulating.

 

The Enormocast

The Enormocast’s tagline is “A Slice of the Climbing Life,” which is precisely what this bi-weekly podcast delivers. The show’s interview format typically features host Chris Kalous sitting down one-on-one with climbers from all over the world and touches on all climbing disciplines. A quick glance though The Enormocast archives—all episodes are available for free to download—reads like a who’s who of climbing, with such notable guests as Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, Colin Haley, Lynn Hill, and Henry Barber, just to name a few. However, what sets The Enormocast apart is that it provides a place for climbers to share their stories with an informed audience, without the dumbed-down, oversimplified talk that clutters mass media conversations.

The Dirtbag Diaries

Unlike most on this list, The Dirtbag Diaries is a melting pot for all things outdoors. Rather than focus on a single niche, The Dirtbag Diaries might give you an episode about skiing one week, followed by a story about paddling the next. Acting like a virtual campfire, the podcast features some of the outdoors’ best storytellers sharing their unique voices and adventures. Overall, it covers everything from inspiration to advocacy, and aims to both entertain and educate.

The Firn Line 

Chronicling the lives of alpinists in Alaska’s mountain ranges, The Firn Line is the best and most interesting mountaineering-specific podcast. Hosted by Evan Phillips, the podcast blends one-on-one interviews with some of Alaska’s most renowned alpinists—including Jack Tackle, Mark Westman, Vern Tejas, Clint Helander, and Charlie Sassara—with music and backstory. The conversations in Season 1, now 19 episodes strong, share their stories while simultaneously exploring sport-centric questions like why we climb, the meaning of partnership, and overcoming injuries and setbacks in the mountains. Check it out.

Totally Deep Podcast

Totally Deep features cult-classic movie Aspen Extreme in its opening credits, so it’s easy to get hooked. As you would expect from a podcast that uses a so-bad-it’s-good ’90s movie to lure you in, Totally Deep is a rambling, fun, and informative look at everything backcountry skiing. Leaving no backcountry skier unserved, it covers all aspects of the sport, from skinning laps at the resort to mountaineering racing to simply skiing for fun. Hosted by Doug Stenclik and Randy Young, the show never takes skiing too seriously. As such, it’s a great listen, no matter if you’re in the car, uphilling at the resort, or tuning skis in the basement.

The Sharp End

Stories of other climbers’ screw-ups might not be the most inspiring thing to listen to on the way to the crag. However, they’re probably the most educational. Based on the American Alpine Club’s annual “Accidents in North American Climbing” report, The Sharp End shares stories of mishaps, epics, and accidents from the perspectives of those who’ve lived them. But, it’s not all storytime. A thoughtful analysis of each accident is designed to keep you from repeating it. While they might not all be pick-me-ups, the information might just save your life.

Outside Podcast

No time to read a monthly magazine? Get your dose of the adventure world’s best through Outside Magazine‘s podcast. Episodes from The Outside Podcast are a healthy conglomerate of stories told in print and then expertly crafted into audio, interviews with the biggest names, and stories analyzing survival in all conditions. Want to find out what it’s like to (almost) freeze to death? Listen to one of their earlier episodes.


When should I retire my gear?

Everyone has a story about an indestructible pair of boots or jacket whose age is counted in decades rather than years, but the truth is that everything wears out eventually. Even the mountains can’t avoid it—the Appalachians are presumed to have been taller than the Rockies at one point, before wind and erosion wore them down to their present height. While age may simply take a toll on the aesthetics of some items, it can hurt the performance of others. If you’re looking for an excuse to start the new year with new gear, consider the expiration date on some of these everyday outdoor items.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Biking

If you bike, you should own a helmet. And if you really love biking, you probably own multiple helmets, as everything from mountain to road to cruising around town all have brain buckets designed especially for them. But is your helmet as safe as you think it is?

As a general guideline, you should replace your helmet every five years, as everyday wear and tear, cosmetics like shampoo, and even sweat can degrade the materials in your helmet. Additionally, today’s helmets are much more sophisticated than those of five years ago. Give your head a happy New Year with a new helmet.

Oh, and the five year rule doesn’t just apply to bike helmets…make sure to check your ski/snowboard helmet and climbing helmet as well and replace if necessary.

Paddling

PFDs have a hard life. They are constantly cycling between wet and dry, regularly exposed to too much sun, and forever battling against salt, whether from the ocean or sweat. Not to mention, PFDs are not always the most well-cared-for piece of gear. So let’s start with the basics: you’ve cleaned your PFD recently, right? While you’re doing that, check if the color is fading, the fabric is ripping, or the webbing looks tattered. If so, it’s probably time for a new vest. Also critically important is the quality of your PFD’s foam. If it’s starting to feel hard or doesn’t quickly regain its original shape after being squeezed, replace it.

