Alpha Guide: Camel's Hump via the Burrows Trail

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Climb to one of Vermont’s most imposing, rugged alpine summits in just a day or less. 

Looming over Interstate 89, Camel’s Hump draws thousands of hikers every year to its undeveloped, alpine summit. At just under five miles and gaining roughly 2,500 feet in elevation, the Burrows Trail is a great way to hike Vermont’s third tallest peak. It delivers everything you would expect to find on the Northeast’s longer, more grueling classic hikes in a short, moderate trek that most can do in a half-day.

 

Quick Facts

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


Season: May through October
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: http://www.greenmountainclub.org 

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Turn-By-Turn

Although the hike itself is straightforward, getting to the Burrows Trailhead can feel fairly complex for first-timers. From Interstate 89, take Exit 10 onto Vermont Route 100 South. Follow Vermont Route 100 South for a short distance to a rotary. Then, take the first right at the rotary onto U.S. Route 2 West/North Main Street and follow it for almost 10 miles to Cochran Road.

From Cochran Road, you’ll want to travel roughly a quarter of a mile to Wes White Hill. It’s here, away from I-89 and U.S. 2, that you begin to feel Vermont’s true rural nature, and may begin to question your navigational skills. Follow Wes White Hill for 3.1 miles, until it becomes Pond Road. Then, follow Pond Road until it becomes Bridge Street. Although you’re basically driving straight, amid the fields and farms, and along sometimes dirt roads, it’s easy to wonder if you missed a turn somewhere along the way. So, follow Bridge Street for approximately a half-mile, before turning left onto East Street. After driving about the length of a football field on East Street, make a slight right onto Main Road.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Continue on Main Road for 2.5 miles before turning left onto the appropriately named Camels Hump Road, which, in accord with local nomenclature for the peak, omits the apostrophe. The road is unpaved and narrow, so drive slow and be aware of oncoming traffic as you make your way along the 3.5 miles to the Burrows Trailhead at the road’s end.

If at any point you’re feeling lost, don’t worry. The GPS on our phones worked until just after the turn onto Camels Hump Road. And, if your coverage fades out earlier, consult your map, and you’ll be fine. Or, stop at any of the local stores that dot the landscape and ask for directions. It’s been our experience that everyone is very friendly and happy to help a hiker. Pro tip: They’re especially helpful if you buy some local beer or syrup.

The Burrows Trail is a very popular hike, and the parking lot is relatively small. Those getting a late start should be prepared to either park on the road or at the Forest City Trailhead, where hikers can add a couple of miles to their day by using the Forest City Trail to connect with the Burrows Trail, or just road-march the 0.7 miles up to the Burrows Trailhead.

The lower Burrows Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
The lower Burrows Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

On the Trail

The Burrows Trail begins at the back of the parking lot located at the end of Camels Hump Road (44.305058, -72.907684). If you have any questions about where you are heading, look for the plaque on a rock dedicated to Hubert “Hub” Vogelmann. He’s a long-time University of Vermont professor who is well known for his research on acid rain. Nearby, the Burrows Trail begins.

It doesn’t take long to feel the denseness of the Vermont forest, as the lush green landscape has a way of encompassing you on the trail’s early part. Hikers also don’t get much of a warm up. While the trail starts off fairly mellow, it is best described as steep and direct, and quickly becomes a more strenuous climb, with a preponderance of roots and rocks waiting to trip up hikers.

The Burrows Trail gains enough elevation over the first mile that the incredibly green landscape transitions into a pine forest with little to no undergrowth. The trail itself also changes, with the grade becoming more consistent, the rocks getting bigger, and the roots burlier. Take these shifts as a good sign, one signalling that you’re getting closer to the junction with the Long Trail.

Higher on the Burrows Trail. Credit: Tim Peck
Higher on the Burrows Trail. Credit: Tim Peck

The Clearing

Just past the two-mile mark, the Burrows Trail opens into a large clearing (44.312968, -72.885391), where the Burrows, Monroe, and Long Trails all intersect. The clearing is also a great spot to grab a snack and prepare for the upcoming above-treeline hike. Above this, the weather is often vastly different from what hikers have so far encountered on their trip, so add an extra layer and, on colder days, a hat, gloves, and jacket. Keep in mind that layering up is much easier to do in the trees, where the wind isn’t trying to blow your jacket towards New Hampshire.

From the clearing, take the Long Trail south for the final 0.3 miles to Camel’s Hump’s 4,083 foot-tall summit. This is the day’s most challenging section, featuring a short scramble before the trail traverses through the alpine zone and up to the summit on slick and rocky terrain. Since this area is home to rare and threatened arctic-alpine vegetation, try to walk on the rocks and stay between the twine strung out as a directional aid along the path.

Nearing the Summit. | Credit: Tim Peck
Nearing the Summit. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit

Despite being atop a busy mountain, the broad, treeless summit of Camel’s Hump—Vermont’s highest undeveloped peak—offers plenty of room to spread out. So, find a rock, sit back, and enjoy the open summit (44.319466, -72.887024) and its incredible 360-degree views. You’ll soon realize why Camel’s Hump is featured on the Vermont state quarter.

In terms of views, to the west are Burlington and Lake Champlain, with the Adirondacks in the distance. Looking north, hikers can pick out the iconic Mt. Mansfield nestled among the most northern Green Mountains. To the east, the green of Vermont eventually merges into New Hampshire’s White Mountains, with Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range guarding the horizon. Finally, the Green Mountains, including Ellen, Abraham, and Killington, spill out to the south.

Whenever you can, pull yourself away from the summit, and just retrace your steps to your car, first by taking the Long Trail north to the clearing. In the clearing, look for the well-marked Burrows Trail, and then, take it to the parking lot.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Bonus Points

Hikers not yet ready to return can search for the remains of a 1944 plane crash. To find it, take the Long Trail south from the summit for 0.2 miles, first crossing some steep rock slabs and then descending into the trees. There, the Long Trail intersects with the Alpine Trail (44.31878, -72.887024). Follow that for a few hundred yards to a cairn marking an unnamed herd path that leaves the trail to the right. Then, follow the herd path a short ways downhill to the plane’s wreckage (44.318165, -72.886650). After taking in this unique sight, retrace your steps to the mountain’s summit.

Overall, this detour is just under a half-mile round trip. But, due to having to descend and then re-ascend the summit slabs, it may take hikers a little longer than they anticipated.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • A wind shirt is a must-have for any hike that ascends above treeline. The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite is a lightweight, packable jacket that is perfect for the final push to the summit.
  • The weather can change pretty quickly in Vermont’s mountains, and more than once has a sunny forecast turned into a rain-soaked adventure. The EMS Thunderhead is a reliable, affordable way to ensure you stay dry on your summit bid.
  • Rocks, roots, and slabs put a premium on traction. For short hikes like Camel’s Hump, a light hiker like the Oboz Sawtooth Low WP is fantastic.
  • Vermont is known for its local products, so celebrate the state’s industry by hiking in a pair of super-durable Darn Tough socks, made down the road in Northfield.
  • The Green Mountain Club’s Camel’s Hump and the Monroe Skyline Waterproof Hiking Trail Map is an inexpensive insurance policy against getting lost.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Spotty cell service can render your phone’s GPS useless, and can make finding the Burrows Trailhead the most challenging part of the day. So, if you’re unfamiliar with the area, it’s worth taking along an old-fashioned yet reliable map. The DeLorme New Hampshire Vermont Atlas & Gazetteer is an excellent supplement to your phone and will help ensure you make it to the trailhead.
  • You might encounter a Green Mountain Club caretaker on Camel’s Hump. They’re all super nice and great resources for trail information, so ask them a question!
  • Vermont closes its trails for mud season. So, hiking is a no-go from when the snow melts to roughly Memorial Day weekend.
  • Stop at the Prohibition Pig on South Main Street in Waterbury for amazing local barbecue, beer, and cocktails on your way home!
  • If barbecue isn’t your thing, Waterbury is home to the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory. Take a tour, and at the end, have a pint of your favorite flavor. You’ve earned it.
  • If you’re looking to make it an inexpensive weekend, the Little River State Park is a great campground about 30 minutes away.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked Camel’s Hump recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!

