Beyond 48: The Northeast's Hardest Hiking Checklists

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

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

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

The Big Hikes

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

Presidential Traverse

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

Carter-Moriah-Wildcat Traverse

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

Pemi Loop

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

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

Credit: Hannah Wohltmann
Credit: Hannah Wohltmann

Gridding

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

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

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

Credit: Jeff Jacobsen
Credit: Jeff Jacobsen

Red-Lining

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

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

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

Redlining the White Mountains

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


10 Tips to Tackle the New Hampshire 48

Some of us are goal-oriented hikers. It’s nice to have some larger objective to work on and have something to guide and motivate us to get out more. If you live in the Northeast, and especially if you enjoy hiking New Hampshire’s peaks, making your way to the top of all of them is a seriously worthy objective.

New Hampshire has 48 peaks at 4,000 feet or more in elevation, all of which are serious undertakings individually. But, put them all together into one big to-do list? That’s a goal that takes some serious dedication and hard work.

Each year, hundreds of people hike their way through these lists, exploring different routes and trails and getting well-acquainted with peaks and places that had only been names on a map before. And, at the end, it would be hard to deny finishers are some of the most experienced, expertise-packed hikers in the state.

Interested in starting your own checklist of the New Hampshire 48? According to our experts, there are just a few special things you should know:

Credit: Hannah Wholtmann
Credit: Hannah Wholtmann

1. Buy the AMC White Mountain Guide

The most recent copy of this essential guidebook has all of the most up-to-date information on trails, great views, time estimates, mileage, and other key factors. It also comes with folding maps that are helpful to check out before the hike. And, in the back, you’ll find a complete checklist of all 48 peaks for you to tick off. You can also find the official list here

2. Join a Facebook group for local hikers 

A page like “Hike the 4,000 footers of NH!” is a constantly updated, crowdsourced resource. Recent information like road closures and trail conditions is always easy to find. Plus, the group serves as a massive community and a great, experienced pool of people to ask questions and get advice.

You can also use websites and forums like trailsnh.com, newenglandtrailconditions.com, and vftt.org for up-to-date trail conditions.

3. Check the weather

Keep an eye on it a week before, a day before, the night before, and the morning of your hike. The White Mountains’ notorious weather can change in an instant, so it’s best to monitor it as much as possible to avoid surprises and keep you safe if it looks like it might turn ugly. 

Courtesy of Hannah Wohltmann
Courtesy of Hannah Wohltmann

4. But don’t always be deterred by it!

If you wait for good weather on every hike, however, you’d never finish. As long as you have the right gear, getting after it in inclement conditions, like rain, can be just as fun. And, it will show you a whole other side of the mountains you’re climbing.

Obviously, don’t go hiking when it’s stormy or too rough, but a little rain never hurt! Similarly, don’t let the winter slow you down. For this latter point, get a pair of snowshoes first, and take to peaks like Mount Pierce and Mount Hale to make the leap into winter hiking.

5. Take on your list with friends

If the motivation for completing all 48 peaks isn’t enough, having friends with which to work through the list adds an extra level of excitement and drive. Encouragement when the trail gets tough or even when you’re not feeling up to hiking can go a long way. Plus, an adventure with friends, especially when you complete such a major accomplishment, can be extremely rewarding.

6. Pick a mountain to finish on

Your final hike is a big day, so plan ahead to make it special. Do some research to figure out which mountain you want to do your celebrating on.

7. Don’t forget other peaks!

They may not be as tall, but New Hampshire (and the Northeast at large) has plenty of other mountains just as enjoyable as the New Hampshire 48. Hike a shorter one like Mount Cardigan or Mount Willard, or even head over to New York and start ticking off their Adirondack 46. Don’t lose sight of all the other great things to do in the region!

Supermoon
Mount Washington during a Presidential Traverse under a supermoon. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

8. Double-, triple-, or quadruple-up!

48 mountains don’t have to become 48 hikes. Lots of these peaks are close enough together that you can (or might even have to) swing through multiple ones in a day, thus saving you time.

If you’re feeling really ambitious, think about taking on something like the Presidential Traverse. With one very long day, you can bag eight of the largest on your list, plus a few extras, and it’s as rewarding of a day hike as you’ll find anywhere. For longer trips, the route also makes a great weekend overnight.

Peter Barr, all smiles as he finishes four lists at once on top of Mount Carrigain. | Courtesy of Peter Barr
Peter Barr, all smiles as he finishes four lists at once on top of Mount Carrigain. | Courtesy of Peter Barr

9. Join the community!

Aside from being recognized for your major accomplishment, as well as getting a scroll and a cool patch to sew on your backpack, joining a club of hikers more than 10,000 strong is a solid opportunity to contribute to a great organization and support group.