While you’re checking your PFD, look over other high-wear items like your kayak’s rigging, bulkheads, and seals. Then check out the gaskets on your drysuit, the buckles on your dry bags, and the rope in your throw bag. When you’re done, give your boat a coat of 303 Aerospace Protectant, it’s basically sunscreen for your boat.

Climbing

If you’re using your climbing harness regularly, it is recommended that you replace it every three years. But many factors—including regularly taking big falls—can shorten an individual harness’ lifespan. Before you rope up this year, give your harness a good visual inspection. First check the tie-in points, making sure they are free from any tears, cuts, or abrasions and that the fabric is uniform and no one section is thinner than others. Moving along, make sure the rest of your harness isn’t showing any suspect wear, abrasion, or fading. Furthermore, make sure that the buckles are intact, don’t have any burrs or rough edges, and are free from corrosion.

After checking you harness, spend a few minutes inspecting your other climbing gear. Ropes that have flat spots, are frayed, worn, beat up, or feel stiff—a sign its losing its elasticity—should be retired. Ropes older than 10 years should also be replaced, even if they haven’t been used regularly. Additionally, check your slings, as their strength can be affected by both abrasion and UV exposure. Finally, examine your carabiners for wear and grooving.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Hiking

Finding boots that are comfortable, supportive, and fit right is a tricky task, so it’s no wonder so many people wear theirs into the ground. There is no set mileage or magic number of days a hiking boot has in its life, so the easiest way to tell if a pair needs replacing is to give each boot a quick inspection. Examine the soles to see if they still have tread and all the lugs. Scrambling down wet rock can be dangerous when the rubber has been worn down. Then check the stitching and liner—both inside and out—for fraying or signs of giving out, to avoid them from bursting open when you’re in the middle of your next hike. Another good indicator that it’s time for new boots is how they feel on your feet. If you’ve recently started getting hot spots, blisters, or unusual aches, you might want to kick off the New Year in…well, new kicks.

Pro Tip: Give your boots the “press test.” To do this, press the outsole of the boot upward with your thumb—simulating their movement when being walked in—while watching the midsole. If the midsole folds into a line with small wrinkles, it’s okay, but if you see strong compression lines or cracks, tell your boots to take a hike.

Backpacking

Do you remember the nights being a bit colder than usual during your last backpacking trip? If so, it might be time to upgrade your synthetic-filled sleeping bag. In general (it’s hard to be specific with so many different synthetic fills available these days), the more you compress your bag, the faster its fibers break down. A sure sign that your bag’s life is coming to end is if the fill is clumping or if some spots have more fabric than fill. If you come across either of these, consider downgrading your bag’s degree rating or upgrading to a new one.

Check your puffy jacket, too! Synthetic-filled puffies break down as well, often faster than sleeping bags, thanks to their year-round usefulness and being shoved in and out of backpacks. Before heading out this year, make sure your synthetically insulated stuff is up to the task.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

First Aid

Carrying at least a small first aid kit on all your outdoor adventures is a good idea. Of course, a first aid kit is only as useful as its contents. Before heading outside in the new year, take a look at the expiration date on your first aid kit’s medication and replace anything past its prime. While you’re at it, spend a moment reviewing the first aid cliff notes found in most kits. If anything feels rusty, it’s probably time to refresh those expired first aid skills as well.

Give your gear some love

Of course, not everything needs to be replaced when it starts to show some age. Giving your gear a little first aid by patching that hole on your pack or reviving the waterproofing on your favorite shell is a great way to keep your gear going strong into the new year.

Replacing expired gear is not only a great way to make sure that you’re safely participating in your favorite outdoor sports, it also ensures that you continue to enjoy them. More so, there’s no better way to get stoked to hit that big jump, send a route, or take a trip into the woods than new gear.


Checklist: 52 goEast New Year's Resolutions

Making outdoor-themed New Year’s resolutions is easy. Following through? Now that’s hard, especially when you don’t know where to get started. Fortunately, we’ve got you covered, with 52 suggested outdoor activities—straight from the goEast archives—to help turn your resolution into a weekly reality. Here’s to making 2018 the best year yet.