Header photo credit: Tim Behuniak


Pads Fly Free: The Sea to Summit UltraLight Sleeping Pad

Two summers ago, we were preparing for a trip to California’s Mount Shasta. Our group of four had plans to climb up multiple routes—Avalanche Gulch as a “warm up” and then either Casaval Ridge or a glaciated route on the mountain’s north side.

But, as we began to pile the gear into duffels for our cross-country flight, we realized we had a problem: We needed to bring a lot of gear. As the duffels quickly filled with ropes, crampons, ice axes, tents, stoves, and sleeping pads, our concerns grew. How were we going to get everything across the country and then up the mountain?

Packing “Creatively”

Not wanting to pay through the nose for extra or overweight bags, we each began to look closely at the gear we truly “needed” to bring. A first pass allowed us to cull some stuff. Out went the mountaineering tent in favor of a tarp shelter, and we did the same for a second stove. Climbing gear was pared to only essentials. But, this only got us so far. Our duffels were still too many and too heavy.

One thing we recognized was that, while airline staff measure your carry-on, they don’t weigh it. So, we filled our carry-ons with all the heavy stuff. But, since most mountaineering gear is sharp, and thus can’t be in the passenger cabin, this too only got us so far. Furthermore, some permissible items, like our closed-cell sleeping pads, didn’t fit, no matter how creatively we tried to stuff them.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Burrito-Sized Comfort

Enter the lightweight and super-small Sea to Summit UltraLight Sleeping Pad.

It was around the time that Sea to Summit entered the sleeping pad market, and their first salvo looked like it already hit its mark. The pad packed to the size of a small burrito, and the regular size weighed just 12.5 ounces. When we saw it, a light bulb went on. It looked exceptionally comfortable and, more importantly, would fit in our carry-ons.

But, we were all initially dubious: Would the lightweight material stand up to several nights of rocky bivvies on Shasta, especially now that we had skimped on a tent with a floor? And, the thought of the pad popping, and a sleepless night at altitude before that all-too-early wake-up call left us wondering whether the expenditure was worth the risk.

Still Climbing

Turns out, the pad was way better than expected. It packed up as small as advertised. Due to its 181 Air Sprung Cells creating little pockets of air to lift you two inches off the ground, it also proved to be even more comfortable than we anticipated. Specifically, the cells help prevent the air from shifting under your body weight and provide even support across the entire mattress while never producing the bouncy-castle feel of other inflatable pads. Finally, durability wise, it survived several days on Shasta with ease, and has since become a fixture of our overnight kits. And, for those taking the pad to cooler climates, the insulated versions are sure to keep you toasty.

On our trip to Mount Shasta, the Sea to Summit UltraLight Pad more than paid for itself by helping us avoid extra baggage fees. And, over the years, it has continued to pay its way by keeping our luggage under the airline’s restrictions. Furthermore, having the pad in our carry-ons benefitted one trip in particular, as we had a near-miss with an airport bivvy.

These days, whether we’re doing a trip out West, a long hike like the Pemi Loop, or a stealth car bivy in a random parking lot, it’s a sure bet that the Sea to Summit UltraLight Pad is there to let us sleep in comfort.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mountain Biking Boston’s South Shore

Mountain bikers rely on their local trail systems to keep their legs fit, skills sharp, and the need for fat-tire fun satiated. From mid-week training sessions to giving an out-of-towner a tour, the local trail provides a reliable place to ride. As well, a “oneness” with the terrain comes after having logged countless miles on it. So, for those south of Boston looking to join the mountain bike scene or just ride somewhere new, these three destinations offer something for everyone, from first-timers to seasoned riders.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Blue Hills Reservation

Located just outside of Boston, Blue Hills Reservation delivers everything from moderate fire roads and double-track to long climbs and gnarly rock gardens, making it easy to tailor rides to almost anyone’s ability. The trails are user friendly and well marked, and the easy-to-read map makes navigating the 7,000-acre park a piece of cake. Because of this, you’ll find everyone from serious racers in training to casual riders enjoying Blue Hills’ trails.

White and Yellow Trails

The main jumping-off point is the parking lot at Houghton’s Pond (840 Hillside St., Milton). From here, two color-coded trails designated for mountain biking depart: the White Trail and the Yellow Trail. The easier of the two, the six-mile White Trail is a loop marked with white triangles. Running in a counterclockwise direction, the White Trail is mostly comprised of gentle fire roads and easy double-track. The 4.5-mile Yellow Trail loop, on the other hand, is the more advanced of the two. Much like the White Trail, the Yellow Trail mostly follows fire roads and double-track but involves more climbing.

Buck Hill

Just because the White and Yellow Trails offer little in the way of technical challenges doesn’t mean advanced riders won’t find anything. In fact, they offer a great way to log mileage in between sampling some of the reservation’s more challenging terrain.

For more serious riders, the White Trail connects with some of the rocky trails that border Chickatawbut Road between Tucker and Buck Hill, before heading up toward Buck Hill’s summit, one of the reservation’s signature climbs. The near mile-long climb up starts moderately, but the technical challenges grow on the last third, just as your legs begin to tire. A fantastic 360-degree view, including Boston’s skyline and the harbor islands, serves as the reward for your efforts. Then, a fast and fun descent takes you back the way you came.

Those visiting should know that the reservation is closed to mountain biking in March, there is no night riding, and some trails are off-limits to bikes. Also, be aware that most trails are multi-use, which means you’ll be sharing them with hikers and horseback riders. For more information, check out the Blue Hills Mountain Bike Map and Brochure.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Borderland

One of the best-kept secrets for New England mountain biking is North Easton’s Borderland State Park. Why don’t more people talk about it? Simply put, for all of the great riding found there, very little of it suits intermediate riders. But, with ample easy and plenty of challenging terrain, Borderland is the place for scenic, smooth cruising, testing your skills in some of the state’s most difficult rock gardens, and answering the question of “Just how rocky can a mountain bike trail get?” The answer: Very!

Pond Walk Trail

Leaving from the park’s entrance at 259 Massapoag Ave. in Easton, beginner riders will love the mellow double-track found on the Pond Walk Trail. More than merely pleasant riding, the Pond Walk Trail takes you past many of the park’s most notable attractions. You’ll ride by Ames Mansion, built using granite quarried within Borderland; the Wilbur Farmhouse, dating back to 1786; and both Leach Pond and Upper Leach Pond. As a tip, advanced riders can loop Ames Mansion in with the Quarry Trail, which circumnavigates the old quarry.

Bob’s and NEMBA Trails

Advanced riders will want to challenge themselves on many of the park’s rougher and more technical trails. Two have been specifically designed for mountain bikes: Bob’s Trail and the NEMBA Trail. A great place for new-to-Borderland riders to get a feel for what’s to come, Bob’s Trail serves as a popular warm-up for fit locals. Specifically, it packs rock gardens, baby head-laden singletrack, and a bridge, all in less than a mile.

Riders looking for even more of a challenge should head to the NEMBA Trail. Featuring open rock slabs, steep rollovers, and tight twists and turns, the NEMBA Trail is perfect for advanced riders looking to test their technical abilities.

Borderland does have a $10/day use fee ($5 for residents), available from a machine at the main parking area. While Borderland is very mountain-bike friendly, mountain bikes are prohibited along a few trails, including the Pond Edge, Swamp, and Quiet Woods.

Also, the park asks that bikers avoid the trails on wet and muddy days to help keep them usable for years to come. As well, the park can get busy, especially around the main entrance and the mansion, so help keep the trails open for bikers by paying attention to and being respectful of other users. This map will help you get your bearings.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

F. Gilbert Hills State Forest

F. Gilbert Hills State Forest delivers some of the best mountain biking south of Boston. Comprising over 1,000 acres in Foxborough and Wrentham, its 23 miles of trails are well marked and easy to navigate, especially with the maps found at most major junctions. From beginner-friendly double-track to narrow, technical singletrack, Gilbert offers something for everyone. But, be forewarned. Everything here is a bit more challenging due to loose rock and numerous rock gardens.

