The Top 6 Summit Views in the New Hampshire 48

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

Easy Hikes

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

Mount Pierce

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

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

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

Cannon Mountain

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

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

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

 

Moderate Hikes

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

Mount Garfield

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

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

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

Mount Carrigain

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

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

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

 

Difficult Hikes

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Bondcliff

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

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

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

Mount Madison

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

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

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

Honorable Mention

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

 


ALPHA GUIDE: The Pemigewasset Loop

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

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

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

 

Quick Facts

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


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

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Turn-By-Turn

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

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

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

The First Climb

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

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

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

On the Ridge

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

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

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

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

Above the Treeline

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

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

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

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

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

The Crux

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

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

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

Call it a Night

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

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

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

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

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

The Halfway Point

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

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

The Twinway

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

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

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

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

The Bonds

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

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

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

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

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

Bondcliff

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

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

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

Homestretch

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

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


The Kit

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

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

Keys to the Trip

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

Current Conditions

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

Header photo credit: Jeff Pang


A Guide to Hiking the Great Gulf

Called the Great Gulf, the massive ridge joining Mount Washington, Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison forms the largest glacial cirque in the Presidential Range. The roar from Weetamoo Falls and the West Branch of the Peabody River echoes across the wilderness’ ridges and cliffs. Here, salient spurs descend each mountain to form small, remote ravines populated by moose and black bear.

Few places in New England can match its grandeur. The glacially carved, boulder-strewn terrain rises over 2,000 feet from the Gulf’s floor to the peaks, making any visitor feel small and fragile.

The trail network in this region, perhaps the Whites’ most rugged and spectacular, provides hikers familiar with these mountains new vantages, challenges, and solitude. Each ascends a direct and arduous route over a steep ridge or up a wild ravine, making most Presidential Range trails feel tame by comparison.

In addition to ascending tremendous elevation over a modest distance, hikers must navigate all of the challenges nature can provide: house-sized boulders, major water crossings, and precipitous ledges.

great gulf

History

The Edmands Path, Crawford Path, and Valley Way were constructed with a hiker’s comfort in mind, with grading and switch-backs. By contrast, The Great Gulf’s trails, built between 1908 and 1910, were at the mercy of the terrain. Specifically, trail builders used paths nature had already cleared: landslides, boulder fields, and talus. As a result, these trails follow painfully direct routes to the summits, which only strong hikers should attempt.

The Great Gulf Trail [7.4 miles, 4,650 feet of elevation]

Traveling 7.4 miles and ascending more than 4,500 feet from New Hampshire Route 16 to an area below the summit of Mount Washington, the Great Gulf Trail is the network’s artery. It is also perhaps the most demanding. After following the West Branch of the Peabody River for six miles, it passes Weetamoo Falls and eventually Spaulding Lake—a gorgeous glacial tarn—before ascending the massive boulders and landslides of the Great Gulf headwall.

Being in a wilderness area, the Great Gulf’s trails are maintained to a low standard. As such, hikers will encounter brook crossings, sharp boulders, standing water, and slippery river rocks.

Credit: Dennis Follensbee
Credit: Dennis Follensbee

Madison Gulf Trail [2.7 miles, 2,550 feet of elevation]

Approximately 2.5 miles from the Great Gulf trailhead, the Madison Gulf Trail climbs to the Adams-Madison Col. It is a gnarly journey, passing brooks and cascades with a steep and wet climb up exposed boulders before intersecting with the Parapet Trail. Keep in mind that the footing becomes dangerously slippery where the Madison Gulf Trail goes through the Parapet Brook and near the Madison Gulf headwall.

Chandler Brook Trail [0.9 miles, 1,350 feet of elevation]

Roughly one mile west of the Great Gulf Trail’s juncture with the Madison Gulf Trail, the Chandler Brook Trail climbs the ravine’s south side on rugged and slippery rock up Chandler Brook to the Mount Washington Auto Road.

Credit: Dennis Follensbee
Credit: Dennis Follensbee

Six Husbands Trail [2.3 miles, 2,550 feet of elevation]

At 4.5 miles along the Great Gulf Trail, one of the White Mountains’ steepest paths diverges to ascend a wildly rugged ridge. Six Husbands Trail—named for the six husbands of Weetamoo, queen of the Wampanoag tribe during the 1600s—is among the forest’s most strenuous, demanding, and spectacular hiking trails. It is infamous for its series of wooden ladders that ascend the cliffs of a steep arête, called Jefferson’s North Knee. The Forest Service has secured, with bolts and cables, the ladders to huge outcroppings.