Courtesy: @peterkbrandon
Courtesy: @peterkbrandon

Winter

  1. Hike the White Mountains’ Franconia Ridge, a true winter test piece.
  2. Skin and ski Mt. Moosilauke.
  3. Winter camp in style: spend the night at the AMC’s Lonesome Lake Hut.
  4. Visit one, or all, of these awesome ski bars.
  5. See Arethusa Falls—New Hampshire’s tallest waterfall—in its frozen splendor.
  6. Feeling masochistic? Attempt one of the Northeast 115’s toughest winter climbs.
  7. Climb Mount Colden’s Trap Dike.
  8. Ski the “Beast of the East,” Killington.
  9. Spend a weekend riding the groomers at Lincoln’s Loon Mountain Resort.
  10. Sick of the cold? Head for one of these eight warmer-weather climbing destinations.
  11. Snowshoe to the summit of Camel’s Hump, then reward the effort with a trip to the Prohibition Pig.
  12. Ski Mount Washington’s Cog Railway (while you still can).
  13. Earn your turns and ski Mount Cardigan.

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Spring

  1. Start the climbing season early by bouldering at Rhode Island’s Lincoln Woods.
  2. Try one of these end-of-winter/beginning-of-spring shoulder season activities or invent your own.
  3. Begin a quest to climb all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000 footers.
  4. Sport climb at Rumney, then check out the new American Alpine Club climber’s campground. Rinse and repeat.
  5. Don’t let April showers stop you; get comfortable taking a hike in the rain.
  6. Still too much snow on the higher summits? Check out West Rattlesnake Mountain or one of the other family-friendly hikes in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region.
  7. It’ll be warm down south. Head down and backpack the Virginia Triple Crown.
  8. Try trail running on Boston’s Blue Hills Skyline Trail.
  9. Take in the views from the New Hampshire 4,000 footers’ six most-scenic summits.
  10. Start them young and take your kids climbing.
  11. Get on your mountain bike and ride Boston’s South Shore. (Just make sure the trails are dry and your bike is tuned-up first.)
  12. Head out for a post-work climbing session. If you live near Boston, Quincy Quarries and Hammond Pond are perfect!
  13. Explore the family-friendly hiking at World’s End in Hingham, Massachusetts.

EMS-LAKE-PLACID-0048

Summer

  1. Hiking Mount Washington, climbing Cathedral Ledge, and swimming in the Saco are just some of the awesome activities found in North Conway. Take a long weekend and do them all.
  2. Go alpine climbing on Mount Washington’s Henderson Ridge.
  3. Visit New England’s only National Park, Acadia. While you’re there, hike Cadillac Mountain (bonus points for getting a sunrise ascent).
  4. Whether you’re looking for climbing, hiking, paddling, or strolling the town, you’ll find it in Lake Placid. Spend the weekend.
  5. Take not just your best friend, but man’s best friend for a hike.
  6. Vacation time? Head west and visit one of the U.S.’s lesser known National Parks.
  7. Ditch the tent and live the dirtbag dream for a weekend and curl up in your car.
  8. Do the Presidential Traverse. Even better, do it in a day.
  9. Visit one of these five New Hampshire climbing destinations and stop for a slice afterward.
  10. Take advantage of the long days surrounding the solstice with one of these all-day hikes in Adirondacks.
  11. Climb above the ocean at Otter Cliffs in Acadia National Park.
  12. Hike the Burrows Trail to the summit of Camel’s Hump, then treat yourself to an ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s.
  13. Go backpacking and spend a night in a lean-to.
Credit: Michael Martineau
Credit: Michael Martineau

Fall

  1. Vermont is awesome in the fall. Hike one of Vermont’s five 4,000-foot mountains. Super motivated? Try to bag all five in 24 hours!
  2. Do some high-angle leaf peeping on one of these moderate slab climbs in New Hampshire’s Crawford Notch.
  3. Paddle through history on Massachusetts’ Concord River.
  4. Foliage is just one reason why Burlington, Vermont is great in the fall. Move past leaf peeping and explore like a local.
  5. Tackle one of these fantastic fall bike rides.
  6. Save some time in Rocktober to do The Eaglet in Franconia Notch, the most prominent free-standing spire in the East.
  7. Enjoy the fall foliage by backpacking the White Mountains’ iconic Pemi Loop.
  8. Challenge yourself to burn off Thanksgiving dinner.
  9. Try one of these late-fall/early-winter hikes on the Kancamagus.
  10. Be ready for ski season for once and tune up your skis in the fall.
  11. Go gravel grinding.
  12. Get a late-season backpacking trip in on Jersey’s Batona Trail. And if you’re afraid of the cold, check out our pro tips for staying warm.
  13. Share your adventures—start a blog, Instagram account, or write for goEast and inspire others!