Moderate Trails

Parking along High Rock Road in Wrentham is the best way to access Gilbert’s mountain biking. Understand, though, that you may want avoid the trails on Patriots game days, when nobody in their right mind should be attempting to recreate anywhere near Foxborough.

Riders looking for moderate terrain from High Rock Rd. should continue on the unpaved road of the same name into the forest. Noticeably different from double-track found elsewhere in the state, many of Gilbert Hills’ easier trails are wide and less technical. But, they’re also a bit loose, so pay attention while ascending and descending the park’s short and steep hills. From High Rock Road, riders can access a significant portion of the park’s more moderate riding, including along Messenger Road and the Megley Trail.

More Technical Trails

The area’s designated mountain biking trail makes for a much more challenging ride. Bikers can join it where it bisects High Rock Road at the halfway point or from the main parking lot at the end of the road. Riders should expect technical terrain throughout, with small sections of flowing singletrack interrupted by regular rock gardens and other advanced features. Although you can go in either direction, riding it counterclockwise means you’ll get the (comparatively) easier terrain first.

In addition, you can access a slew of other trails for both dirt and mountain bikes from the High Rock Road parking lot. Consisting of rough, rocky terrain that tests even the most skilled riders, these trails feature small to large drops, rollovers, and even a little bit of pure rock riding not typically associated with the Northeast. And, the unique geography, with three interconnected drumlins, provides lots of short, steep up-and-down riding.

 

Whether you’re looking for a reliable place to ride south of Boston or just interested in mixing up your regular destination, consider checking out these three locations. Each offers plenty of opportunities to log miles, tackle challenging terrain, and get in a solid training session. So, go out for a ride at one or all, and tell us about it in the comments.

Credit: Tim Peck
[/media-credit] Credit: Tim Peck

Hiking the Vermont 4,000-Footers

The Northeast has many 4,000-footers—115, to be exact. New Hampshire and New York—each with 48—feature the region’s dominant ranges. Even Maine, known for rocky Katahdin, has 14 of these peaks.

So, it would be easy to overlook Vermont, with just five summits over 4,000 feet. But, if you weren’t paying attention, you’d definitely be missing out. Short hikes, challenging trails, and amazing above-treeline views of Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York make the Vermont 4,000-footers some of the Northeast’s best-value hikes.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Abraham

Named after the 16th President of the United States, Mount Abraham is the shortest and “easiest” of Vermont’s 4,000-footers. Luckily, this stunning peak doesn’t need a superlative elevation to attract all types of hikers. Rather, its moderate terrain and fantastic summit views entice almost everyone. In addition to its hiker-friendly trail, Mount Abraham delivers all kinds of walk-worthy views, with Mount Ellen looming on the ridgeline to the north, and the Green Mountains, the Adirondacks, and the White Mountains on competing horizons.

Leaving from the appropriately named Lincoln Gap Trailhead, hikers will follow the Long Trail for roughly 2.5 miles while gaining 1,600 feet in elevation on the trek to the summit. Along the way, hikers will experience a mostly smooth and obstacle-free trail, with a few strenuous sections as it gently picks up elevation. At 1.7 miles, hikers will encounter the Battell Shelter, both a favorite overnight stop and a nice place to sit down and have a snack, if you’re looking to go up and back in day.

Hikers looking for an extra adventure and a different type of view can find the remains of a 1973 plane crash just past the summit on a herd trail located further down the Long Trail.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Ellen

Despite being the only Vermont 4,000-footer to have its summit in the trees, don’t overlook hiking Mount Ellen. Thanks to a great vista when it intersects with the top of Sugarbush Resort, the hike is not without views. And, with impressive ridgeline hiking along the Long Trail, Mount Ellen delivers comparatively unique terrain.

Hikers will leave on the Jerusalem Trail from Jim Dwire Road and follow it for 2.4 miles, before it connects with the Long Trail. Along the Jerusalem Trail, it’s easy to get lost in your thoughts and marvel at the web of tubes woven for maple sugar collection. Once on the Long Trail, hikers will follow a ridgeline section as it climbs up and down before reaching the 4,017-foot-tall summit and having cumulatively gained 2,600 feet in elevation.

Fit hikers, looking to bag two 4,000-footers and sample part of the Long Trail’s “Monroe Skyline” section, should stash a car at either the Lincoln Gap or the Jerusalem Trail and hike Mount Abraham and Mount Ellen together. From either summit, simply follow the Long Trail across this excellent ridgeline stretch while taking in the views and enjoying what many consider to be a classic section of the Long Trail. The almost-11-mile hike covers mostly moderate terrain and also takes you across Lincoln, Nancy Hanks, and Cutts Peaks.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Killington

Ascending Killington via the Bucklin Trail is a great, moderate way to tag Vermont’s second-highest summit and the tallest spot on the state’s portion of the Appalachian Trail. Most can hike it in half a day, and it crosses two iconic thru-hikes, the Long Trail and the AT. At the top, Killington delivers outstanding 360-degree views and is a must-visit spot for any dedicated New England hiker.

Hiking 7.2 miles round-trip and gaining a little over 2,500 feet in elevation, those used to spending time in the Whites or the Adirondacks might be surprised by how quickly they’ll be able to dispatch this peak out-and-back, thanks to the modest terrain—that is, if they can avoid lingering on its lovely summit. Leaving the Brewers Corner parking lot in Mendon, hikers will follow the gentle Bucklin Trail for the first 3.3 miles, before connecting with the Long Trail/Appalachian Trail for the steep and scrambly summit push.

Depending on the day, your summit experience will vary. From the summit proper, a few manmade structures in the distance are easy enough to put at your back and ignore as you look out to Pico Mountain from the open summit slabs. However, on busy days when the Gondola is running from Killington, expect to share the summit with other hikers and non-hikers. Regardless of the crowds, you’ll get plenty of views of the Green Mountains, Adirondacks, and Whites.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Camel’s Hump

At just under five miles round-trip, hiking the 4,083-foot-tall Camel’s Hump—Vermont’s third-tallest mountain—via the Burrows Trail is a great option for a morning or afternoon. The impressive alpine zone hiking and the treeless summit’s vast 360-degree views, including an awesome perspective of the Green Mountains and Lake Champlain, make this a must-do. On a clear day, hikers can even see as far west as the Adirondacks and as east as Mount Washington.

To begin, access the Burrows Trail at the end of Camel’s Hump Road. You’ll find that the trailhead is easy to spot at the back of the parking lot. In spite of its relatively short length, the Burrows Trail packs a punch. To the summit, attention-demanding rocks and roots characterize its just-under 2,000-foot climb.

GEAR OF THE TRIP

Just before the summit, the Burrows Trail intersects with the Long Trail at a clearing. Here, think about getting your wind shirt, hat, and gloves ready—and maybe even a puffy coat on cooler days. As you head above treeline and onto the Hump proper, you’ll find that temperatures quickly change. Also, when descending, take an extra second at the clearing to make sure you’re heading down the right trail. At this spot, it’s easy to be excited by the summit views and accidentally go the wrong way.

Camel’s Hump is an amazing and challenging hike that can be accomplished with plenty of time left to explore Burlington and Stowe, both of which are nearby. But, because this peak can get busy and the parking lot packed, start early, or be prepared to share it with others.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Mt. Mansfield

Another one of Vermont’s iconic 4,000-footers, Mansfield is the tallest, most northern, and arguably the most difficult peak here, and is a must-do for any Northeast hiker.

When viewed at a distance, Mansfield’s ridgeline resembles a human head, and its various high points are named after such distinct features: the Forehead, Nose, Chin, and Adam’s Apple. To get to the true summit, the Chin, follow the Long Trail South’s white rectangular blazes beginning on Mountain Road (Route 108) just past Stowe Mountain Resort.

Approximately five miles round-trip, the hike begins moderately on relatively smooth trail. About 1.5 miles in, the Long Trail becomes rockier as it approaches the Taft Lodge, where hikers stay overnight either on the way to the summit or as part of a longer outing. Around the lodge, hikers also get their first glimpse of the Chin through the trees.