Ascent demands that adventurers suppress any fear of heights to climb painfully tight, cliff-like terrain. Above the ladders, the steep climb continues to the summit of Jefferson. Along the way, views of Adams, Washington, and the Carter Range leave an impression.

Credit: Dennis Follensbee
Credit: Dennis Follensbee

Wamsutta Trail [1.7 miles, 2,200 feet of elevation]

Traveling south from the Great Gulf Trail’s juncture with Six Husbands, the Wamsutta Trail ascends a northern spur of Chandler Ridge, going over outcroppings to the Mount Washington Auto Road and the Alpine Garden Trail. Its name references one of Weetamoo’s six husbands, Wamsutta.

After departing the Great Gulf Trail, the Wamsutta Trail makes a steep climb up a ledge and takes you through an exposed scramble of krumholtz and boulders. The view along this portion—sublime scenery of massive landslides on Adams, Jefferson’s knee-like ridges, and Madison’s sharp profile—is the reason to stop and stare in awe.

Buttress Trail [1.9 miles, 1,600 feet of elevation]

Where Six Husbands Trail meets Jefferson Brook, the Buttress Trail, named for the massive ridge that descends from the summit of Adams into the Great Gulf, begins a long journey to the Star Lake Trail. It is easier than the region’s other paths, which makes it helpful for descending.

However, despite a modest elevation gain, it is wild and strenuous. The Buttress Trail snakes uphill, in the path of an old landslide, and crosses a massive talus field with a dizzying view of the Great Gulf headwall, Jefferson Ravine, and Jefferson’s narrow North Knee.

As it heads into a quiet conifer forest, the Buttress Trail then becomes very steep. When reaching exposed terrain, it forces hikers to ascend boulders and squeeze between large rocks. The view here to the Carter Range and Madison is stunning and grand. From this point, the Buttress Trail rises above Madison Gulf’s precipitous headwall before connecting with the Star Lake Trail.

Sphinx Trail [1.1 miles, 1,350 feet of elevation]

Just over a mile southwest of the Six Husbands and Wamsutta Trails juncture, the Sphinx Trail climbs Sphinx Gulf to the col between Jefferson and Clay. For a little over a mile, this trail parallels and crosses the Sphinx Brook, and sometimes overlaps with it. Though slippery in sections and occasionally hard to follow, this trail is a fast trip that can also be used for descending if the brook hasn’t seen recent rainfall.

Credit: Dennis Follensbee
Credit: Dennis Follensbee

Day Hike Options

Amazing day hikes are possible using combinations of these spectacular trails.

Up Six Husbands Trail and down Buttress or Sphinx Trail (16 miles or 14.3 miles)

The combination of ascending Six Husbands Trail and descending via Buttress Trail requires significant stamina. Be mindful that, on your return, staying focused helps you avoid slipping. After you’ve reached the summit, use the Gulfside Trail to access Buttress or Sphinx from Jefferson.

Up Great Gulf Trail and down Sphinx Trail (17 miles)

Climbing the Great Gulf headwall is a long day, but well worth it for the view of the Northern Presidentials. For the descent, use the Gulfside Trail to access the Sphinx Trail.

Credit: Dennis Follensbee
Credit: Dennis Follensbee

Up Wamsutta Trail and down Sphinx Trail (12.2 miles)

Climbing Wamsutta Trail and descending the Sphinx Trail requires care when crossing the Auto Road and again when descending the slippery Sphinx Trail. Using Alpine Garden Trail, Nelson Crag Trail, and Gulfside Trail, you can connect the Wamsutta and Sphinx Trails.

Up Madison Gulf Trail and down Buttress Trail (11.6 miles)

This shorter option avoids the summits of Madison and Adams, opting for a gorgeous view from the Parapet and Buttress Trails.

For all Great Gulf trails, use care when descending. Steep and demanding, especially when compared to other hiking trails, these routes feature areas above treeline that are exposed over long distances. So, if weather turns bad, know your escape route and realize that, during your descent, these trails become potentially dangerous when wet.

For more assistance, refer to the AMC White Mountain Guide for regulations on camping and more detailed trail descriptions.

Credit: Dennis Follensbee
Credit: Dennis Follensbee

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!