 

Of course these are just a few outdoor-oriented New Year’s resolutions. We want to hear about what your planning for 2018, so leave your plans in the comments.

Credit: Kris Roller
Credit: Kris Roller

8 Gifts for the Après-Ski All-Star

Après-ski is an integral part of any day spent sliding on snow. So, whether the skier or rider on your list will be cozying up to the slopeside bar or popping beers in the parking lot, here are some items that will take your ski bum from après zero to après hero.

1. Get the bottles popping

While smart skiers and riders always carry a small set of tools for those just-in-case moments, savvy après-skiers believe that motto applies off the hill, too. So, if that someone on your list is always fiddling with a lighter, trying to open that bottle of delicious craft beer, try the Leatherman Brewzer Multitool. It features a bottle opener, can be attached to a keychain, is both perfectly priced and sized for stuffing into any stocking, and, most importantly, will help them avoid a trip to the emergency room for stitches.

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2. Hydrate in bulk

Sometimes, bottles or cans aren’t enough. The Hydro Flask 32-ounce Beer Growler is designed to keep your cold ones…well, cold. This growler also features the Fresh Carry System, which allows beer to stay carbonated—perhaps the best advancement since rocker skis.

3. Cold on and off the slopes

Owners of more traditional glass growlers will want to make sure their beverage stays cool with the Outdoor Research Growler Parka. The OR Growler Parka protects precious après ales from the cold and cushions delicate 64-ounce glass containers from the shuffling of ski gear.

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4. Keep it quiet

Some après situations require discretion. Featuring a timeless look and insulating design, the Stanley Classic Vacuum Pint is ready for just those occasions. The skier on your list won’t raise suspicions, but they may raise the eyebrows of other après aficionados. As a side note, Stanley has been in business for over a century, making it slightly older than the oldest still-operational ski resort in the U.S.

5. Why wait?

Every now and again, skiers and riders start their après activities early. The Nalgene Flask, featuring a cap that doubles as a shot glass and a parka-friendly size, is perfect for just those occasions. To never miss the chance at a chairlift cheers or a toast in the trees, the skier on your list needs only to fill the flask with their favorite beverage.

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6. Look the part

Even the biggest ski bums can get classy from time to time. As such, the GSI Outdoors Stemless Wine Glass is a must-have accessory for days when Pinot Noir replaces PBR. With a low center of gravity for stability—like being balanced on a tailgate—and built for rugged use, these wine glasses can stand up to bigger drops and bumps than the skier-on-your-list’s knees.

7. Bring your treasure chest

Ideal for weekends at the ski house and for hardcore ski bums living the van life, the Yeti Tundra 50 is to coolers what Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller are to Olympic skiers: the gold standard. With room to hold enough drinks for everyone, the Yeti will stand up to whatever the skier on your list can throw at it—whether it’s skiing a hundred days in a season, trying to ski all 12 months of the year, or just surviving the annual ski trip.

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8. On the rocks

If beer and wine aren’t your skier’s thing, the Hydro Flask Rocks Glass has you covered from cocktails to cocoa. It’s insulated to keep drinks hot and cold and comes with a lid to protect your beverage from the elements. And, the beveled bottom is glorious for your gloved-grip.

 

These are only some of the awesome après items EMS is stocking this year. Drop into your local store or search online for other amazing gifts for the ski bum on your list.


8 Tips to Prep for Ice Climbing Season

With temperatures dropping across the Northeast, the ice is starting to form, and ice climbing season is kicking into gear. To get you going, here are eight tips to help you sharpen everything from your tools to your skills for sending that perfect pitch or goal gully this season.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Sharpen your picks

Nothing takes the fun out of ice climbing more than dull tools. The inability to sink a stick melts stoke faster than the mid-winter thaw. If you’ve never sharpened your tools or it’s just been awhile since the last time you did, now’s a great time.

The goal of sharpening is to replicate your tools’ original shape. Doing so only requires a mill bastard file. Begin by filing off the rounded point at your pick’s end, and then, put the bevel back on the pick by filing outwards on each side, following the factory grind. When you’re done sharpening, use a hex wrench to make sure your picks are tight. Check out this fantastic video from the AMGA to see the process in action.

Pro tip: Use a vice when sharpening your tools instead of balancing them in your hands to save yourself the embarrassment of a season-stalling puncture wound or stitches.