After passing the lodge, the Long Trail approaches treeline, gaining elevation quickly over 0.3 miles to the junction between the Chin and the Adam’s Apple, one of Mansfield’s many sub-peaks. At the junction, follow the Long Trail South to the left, for a memorable climb up the final 0.3 miles of alpine ridgeline to the summit proper. But, be careful. The ridgeline is very exposed to weather, and a couple segments involve some scrambling.

On the summit, enjoy the alpine flora and the 360-degree views. The view west towards Burlington, Lake Champlain, and the Adirondacks is outstanding, especially near sunset. But, if you stay that late, try not to linger too long, as the scramble back to the Adam’s Apple junction can be treacherous in the dark. As one alternative, try to view the sunset from the Adam’s Apple, which has a similar feel without the exposed descent.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The New Hampshire Climber's Guide to Pizza

Whether I spend the day testing my mettle at Cathedral, getting in laps on Cannon, clipping bolts at Rumney, or wrestling pebbles at Pawtuckaway, I know I’m not making it all the way home without stopping to eat. But, what to eat? That’s usually an easy answer: pizza. 

In my humble opinion, it’s the perfect post-climbing food. It’s delicious, its various toppings can accommodate most palates, and it is relatively inexpensive. Those of us who climb in New Hampshire are lucky to have some fantastic pizza options in close proximity to most of our major crags. My girlfriend recently coined the term “sending slices,” because sometimes that warm slice in the near future is all the motivation you need to push through the crux.

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Pawtuckaway: Pizza by George

Perhaps the best pizza in New Hampshire is right down the street from what’s probably the state’s best bouldering spot. Pizza by George in Raymond is perfect for cooling down after a hard day battling Pawtuckaway’s coarse granite boulders and cracks. Offering gourmet pizza by the slice, this place is a must-visit. But, be warned: These slices are more filling than they look. Insider tip: Save some room for a pepperoni roll or two—they’re delicious.

Rumney: The Common Cafe

For years, I bemoaned having to leave Rumney to drive to Plymouth for a decent post-send slice. That’s no longer an issue, thanks to The Common Cafe. Located in Rumney Village right on the way to the crag, The Common Cafe and Tavern features generously sized pizzas and super-fresh toppings. My inner dirtbag also appreciates the free popcorn they give you while you wait for your food. No one-trick pony, The Common Cafe and Tavern is as good for a coffee and breakfast sandwich earlier in the day as it is for a pizza and pint at the end. 

Cannon: GH Pizza

Rock climbers spending time on Cannon—or anywhere in Franconia Notch—should certainly pop into the town of Woodstock and grab a pie at GH Pizza. The best thing I can say about GH is that there isn’t much to say. The place is totally unassuming.

More specifically, GH makes Greek-style pie, and has a classic pizza-place ambiance. Along with great food, it offers reasonable prices and fast service. For this last point, the hungry climber in me really appreciates this.

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Crawford Notch: Catalano’s Pizzeria

Climbers in the Crawford Notch area are hard-pressed to find a place to eat, much less one that’s great. Catalano’s Pizzeria in Twin Mountain offers incredibly good pizza at reasonable prices, which is quite a trick, as they seemingly have no competition.

Ice climbers leaving Frankenstein will love the “large” large pizzas that always appear extra big. Generally, Catalano’s pizza is always loaded with cheese, and they never skimp on toppings, helping you to replace all the calories you just burned. Insider tip: Stash their number in your phone and call ahead. Things move a little bit slower this far north.

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North Conway: Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co.

In addition to being New England’s climbing hub, North Conway is also northern New Hampshire’s busiest tourist destination. Thus, the town has an abundance of places to eat, and there is no shortage of great spots to grab a slice.

With that being said, after a hard day climbing Cathedral classics and sweating it out on Whitehorse slabs, I head to the Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co. to calm my nerves with a fresh-brewed pint (or two) and a wood-grilled pizza. Also at this North Conway staple, you are sure to be surrounded by your climbing brethren. Just be careful with what you say, though. You never know if the guy sitting next to you made his first ascension on the route you thought was “a little soft for the grade.”


Gear Checklist: Trad Climbing

It’s been said many times that “trad is rad.” But, figuring out what you need to get started in traditional (or “trad”) climbing can be difficult. With that in mind, we have developed this checklist, so you can begin building your multi-pitch kit and get out there.

Trad Cilmbing

The Rack

The specific gear you’ll need to protect yourself on a route—the “rack”— varies from climb to climb. That said, most racks have three general components: “stoppers,” “cams,” and “alpine draws.”

Stoppers

Stoppers—sometimes referred to as nuts or chocks—are a great place to start for beginners looking to build their racks and learn the finer points of placing gear. Named after the machine nuts British climbers slung to protect their climbs, today’s iterations are much more advanced, with some being developed with special shapes for specific applications. Climbers place them in the rock’s constrictions, and when loaded, like in the event of a fall, they remain wedged in to protect the climber.

Beginners may want a complete set, like the Black Diamond Stoppers, which include 10 ranging in size from 4 to 13. Most rack their stoppers on one or two non-locking biners. Although they’re a bit heavier, we like to rack ours on traditional oval biners, like the dependable Black Diamond Oval. Doing so makes it easy to pull on the carabiner to help set the nut. For those unfamiliar, this means tugging in the direction from which the nut might pull, thus making it less likely to shift. 

Cams

In the event of a fall, cams, a multi-lobed device, exert an outward force on the rock. You typically place them in a rock’s cracks or fissures, and because of their mechanics, they provide “active protection.”

Although numerous manufacturers produce camming units, or simply cams, Black Diamond Camalot C4s are the standard. Most will want these starting at size 0.3 and ending at size 3. A set of C4s along with a stopper set should provide enough protection to safely ascend many introductory trad routes while giving climbers an opportunity to assess what else they might need.

Most rack their cams on individual, non-locking biners. For the super-organized, many companies make color-coded ones to match the cams, like the CAMP Photons, making it easier to find and grab the one you need off your harness.

Alpine Draws

Alpine draws—specifically, dyneema slings with two carabiners doubled into a quickdraw and used to connect gear to the climbing rope—offer incredible versatility. You can use them as a standard quickdraw, or extend one to reduce rope drag on wandering routes or to lessen the rope’s pull on placed gear.

Having between 10 to 12 alpine draws is a good starting place. You can either make them yourself by buying individual slings and biners, or get them pre-configured, like the CAMP Mach Express Dyneema.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Supplementing the Basic Rack

Depending on where you climb, you’ll want to supplement this basic rack with gear appropriate to where and what you climb. One of our favorite rack supplements, micro cams work for smaller, tighter-fitting placements. We both are fond of Black Diamond’s Camalot C3s and X4s and routinely carry C3s in sizes 1 and 2 and X4s in sizes 0.2 and 0.4.

Getting multiples of some cams is also a good idea. For example, climbers who frequent the Gunks (or other areas where not every anchor is bolted) might want to double-up on popular cams like the 0.5, 0.75, and 1. Similarly, climbers heading to Indian Creek may want to get several of the same size due to the cracks’ uniform nature.

Climbers going to Whitehorse or other Northeast slabs should also consider adding a few tricams. This somewhat-hybrid tool can be placed passively like a nut or actively like a cam, and, featuring slings instead of stems, may substitute spring-loaded cams in horizontal cracks. Their unique shape often makes them the best way to protect slab climbs featuring small pockets. A well-worn Pink 0.5 Tricam, for instance, can be found on many a Northeast climber’s rack.

Finally, climbers anticipating leaving gear for rappel anchors should consider adding a few extra stoppers. Nuts are much less expensive, so the pain of leaving a few behind to build a bomber anchor won’t have you skimping on safety.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Personal Gear

Building anchors, belaying a second, cleaning a route, and descending all require specialized gear. Here’s what we commonly carry:

Belay/Rappel Device

For any route where you’ll be belaying from the top of the pitch and later rappelling, consider a multi-purpose belay device with assisted braking, like the Black Diamond ATC-Guide or Petzl Reverso 4. Although these cost fractionally more than a traditional model, they are far more versatile, allowing climbers to belay a leader from the bottom, top-belay two seconds simultaneously with assisted braking, and make full-length rappels. We carry ours on a dedicated large, locking biner, like the Petzl William Screw-Lock.