They also offer recognition if you go on to complete all of New England’s 67 4,000-footers or if you complete New England’s 100 highest peaks. They also recognize those hearty souls who brave the elements and dare to climb both lists’ peaks in winter.

Once you finish one of these lists, following just a couple of steps will make it official:

  1. Simply visit the AMC Four Thousand Footer Club’s webpage, and fill out an application.
  2. Be sure to include the date of your final peak, as well as a brief account of one meaningful hike you had along the way.
  3. Submit a $10 application fee, so you can receive your scroll, which is personalized to include your name and completion date, and your patch. 

NH48 Patch

10. Get recognized!

Each year, the Four Thousand Footer Club has a reunion and recognition ceremony for list-finishers at the end of April in Exeter, New Hampshire. This year, EMS is supporting the event, giving away dozens of raffle prizes and celebrating alongside hundreds of accomplished hikers. Not a finisher? No problem: The event is free and open to all, and is a great opportunity for meeting aspiring hikers to get into the game.

Please visit their website for more details, and come to the event at Exeter High School on April 22nd to see what hiking the New Hampshire 48 is all about!


Running the Wapack Trail

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

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

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

Pack Monadnock

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

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

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

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

Running Pack Monadnock

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Add in North Pack

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

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

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

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

Mount Watatic

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

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Go Big on New Hampshire’s Small Mountains

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

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

Before You Go

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

 


Mount Washington Cog Railway: Ski It While You Can

Built in 1868, the Mount Washington Cog Railway has been a staple of the peak’s plentiful ski runs since skis first came to the Northeast’s highest point. But, recently, plans have come to light that could significantly change that three-mile run in the not-so-distant future.

In December, the Mount Washington Railway Company (MWRC) proposed building a new hotel and restaurant along the rail line just a mile below the mountain’s summit.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Washington has seen more human impact than most peaks. It’s not hard to find the scars of actions made decades or even centuries ago, as everything from hotels, lodges, and huts to roads and railways dots the landscape. Between a multitude of buildings, an auto road, and a railway, Mount Washington has seen more than its fair share of development, both good and bad.

No matter how you feel about the existing infrastructure throughout the Whites, it’s hard to argue that there should be more of it. The most obvious reason we don’t need another building up there? Just look at the remnants of structures built in the past, both on Mount Washington and on the Whites’ other mountains—the impact will last generations. As outdoor enthusiasts, we can almost universally agree on one thing: We should be minimizing our impact on the environment.

But, if we can’t agree on that, then maybe we can agree to not ruin a favorite ski run.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The “Easy” Way

Skiing the Cog Railway might be one of the activities that leaves me the most conflicted about Mount Washington’s infrastructure. While in the summer the railway presents an easy path to the summit for those not wanting or not able to exert the effort in getting there under their own power, in the winter, the Cog offers the most accessible way to Mount Washington’s summit for skiers and snowboarders. Ascending roughly 3,500 feet in three miles, the Cog is the shortest route to the top and involves the least amount of elevation gain. Because it is graded to be suitable for a train, it is never excessively steep, making for quick ascents and even faster descents—especially when skiing! Even better, spring is the perfect time to make the trip, as winter’s cold and windy conditions begin to subside, and the days start to get longer.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Not only does the Cog offer an easier path to the summit, it also minimizes challenging route finding. Unlike many New Hampshire backcountry ski runs, skiing the Cog has no mysteries to unlock; simply follow the rail line from its parking lot near Bretton Woods to the mountain’s summit and back down. The simplicity is incredibly beneficial when considering Mount Washington’s fierce winter weather, with the railway serving as a handrail to the summit and back.

Skiing the Cog further simplifies the logistics by reducing the likelihood of an avalanche. Unlike the more notable and steep Tuckerman Ravine, the Cog’s lower slope angle, less snow, and less wind traditionally make the snowpack more reliable and less likely to avalanche than other Mount Washington backcountry ski lines. However, in spite of its tame reputation, it’s still smart to carry a beacon, shovel, and probe, even though you probably won’t need to use them.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Summit Optional

While the Cog provides a path to the mountain’s summit, there are plenty of good turns to be had on it at lower elevations. In fact, on most occasions that I have skied there, the best turns have come down low. At 3,800 feet (a little over 1,000 feet of elevation gain), the Waumbek tank is a good stopping point for newer backcountry skiers or those just looking to run low-angle laps. Just below treeline at 4,725 feet, Jacob’s Ladder marks the turnaround point for people more interested in skiing than summiting. At a 37-percent grade, it’s also here where skiers will tackle the steepest portion of the trail. From Jacob’s Ladder, the next natural stopping point is the summit.

That is, unless the MWRC get the okay to build their hotel and restaurant. Planned for Skyline Switch, it would sit at 5,200 feet, just 1,000 feet of elevation below the summit. While some might appreciate the brief reprieve from the wind the building could offer, it would also sit blocking one of the trickier sections of the descent, as well as blemish the unique alpine landscape.

Skiing from the summit has typically involved everything from linking snow patches together to wondering why I don’t just put crampons on and walk back down. The trek to the top is mostly just for that: to touch the top. However, on a few occasions, I have been lucky enough click in and make turns right from the summit sign.

 

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Skiing the Cog Railway is one of my favorite winter trips in the Whites. It’s straightforward, offers great skiing, and allows you to descend one of the region’s most iconic peaks. Those should be reasons enough to do it, but with the uncertainty of the Cog Railway’s current state (the MWRC wants to have their hotel and restaurant open by 2019), the best time to go is right now!

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Carried Away by The Eaglet

The Eaglet is New Hampshire’s only free-standing spire and, for climbers wanting a majestic adventure, is home to a few separate routes, with West Chimney (5.7) being the most popular. In 1929, Lincoln O’Brien and Robert Underhill recognized this beautiful structure and decided to take a closer look, unknowingly making the historic first ascent of a soon-to-be classic.

My alarm rang: It was 5:45 a.m. as I jumped out of bed, straight into my approach shoes. I was so excited that I hardly noticed the lack of sleep. After packing my car, I drove two hours north to meet up with my climbing partner, Justin. We immediately began to discuss the routes on our objective, The Eaglet. As we conceptualized over some hot tea, we realized that the mountain face would only make this climb much more epic.

Justin and I began our short but steep 30-minute hike to the base. After some back-and-forth banter, we finally geared up. Due to the icy conditions, we discussed minor changes to our route and decided West Chimney was the best line of ascent. Justin and I climb often and have attempted many different crags, but nothing compared to The Eaglet on this day.

Courtesy: Rachael Galipo
Credit: Kris Roller

The First Pitch

West Chimney’s first pitch begins to the climbers’ left. Justin started on the first lead, threading his way up ledges and shallow corners on the spire’s left-hand skyline. Given the abnormally difficult conditions, I had decided to relinquish the sharp end, which was made easier by my partner’s vast experience in this type of dicey terrain. Playing into your partner’s strengths is the key to success and safety in the mountains, and this day was his turn.

Given the route’s circuitous line of ascent and the wind carrying our voices off into the void, we came to a resolution: to use an age-old mountaineering formula for voiceless communication. This code—primitive at best—is based on sharp, distinct rope tugs: Three clear pulls indicate on-belay. When you’re climbing multi-pitch walls, communication is critical.

“I was so excited that I hardly noticed the lack of sleep”

Soon after Justin started out, I heard a holler of elation and subsequently felt three tugs. I got ready and began climbing, only to realize how icy the first hold was.

I continued up toward the route’s first crux, a small ceiling you need to climb up and around. There, I spotted a piton so old I assumed it was put in place by the first ascensionist. About 15 feet past this section, the climb got pretty slabby. This forced me to move quickly, so I didn’t slip.

After crushing through this part of the journey, I headed up and left to a loose and snowy vertical gully. A few tricky moves placed me at our first belay atop a ledge, where I joined Justin with a huge smile. With the energy of pure enjoyment, we were determined to get to the top.

Courtesy: Rachael Galipo
Credit: Kris Roller

The Final Pitch

The next pitch—my favorite—was a 60-foot crack, one splitting two walls and big enough to wedge our bodies into. After we snaked our way up using all sorts of abnormal moves, we reached the coolest feature: a chockstone the size of a Smart car blocking the crack’s exit. Still short of desperation and driven to succeed, I dug my way up. Trying so hard, I couldn’t help but look like I was in a cage fight. Justin began to laugh after witnessing my unusual facial expressions.

After grunting my way up to the second anchor, I once again reunited with Justin’s energy. He gets so stoked over climbing, and honestly at this point, it had completely rubbed off on me. It has been said that climbing is 90-percent mental. So, with this perspective, I’ve never had an unhappy moment out on these vertical adventures.

I finally set up for him to begin the final pitch. Making his way up the icy route, he began to spiral around the notch that stood between the cliff and its pinnacle. Justin then placed a quickdraw on a piton and turned to me to exclaim, “Rachael, you are going to love this!”

That was an obvious understatement. My eyes widened and my heart began to race from the exposure. Franconia Notch shimmered from a light dusting of snow and ice glimmering in the sun.

After one final hold to the top, I was standing next to Justin, looking at what we had just climbed and taking note of what we were actually standing on. This view once again made me speechless. Here we were, standing nearly midair with nothing but the White Mountains and an energetic atmosphere surrounding us.

This was hands down the most epic journey I’ve done in my two years of climbing. I cannot wait for the many more Justin and I will plan together and accomplish in the future.

Courtesy: Rachael Galipo
Credit: Kris Roller

Loon Mountain: Exit 32’s Big-Mountain Skiing

One of the best things about visiting Loon Mountain is that it offers something for everyone. Whether it’s chasing pow, cruising corduroy, skiing trees, sessioning the park, aprés activities, or just poking around Lincoln’s bustling Main Street, the mountain is high on entertainment. And, if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself wanting to do a bit of everything.

With a reputation for delivering accessible (located right off of I-93’s exit 32) big-mountain skiing, Loon is a popular spot for daytrippers. However, if you’re like most people, you won’t be ready to go home after one day, so, if you can, plan on extending your stay to explore all of the mountain and the fun little town at its base.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Pre-Ski Fuel Up

When it comes to exploring its three different peaks, I often find it difficult to break for lunch, and you can’t expect to go bell-to-bell without a decent breakfast. Fortunately, there are a few great options between the highway and the mountain.

In my opinion, you can never go wrong with a breakfast sandwich from the White Mountain Bagel Co., but if I’m in the mood for something different, I’ll head to Half Baked and Fully Brewed. While they also serve breakfast sandwiches, it’s their baked goods and coffee that lure me.

I’d love to tell you that every time I go to Loon, I leave myself enough time for a real breakfast and still make first chair, but that would be a lie. Luckily, you also pass a Dunkin’ Donuts and a McDonald’s on your way through Lincoln if you only have time for something from the drive-through.

Fresh powder on Angel Street. | Courtesy: Loon Mountain
Fresh powder on Angel Street. | Courtesy: Loon Mountain

The Gondola

Taking the Gondola from Loon’s base lodge to the 2,733-foot summit is the way I like to start a day of skiing or riding. While some of my more-ambitious friends will head right for Angel Street, an iconic black diamond run that passes underneath the Gondola at its steepest point, I prefer to warm my legs up on one of the mountain’s more moderate runs before tackling the steeps.

Speaking of moderate, Loon is a great place for intermediate skiers and riders, with 60 percent of the terrain being blue squares. Normally, I will take Flying Fox or Upper Pickled Rock to one of the lower mountains’ numerous blue square runs that lead back to the Gondola. After my warm-up, I’ll head back up the almost-1,800 feet of vertical to tackle the aforementioned Angel Street.

Get a great view of the town below from Ripsaw. | Courtesy: Loon Mountain
Get a great view of the town below from Ripsaw. | Courtesy: Loon Mountain

South Peak

Loon Mountain’s South Peak can be accessed by either the Tote Road Quad, which runs across a ridgeline on the upper mountain, or taking a shuttle to the Lincoln Express Quad at the bottom of South Peak. Advanced skiers flock to Loon’s southern slopes to tackle the mountain’s first—and only—double-black diamond run, Ripsaw.

At 45 degrees, Ripsaw provides plenty of challenges for skiers and boarders looking for steeps. For people who love skiing in the trees, Undercut offers some of the mountain’s best glade skiing and is a must-do if there is plenty of snow. Those looking for something a little less rowdy and a bit more mellow will love the aptly named Cruiser for making easy turns while enjoying stellar views.

Getting some air on Upper Flume. | Courtesy: Loon Mountain
Getting some air on Upper Flume. | Credit: Michael Riddell

North Peak

It’s far from difficult to spend nearly entire days riding the North Peak Express Quad and lapping Walking Boss and Flume, the peak’s two primary runs. Long, wide, and never crowded, and with just the right amount of steepness, Walking Boss and Flume are great places to open it up if you have the need for speed.

North Peak is Loon’s highest point at 3,005 feet and is often the place to find the best snow on the mountain. It can also be the windiest and coldest lift ride, perhaps explaining the lack of crowds.

If the snow is good and you enjoy tree skiing, Walking Boss Woods and Bucksaw are awesome glade runs. Beginners and intermediates should beware: North Peak is short on intermediate terrain, with Sunset being the peak’s only blue square run from the top.

Big air in Loon's Superpipe. | Courtesy: Loon Mountain
Big air in Loon’s Superpipe. | Credit: Loon Mountain/Gus Noffke

Parks

One thing you’ll notice when cruising around the mountain is the proliferation of terrain parks. Loon is home to six different ones and the only superpipe in New Hampshire. Designed to offer something for everyone, Loon’s will satisfy anyone, from the person looking to ride their first rail to pros wanting to keep their skills sharp. Although I don’t ride the park myself, I do like to stop and admire how talented those skiers and riders are.

Mountain Eats

For anyone skiing bell-to-bell, it usually takes some grub in between to elevate your energy levels. Like any other big mountain these days, Loon has plenty of options. But for me, if I’m going to stop, it’s almost always at the Summit Cafe, located—as you might have guessed—on Loon’s summit.

Offering Caribbean-inspired fare, the Summit Cafe delivers hot food and conjures warm thoughts on cold winter days. And, during the sunny days of spring, it’s a great place to stop for a refreshing Red Stripe on the back deck, take in the incredible view of the White Mountains, and pretend you’re someplace tropical…if only for a moment.

After-ski drinks in the Paul Bunyan Lounge. | Courtesy: Loon Mountain
After-ski drinks in the Paul Bunyan Room. | Credit: Dan Brown/Kapitol Photo

The Paul Bunyan Room

Coming in a close second to my love of skiing is my love of aprés activities, and Loon Mountain’s Paul Bunyan Room is one of New Hampshire’s finer places for the latter.

With 24 beers on tap, it guarantees the right brew to complete a great day on the slopes. Plus, the Bunyan Room features live music, giving you the chance to tune out for a few minutes after big day of making small talk on the lifts. When the weather is nice, take the party out to the deck, enjoy the sun, keep an eye out for your friends, and, as the Bunyan Room’s deck sits just above Loon’s base lodge, watch skiers wrap up their days.

Not Ready to Head Home?

Gordi’s Fish and Steak House is conveniently located in Lincoln on the way back to I-93, and is the obvious choice for those looking to keep the day going. Skiers will feel right at home with the place’s theme and the knowledge that Gordi’s owners were both members of the U.S. Olympic ski team. Gordi’s knows what people fresh of the hill are looking for and has awesome aprés specials on drinks and food, as well as an enormous menu if the breakfast sandwich from the morning is a distant memory clouded by non-stop skiing.

After a short drive through Lincoln—past the highway on-ramp into the town of Woodstock—you’ll find the Woodstock Inn, Station & Brewery. Featuring a huge menu and a nice variety of their own beers, the Woodstock Inn Brewery is a great way to end an epic day on the slopes. Can’t decide which beer to get? The Pig’s Ear Brown Ale is one of my favorite post-skiing beverages.

Stay More than a Day

Conveniently located right off of I-93 and roughly two hours from Boston, it’s no wonder Loon Mountain has become an incredibly popular destination for New England skiers. With its vast and varied terrain, there is truly a trail for everyone. And, although Loon’s proximity to Boston makes it a favorite for daytrippers, with the lively town of Lincoln at the mountain’s base, there is no reason to go home after just one day.

Don’t forget to gear up at Eastern Mountain Sports before hitting the slopes, and if you’re taking I-93 south home, be sure to stop in our Concord, New Hampshire location right off exit 14 to grab that piece of equipment you wished you had at Loon for your next visit.

I think what John Muir meant to say was the slopes are calling, and I must go.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Backcountry Skier’s Guide to Mount Moosilauke

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Anyone who has ever been to the summit of New Hampshire’s Mount Moosilauke in the summer knows that the mountain can be as busy as it is beautiful. With a plethora of trails for users of all experience levels and a lodge at the base owned by the Dartmouth Outing Club, along with being one of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers and part of the Appalachian Trail, Mount Moosilauke sees a lot of traffic, especially during prime hiking season. Fortunately, a great way to beat the crowds is to ascend its Carriage Road in the winter—a trip made even better if you can do it on skis—because as good as it is to hike in the summer, skiing it makes it that much more fun.

Getting There

A ski up and down the Carriage Road begins and ends on Breezy Point Road, located off Route 118 in Warren, New Hampshire. The Carriage Road starts pretty much where Breezy Point Road ends, and how far it’s plowed varies from year to year. In any case, there has always been a prominent place for parking, and the times I have had to go a little farther down have been rewarded with extra skiing on the way out.

The Carriage Road

Regardless of how far down the road you park, the trail is officially 5.1 miles long, ascends roughly 3,000 feet, and almost always takes longer to complete than I remember. On its climb to the summit, the Carriage Road passes other popular trails as it wanders through the forest, such as the Hurricane Trail at 1.6 miles and Snapper Trail at three miles.

After passing the Snapper Trail, the Carriage Road sees its character change, as it becomes steeper and more exposed to the elements. The trail continues this way for a little over a mile and brings you to the split for Moosilauke’s shorter and less-traveled South Summit.

The South Summit trail split is an excellent place to bundle up for the above-treeline push. If it’s getting late in the day, the conditions above treeline are unappealing, or skiing is just more important than summiting, this is also a logical turnaround point. The snow at the South Summit sign is often packed down, thus making the transition from uphill to downhill easy, it’s somewhat sheltered from the elements, and the best skiing is typically found below this point. If summiting is on your mind, however, it’s a little under a mile from here, almost all of it above treeline.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Why You Should Go

If the idea of skiing one of the Northeast’s iconic peaks isn’t enough to tempt you, maybe thinking about a little over five miles of uninterrupted skiing might. That’s right: The Carriage Road on Mount Moosilauke is 5.1 miles long and, if conditions allow (which, granted, might be a big “if”), you can go from the summit to your car in the Breezy Point Road parking lot without ever taking off your skis.

It’s also worth noting that the trail climbs roughly 3,000 feet over those 5.1 miles (10.2 miles round trip), and I have seen a few ski partners, including one very angry girlfriend (now wife, no thanks to that trip), over the years bail before the summit, having not realized—or been misled—about the effort and time involved in skiing this peak.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

It’s Mellow

Although the Carriage Road wasn’t built with skiers in mind, you might think otherwise. Because it was originally constructed to lead horses and carriages to the mountain’s summit, the grade is never exceedingly steep. While this might disappoint some of the rowdier skiers in your group, it presents a fantastic opportunity for linking turns and taking in the mountain’s incredible views, and provides a pleasant alternative to some of the Northeast’s more extreme lines. Furthermore, the Carriage Road is reasonably wide in most places, giving less-experienced or less-comfortable backcountry skiers plenty of room for making turns.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Know Before You Go  

Just because Mount Moosilauke is a relatively southern peak compared to other popular New Hampshire backcountry spots, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s an easy trip. At a little over 4,800 feet tall, Mount Moosilauke is the state’s tenth-tallest mountain—and, unlike many of those ahead of it on the list, it stands alone and is unprotected from the weather.

When you take into account that the last mile up the Carriage Road is almost entirely above treeline, anyone ascending should be ready to experience full winter conditions. On more than one occasion, I have left 50-degree weather in the parking lot and booted through a mile or more of mud before reaching the snow, only to find myself scrambling to pull on my puffer jacket, balaclava, and mittens as I climbed above treeline.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit Snowfields

Read any blog or search for photos of skiing on Mount Moosilauke, and eventually, someone will mention the summit snowfields. I, too, have been lured by the idea of opening it up on the mountain’s exposed flanks. Sadly, in spite of skiing it numerous times—in different months, and in various conditions—I have never actually seen this mysterious sight.

On the best days, I have encountered enough snow to allow for defensive skiing before getting to the good stuff below treeline. On the worst days, the upper mountain has been swept of almost all its snow, instead consisting mostly of rock and ice and necessitating the use of MICROspikes or crampons to summit.

 

Skiing from Mount Moosilauke’s summit should be on any New England backcountry skier’s bucket list. It represents the chance to reach a prominent and popular peak without the hassle of the crowds. Even better, thanks to skis, the descent back to the car has never been faster!

 


Comfortable Winter Camping: The AMC Huts

It takes a truly tough adventurer to go camping in the Northeast during winter. But, for anyone who wants to get out—but not spend a night lying in the snow—or for someone who just wants to switch things up for an easy weekend, there’s nothing more quintessential than sitting by a fire in a cozy cabin in the woods. And, in the White Mountain National Forest, that’s easier to do than you might think.

The Appalachian Mountain Club operates a series of huts throughout the Whites during the summer, and in the winter season, three of these backcountry outposts remain open for everyday hikers, thru-hikers, and anyone else trying to stay a little more comfortable during their overnights.

Credit: Jack Roberts
Credit: Jack Roberts

Lonesome Lake Hut

Getting to these huts requires a bit of a hike, with some longer than others, and none are a small task in the winter. The easiest to access is the Lonesome Lake Hut, located 1.6 miles from the Lafayette Place Campground in Franconia Notch on I-93. It is a relatively easy hike for experienced hikers, but it’s important everyone remembers snowshoes and crampons to effectively conquer the ice and snow that may be on the trail.

The Lonesome Lake Hut sits behind Lonesome Lake, offering a perfect view of Franconia Ridge: some of the most beautiful views New Hampshire winters have to offer. Caretakers light a fire in the hut after 4 p.m., and with plenty of games and books about the history of the mountains, it may be one of the most relaxing evenings you’ll find out here.

The Lonesome Lake Hut features bathrooms, running water, and a full kitchen with gas stoves to prepare food. Almost completely made from wood, the architecture and atmosphere will beat every hotel you could find. Even on the coldest winter days, they give you a warm, cozy, at-home feeling.

Credit: Jack Roberts
Credit: Jack Roberts

Carter Notch Hut

Carter Notch Hut, requiring a one-way 3.8-mile hike, is the next-most accessible, taking hikers up a beautiful trail through the Whites’ deep wilderness. Hikers pass the Carter Lakes, where you’ll find the massive peaks of Carter Dome and Wildcat Mountain in the background. This hut, like the others, will have some snacks available, and it also provides a pillow, so you still need to pack a sleeping bag and blankets in order to stay warm through the night. Additionally, two detached bunk houses offer more of a cabin experience.

For adventuring nearby, the trails close to the hut are a must for exploring and relaxing. Most hikers will continue—either the next day or after dropping of most of their heavy equipment in the hut—up Carter Dome. The huts are about 1.2 miles from the summit, where, on a clear day, the spectacular views are more than worth the trek.

Credit: Jack Roberts
Credit: Jack Roberts

Zealand Falls Hut

Zealand Falls Hut may not be the hardest to access, but it requires the longest journey. It is only about 2.8 mile miles from the trailhead, but during the winter, the Zealand Road is closed, which adds an additional 3.5 miles. While it’s certainly doable on foot or by snowshoe, cross-country skiing can speed it up.

Either way, the trail is a stunning trek that’s worth every second. For a hike in the Whites, the journey is relatively flat, so you can enjoy the frozen ponds and scenic backgrounds without having to think about every step, like most other routes you’ll take in winter.

After getting to the hut, one of the best ways to enjoy the evening is by continuing up about 1.3 miles to Zealand Cliff, where the lookout is often regarded as one of the top views in the entire White Mountain National Forest.

If you’re looking for something to do back inside, the hut’s sign-in books are a great source of entertainment. Caretakers store all of them on a shelf, each full of names, drawings, and stories from the hut’s visitors throughout the years.

Credit: Jack Roberts
Credit: Jack Roberts

Hut Etiquette

Even though these are relatively civilized spaces, visitors are still asked to adhere to standard Leave No Trace principles: Specifically, never leave trash behind in the hut and bunk houses, just like you wouldn’t want to leave waste at your campsite if you were tenting. Most people will bring a small plastic bag to store unwanted items until they get off the mountain.

It’s also important to be respectful of other hikers staying at the cabins. Many people come out here to get away from civilization, so try to keep noise levels down after sunset.

Prices

The comfort of staying out of the wind and cold costs $33 per night during the winter season ($27 if you are an AMC member), and in the process, you’re helping support the AMC’s work. The caretakers and hut “croo” members are some of the friendliest people on Earth, so get out the calendar and plan your next trip!

Credit: Jack Roberts
Credit: Jack Roberts

Finding Backcountry Turns at Mount Cardigan

The fantastic backcountry skiing on New Hampshire’s Mount Cardigan is far from a secret. With an Appalachian Mountain Club-owned lodge at the mountain’s base, as well as an AMC-operated high cabin located a half-mile from the summit, Mount Cardigan draws an eclectic group of snowshoers, campers, and backcountry skiers during the winter. Further adding to the mountain’s popularity is its inclusion in David Goodman’s seminal book, Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast: 50 Classic Ski Tours in New England and New York.

It’s not uncommon to show up at the mountain, only to find the parking lot already packed with cars. But, don’t be discouraged; this has happened to me on more than one occasion, and once I was in the woods, I saw hardly anyone else…and still found some freshies!

Here are just a couple reasons it’s such a great spot:

1. It’s close

In addition to the AMC’s presence on the mountain, one of the main reasons for its popularity is its proximity to Southern New England. Located off exit 23 on I-93, it’s substantially further south than most other popular New Hampshire backcountry spots. Keep this in mind if conditions seem questionable, as the snow here is less predictable than its northern counterparts.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

2. It’s great for beginners

With relatively wide trails and nothing incredibly steep on Mount Cardigan, it’s no wonder that many backcountry skiers get their start here. Throw in trails protected by trees (it’s easy to enjoy great skiing below treeline if the weather isn’t cooperating), a lodge to get ready in, and a fire to sit in front of if you burn yourself out before the rest of your group, and Mount Cardigan is a great place to transition from skiing the resort to exploring the backcountry.

3. It’s great for experienced skiers

With its close proximity to the Northeast’s population centers, Cardigan is a great choice for skiers looking to spend more time skiing and less time driving. Also, the lack of steepness and shorter trails allow fit skiers to take multiple runs in a day.

4. It gives you options

Mount Cardigan has two trails designated for backcountry skiing, and a handful of stashes if you feel like poking around. But, even if you don’t discover the stashes, you’re sure to have a blast! The Alexandria Trail is the shorter and steeper one of the two main routes. Specifically designed for skiers by the Civilian Conservation Corps, this trail widens right when you want it to and gives you plenty of room to carve. The Duke’s Trail is a great run for first-time backcountry skiers, and although longer than the Alexandria Trail, its gentler terrain is perfect for getting new skiers comfortable away from the groomers.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. It has incredible views

Although both the Alexandria Trail and the Duke’s Trail are mostly protected by trees, both do ascend above treeline to a bare summit (the result of an 1855 fire) and deliver great views of Monadnock to the south, the White Mountains’ larger peaks to the north, and Vermont in the west. Because of the unprotected nature of the slopes above treeline, I have found everything from bare rock to snow piled high, thanks to the wind. You never know!

Now, just add snow!

With the beta in hand, now all we have to do is wait for snow. Keep in mind that, while there is a lodge at the bottom of the mountain, this is still backcountry skiing, and there is no ski patrol there to mark hazards or take care of you if you get hurt.

If you want to learn more about how to pack for a backcountry ski trip, take a look at our What’s In Your Guide’s Pack article to see what EMS Climbing School professionals carry with them when heading into the backcountry.

What’s your favorite part of skiing Mount Cardigan?

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

 


Hiking New Hampshire's Tallest Waterfall in Winter

Winters in New England are long, cold, dark, and, at times, downright miserable. We locals look forward to the snow and ice thawing out, so we can get back on our bikes and kayaks and, more importantly, return to the region’s plethora of hiking trails. But for those willing to bundle up and brave the cold, the winter creates opportunities for hikes far more stunning than anything we could hope for throughout the rest of the year. One such hike is New Hampshire’s tallest waterfall, Arethusa Falls.

Credit: Chris Picardi
Credit: Chris Picardi

Getting There

The trailhead is located just off U.S. Route 302 in Crawford Notch State Park, approximately 10 miles south of the Omni Mt. Washington Resort and 15 miles north of Hart’s Location. The parking lot is easy to spot from the road, and as the trail won’t be nearly as heavily trafficked this time of year, there are a good number of spaces.

Credit: Chris Picardi
Credit: Chris Picardi

Arethusa Falls Trail

There are two routes from the trailhead to the falls: the Arethusa Falls Trail (a 1.5-mile, one-way hike) and the Bemis Brook Trail (1.7 miles, one-way). The elevation gain on the shorter route is moderate, about 800 feet total, and the round-trip hike can reasonably be completed in a few hours or less.

The trailhead is located just across the railroad tracks from the parking lot, and after about 0.1 mile, you will reach the junction with the Bemis Brook Trail off to the left. Although the hike is pretty much a straight shot to the falls, the winter scenery is beautiful. The railroad tracks, which are no longer in use, create many excellent photo opportunities as they disappear into the snow-covered woods. A footbridge across a small stream creates another picturesque scene, particularly when the water underneath is partially frozen and the snow-covered tree branches above hang low.

Credit: Chris Picardi
Credit: Chris Picardi

The Falls

The trail, when shaded by a canopy of snow-covered pines, is a sight in itself, but when the falls first come into view, its spectacle is difficult to rival. Assuming the temperature has been cold enough (after all, this is New Hampshire we’re talking about), the 176-foot plunge will have been transformed into a monolithic wall of ice clinging to the side of the mountain. Until you’ve seen it in person, it’s difficult to fully prepare for how imposing the frozen falls seem when they first emerge from the trees.

The trail leads directly to the base of the falls, and there is even the option to hike up the side to get a view from the top. This isn’t part of the marked trail, but it’s pretty obvious how to get up there.

The cold weather deters many that frequent this trail during the warmer months, so there won’t likely be crowds here. However, if the weather is cold enough, there’s a good chance you will be sharing the trail with some of the more daring ice climbers, who come here to scale the frozen falls.

For those who aren’t afraid of some cold temperatures and a little snow, the icy hike to Arethusa is one of the best ways to spend a few hours in the White Mountains—even better than hitting the slopes.