Courtesy: @jamisonknowlton
Courtesy: @jamisonknowlton

2. Add some grip

After perfecting your picks, add some grip tape to your axe shafts. A layer of tape improves grip and helps insulate your hands from the cold. Furthermore, it makes it easier to distinguish your tools from your partner’s and protects against the scratches that come with use. Depending on how much grip they want, climbers use everything from electrical tape to skateboard deck tape.

3. Sharpen your crampons

Although most associate ice climbing with axes and upper-body muscles, the real magic happens with your feet. Because of this, you’ll want to sharpen your crampons before jumping on the sharp end this season. In fact, because crampons often get used to approach climbs and descend them, they typically dull faster than tools. As such, it’s a good idea to give them a quick sharpening after every ice outing.

If you have crampons with vertical front points, like the Black Diamond Cyborgs do, use the mill bastard file as you did for your ice tools to sharpen your crampons’ front points along the factory bevel. And, don’t forget about your crampons’ secondary points. It’s recommended to file the secondary points on their backside, so as to not change their length and affect performance.

Pro tip: Once again, use a vice. With all those points, a mid-sharpening slip with your crampons can be even more hazardous than with your ice axes.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

4. Dial in the fit

Getting to a climb, only to realize you haven’t sized your crampons to your boots, is no way to start a day, much less a season, of ice climbing. Adjusting crampon length is most often done with a pin-lock system on the center bar, and while making adjustments is easy, it’s finicky work best done at home, without gloves. Doing this at the base of the cliff will leave you with cold hands before you even start climbing.

When adjusting, you want to achieve a tight fit without the boot overhanging the front or back of the crampons’ frame. As a good at-home test to tell if you’ve adjusted correctly, put your boot in the crampon. If you pick the boot up and the crampon comes up with it, without being formally attached to the boot, you are on the right track.

5. Protect your protection

Dull ice screws can put a damper on an ice climbing outing. At best, they’ll be hard to sink into the ice; at worst, they won’t thread into the ice, leaving climbers in a treacherous situation. To make matters worse, it seems you always come across the dull screw on your rack when you’re most desperate for protection.

Until recently, most ice climbers sent their screws out to be sharpened. Then, Petzl unveiled the LIM’Ice, a device that makes sharpening ice screws straightforward and easy. Of course, if you’ve had your ice screws for a few years, it might be time to upgrade. Newer ones like the Black Diamond Turbo Express have speed knobs for easy placement; light-colored hangers instead of black, which speeds up melting out; and two places to clip ‘biners, which help to declutter busy belays.

Courtesy: @claireebruce
Courtesy: @claireebruce

6. Get your head in the game

Before going out to make your first climb of the season, it’s worthwhile to brush up on your mental game. Spend some time reading up on technique, thinking about movement, and practicing the requisite rope work to get your mind in mid-season form.

If you’re planning on climbing alpine gullies, refresh your avalanche awareness, and refamiliarize yourself with your beacon, probe, and snow safety kit. Not confident in your skills? Consider taking an early season avalanche class or ice climbing lesson with the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School. Whether you’re looking to get up to date with the latest in snow safety or just pick up a few pointers, an early season class gives you knowledge you can use all season.

Pro tip: Practicing companion rescue with your avalanche beacon is a great way to pass the time in between those too-cold-for-rock-climbing and no-climbable-ice-yet weekend days.

7. Tune up your body

Doing some sport-specific exercises before your first outing will pay big dividends. Even better, you don’t need a fancy gym to get yourself into ice climbing shape.

For your upper body, simply hanging from your tools on a pull-up bar or hangboard is a great way to build grip strength and prepare for what is coming. Mix some pull-ups using your tools in with the hangs to further build upper-body strength.

Of course, ice climbing requires a fair amount of heavy gear, and less-crowded climbing is often away from the road. For lower body fitness, consider hiking your favorite 4,000-footer with a weighted pack. Can’t make it to the mountains? A favorite workout of ours involves laps up the local ski hill with a weighted pack.

Courtesy: @peterkbrandon
Courtesy: @peterkbrandon

8. Make a tick list

A great way to get psyched about ice climbing season is to make a tick list. Whether it’s a local test piece or a dream line, having a goal in mind makes hanging from your tools in the basement a little more bearable, and looking at and reading about those lines will have you stoked to start the season. Start picking out your next route in the ADK Blue Lines, or get inspired by the guys and girls putting up the Northeast’s classic ice climbs before Gore-Tex, Schoeller, or PrimaLoft while using straight-shafted ice tools in Yankee Rock and Ice.