When climbing as a party of two (or of three in caterpillar style), we often bring along a Petzl GRIGRI. Although some consider this excess weight, we like it because it expands our raising and lowering options and, equally important, makes top-belaying much, much easier. If your arms and shoulders have ever gotten more of a workout top-belaying a second with an ATC-Guide-like device than from the actual climbing, you’re probably already a convert.

Trad Climbing

Nut tool

A good nut tool, like the Black Diamond Nut Tool, is a small investment that pays for itself. It makes removing protection placed by the leader easier, and helps ensure you finish with all the gear you began with. As an added bonus, some have built-in bottle openers for post-climb beers.

Lockers (one big and assorted small) 

Along with the locking biner for the belay device, we each carry three to four additional locking biners, especially on multi-pitch trad climbs. You can attach them to the anchor, connect them to a rappel back-up, or pair them with your ATC-Guide or Petzl Reverso to belay a second in “guide” mode.

Hollow Block

Another fantastic tool, a hollow block, helps with backing-up rappels or lowers, ascending the rope, or building a haul system to aid a struggling second. It handles nicer than the traditional prusik cord and is also easier to work with.

Cordellette

Used for building an anchor at the end of a pitch, a cordellette is a length of a 7mm or 8mm cord tied in a loop using a double fisherman’s knot. Trad climbers planning on multi-pitch routes generally carry two to three per rope team.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Carrying the Gear

Harness

It’s crucial that aspiring trad climbers find a harness that racks the gear while still being comfortable. An all-around model with two gear loops per side makes a solid starting point. These offer enough padding for all-day comfort, with enough gear loops to accommodate the equipment needed for a multi-pitch route.

We’ve both enjoyed using the Black Diamond Aspect Harness. But, fit is personal, so visit your local shop and try a few before you buy one. And, make sure you feel no discomfort. A little pinch or rubbing in the store only gets worse as the hours tick by on your first multi-pitch route.

Gear Sling 

While many choose to rack their gear on their harness, some EMS Climbing School Guides swear by their gear sling. It takes the weight off your hips and keeps harness-bound cams from obstructing your view of your feet. Climbers can choose between using slings designed specifically to hold and organize your gear, like the Metolius Multi-Loop, or using a climbing-rated nylon model that can be repurposed if need be.

Helmet

If you’re going trad climbing, you should plan on wearing a helmet. Whether it’s people climbing above you, gear handling, the occasional loose rock, or exposure, your head is constantly under threat.

Today’s are light, breathable, and relatively inexpensive. Buy one before going out to the crag to keep your head safe and to avoid looking like a newbie. A favorite of ours is the Black Diamond Vector.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Shoes

The climbing shoes best suited for multi-pitch trad climbing tend to be more comfortably shaped and have a looser fit than those for other climbing disciplines. Introductory trad climbers should avoid the pointed toes and aggressive downturns found in many of today’s sport climbing and bouldering shoes, opting for one that can easily be stuffed into cracks, smeared on slabs, and, most importantly, worn for extended periods of time.

The Little Things

  • Consider investing in a multi-pitch pack, ideally one with room for water, snacks, a guidebook, or topo, and built to withstand the activity’s rigors. The Black Diamond Speed 22 is a longtime favorite of ours.
  • Water bottles can be hard to access and easy to drop. Thus, make sure your pack holds a hydration bladder.
  • It’s surprising how much cooler it becomes once you get a rope length or two off the ground. A lightweight and packable windshirt, like the Mountain Hardwear Super Chockstone, not only helps fend off a chill, but also stands up to rubbing against rock.
  • Make sure to bring the guidebook, so you don’t waste time looking for a route. On multi-pitch routes, we’ll photograph the relevant approach information, route description, and topos on our phones and leave the book in the car or at the base.
  • Time can get away from you during a long day. A small headlamp like the Black Diamond ReVolt (just remember to keep it charged) and a couple of energy gels stashed away might save you.

 

Use this list when assembling your rack, and you’ll be well on your way to enjoying the freedom, fun, and fear that come with trad climbing. Is there a piece of trad gear you can’t live without? We want to hear about it! Leave us your recommendations in the comments.


Alpha Guide: The Presidential Traverse

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

This Northeast classic is one of the region’s most sought-after trips, and for good reason.

The Presidential Traverse is one of the most challenging and beautiful point-to-point hikes in the Whites, and the Northeast at large. It summits up to eight of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot mountains—including the five tallest in New England—with the most notable being the iconic Mount Washington. Because most of the hiking occurs above tree line, hikers can expect a day full of incredible views…if the weather holds, that is.

 

Quick Facts

Distance: 21.7-mile thru-hike
Time to complete: 1 day (but with overnight options)
Difficulty: ★★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★★


Season: May through September
Fees/Permits: $3/day for parking at the Appalachia Trailhead and/or Crawford Path Trailhead
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/whitemountain

Download

Turn-By-Turn

Most begin the Presidential Traverse at the Appalachia Trailhead and end at the AMC’s Highland Center Lodge in Crawford Notch. Doing the Presidential Traverse from north to south is easier, as it gets the majority of the elevation gain out of the way early in the trip, while leaving smoother, easier trails for the end.

If you have two cars, leave one at each trailhead. If not, take advantage of the shuttle service provided by the Appalachian Mountain Club.

Getting to the Appalachia Trailhead from Interstate 93 is straightforward. Follow I-93 to exit 35, US 3 North. Stay on US 3 North for 12 miles to NH 115 North. After roughly 10 miles turn right onto US 2 East, follow it for a little over 7 miles, and the Appalachia Trailhead will be on your right.

If you’re coming from the Route 16, follow Route 2 West for 5 miles west after its juncture with 16, and look for it on your left.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Climbing up Valley Way

Depart Appalachia on the Valley Way Trail. Although the trail’s start is easy to find, an early morning and a maze of trails leaving Appalachia can make it a careful task to ensure that you start—and remain—on the Valley Way Trail. Otherwise, you’ll spend the morning trying to get back on track.

The Valley Way Trail is initially moderate, but gets progressively steeper as you approach Madison Spring Hut (44.328037, -71.283569). There are numerous trail junctions throughout the trail’s 3.8 miles, but all are well-marked. After 3.1 miles, you will pass the Valley Way Tentsite, one of the few designated camping areas along the Traverse. From the tent site, you will get occasional glimpses of Mount Madison looming above on your left as you close in on the AMC’s Madison Spring Hut.

Overall, the Valley Way Trail gains 3,500 feet of elevation—more than a third of the trip’s total—over 3.8 miles. Equally important, it stays below treeline until the hut, allowing you to get in some miles without being too concerned about the weather.

Mount Adams from Madison's Summit. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Adams from Madison’s Summit. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Summits Begin

From Madison Spring Hut make the one-mile roundtrip dash on the Osgood Trail to the summit of Mount Madison (44.328846, -71.276688). Don’t be fooled by the relatively short distance to the summit and back, the Osgood Trails is rugged and steep, gaining 550-feet of elevation. On top of Madison—the Traverse’s first 4,000 footer—take in the inspiring 360-degree views, highlighted by Mount Washington to the south, and your next objective, Mount Adams. However, don’t linger too long before heading back the way you came to the hut, there is still a long way to go.

Back at the Madison Hut refill your water, scrounge for leftover breakfast, or buy baked goods. On a big trip like the Presidential Traverse (especially if you’re doing it in a day) every minute and ounce counts. Since the route after the hut is above treeline for the next 12 miles, the hut is also a good place to reassess the weather. If it is deteriorating, considering bailing here, before the turnaround logistics get too complicated.

Star Lake and Madison from Mount Adams. | Credit: Tim Peck
Star Lake and Madison from Mount Adams. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Adams (44.3203, -71.2909) is the next summit on the Traverse. To get there from the hut, follow the Gulfside Trail to the Airline Trail. It is a 0.9 mile trip, gaining 950-feet of elevation up rocky and rough terrain. From Adams—the second highest mountain in New England—enjoy dazzling 360-degree views of Mount Madison and Star Lake behind you, and Mounts Jefferson and Washington before you.

Mount Jefferson and Clay. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Jefferson and Clay. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Jefferson

From Adams, drop down 0.3 miles through a boulder field to Thunderstorm Junction and rejoin the Gulfside Trail. After 1.2 more miles hiking alongside the Great Gulf, you’ll be longing for smooth trail by the time the Gulfside reaches Edmunds Col. Unfortunately, the 0.6 mile-long hike on the Jefferson Loop Trail across Jefferson’s summit (44.304237, -71.316597) is anything but smooth, climbing 800 vertical feet in some of the most challenging hiking yet on the Traverse. Warning: False summits abound on the way to the actual summit.

Jefferson—the third highest mountain in New England—doesn’t disappoint on views. Take a moment to enjoy them, with Mount Adams behind you and Mount Clay and Mount Washington towering before you. Once you’ve had your fill, continue south along the Jefferson Summit Loop until it rejoins the Gulfside Trail. Before you leave the summit though, evaluate the weather, mindful of how much exposed hiking is left.

If you have any doubts, from here there are numerous trail options that will bring you back to your car at the Appalachia Trailhead, albeit with some difficulty. One way back is to backtrack the Jefferson Summit Loop Trail and connect with the Gulfside Trail. Follow the Gulfside Trail for 0.7 miles to the Israel Ridge Path which you will take for 0.8 miles to the Perch Path. Hikers will want to follow the Perch Path for a short distance—passing the Randolph Mountain Club Perch Shelter—before connecting with the Randolph Path. Backpackers might want to stay the night at the Perch Shelter and try and wait out unfavorable weather, or give themselves an extra day before making the long 6.1 mile trek along the Randolph Path as they drop 3,700-feet in elevation to the Appalachia Trailhead. The Perch Shelter costs $10 (for non-Randolph Mountain Club members) to stay the night, and has a spring to fill your water bottles.  

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

To Clay or Not to Clay

Following the Gulfside Trail 0.5 miles from Mount Jefferson to Sphinx Col, hikers encounter the first “optional” summit of the trip: the 5,533-foot tall Mount Clay. Since Clay is really a sub-peak of Washington (and thus not one of the 48 official New Hampshire 4,000 footers), it’s not always necessary, but it is still worth the short loop detour for the views of the Northern Presidentials and the ground you’ve already covered. That said, many on the Traverse bypass Clay’s summit and the extra 0.3 of a mile and few hundred feet of elevation by continuing on the Gulfside Trail for 1.4 miles to the summit of Mount Washington.

The Cog Railway and summit of Washington from Clay. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Cog Railway and summit of Washington from Clay. | Credit: Tim Peck

Once past Clay, the hike up Washington on the Gulfside often feels like the longest part of the Traverse. Although the summit looks just minutes away, appearances are deceiving and it’s still more than a mile away. The trail also remains unrelenting and rough. Thankfully, you’ll have great views of Burt’s Ravine, the Great Gulf, Mount Washington and the Cog Railroad to motivate your climb. And if at any point you stop to catch your breath, turn around to admire the distance you’ve already traveled, with Jefferson, Adams, and Madison laid out behind you.

Climbing towards the top of Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck
Climbing towards the top of Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Worst Weather in the World and Busiest Summit of the Day

The summit view from New England’s highest peak (44.270584, -71.303551) certainly don’t disappoint. To the east, the Carters and Wildcats dominate the foreground, with, on a clear day, the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. Looking north, Madison, Adams, Jefferson, and Clay take up the skyline. West is the Bretton Woods ski area, followed by the peaks of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Finally, to the south, the remainder of the Traverse is laid-out before you: Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, and Jackson.

Of course, Washington—home to the “world’s worst weather”—doesn’t offer any summit views on some days. But even on rainy, cool, or cloudy days, you’ll also encounter more people on the summit than you will have on the entirety of this trip thanks to the mountain’s popularity, the auto road, and the Cog Railroad.

Civilization isn’t all bad though if you brought your wallet, as the cafeteria in the Sherman Adams building on the summit offers the opportunity to eat and drink something different from regular hiking fair. On more than one occasion a Coke or piece of pizza has boosted morale, busted a bonk, and been key to a successful traverse. Additionally, it also offers a great place for hikers to refill water bottles and hydration packs.

However, don’t let the warm food, places to sit, and great views, lure you into lingering too long on the summit. You still have 7.7 miles and several hours left.

Lakes of the Clouds and Monroe while descending Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck
Lakes of the Clouds and Monroe while descending Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Crawford Path

After Washington, the character of the Traverse changes, as you leave the rugged Gulfside Trail and continue for the duration of the trip (if ending at Mount Pierce) on the more gentle Crawford Path. Almost 200 years old, the Crawford Path is the oldest hiking trail in the contiguous U.S., and at one time was used to guide tourists to the summit of Mount Washington on horseback. Also worth noting is that despite some small climbs, the majority of the trip is downhill from here.

This is especially true of the 1.5-mile descent to AMC’s Lakes of the Clouds Hut (44.258831, -71.318817), the highest and largest hut in the White Mountains. Views of the Southern Presidentials dominate this portion of the hike. As you approach the hut, look for Lakes of the Clouds, a set of small ponds, on your left. Re-filling your water at the hut avoids the lines often found in Mount Washington’s summit, making it a faster and easier option. But again, don’t linger too long, unless they’re serving fresh-baked desserts or you’re planning to spend the night here as part of a multi-day traverse.

Looking back at Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck
Looking back at Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck

From the hut, continue on the Crawford Path for 0.3 miles before connecting with the Mount Monroe Loop Trail. The Mount Monroe Loop trail climbs 350 feet to the open summit of Mount Monroe (44.255089, -71.321373), the fifth 4,000-footer of the trip. From here you get a striking view of Washington and Lakes of the Clouds behind you, and before you, the Crawford Path is visible as it snakes its way to your next objective Mount Eisenhower. Before departing, look east, down Monroe’s sheer cliffs and towards Oakes Gulf.

Hiking from Monroe to Eisenhower. | Credit: Tim Peck
Hiking from Monroe to Eisenhower. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Eisenhower

Dropping off Monroe, connect again with Crawford Path and begin working your way across the 2.1 miles and the 500-foot climb up Eisenhower. Along this stretch you’ll encounter some of the most gentle terrain of the trip, and most likely not a moment too soon for your tired legs. It’s also here that you might begin to feel the effects of an even pleasant day spent above the tree line, as the sun and the wind can start to weather your resolve.

After a steep, but quick, climb up Eisenhower’s flanks, you’ll encounter a giant cairn marking its summit (44.240688, -71.350342) and the sixth four-thousand footer of the trip. Take a moment to look back, take in the view, and appreciate the enormous distance the Traverse has covered so far. Then, if you have the energy, turn south and try to pick out the summits ahead: Mount Pierce (your next objective) and, if you continue further, Mount Jackson and Mount Webster.

Monroe and Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck
Monroe and Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck

Leaving Eisenhower, rejoin the Crawford Path heading south towards Mount Pierce. Follow the Crawford Path for 1.3 miles to the split with the Webster Cliff Trail. Follow the Webster Cliff Trail 0.1 miles to the summit of Mount Pierce (44.227802, -71.364769), the seventh 4,000 footer of the Traverse.

On the 1.4 miles between Eisenhower and Pierce you’ll begin to dip in and out of the trees, the first section of below treeline hiking since your ascent of Madison. While only picking up nominal elevation, the rolling nature of this part of the Crawford Path will have you legs feeling weary with the Traverse’s 8,700 feet of elevation gain. The summit of Mount Pierce also signals an exit from the high mountains, as it’s the day’s only peak that doesn’t offer views in every direction.

Mount Pierce's summit. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Pierce’s summit. | Credit: Tim Peck

Decision Time

Traditionally, the Presidential Traverse “ends” at Pierce. If this is your final summit, follow the Webster Cliff Trail back to the Crawford Path. The beginning of the 3.2-mile descent to the Highland Center in Crawford Notch is surprisingly rugged and is characterized by rocks and roots. After a short time, the trail becomes significantly more moderate. As you get closer to Route 302, the sound of traffic is oddly comforting, letting you know that you’re almost there.

If you’re not ready to be done, extend the Traverse by instead hiking south on the Webster Trail for 2.4 miles to Mount Jackson (44.2031, -71.3742), the eighth 4,000 footer of the trip. On the way, you will pass the Mitzpah Hut, giving you the opportunity to refill your bottles and bladder, buy dessert, or even stay for the night. Although Jackson’s summit delivers great views to the north, west, and south, the 2.4-mile trail is rough in parts and rarely a quick trip, especially with almost 20 miles under your belt already. Except for an open rocky section near the top, the 2.5-mile descent to Crawford Notch from the summit of Jackson on the Webster-Jackson trail is moderate and a little bit shorter than the descent from Pierce.


The Kit

Light is right on the Presidential Traverse. So if you have a good weather window and you’re trying to do the Traverse in a day, here are a few tips for trimming your kit.

  • A super lightweight windshell like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite is indispensable on a trip like the Presi that covers so much ground above treeline.
  • If you picked the “right” day to do the Presidential Traverse, plan on getting a lot of sun, especially when hiking north to south. A sun hoody, hat with a brim, and sunglasses are great ways to protect your skin and eyes.
  • Even if the forecast is favorable, the Presidentials are notorious for bad weather. Be prepared for it with a lightweight puffy coat like the Black Diamond First Light and a rain shell such as the Arcteryx Beta SL.
  • The weather changes fast in Presidential’s, make sure you’re ready for it with a winter hat and gloves.
  • You’ll be crossing some of the most rugged terrain the White Mountain’s have to offer. Give your legs some support when they eventually get wobbly with a pair of collapsible trekking poles like the Black Diamond Alpine FLZ.
  • Boots are great but trail runners like the Brooks Cascadia 12 are key for trying to quickly cover 20 plus miles.

Descending Mount Jefferson with Mount Washington in the background. | Credit: Tim Peck
Descending Mount Jefferson with Mount Washington in the background. | Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Hiking the Presidential Traverse is a big day in itself. Consider shuttling cars the night before to ease logistical challenges and ensure your vehicle a spot in the lot.
  • If doing the full Presidential Traverse in a day seems like too much, there are three AMC Huts along the route (Madison, Lake of the Clouds, and Mitzpah). Using the AMC huts allows you to follow the lightweight ethic while getting to savor the traverse over multiple days. However, don’t expect to find much camping on route due to alpine zone restrictions.
  • Because this hike is almost entirely above treeline, it’s not one to do in bad weather, so check the Mt. Washington Observatory Forecast before you go.
  • If you get caught in bad weather, there are lots of trails to bail below treeline on, but they will create significant logistical problems and could make it difficult to get back to your car in a hurry. Many of the trailheads they end on are fairly isolated. Don’t count on weathering a storm in Mount Washington’s summit buildings.
  • Getting an early start is a great tactic to avoid late afternoon thunderstorms.
  • Even though the route is well marked, it’s a good idea to bring a map in addition to a route mileage table to monitor your progress.
  • If you’re looking to refuel post hike, check out Catalano’s Pizza in Twin Mountain on the way back towards I-93. If your phone has reception, call in your order ahead of time to make sure dinner is waiting for you. If you feel like you deserve a drink after a long day on the trail, Fabyan’s Restaurant has a decent beer selection, along with traditional pub food.

Current Conditions

Have you done the entire traverse 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!


5 Hikes in New Hampshire's Lakes Region

It might be tempting to spend your Lakes Region vacation floating on Squam Lake, sitting on Weirs Beach, or riding the Winnipesaukee Railroad, but no trip to New Hampshire is complete without bagging a summit. Whether it’s a quick scamper up West Rattlesnake Mountain or an all-day climb on Mount Chocorua, be sure to devote some time to exploring the area’s incredible local hiking.

Climbing West Rattlesnake. | Credit: Doug Martland
Climbing West Rattlesnake. | Credit: Doug Martland

West Rattlesnake Mountain

Looming above Squam Lake is one of the Lakes Region’s best moderate hikes: the Old Bridle Path to West Rattlesnake Mountain’s summit. Leaving from the parking lot off Route 113 in Holderness, it’s a two-mile round trip with less than 500 feet of elevation gain, all on a well-maintained, yellow-blazed trail that is family friendly and suitable for first-time hikers.

The view south of Squam Lake from the summit’s rocky slabs will impress even the most seasoned White Mountain hikers. For the peak-baggers among us, follow the well-marked Ridge Trail east from the outcrops for over 100 yards to the true summit. If you have more energy, consider adding on some extra miles by hiking on toward East Rattlesnake Mountain or downhill toward Five Finger Point, a peninsula that juts into Squam Lake.

The downside? West Rattlesnake is pretty popular, especially on weekends. To avoid the crowds, consider an early or late start, as the hike is easy enough to complete in an hour or so. Just don’t blame us if you’re late returning because you’ve been lingering on the summit to enjoy the views!

The view from the summit of Belknap Mountain. | Credit: Doug Martland
The view from the summit of Belknap Mountain. | Credit: Doug Martland

Belknap Mountain

Another family-friendly hike, Belknap Mountain is one of New England’s 50 most topographically-prominent peaks. Three different trails—the Red, Blue, and Green—start at the Belknap Carriage Road parking area and wind their way up over the course of a mile. All are well-marked and have about 700 feet of elevation gain.

Once you get to the summit, make sure to climb the fire tower. It offers a fantastic 360-degree view of the region, with Lake Winnipesaukee being the most prominent feature. If you can pull yourself away from the views (and be careful once you do, because the stairs are steep), explore the old ranger’s cabin and still-working water pump, which are a short distance downhill on the Green Trail.

When planning your Belknap Mountain hike, be mindful that the Carriage Road gate is only open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. It’s also worth noting that the Carriage Road’s final segment to the upper parking lot is a steep dirt road that may be difficult for cars with low clearance. But, don’t let either of these stop you from enjoying Belknap Mountain. Instead, you can do a slightly longer hike along the Gunstock Mountain Trail, starting from the lower parking area.

Relaxing on the summit of Mount Morgan. | Credit: Tim Peck
Relaxing on the summit of Mount Morgan. | Credit: Tim Peck

Morgan and Percival Loop

The Morgan and Percival Loop hike is another must-do. Starting from the same parking lot as West Rattlesnake Mountain, this 4.9-mile loop offers something for everyone—fun terrain, a chance to push yourself outside of your comfort levels, and, most notably, fantastic views. While the hiking found here is mostly moderate, the trail does present caves to crawl through, ladders to climb, and open ledges to walk across on your way to the summit of 2,220-foot Mount Morgan and then to 2,212-foot Mount Percival. Of course, if crawling, scrambling, and climbing aren’t your thing, walk-arounds make this hike suitable for almost everyone.

Leaving from the parking lot off Route 113, the Morgan and Percival Loop combines four separate trails: the Mount Morgan Trail, the Crawford Ridgepole Trail, the Mount Percival Trail, and the Morse Trail. Hikers will find them well marked and easy to follow, with signs at all main junctions. Because the trail descending Mount Percival is more gentle in nature, summiting Mount Morgan first is preferred. Be warned that this hike, like its neighbor, is incredibly popular. If you get to the trailhead late, you might find yourself parking on the street and not in the lot. On a positive note, there are plenty of views to go around!

The slabs on Welch. | Credit: Tim Peck
The slabs on Welch. | Credit: Tim Peck

Welch-Dickey Loop Trail

If you’re looking for something a little more difficult, consider the Welch-Dickey Loop. What attracts many is its big-mountain feel jam-packed into just a few miles. With jaw-dropping views, semi-exposed ledges, massive stone slabs, and above-treeline hiking, Welch-Dickey seems like a hike found in New Hampshire’s “big” mountains.

However, with Welch Mountain standing at just 2,605 feet and Dickey Mountain peaking at 2,743 feet, even those of us with sea legs can summit both. Although it’s far from New Hampshire’s most challenging, be warned that it can feel longer and harder than its 4.5-mile length. As well, expect to climb over 1,600 feet and through terrain that can be challenging for non-hikers. Also, because of the hike’s slabby nature, it can be difficult when wet.

Located off Route 93’s exit 28, the Welch-Dickey Loop sits at the Lakes Region’s northern corner. Navigation is relatively easy, as yellow blazes and cairns clearly mark the trail. Most prefer to go counter-clockwise and summit Welch Mountain first, before heading to Dickey Mountain’s summit. Expect to pay a $3 per-day fee to park at the trailhead, or splurge and buy a White Mountain National Forest season pass for $20.

Mount Chocorua. | Credit: Doug Martland
Mount Chocorua. | Credit: Doug Martland

Mount Chocorua

The pinnacle of Lakes Region hiking, Mount Chocorua is one of the Whites’ most recognizable mountains. While just 3,478 feet, its rocky, treeless summit leads many to believe it’s much greater in stature than it is. As such, Mount Chocorua is as challenging, if not more so, than many of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers. When you consider the exposed ledges, steep slabs, and above-treeline weather, hikers should plan for a full day.

The most popular and direct route up, Piper Trail starts off Route 16 in Albany, N.H., behind Davies General Store. At 4.5 miles (nine miles round trip) and gaining roughly 2,700 feet, the Piper Trail presents a challenge even for seasoned hikers. And, with very steep sections, open ledges, and cliffside scrambling, this trail is perfect for those who like a charge of adrenaline.

For a different route up, continue approximately one mile past the Piper Trailhead on Route 16 to the White Ledge Campground and the Carter Ledge Trail. With nearly the same mileage and vertical gain, the Carter Ledge Trail gives you an option to beat the crowds. However, while this makes the route slightly harder to follow, you intermittently get fantastic views of the summit along Carter Ledge.

 

If you’re heading to the Lakes Region, or are looking for a reason to go, check out some of these fantastic hikes for their impressive views and challenging terrain. And, of course, we want to hear about your experience. In the comments, tell us which Lakes Region hikes you love or just about the great day you had here!

 


Gear Checklist: Sport Climbing

Sport climbing is one of rock climbing’s fastest-growing segments. If you’re an aspiring sport climber looking to spend a day (or week) clipping bolts, this checklist will get you outfitted. So, gear up, climb safely, and start sending—rope gun not included!

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Dynamic Rope

If you plan on visiting a variety of sport-climbing areas, a 70-meter rope is now the way to go. While a 60-meter length will be sufficient for many older routes, 70-meter ropes are rapidly becoming the standard. Thus, having a 70 will ensure that you don’t end up short when it comes time to send that super-long project. Most also aren’t all that more expensive than their 60-meter counterparts.

In addition to getting longer, ropes are also becoming skinnier. For a nice blend of lightweight performance and durability, look at those between 9.6mm and 9.8mm thick. Ropes below 9.6 will likely wear too quickly for first-time outdoor climbers.

On whichever length or diameter you decide, consider getting the dry-treated version. Although it will cost more initially, you’ll save money in the long run. In use, the treatment helps keep the rope dry, reduce abrasion, and prevent dirt, sand, and other particles from getting embedded into the fibers.

For one final point: Before you climb, put a knot in the rope’s free end. That way, your belayer can’t lower you off if your rope ends up being shorter than required.

Rope Bag

To help keep your cord clean, a rope bag with a tarp is a worthwhile investment. Whether it’s clipping bolts out West at Red Rocks or nearer to home at Rumney, stacking the rope on a tarp prevents sand, dirt, and mud from getting inside its strands and causing abrasion, which, over time, weakens and discolors the material. The Black Diamond Super Chute has been a longtime favorite of ours.

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Quickdraws

Climbers use quickdraws—two non-locking ‘biners joined by a “dogbone”—to connect the rope to the bolts. We bring 12 to 18 quickdraws for a day of sport climbing. Because most routes don’t require that many, it is a good practice to carry the same number of draws as your route has bolts, plus one or two more in case you drop one. Counting the number of bolts and checking the guide book are two good ways to figure out how many you should carry.

Depending on your priorities, you can get quickdraws with thin Dyneema runners or fat nylon dogbones. Although thin runners help keep the weight down, quickdraws with thicker ones can be very handy for hauling yourself back up to that crux move. A stiffer dogbone also makes reaching for the clip a little easier.

When we’re climbing with a group of folks who will be following the route on top-rope, we carry two “alpine draws”—a quickdraw made with a shoulder-length Dyneema sling instead of a dogbone—with locking ‘biners to clip to the anchor. It’s an easy, efficient, and safe way to anchor into the bolts at the top. It also prevents wear on the fixed gear.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Assisted-Braking Belay Device

Even if you already own a belay device, an assisted-braking option like the Petzl Grigri 2 is awesome for sport climbing. They are especially useful if you’re belaying someone working a route, as they involve less effort to hold a person while he or she rests.

Harness

Because sport climbers carry minimal gear and don’t spend as much time hanging in their harnesses compared to trad or aid climbers, specific models tend to have less padding than those intended for all-around use. While these are fantastic if you’re projecting the crag’s hardman route, most of us mortals will be okay with an all-around harness. Look for something that fits well, has enough gear loops, and is comfortable enough to hang in for a few minutes at a time.

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Chalk Bag and Chalk

If you’re like us, just the mere mentioning of climbing, never mind racking up, causes your hands to sweat. So, clip a chalk bag to your harness, tie it around your waist with a cord, or get a belt to make sure sweaty, slick hands don’t keep you from sending.

Cleaning, Rappelling, and Self-Rescue

A cordellette, a prusik, a double-length sling, and a few extra locking ‘biners are great additions to any sport-climbing kit. Combined, they only weigh an extra pound or two and will be really useful if you find yourself rappelling, needing to escape the belay, or building a ground anchor.

Many are also adding a personal anchor system to their kit to ease the the cleaning process. Bring one on your next trip to the crag, and enjoy the adjustability and safety provided.

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Helmet

Visit most popular sport crags, and you’ll likely see more people without helmets than with them. But, just because wearing a helmet here isn’t the norm, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. After all, objective hazards like rockfall or dropped gear still occur. A helmet also protects your head in the event you end up inverted when taking a whipper.

Even better, helmets seem to get lighter and more breathable every season, making them so comfortable it’s easy to forget you’re even wearing one. The Black Diamond Vector offers a good blend of performance and protection at a reasonable price, and has been on our heads for the last few years.

Shoes

Today’s climbers are blessed with an incredibly large and diverse selection of climbing shoes. But, what works well for one person might not for another. It’s been our experience that, more often than not, it’s a climber’s ability to use their feet rather than a particular shoe that lets them make it to the anchors.

If you’re looking to narrow down your choices, however, a Velcro shoe or slipper is easy to get in and out of at the crag. You can slip them off for belaying or giving your feet a break when you’re not climbing, and pull them on quickly when it’s your turn to go again.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Guide Book

There’s nothing worse than getting to the climbing area, and then wandering around aimlessly looking for a route. So, before you head out, make sure to get the guide book for your destination. It will give you a general lay of the land, get you to routes of interest, and maybe even offer some specific beta. It also makes a great place to record any routes you’ve sent!

Pack

A bag between 35 and 42 liters is perfect for carrying your gear, food, water, and a camera from the car to the cliff. While any pack in this range should suffice, a handful are designed for cragging. These offer easy access to supplies, and often include items like integrated gear loops, tarps, and pockets for holding specialized equipment like chalk and shoes.

The Little Things

  • Even on warm days, a puffy coat can be a valuable addition, as it’s a great way to keep comfortable between burns and belaying.
  • Sticky-soled approach shoes like the 5.10 Guide Tennie can be a nice addition if you climb at popular locations that involve scrambling from crag to crag.
  • Accidents can and do happen, so it’s always a good idea to have a first aid kit. Add a couple of climbing-specific items, like nail clippers, climbing tape, and hand warmers, especially for the spring and fall.
  • A headlamp is light, packable, and always a good idea to have in your bag.
  • If any or all of this feels too involved, a lesson with the EMS Climbing School is a great way to get your systems in place before heading out on your own.

 

This list contains pretty much everything you need for heading out to clip some bolts. But, you can add equipment to make the day more enjoyable or safer. Belay glasses to ease neck strain? An insulated water bottle for keeping cool when the pressure to send rises? Sending biscuits (Oreos) for positivity? In the comments, let us know the one thing you can’t live without at the crag!


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!