 

At the beginning of every ice climbing season, you’re sure to see someone at the base of the climb fiddling with their gear and mumbling, “I wish I had…adjusted these, trained, practiced, etc.” Avoid these common pitfalls, and nail the approach—to the season, that is—by following these simple steps.


10 Stocking Stuffers Under $50 for the Ice Climber

Ice climbing is a notoriously expensive sport, demanding several big-ticket supplies. But, just like anything else, there are a handful of smaller, less-expensive items that are essential to any day spent kicking and swinging. And, they make perfect stocking stuffers, too. So, here are 10 pieces of rad gear that every ice climber on your list will love, and as they’re all for $50 or less, they’ll easily fit into your holiday budget.

1. Hand Warmers

To have fun ice climbing, staying warm is key. A box of Yaktrax Hand Warmers offers an easy, inexpensive solution for the problem of cold hands, and they can be tucked away into a first aid kit for those just-in-case moments.

Courtesy: Black Diamond
Courtesy: Black Diamond

2. Headlamp

Darkness comes early during the winter, and it’s not hard to get caught climbing as the sun sets. Headlamps like the Black Diamond Spot are super-bright, extremely small, and saviors when the day’s last light disappears.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

3. Thermos

Bringing a hot beverage in a thermos, like the Hydro Flask Wide Mouth, is a great way to stay warm. Durable enough to handle being shoved into a pack filled with sharp, pointy things and insulated enough for cold New England winters, the Hydro Flask is a welcome addition to any ice climber’s kit.

4. V-Thread Tool

Nothing kills a day on the ice like struggling, after all the climbing is over, to line up two 20cm screws to rappel home. Make sure your climber doesn’t have to deal with that with the Black Diamond First Shot. Open the arms and use the slots as a guide to line up your screws on the first every time, then use the metal hook to help feed the rope through. Feeling confident and safe in your rappel has never felt so easy.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. Gloves

Ice climbers’ gloves also take a beating over the course of a winter. From getting dragged across ice and rock to handling sharp tools, screws, and crampons, the life of the typical climbing glove is a difficult one. The Marmot Basic Work Gloves offers the needed dexterity and is built to withstand harsh conditions.

6. Cordelette

Your climber probably spends a lot of time hanging from relatively thin pieces of cord. Since a cordelette needs to be replaced every other season, odds are your climber needs a new one. Keep your climber happy—and around for another holiday—with a Petzl cordelette.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

7. Slings

Just like with their cordelettes, many ice climbers are slow to replace their slings. To help them celebrate safety this holiday, why not gift some lightweight and durable double-length Black Diamond runners to replace a few of their older, more tattered slings?

8. Socks

A good pair of socks is one of those things ice climbers love to have but hate to buy. A timeless classic, the Smartwool Mountaineer Extra Heavy Crew Socks are made for people who spend long days out in the cold. Give them the gift they won’t get themselves.

9. Neck Gaitor

You don’t realize how handy a warm neck gaitor is until you own one. Built from super-warm 100-weight microfleece, the EMS Classic 200 Fleece Gaitor is tailor-made for ice climbers, keeping your neck warm and ice from falling into it, without restricting your movement.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

10. EMS Gift Card

If all else fails, an EMS gift card is always appreciated. Your climber can put it toward one of those pricier items or a guided climb on one of the Northeast’s classic lines with the EMS Climbing School.

 

Of course, these are just a few of the most popular items for ice climbers at a stocking-level budget. For more great suggestions, swing into any of our EMS stores and ask for the staff ice climber—or look for the person with the red cheeks. And, if you think of something we didn’t, leave your recommendations in the comments!


Alpha Guide: Franconia Ridge in Winter

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Take on one of the Northeast’s most stunning ridgelines while tagging two of New Hampshire’s 10 tallest mountains.

A true classic, this winter hike crosses one of the White Mountains’ most prominent features, Franconia Ridge; delivers moderate climbing that doesn’t require the use of an ice axe; and features a roughly 1.5-mile above-treeline ridge run between Little Haystack and Mount Lafayette. With 360-degree views of the Whites from the ridge, it is one of the Northeast’s most beautiful hikes. And, with a large section of above-treeline hiking, it’s also one of the region’s most exposed hikes, making it a fantastic winter test piece.

 

Quick Facts

Distance: 9 miles round-trip
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★★


Download

Turn-By-Turn

Most hike Franconia Ridge as a loop, beginning and ending at the Falling Waters and Old Bridle Path trailhead and parking lot on Interstate 93N (44.142048, -71.681206) in Franconia Notch State Park.

Hikers driving north on I-93 will find the parking lot just after the exit for The Basin trailhead. Hikers coming from the other direction should park in the Lafayette Place Campground parking lot and use the tunnel that goes under I-93 to access the lot and trailhead. The trailhead is opposite the entrance to the parking lot, where it climbs a short, paved incline to an outhouse and then becomes dirt as it heads into the woods.

Hikers, take notice: This ultra-classic hike is super-popular on weekends and holidays. So, get there early to find a parking spot.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Time to split

Just 0.2 miles in, hikers will come to the junction (44.139702, -71.679512) of the Falling Waters Trail and the Old Bridle Path. The loop is best done counterclockwise, first up the Falling Waters Trail and then descending the Old Bridle Path. The Falling Waters Trail, which veers right at the junction, gets extremely icy in winter and is much easier to go up than down. Plus, the various waterfalls are more scenic on the approach, as well as more easily overcome with fresh legs early in the day.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Following Falling Waters

From the junction, the Falling Waters Trail heads southeast on a moderate track, until it reaches Dry Brook. From there, the trail intermittently steepens and poses some small technical challenges, as it crisscrosses the icy stream climbing under, around, and over a series of semi-frozen waterfalls. Between the water and ice, the footing along here is often slick, and you’ll probably want your MICROspikes and a pair of trekking poles to negotiate the potentially treacherous terrain. Take care not to slip or plunge a foot into the brook.

Eventually, the trail leaves the brook and begins a series of long, gradual switchbacks up toward Shining Rock. As the trail moves away from the brook, the short, steep, and technical sections dissipate, and the terrain and grade become more consistent—especially once the snow on the ground is packed and covering the ordinarily rocky and rooty terrain.

Shining Rock

After 2.5 miles, the Falling Waters Trail reaches a junction with a short spur trail (44.140186, -71.650940) that heads downhill to Shining Rock, a large granite slab flanking Little Haystack Mountain and visible from Interstate 93. If you have time (remember, darkness comes early in the winter), consider the brief detour.

The Shining Rock junction is also a great place to refuel, add an extra layer and traction devices (if you haven’t already), and get your above-treeline gear ready (such as a balaclava, warmer gloves, goggles, etc.). From the junction, continue upward on the Falling Waters Trail, which steepens and gradually becomes more exposed to the weather for the final 0.5-mile push to the 4,760-foot summit of Little Haystack.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Little Haystack

Shortly after departing the junction for Shining Rock, hikers will push past the treeline to the rocky and icy landscape of Little Haystack Mountain’s summit (44.140362, -71.646080). Although Little Haystack isn’t one of the 48 New Hampshire 4,000-footers (it’s technically a subpeak of Mount Lincoln, the next stop on your journey), it is an awesome summit with fantastic views. Find the hard-to-miss summit cairn, and then, head north on the Franconia Ridge Trail toward Mount Lincoln.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Lincoln

From Little Haystack, it’s 0.7 miles to Mount Lincoln’s summit. The path is easy to follow and, at first, quite moderate. Then, it begins to climb on rockier terrain and crests an ego-deflating false summit, all the while offering fantastic views in every direction and fully exposing you to the wind and weather.

Once you get to the summit of 5,089-foot Mount Lincoln (44.148682, -71.644707), the first of two New Hampshire 4,000-footers on the traverse, take a moment—or more, if the weather allows—to soak in the dramatic landscape and fantastic views. From here, you get views in all directions, with the Kinsmans, Lonesome Lake, and Cannon Cliff to the west and the Pemigewasset Wilderness to the east. To the south, the pyramid-like tops of Mount Liberty and Mount Flume dominate the view, while to the north lies your next objective, the summit of Mount Lafayette.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Lafayette

Standing one mile away on the Franconia Ridge is the day’s high point, the 5,260-foot summit of Mount Lafayette. To get there, you’ll give up much of the elevation you’ve gained since Little Haystack by descending rocky, slabby terrain similar to what you just ascended. The saddle has a scrubby pine grove, which provides a brief respite from the weather on less-optimal days. Beware that snow can build up in the trees, making this section more difficult and take longer than you may have expected.

From the trees, the Franconia Ridge Trail makes a sharp ascent—the steepest section since the climb from Shining Rock to Little Haystack—to Mount Lafayette’s summit. Relatively straightforward, the climb does contain a few slabby sections and rock outcroppings that warrant your full attention before you get to the summit.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The High Point

Lafayette’s summit (44.160717, -71.644470) is well marked with both a large cairn and sign, and is quickly recognizable, as it’s the region’s highest point. If the weather is good, grab a seat in one of the summit’s windbreaks—rock walls built to shield hikers from the elements—and soak up the views. The 4,500-foot Mount Garfield looms in the north, and on clear days, the Presidential Range is visible behind it. To the south, you can admire the distance you’ve traveled, as the peaks of Mount Lincoln and Little Haystack are both visible from this vantage point.

The windbreaks are also a great place to have a quick snack. And, don’t de-layer just yet, as there is still some exposed trail left on the descent.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Descent

From Lafayette’s summit, take the 1.1-mile Greenleaf Trail toward the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Greenleaf Hut. This section is well defined, but the vast majority of it is above-treeline and is very exposed to the weather—in particular, winds blowing from the northwest.

With the hut visible most of the way, progress can feel sluggish. The slow-going is often exaggerated by the trail’s rugged nature, made even more difficult by patches of snow and ice.

As you near the Greenleaf Hut, the trail dips into tree cover, the first real break in exposure you’ve had for nearly three miles. You’re not out of the woods yet, though, as the area around the hut is often very icy.

Unlike during the summer, there is no hot chocolate, soup, or delicious baked goods in your future—unless you brought your own—as Greenleaf Hut (44.160206, -71.660316) is closed in the winter. However, the building itself provides a good windbreak and is a logical place to stop for a snack and to de-layer.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Old Bridle Path

From the hut, take the Old Bridle Path for 2.7 miles to the Falling Waters trail junction, and then, enjoy the short walk back to the car. Below treeline, hikers may feel that the crux of the day is behind them, but the Old Bridle Path’s upper third is challenging and, in places, exposed. Use care negotiating these ledges, slabs, and steep sections.

As you descend the ledges, take a moment to peer back up at the ridge. It’s nice to enjoy the relative warmth of the sun found on these protected ledges while you peer up at the ridge and remember the bone-chilling cold experienced only a short time ago.

After the ledges, the Old Bridle Path begins to mellow, getting more forested with progressively easier switchbacks. From here, it’s a straightforward, albeit longish, walk back to the junction and then to the car.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Trekking poles and traction devices, like Kahtoola MICROspikes, are essential for negotiating the icy terrain on the ascent and descent. And, although the wind often blows the snow off the ridge proper, it, too, can be quite icy.
  • Bring a vast array of winter accessories to contend with unpredictable, above-treeline winter conditions. A winter hat, balaclava, multiclava, and gloves of varying warmth are a good place to start. And, if there’s wind in the forecast, goggles should also be included.
  • A warm down or synthetic parka, like the Outdoor Research Incandescent Hoody, is great for staying warm during rest breaks, cold traverses and descents, and emergencies.
  • Because it gets dark quickly in the winter and the Old Bridle Path descent is treacherous, add a headlamp, like the Black Diamond Spot, to your pack.
  • Snickers bars and gels are great in the summer but can freeze in the frigid temperatures. Nature Valley bars, trail mix, and leftover pizza—just to name a few—are all excellent winter food choices that won’t freeze in your pack.

Have more questions about what gear to bring? Check out “What’s in Our Winter Peak-Bagging Packs.” Don’t be that guy in jeans and a hoodie hiking across the ridge.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Need a good reason for an alpine start? The parking lots fill up fast! In the summer, excess traffic even goes along the highway, but depending on the amount of snow the mountains have received, that might not be an option in winter.
  • Start cold, so you won’t have to stop after 10 minutes to lose a layer. More importantly, if you’re not over-layered, you’re less likely to sweat through your garments and will stay warmer in the long run.
  • Bring a thermos of something hot to drink. It’s great for warming up your core temperature and a nice morale booster when the going gets cold.
  • Know when to say when. If you get above treeline and decide that it’s too windy or too cold, or you just have a bad feeling, don’t hesitate to turn around before committing to the traverse.
  • Have a backup plan. If you live a few hours from the mountains, like many people do, it can be hard to know exactly what the weather will be doing until you get there. If the weather isn’t cooperating for a traverse, Mount Liberty and Cannon Mountain are close by and are less committing than Franconia Ridge.
  • After a cold day in the mountains, warm up at One Love Brewery in Lincoln, New Hampshire. Their Meat Lover’s Burger features grilled pork belly, BBQ pulled pork, jalapeño slaw, and Swiss cheese, and is a great way to replace some of the calories you burned!

Current Conditions

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck