5 Mountains in the Northeast that Almost Anyone Can Enjoy

The most talked-about hikes in the Northeast share some common characteristics, namely big mileage, lots of elevation, and rough terrain. While mountains such as Washington, Mansfield, and Marcy get most of the glory, the Northeast is home to numerous hikes that might not match the classics in difficulty, but are their equals in history, views, and fun. If you’re looking for a five-star hike everyone in your party will like, look no further. Here are five mountains in the Northeast that anyone can enjoy.

Courtesy: Studio Sarah Lou
Courtesy: Studio Sarah Lou

Monument Mountain, Massachusetts

Packing fantastic views of the Housatonic River Valley, Mount Greylock, the Catskills, and Vermont into a roughly three-mile hike should be enough to put Monument Mountain in Great Barrington on any New England hiker’s tick list before even factoring in its fascinating history—it drew literary icons such as Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, as well as William Cullen Bryant who wrote the famous poem, Monument Mountain. Bryant’s poem is based on the legend of a Mohican woman who chose to leap from the cliffs rather than marry a husband selected for her. A large pile of stones is piled on the mountain’s southern slope as a monument to her final resting place.

In spite of the grim story of the Mohican maiden, Monument Mountain is a fantastic trip for hikers of all abilities. Covering about three miles, hikers ascend the at-times-steep Hickey Trail, climbing a little over 700 feet through hemlock forests, past boulders, and gaining pale quartzite cliffs. For the best views, connect with the Squaw Peak Trail and follow it over steep cliffs and ledges to the 1,642-foot summit of Squaw Peak, then make the short five-minute walk to take in the view of Devil’s Pulpit, a unique rock formation. From the summit of Squaw Peak, hikers can take the Indian Monument Trail which follows an old carriage road for a mild descent, or continue on the Squaw Peak Trail to its connection further down with the Indian Monument Trail.

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff, New Hampshire

Don’t let the relatively slight 2,340-foot elevation of Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff dissuade you from this must-do hike—the views are huge. Situated at the northern end of Franconia Notch, a hike to the summit of Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff treats hikers with two of the White’s best viewpoints, both offering incredible perspectives of Franconia Ridge and the towering Mount Lafayette, Eagle Cliff, Cannon Mountain Ski Area, and Echo Lake.

At just under three-miles roundtrip, Bald Mountain and Artists Bluff is a popular trip for hikers of all abilities. However, don’t let the moderate mileage lull you into thinking this hike is easy; like many classic White Mountain hikes, sections of the trail are direct and rocky. Leaving from the parking lot adjacent to Cannon Mountain’s base lodge, take Artists Bluff Trail for about a quarter-of-a-mile, follow a short spur trail to the summit of Bald Mountain. After soaking in Bald Mountain’s impressive views, backtrack to the Artists Bluff Trail, continuing along on it to an open ledge and more best-in-the-White’s views. Once you’ve had your fill of the spectacular scenery, continue hiking on the Artists Bluff Trail. As you near the road, look for the Loop Trail which will bring you back to your car.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Philo, Vermont

Standing at just 968 feet tall, Mount Philo is diminutive when compared to Green Mountain giants like Mount Mansfield and Camel’s Hump, but towers over the Champlain Valley. Like its bigger brethren, Mount Philo has been a popular recreational destination for over a century (Mount Philo State Park was Vermont’s first state park), and at one point, a carriage road wove its way to the top. Look closely and you’ll see traces of the old carriage road from today’s paved road to the summit. In fact, the paved road makes Mount Philo the perfect destination for groups of mixed ability; ambitious hikers can take the trail to the summit while non-hikers meet them on top by taking the road.

Hikers heading to the summit of Mount Philo should follow the blue blazes of the Mount Philo Trail. The twoish-mile round-trip hike gains approximately 600 feet in elevation as it winds through quintessential Vermont forest and exposed rocks. From the summit, hikers are treated to splendid views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks—including Mount Marcy—to the west while the peaks of the Mad River region (Mounts Abe and Ellen) dominate the view to the southeast. Fall is a favorite time to take a trip to Mount Philo, not only because it’s resplendent during foliage, but also to watch migrating raptors. Mount Philo holds the record for the most hawks seen in one day in Vermont (3,688).

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Hadley Mountain, New York

Take in the magnificent views of Sacandaga Lake, the Green Mountains, the Catskills, and the Adirondacks from the 2,675-foot summit of Hadley Mountain while ticking a tower off of your ADK Fire Tower Challenge. The 40-foot fire tower gracing Hadley Mountain’s summit was originally erected in 1917, but was closed in 1990 by the Department of Environmental Conservation. Shortly after the closure, the Hadley Mountain Fire Tower Committee was formed and began working on restoring the tower, as well as the observer’s cabin. Thanks to their efforts, hikers today can climb to the top of the fire tower and take in a view not all that different from the one had by the early observers 100 years ago.

Climbing roughly 1,500 feet while covering 3.6 miles, the trip to the summit of Hadley Mountain and back is short, but packs a punch. As straightforward as a trip gets, summit-bound hikers need only follow the red trail markers of the Hadley Mountain Trail to the summit and then return the way you came. The trail remains fairly steep for almost the entirety of the climb, but be sure to save some energy for climbing the stairs to the top of the tower—it’s worth it. If hiking Hadley Mountain in the summer, you’ll likely run into the summit steward who’s there to answer any questions you might have about the mountain and its history.

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Mount Agamenticus, Maine 

The confluence of mountains and ocean has led generations of adventurers to explore the rugged Maine coastline. Used as a landmark by mariners to aid in navigation for centuries, Mount Agamenticus’ earliest explorers were indigenous people—the name Agamenticus is derived from the Abenaki name for the York River. Legend has it that Saint Aspinquid, a local Indian chief, either a MicMak or Penobscot leader, converted to Christianity and spent his life spreading Christianity to different tribes. A cairn on the top of Mount Agamenticus was constructed as a tribute to Saint Aspinquid—it’s said that anyone adding a stone to the cairn is blessed with good luck.

Unlike most mountains, the best trail on Mount Agamenticus doesn’t lead to its summit, rather it runs around the mountain. The Turtle Loop is a twoish-mile loop circling the base of the remnants of the 220 million-year-old volcano that is Mount Agamenticus. Featuring 15 interpretive stations, hikers are able to educate themselves on the area’s natural, geologic, and cultural history. If you simply must tag the top of Mount Agamenticus, the approximately quarter-mile-long Blueberry Bluff Trail leads from the Turtle Loop to the summit where you’ll enjoy views of Cape Elizabeth, the Isles of Shoals, and the White Mountains—including Mount Washington.

 

Do you have a favorite hike that is ideal for hikers of all abilities? If so, let us know in the comments below so we can check it out.


Beat the Heat: Top 5 Cooler Weather Summer Climbing Spots in the Northeast

Here in the Northeast we relish the prospect of summer after the long winter months, until we’re all salty and cursing the heatwave that just won’t dissipate. For climbers, heat is a minor nuisance, but sweat makes slick sending. Luckily, the Northeast is endowed with alpine terrain, miles of coastline and countless lakes and ponds, all of which offer cooler micro-climates. Read on for our recommendations of the best climbing areas to beat the heat this sun-drenched season.

Courtesy: Andrew Messick
Courtesy: Andrew Messick

Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont

Roadside Bouldering

The Notch, at a cool 2,165 feet above sea level, sits between Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak in the Green Mountain state. This hobbit hole haven offers over 500 boulder problems as well as “alpine light” trad and sport routes. Trade winds blow through, dropping the ambient temperature to 10 to 20 degrees lower than the tourist town of Stowe, 1,200 feet below. “Bouldering inside the notch has this rather enchanting appeal to it. The cold air floats out from the ice deep within the granite & schist caverns creating these cool air pockets as you walk through,” says Nick Hernandez of Time to Climb.

Cruise up the scenic 108 for drive-in bouldering. Wind around hairpin turns and roadside rocks, park at one of the many pull outs and start climbing in mere seconds. When you’re ready to unwind, head back into town to enjoy a Heady Topper at the world renowned Alchemist brewery.

Courtesy: Michael Martineau
Courtesy: Michael Martineau

Lake Champlain Palisades, New York

Deep Water Soloing

Perhaps the tallest Deep Water Solo (DWS) routes in the Northeast, The Palisades feature 100+ feet of cliff jutting out from Lake Champlain. DWS means free solo climbing (without a rope) but over water; think Alex Honnold, except if one were to fall here they would land in a lake instead of on land.

The approach won’t be easy, nor will the climbing. Located at the easternmost edge of the Adirondacks, boat or paddle from the Westport Marina roughly 4.5 miles south. You will not have to worry about touching bottom (the lake has a depth of 140 feet), however a fall from up high can cause serious harm. Make sure you know how to properly hit the water (you want to enter in a pencil-like position). A gentle breeze will help dry some of your perspiration while climbing, though it won’t do anything for your Elvis leg.

Courtesy: Tim Peck
Courtesy: Tim Peck

White Mountains, New Hampshire

Easier Access Alpine Climbing

The White Mountains are among the highest peaks in the Northeast, which means cooler temperatures and some of the fastest recorded wind speeds on earth. The climbing options are diverse, from long multi-pitch on Cannon Cliff to daring high elevation (for the East Coast) trad on Huntington Ravine on Mount Washington to moderate notch climbing at places like Franconia and Crawford. Be highly vigilant of fast-changing and ornery weather, though the Whites can be a bit more forgiving than backcountry brethren out West due to quicker access to roads and huts.

Courtesy: Kevin MacKenzie
Courtesy: Kevin MacKenzie

Panther Gorge, Adirondacks, New York

Serious Backcountry Climbing

For a backcountry alpine adventure, Panther Gorge is a lesser visited remote locale with a strenuous approach. “It may be one of the most remote places in the Northeast,” suggests local legend, Kevin ‘MudRat’ MacKenzie, who has put up many FAs in the area.

The gorge, at 4,000 feet above sea level, lies between Mount Marcy and Mount Haystack, the tallest and third tallest mountains in New York, respectively. Just to get here requires an eight mile hike with 3,300 feet of elevation, followed by bushwhacking about to find the climbs. You will be rewarded with over 35 trad routes that range from 5.3 to 5.10a, with a mix of single and multi-pitch lines. These not-often-trafficked climbs can be chossy, mossy, and wet, and you’ll want to make sure you are well-equipped with backcountry skills from route-finding and wilderness first aid in order to be safe. You can find detailed descriptions of climbing routes in MacKenzie’s upcoming book, Panther Gorge, on his site adirondackmountaineering.com.

Courtesy: National Park Service
Courtesy: National Park Service

Acadia National Park, Maine

Coastal Climbing

Cooling sea breeze awaits climbers at Acadia. The ocean battered granite features some of the most classic climbs in the Northeast, from the salt-sprayed Adair by the Sea (5.10b/c) to the 3-pitch Story of O (5.6), among many others. America’s most easterly national park, Acadia is the first place the sun touches in the U.S. from October to March. In the summer, you will still want to arise early to capitalize on the daily changing low tide (otherwise your rope and belayer are liable to get caught in the waves at seaside areas like Otter Cliffs). Check out The Precipice for inland multi-pitch routes or Canada Cliff for some forested bouldering.


Bagging Peaks and Avoiding Packed Parking Lots in Franconia Notch

Thanks to iconic routes like Franconia Ridge, two easily accessible huts, and some of New Hampshire’s most spectacular scenery, Franconia Notch has long been a popular destination for hikers and backpackers. Surging interest in the area has resulted in more cars at the Lafayette Place parking lot than available parking spaces, in turn causing visitors to park on the side of the highway. While parking along the highway has long been illegal, it hasn’t been enforced until this year, with signs, ropes, and cones prohibiting it along both the north and southbound sides. Using the hiker shuttle running between the lots in Franconia Notch is one solution for folks who can’t access their desired trailhead. Here’s another: Avoid the trailheads that start at Lafayette Place altogether and instead hike these super-popular summits via one of the lesser-known trails listed below.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Skookumchuck Trail to Mount Lafayette

Checking all the boxes, the Skookumchuck Trail to the Garfield Ridge Trail to the summit of Mount Lafayette delivers fantastic scenery and minimal crowds while avoiding the hustle and bustle of Lafayette Place.

Leaving north of the notch on Route 3 from the Skookumchuck Trailhead, the Skookumchuck Trail and Garfield Ridge Trail combine to deliver a just-over-10-mile round trip to the 5,260-foot summit of Mount Lafayette, the highest New Hampshire summit outside the Presidential Range. Though slightly longer than the classic Franconia Ridge Traverse, more secure footing and straightforward hiking make this trip quicker, as there aren’t slippery sections of trail like portions of the Falling Waters Trail or disconcerting slabs like on the Old Bridle Path.

Hugging the Skookumchuck Brook for the first few miles, you won’t confuse the sound of the stream for the powerful waterfalls of the Falling Water Trail; however, skookumchuckis a Chinook word that translates to “strong water” or “healthy water.” After leaving the brook, the Skookumchuck Trail climbs steadily through the forest, eventually giving way to low scrub before finally joining the Garfield Ridge Trail above treeline. From here, take in the view of the first crowds you’ve most likely seen all day on Lafayette’s summit a little under a mile away (and moving up and down the Greenleaf Trail to and from the AMC’s Greenleaf Hut).

From the junction with the Garfield Ridge Trail, the path is a gorgeous above-treeline ridge that rivals its counterpart on the other side of Lafayette in beauty but not in the number of hikers. And like its more popular counterpart between Little Haystack (a non-counting 4,000-footer) and Mount Lafayette, this section of trail also crosses a non-counting 4,000-footer, North Lafayette (5,260). Although North Lafayette isn’t one of the New Hampshire 48, its view is equal to any peak in Franconia Notch and is a great place to stop and take a break away from the bustle of Lafayette’s main summit.

From the summit of Mount Lafayette, simply turn around and descend the 3,500 feet of elevation you just climbed.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Kinsman Trail to North and South Kinsman

The common route to the summits of North and South Kinsman is via the Lafayette Place parking lot and past the AMC’s Lonesome Lake Hut. However, an easy way to beat the parking ban—and the crowds—is to hike the mountains from the opposite side via the Mount Kinsman Trail to the Kinsman Ridge Trail.

Located off of Route 116 in Easton, New Hampshire, is the small, wooded parking lot for the Kinsman Ridge Trail. Providing a starkly different experience than the flurry of activity often found on Kinsman Ridge, this route remains quiet as hikers begin the approximately 10-mile out-and-back trip gaining roughly 4,000 feet in elevation and ticking the summits of two 4,000-footers: North and South Kinsman.

The silence of the forest is palpable as hikers on the Mount Kinsman Trail follow its blue blazes past small waterfalls and over slight streams—especially when compared to an ascent of the Kinsmans from Franconia Notch, where the first mile of the trail is shared by hikers destined for Cannon Mountain and Lonesome Lake. Sure, Lonesome Lake and Kinsman Pond are beautiful, but they’re likely to be crowded on most weekends. By contrast, hikers willing to make a roughly 0.25-mile detour off the Mount Kinsman Trail are treated to an additional summit and a fantastic view on 2,470-foot Bald Peak.

Before reaching the summits of the Kinsmans, you’ll join the throngs of other hikers on the Kinsman Ridge Trail, almost all of whom approached the mountains from the Franconia side. From the junction, follow the Kinsman Ridge Trail for roughly a half mile to the summit of North Peak, then for another mile to the expansive summit and astounding view afforded from South Kinsman.

Take in the vast view of Franconia Ridge across the notch, pose for a picture in the throne-shaped cairn marking the summit, and think back to the peaceful moments on Bald Peak before returning the way you came.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Cannon Mountain via Kinsman Ridge Trail

It’s silly to stash your car at Cannon Mountain’s overflow lot only to take a shuttle to hike Cannon via the popular Hi-Cannon Trail. Instead, try the Kinsman Ridge Trail, which leaves from a hiker lot attached to the large parking lot for the Aerial Tramway and avoids the busier parts of the notch.

Not unlike the Hi-Cannon Trail in Franconia Notch, the Kinsman Ridge Trail is a lung and leg burner—the trail climbs just under 2,500 feet over roughly two miles. Thanks to the directness of the trail, and short 4(ish)-mile round trip, hikers comfortable with the at-times-near-vertical terrain are afforded a quick ascent and descent.

Running roughly adjacent to the tramway, it’s not uncommon to spy a yellow or red cable car high overhead whisking visitors to the summit. Roughly a half mile from Cannon’s summit, hikers are treated to the terrain the mountain is notorious for—ledgey, rocky, slabby, and treacherous—as the Kinsman Ridge Trail nears a side trail with access to some ledges. If you explore it, don’t let the stunning view of Franconia Ridge lull you into complacency; a misstep here would be unfortunate.

Signs of civilization become more apparent as you approach the top of Cannon Mountain. Here you’ll encounter hikers lounging and scrambling around the slabs and ledges dotting the mountain’s summit along with numerous tourists transported here via the aerial tram. Fight the crowds and climb the lookout tower for one of the finest views in the White Mountains before seeking solitude on the slabs below.

After resting on the summit, return the way you came or splurge for a ride down via the tram.

 

Do you have a trick for avoiding the crowded parking lots of Franconia Notch? If so, we want to hear it! Leave your tip in the comments below.


Second to None: NH’s Off-List 4,000-Footers

Since 1957, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) has encouraged hikers to visit all the summits over 4,000 feet in New Hampshire. The club maintains a list of the 48 peaks that meet its exacting criteria: the peak must be over 4,000 feet tall and rise 200 feet above any ridge connecting it to a higher neighboring summit. But those focused solely on summiting the 48 listed peaks have probably overlooked a handful of beautiful 4,000-footers, just because they lack sufficient prominence to be considered independent 4,000-footers and thus aren’t on the AMC’s list. Read on for a few off-list 4,000-footers that should be on your list this summer.

READ MORE: 10 Tips to Tackle the New Hampshire 48

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

South Peak

Located approximately a mile from the summit of Mount Moosilauke, the highest peak in the western Whites is the 4,523-foot summit of South Peak. Easily ticked by hikers as they traverse the ridge line toward Mount Moosilauke’s summit, it is accessed by a short spur trail near the junction of the Glencliff Trail and the Carriage Road.

Those making the 0.2-mile jaunt will be amply rewarded, as South Peak’s summit delivers a spectacular 270-degree view not all that different from the one found on Moosilauke’s summit. In fact, sit back, take in the quiet, and enjoy roughly the same view, along with a stellar perspective of Mount Moosilauke and the people crowding its summit.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Little Haystack Mountain

Sandwiched between 4,459-foot Mount Liberty and 5,089-foot Mount Lafayette is 4,760-foot Haystack Mountain—or simply Little Haystack—the only 4,000-footer on the iconic Franconia Ridge that doesn’t count toward the NH48. The most straightforward way to Little Haystack’s summit is via the 3-mile Falling Waters trail, which leaves from the Lafayette Campground parking lot on the north side of Route 93.

Little Haystack is often climbed by hikers as part of a Franconia Ridge Traverse, but is a worthy objective in its own right. Located near the middle of Franconia Ridge, the summit affords a fantastic perspective of Liberty to the south and Lincoln and Lafayette to the North. To the west is the imposing rock face of Cannon Mountain and the Kinsmans while the Bonds are to the east with Mount Washington and the Presidentials on the horizon behind them.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Guyot

With the Twins to the north, the Bonds to the south, and Zealand to the east, the 4,580-foot Mount Guyot is surrounded by 4,000-footers. Despite being near so many peakbagger-provoking summits, Mount Guyot is one of the more difficult-to-access, non-counting 4,000-footers and is commonly summitted by hikers as part of longer trips that hit other peaks on the NH48, such as a Bond Traverse or Pemi Loop. In fact, it’s difficult to climb Guyot without summiting at least one 4,000-footer that counts toward the AMC’s list. The easiest route to Guyot’s summit is up and over Zealand Mountain—leaving the trailhead off of Zealand Road, hikers will follow the Zealand Trail for 2.5 miles before joining the Twinway for roughly 3 miles to the summit of Zealand Mountain, from there continuing another 1.3 miles to the summit of Mount Guyot.

Although Mount Guyot requires a lot of effort for a peak that doesn’t count on your list (for now, anyway), the effort is worth it and the seclusion and sights found there make it one of the best summits (it’s actually two bald domes separated by about a tenth of a mile—the southern dome boasts a cairn, but summit them both) in the White Mountains. Surrounded by stone and Krumholz on the summit, hikers are afforded a fantastic view of Franconia Ridge to the west, the Presidentials to the east, and the Bonds and the eastern portion of the Pemigewasset Wilderness sprawled in front of you. Go ahead and look for a sign of civilization—no roads or huts are visible from Guyot’s bald summit.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Clay

Nestled in the Northern Presidentials between 5,712-foot Mount Jefferson and 6,288-foot Mount Washington is 5,533-foot Mount Clay. Like many of the other peaks on this list, Mount Clay is often an afterthought of hikers in the midst of more ambitious pursuits like a Presidential Traverse—although they will have to make a slight diversion which adds about a one-third of a mile onto the Mount Clay Loop. To hike Mount Clay directly, hikers leave on the Jewell Trail (the last trail discussed here) across the street from the Ammonoosuc Ravine Parking lot and follow it for 3.7 miles to the Mount Clay Loop which, after a little more than a half-mile, brings you to the summit of Mount Clay.

Above treeline and in the middle of one of the most rugged and beautiful sections of the White Mountains, the views from Mount Clay can be counted among the most spectacular in the Whites—presenting an awesome vantage point for viewing the Northern Presidentials, Mount Washington, and the Cog Railway. Watch your step and enjoy the peek into the Great Gulf (the largest glacial cirque in the White Mountains), which falls precipitously away from Clay’s summit.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Mount Hight

Home to some of the best views in the Whites, the 4,675-foot summit of Mount Hight should be on every peakbagger’s list. Just a short detour away from the summit of Carter Dome, the alpine zone atop Hight offers fantastic 360-degree views of the Presidentials (including all the major ravines on Washington’s east side), the Carter Range, and the Wild River Wilderness. Whether you’re doing a day hike in the Carters or doing a full range traverse, don’t miss this awesome subpeak.

The easiest way to get to Mount Hight is to climb Carter Dome via the Nineteen Mile Brook and Carter Dome Trails. From the summit, backtrack down the Carter Dome Trail until the Appalachian Trail and its white rectangular blazes bear off right. Follow the AT for a short distance until it opens up to a beautiful alpine zone. While we recommend hanging out as long as possible in this awesome spot, when it’s time to go, continue north on the AT until it re-intersects with the Carter Dome Trail. Round trip, the hike clocks in at just over 10 miles.

 

Know of another spectacular sub-peak in the Whites that should be on every hikers’ list this summer? Tell us in the comments.


What to Look for in an Early-Season Overnighter

The transition from winter is an awakening of the senses in the forest. The din of a pond teeming with newly-roused frogs, the impossibly clean aroma of snowmelt-swollen brooks mixed with budding flora, and the warmth of the sun on bare skin as it makes its way through the still leafless trees. These are the harbingers of spring, invigorating signs that we can go outside again.

Early season outings have their advantages and chief among them is the temperature: it’s not frigid, but not sweltering either. It’s warm enough to shed some of the heavier winter gear but it’s cool enough to keep the bugs and the crowds at bay. It’s also a time when water is plentiful, and a trail that might be dry as a bone in high summer will yield more than enough to keep that filter pumping.

On the flip side, being out in the spring in the northeast means you’re going to get wet. Wherever you’re going, bring rain gear, good (waterproof) footwear, and a change of clothes to stay dry in camp. Breaking out the hammock in lieu of a tent—and getting out of the mud—is also a smart move this time of year.

Any way you look at it though, it’s great to get back out there. Here are some tips on what to look for when selecting a spring backpacking trip.

The warmer lowlands and foothills can offer a reprieve from the snow and ice of the northeast’s mountains. | Credit: John Lepak
The warmer lowlands and foothills can offer a reprieve from the snow and ice of the northeast’s mountains. | Credit: John Lepak

Stay Low

For the high peaks of the Northeast, winter is a very long season where snow, ice, and some nasty chill can hang around until late. Ergo, if spring is what you’re looking for in a backpacking trip, it’s best to stick to lower elevations where the warmer temperatures creep in first. Fortunately, the Northeast boasts more than a few lowland backpacking routes, each with their own degree of natural splendor, rugged wilderness, and physical challenge. Spring will inevitably come for the mountains of the Adirondacks or the Whites, but in the meantime, the valleys are where you can find the change of season.

Cranberry Lake 50, Adirondacks

Located far in the northwestern corner of the Adirondack State Park, Cranberry Lake and its namesake hiking trail offer one of the top lowland wilderness experiences in the Northeast. Ample camping, arresting vistas, and real remoteness make this 50-mile loop hike a legitimate classic. Do it in early spring before the bugs wake up.

Lower Pemigewasset Loop, White Mountains

While the traditional Pemi Loop traverses the great ridges and summits of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, the lowland route—linking the Franconia Brook and Lincoln Brook Trails in an 18-mile loop around Owl’s Head with an overnight at Thirteen Falls Tentsite—is a wild, super remote alternative. Be prepared for a lot of water and know how to make a crossing safely.

Spring reaches the southern ranges like the Catskills, Taconics, and the Berkshires first. | Credit: John Lepak
Spring reaches the southern ranges like the Catskills, Taconics, and the Berkshires first. | Credit: John Lepak

Southern Exposure

Spring’s claim on the region moves from south to north, making landfall along Long Island Sound long before the snow starts to melt in the Great North Woods. This is great news for those hardy lovers of the cold among us, as the combination of elevation and location work to extend the ice climbing and skiing seasons well beyond the calendar’s winter. If that’s not your game, it’s best you turn your eyes to the south: friendlier climates make destinations like the Catskills, the Taconics, and the Poconos perfect for that first big trip of the season.

South Taconic Trail, Taconic Range

Stretching 16 miles along the New York–Massachusetts border, the South Taconic Trail is a gem of a hike all-too-often overlooked by the area’s backpackers. Steep climbs are rewarded with grassy summit balds and panoramic views atop Brace and Alander Mountains, and cool side trips—like the New York–Connecticut–Massachusetts boundary marker and Bash Bish Falls—make for a great weekend outing.

Burroughs Range Traverse, Catskills

Doable as a 10-mile shuttle or a 15-mile loop, the Burroughs Range is a Catskills classic that bags three peaks above 3,500 feet: Wittenberg, Cornell, and the tallest of them all, Slide. The opening climb is steep but gains what’s arguably the best summit view in the region. Beyond that is a rugged ridge walk that includes the Cornell Crack: a fun—and tricky—semi-technical rock obstacle.

Trailside shelters are great for shoulder season hiking when rain and mud tend to be at their worst. | Credit John Lepak
Trailside shelters are great for shoulder season hiking when rain and mud tend to be at their worst. | Credit John Lepak

Seek Shelter

Another excellent way to open the spring hiking season is by zeroing in on trails that have a good network of shelters. Backcountry shelters can vary greatly, from the full service huts of the Appalachian Mountain Club to the humble, trailside lean-to. Lean-tos are typically three-sided structures with a roof—just enough to keep you out of the temperamental early-spring weather and up off of the mud. Even on chillier nights, they can be down right cozy with a tarp lashed over the opening (though you should check with the land manager so make sure this is allowed—In the Adirondacks, closing off lean-tos is forbidden). Shelters are regular occurrences on long-distance trails, so Northeastern stand-bys like the AT is a good place to start.

AT–Mohawk Loop, Connecticut

This scenic hike in Connecticut’s rural Northwest Corner connects the Appalachian Trails of old and new—the blue-blazed Mohawk Trail actually follows the original path of the AT prior to being rerouted west of the Housatonic River in 1970’s—to make a 40-mile loop. The trip is replete with shelters, campsites and stellar views of the Litchfield Hills.

Harriman–Bear Mountain State Parks, Hudson Highlands

Despite being within an hour of New York City, Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks offer wilderness, an extensive network of trails and abundant shelters fit for overnight trips of any size. Link the AT with the Ramapo–Dunderberg, Long Path, and Red Cross Trails for a 22-mile loop that takes in some of the park’s greatest hits including an incredibly tight scramble, aptly named the “Lemon Squeezer.”

What are your favorite early-season backpacking locations? Let us know in the comments!


5 Shorter Local Thru-Hikes to Tackle this Year

Not everyone has the time, savings or desire to head out on a 5 month thru-hike adventure on the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails. Thankfully, for those of us who want to keep our jobs, there are plenty of shorter long-distance trails right here in the Northeast that are just as gorgeous and challenging as a longer trail, giving you the experience of thru-hiking and long periods spend in the woods, without forcing you to sacrifice a large part of your life. Plus, some can be completed in as little as one or two weeks. Here are five favorite thru-hikes that are worth your vacation time this summer.

Courtesy: Haley Blevins
Courtesy: Haley Blevins

The 100-Mile Wilderness

Explore the Appalachian Trail’s most remote section along a substantial stretch of uninterrupted trail. Stretching from Rt. 15 in Monson and continuing to Abol Bridge, the 100-Mile Wilderness offers a challenging adventure deep in Maine’s woods.

Location: Monson, Maine to Baxter State Park

Length: 100 miles (5-10 days)

Terrain: Easy to moderate elevation change with roots and rocks in sections (18,000ft. of total elevation change). Occasional water crossings.

Season: Summer to Fall. The trail can be muddy in early spring and buggy in early summer. Opt for July through October for the best conditions.

Camping: Plenty of shelters throughout. Summer and fall hikers will find themselves sharing shelters and stories with AT thru-hikers as they near the end of their multi-month adventures. Seeking more solitude? There are lots of backcountry camping options (permitted 200 feet from trails water sources).

Resupplying: None. Unless you arrange a food cache through Shaw’s Hostel in Monson.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: The 100-Mile Wilderness travels through some of the most remote country in the Continental U.S. (it doesn’t cross a paved road). It’s a parade of changing scenery, with low elevation forests featuring glassy ponds and waterfalls, to the traverse across the Barren-Chairback Range and climb up White Cap. Have an extra day or two? When you finish, continue another 20 miles up Mount Katahdin and enjoy 360-degree views after a grueling 4,000-foot climb.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

The Cohos Trail

Still relatively unknown, the Cohos Trail extends from the Canadian border near Pittsburg, New Hampshire to Crawford Notch in the White Mountains. Its remote nature guarantees frequent wildlife sightings and varied terrain through dense woods and across steep ridge lines through New Hampshire’s North Woods.

Location: Coos County, New Hampshire

Length: 170 Miles (10-15 days)

Terrain: Rolling hills combined with steep, rocky climbs through lush forests and by remote lakes. A combination of singletrack trail, snowmobile trail and dirt road.

Season: The Cohos can be hiked from May through October. August or September will provide ideal weather, with fewer bugs and more berries. Head out in early- or mid-October to catch the leaves change while enjoying cooler temperatures and a crowd-free White Mountains.

Camping: There are a few newly-crafted shelters, some state and private campgrounds on or just off the trail that provide more facilities, and two B&Bs in the small towns of Stark and Jefferson. Backcountry camping following LNT principles (camping at least 200 feet from the trail and water sources, packing out all trash) is permitted outside of the Connecticut Lakes Region.

Resupplying: A handful of general stores, campgrounds and inns that may accept resupply packages, and opportunities to get rides into the towns of Gorham and Groveton.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: The Cohos travels through diverse ecosystems and terrain including Dixville Notch, Nash Stream Forest, White Mountain National Forest, and Connecticut Lakes regions. It’s a quiet, but challenging trail for both new and experienced hikers. With its panoramic views and frequent mushroom and wildlife sightings, this is a trail for anyone seeking solitude.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

The Long Trail

Stretching the length of Vermont, The Long Trail is authentic, demanding New England hiking. It shares 100 miles with the AT and summits most of the prominent peaks in the Green Mountains, including Killington, Camel’s Hump, and Mount Mansfield. While it’s the toughest of any on this list, that doesn’t go without huge reward and bragging rights: The trail climbs over 60,000 feet in elevation.

Location: Vermont; Massachusetts to Canada

Length: 272 miles (15-25 days)

Terrain: Rugged. Steep, muddy and rocky with lots of elevation change.

Season: June to September. “Vermud” is the real deal on the Long Trail, so it’s best to hike later in the summer or fall than at the height of wet trail season. The trail can be crowded in July and August with end-to-enders and AT hikers, but you’ll have longer daylight and pleasant summer temperatures. If you can tolerate, and have the proper gear for colder weather, October would be a quiet and colorful month to hike. Late fall hikes bring higher chances of snow.

Camping: There are over 70 shelters and nicer lodges (fee required) along the Long Trail built and maintained by the Green Mountain Club. You’ll find other lodging options directly on, or not far off the trail such as the famous Long Trail Inn.

Resupplying: Most hikers will only carry 2 to 4 days of food at a time. Resupplying by sending boxes to locations closer to the trail is also an option.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: Not only is the Long Trail the oldest (established in 1930) long-distance trail in the country, it’s also one of the toughest. Through rocky high peaks and evergreen tunnels, hikers will experience challenging terrain with rewarding panoramic views. The culture of thru-hiker camaraderie and history the generations of passionate outdoors-people who’ve sustained this trail, are something special.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

The New England Trail

Stretching from the Long Island Sound to Massachusetts’ northern border, this trail follows classic New England landscapes: unfragmented forests, traprock ridges, historic towns, river valleys, waterfalls and farmlands. It is comprised mainly of the Mattabesett, Metacomet, and Monadnock (M-M-M) Trail systems and makes for an attainable thru- or section-hike.

Location: Massachusetts & Connecticut

Length: 215 miles (10-20 days)

Terrain: Moderate elevation change on well-maintained single-track trail with some river crossings and some road walking.

Season: Year-round. If you’re not afraid of cooler temperatures, October is a gorgeous time to hike the NET, thanks to colorful leaves, no bugs, and beautiful temperatures (and do-able ford of the Westfield River). Summer hikers will see optimal daylight and more crowds because the trail travels through popular day-use areas. Spring would be marvelous and lush as well.

Camping: With only 8 “official” shelter and tentsite locations, camping can the biggest challenge of an NET hike. Much of the trail crosses private property or State Parks where backcountry camping is not permitted. The map clearly outlines the boundaries of these areas and since the trail crosses roads often, it is entirely possible to avoid camping illegally with the fitness to pull bigger mileage and/or finding a ride into nearby towns for the occasional hotel stay.

Resupplying: Logistics are a breeze on the NET. The trail stays pretty urban for the most part, with opportunities to eat at restaurants and re-up on food at gas stations or post offices (via resupply box) along the trail. In addition, there are many places to get rides into towns for full amenities including grocery stores, lodging and laundry. By studying the maps, hikers can easily plan for major resupplies in Northampton, Massachusetts, Farmington, Connecticut, and Middletown, Connecticut.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: The New England Trail offers the unique experience of hiking through historical woods and townships among sweeping vistas, diverse resources, and plenty of summits. In addition, the trail is so accessible, providing easy logistics and gentle terrain. Highlights include the 12-mile ridge of the Mount Holyoke Range above Northampton, Rattlesnake Mountain overlooking Hartford, and Ragged Mountain.

Courtesy: Andy Kulikowski
Courtesy: Andy Kulikowski

The Northville-Placid Trail

While many people have experienced the joy of the High Peaks region, possibly bagging one of the Adirondack’s 4,000 footers, fewer have traveled the remote valleys between them. From Northville to Lake Placid, hikers can enjoy the solitude of backcountry lakes, rivers and woods.

Location: The Adirondacks, Upstate New York

Length: 136 miles (7-12 days)

Terrain: Moderate rolling hills at low-elevation, with some rocky and wet sections.

Season: June through September is the most appropriate time to hike. Since the Northville-Placid Trail stays at lower-elevation, there’s a few areas the trail runs through swamp lands, which would be buggy in early-mid summer. Days can be warm and humid with cooler temperatures at night. For warmer lakes to swim in, drier trail, and fewer bugs, hike it in September.

Camping: One of the greatest aspects of the NPT is the scenic lean-tos placed along the entire length of the trail close to many of the pristine lakes that are available on a first come, first serve basis. Backcountry camping is prohibited within 150 feet of any road, trail or body of water except at designated camping areas marked with a yellow sign.

Resupplying: In the heart of the Adirondacks, the NPT is remote and does not come within distance of any larger towns, requiring mailing resupply packages or finding a way into a town. Most hikers will send resupply boxes to the tiny towns of Piseco (mile 40) or Blue Mountain Lake (Mile 80) and get a ride into Long Lake, where you’ll find the Adirondack Trading Post and restaurants, laundry and lodging. Lake Placid (the northern terminus) is an outdoor town with many services, including shuttles and an EMS.

Why It’s Worth Hiking: With its mellow terrain and many backcountry lakes to cool off in, the Northville-Placid Trail travels through some of the wildest and most remote valleys of the Adirondacks. Some highlights include the Cedar Lakes, Canada Lakes, Long lake and the High Peaks Wilderness. The conveniently-placed shelters and straightforward logistics make it a fantastic hike for both new and experienced long-distance hikers.


6 Springtime Waterfall Hikes in New England

Melting snow and muddy trails may put a mild damper on high elevation springtime hikes, but one of the major benefits of melting snow is the ferocity it adds to some of the already impressive waterfalls in New England. Impressive flows and spraying water can make them some of the most scenic hiking objectives in the area. Don’t miss these ones this spring.

Courtesy: Chris Luczkow
Courtesy: Chris Luczkow

Arethusa Falls

Regarded as perhaps the most scenic waterfalls in New Hampshire, Crawford Notch’s Arethusa Falls is an incredible reward at the end of a moderate 1.5-mile hike that should not be missed! The height of the plunge is nearly 200 feet, and while it serves as a popular ice climbing spot in the winter months, once the warmer temperatures add to the snow melt, the massive cascade becomes even more worth the sweat.  During spring and early summer, the flow is impressive,  but by the end of the summer, it’s likely to significantly decrease, so plan your visit early.

The hike itself begins at the end of Arethusa Falls Road. Only 0.1 miles into the Arethusa Falls Trail, you have the option of cutting left to the Bemis Brook Trail. This offers a steeper climb with the addition of two other waterfalls until you reach the main event.  If you were hoping for a longer hike, you can always add the Frankenstein Cliff Trail to your loop for a total of 4.2 miles.

Courtesy: Richard
Courtesy: Richard

Glen Ellis Falls

At 65 feet tall, Glen Ellis Falls in Jackson, New Hampshire is impressive even in times of low water, but even more magnificent in spring.  The falls itself drops over the headwall of an ancient glacial valley and features deep green pools that tempt you closer to the water. Don’t underestimate the danger of the fast running water: Swimming is prohibited in the area.

Nestled in Pinkham Notch, there is a designated parking lot off Route 16, and a short 0.2 mile hike will lead you to this breathtaking view. There is a short waterfall just upstream from the main falls, and a second just downstream, and the series of staircases will get your blood pumping as you take in the magnificent sight. As the waterfall is easily accessible, it is also extremely popular. However, the crowds will be sparser in the early spring, which is definitely one of the better times to visit.

Courtesy: SridharSaraf
Courtesy: SridharSaraf

Falling Waters Trail

The Falling Waters Trail is a popular trail to the summit of Little Haystack Mountain in Franconia Notch State Park. The trail features three stunning waterfalls and finishes with breathtaking views from the summit. The first waterfall seen on the trip is Stairs Falls, soon overshadowed by Swiftwater Falls: a 60-foot tall mix of cascades and smaller plunges. The last waterfall, and by far the most impressive of the three, is the 80-foot Cloudland Falls. This features a horsetail-like drop. The best views are off the main trail as you get a bit closer to the falls. The hike is definitely worth just reaching the waterfalls, even without summiting Little Haystack.

Courtesy: Doug Kerr
Courtesy: Doug Kerr

Moss Glen Falls

Situated at the end of an incredibly easy 0.1 mile hike from Stowe, Vermont is a spectacular 125-foot combination of several falls one after another. Moss Glen Falls culminates with a 62-foot slide leading into a plunge followed by several cascades. In high water, such as in the early spring, this is essentially a single falls of nearly 75 feet.  This makes the total drop (125 feet) one of the largest in the state. There are so many angles and varyingly dramatic views of the falls, it is essential to view them from below as well as from above. The lower views are accessible by wading your way upstream into the gorge, but if you want to access the gorge above the falls, use the trail to the left.  This is a favorite swimming hole spot in the summer, but be aware that the rocks are extremely slippery.

warren-falls-1935615_1920

Warren Falls

Though small in stature, Warren Falls has some incredible features. Consisting of a rumbling series of cascades along the Mad River in Warren, Vermont, Warren Falls are made of three distinct tiers, totaling only about 20 feet in height, broken up into individual drops of about 7, 10 and 3 feet. The pools below each drop make for excellent swimming holes, but only when the river is running low. This would not be recommended in early spring, as the recent snow melt will only increase the water level. These pools are clear and surprisingly deep, with the pool after the final tier being nearly 20 feet deep.

Warren Falls is located just off of Route 100 south of Warren. There is a large dirt pullout on the west side of the road. A trail begins from the right side of the pullout and follows the river downstream. It is a quick walk to the falls.

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Screw Auger Falls

The waterfalls of the Gulf Hagas Gorge in Northeast Piscataquis, Maine are among the most popular in the state of Maine.  Often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East” The gorge consists of a series of waterfalls, cascades, and is part of the Appalachian Trail Corridor. However, a 7.5-mile trail will allow you to view various waterfalls in the area.  A majority of the crowds flock to see Screw Auger Falls, which is the most photogenic of all the waterfalls on this hike.  Here the brook drops about 15 feet into a punchbowl formation, often used as a swimming hole. However, if you continue along the rim of the gorge. you will encounter Buttermilk Falls, Billings Falls, and Stairs Falls.  When you enter through the entrance gate (it does require an entrance fee), ask about the water level, as the trail can be slick and more dangerous in high water.


What Do Guides Think About Before Ski Touring in Tuckerman Ravine?

Whether you’re a veteran backcountry skier or somebody who just read goEast’s Alpha Guide for Tuckerman Ravine and is now psyched to ski it for the first time, managing avalanche risk and planning for Mount Washington’s notorious winter weather can be tricky. With that in mind, we recently asked the EMS Climbing School’s Keith Moon, who has spent hundreds of days climbing and skiing on Mount Washington, to share some pointers on how to make a Tuck’s ski tour as safe and awesome as possible.

Keith Moon skinning the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. | Credit: Tim peck
Keith Moon skinning the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

Before You Go

A critical first step in planning a Tuck’s ski tour is to select and research your objective. In the process, investigate possible alternatives that are suitable to your party’s abilities and risk profile in case weather or avalanche risk preclude your intended route. Some good alternatives in the vicinity are the Gulf of Slides itself, as well as the Sherbourne and Gulf of Slides ski trails.

Another consideration is the style of tour that you’re going on. As he’s planning, Keith focuses on whether he’ll be backcountry skiing (looking for the best snow), ski touring (trying move across a significant distance), or ski mountaineering (climbing a specific objective and skiing down)—which helps clarify the goals for the day. Answering this question also helps ensure that he has the right equipment for the task—think big skis for powder hunting and lightweight skis for long-distance touring.

A few days before your tour, Keith recommends studying the Mount Washington Observatory’s Higher Summits forecast and the Mount Washington Avalanche Center’s avalanche report to get familiar with the existing conditions. Recent trip reports or conversations with local guides, snow rangers, and skiers are great ways to supplement your own research.

READ MORE: Reading Weather Reports for Mount Washington

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What to Pack

The night before your tour, pack gear appropriate for the objective and conditions. In terms of clothing, Keith prefers a four-layer system of a baselayer, an insulated midlayer, a hardshell, and a puffy. The weight of each layer often varies depending on the conditions, with lighter weight puffies and shells for spring-like bluebird days and heavier weight layers for cold or wet missions.

Keith’s pack also includes avalanche gear (beacon, shovel, and probe) as well as an ice axe, and crampons (essential gear for booting up an iced-up gully). Additionally, he packs a pair of ski goggles, ski helmet (it’s warmer and more protective than a climbing helmet), a first aid kit, bivy, repair kit, and food and water.

Getting Going

The morning of the tour, Keith recommends reading the MWAC’s daily avalanche report and Observatory’s weather forecast (which, in case you don’t have internet access, are also posted on the wall in the climber’s room at Pinkham Notch). As he does so, he refines his route plan, identifying aspects and elevations that he wants to avoid, observations that he’d like to make en-route, and alternatives in case the intended objective proves too risky.

Whether he’s skiing with friends or clients, Keith recommends having a group conversation about the day’s goals, risks, and hazards. He always encourages everybody to share their opinion, as it’s better to sort out divergent opinions near the parking lot instead of when you’re standing atop a gully, shivering from the windchill.

The Tour

On the skin up towards the Ravine, Keith recommends keeping an eye on the snowpack and the weather, as it may yield clues that support or detract from your earlier plan and forecast. Indeed, if you watch Keith while he’s skinning towards Hermit Lake, he’s regularly probing the snowpack on the side of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail with his ski pole searching for distinct layers in the snow, assessing stability by observing whether snow is sliding on inclines near the trail, and glancing at the sky looking for any weather changes (i.e., is the snowpack getting more sun or precipitation than expected or is the forecast bad weather arriving sooner than expected). If you’re not doing this too on your own tours, now is a good time to pick up the habit.

Another key to the day, and something that Keith focuses on with his clients, is good skinning technique. Gliding the ski along the snow, as opposed to picking it up like a snowshoe, is much more efficient and makes the uphill a lot easier. Not having wrecked legs is something you’ll be thankful for once you transition to the downhill.

Keith recommends that groups pause for a few minutes when they arrive at Hermit Lake. It’s a great spot to have a snack and layer up (if you haven’t already). If the visibility is good, it is also a great spot to make some visual observations of the Ravine, looking for any signs of recent avalanche activity. If they’re out and about, chatting with the snow rangers about conditions they’re seeing is another great way to garner some info.

Courtesy: Colin Boyd
Courtesy: Colin Boyd

Into the Ravine

From Hermit Lake, skiers have three main options: turn left towards Hillmans, head up into the Ravine, or, if the conditions have deteriorated, ski down the Sherbie. If the option is up, Hermit Lake is a great spot to make sure everybody is ready. What you don’t want to do, is head up, only to have to pause some minutes later, likely in the runout of a known avalanche path.

Heading into the Ravine, Keith tries to choose a route that minimizes the exposure to known avalanche paths. He’s also paying close attention to other groups, adjusting his path and objective to reduce the likelihood of being caught by a human-triggered release from above.

Whatever gully you’re heading up, Keith encourages keeping the skins on as long as possible. With the skis on, it’s easier to ski out of trouble and the floatation they provide allows you to avoid post-holing, a concern in the typically deep Tuckerman’s snowpack. Although skinning up a gully is tricky, learning to love the kickturn makes it a lot more manageable.

If skinning uphill becomes too tricky, find a safe spot to transition from skinning to booting. As you’re doing this transition, Keith recommends stripping your skins and having your skis ready to go, so that when you get to the top of the booter, it’s as simple as clicking into the skis and heading downhill. This helps minimize the time the group spends at the top of the gully, something that’s particularly helpful when the platform you stamp out is less than ideal.

Credit: Jamie Walter
Credit: Jamie Walter

Ski

This is the part everybody comes for, but it’s also not time to let your guard down. Keith advises skiing one at a time, from safe spot to safe spot, with the group leapfrogging down the gully.

If the gully bottoms out in the bowl, Keith likes to make sure everybody has agreed on the plan before they get there. Whether that means skiing out of the bowl down the Little Headwall to the Sherbie or transitioning for another gully lap, having a clear plan helps minimize the time standing in the runout of multiple avalanche paths.

Once back at Pinkham, it’s rinse and repeat for tomorrow (at least for Keith), but not before a quick debrief. That’s a great time to assess what went right, what went wrong, and terrain that’s suitable for next time, all topics that help improve everyone in the group’s risk assessment capabilities.

Jamming everything Ketih knows about Tucks is near impossible, luckily you can schedule some one-on-one time with him in the ravines by simply contacting the Eastern Mountain Sports School. Whether looking for pow or looking to refine technique, Keith is a wealth of knowledge and everyone from Tucks veteran to first-timers are sure to learn something from a day spent skiing with him.


3 Beginner-Friendly Ice Climbs in Crawford Notch

There’s no denying the great ice climbing found in the Northeast. The entire region is home to fantastic flows, even in the most unexpected places. However, one ice climbing destination stands out among the rest: Crawford Notch. With numerous test-piece climbs at Frankenstein Cliffs, a multitude of multi-pitch routes on Mount Willard, and the uber-classic Shoestring Gully on Mount Webster, it’s no wonder why this winter wonderland attracts ice aficionados from across the country. However, it’s not just ice climbing experts flocking to Crawford Notch—the area is also home to some of the best moderate ice climbs in the Northeast. Below are a few great destinations for newer ice climbers looking to gain experience on ice in Crawford Notch.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Willey’s Slide

With an easy approach and an abundance of low-angle ice (between four and six pitches of ice graded no harder than WI2), it’s no wonder why so many Northeast ice climbers have kicked their first steps on Willey’s Slide.

Willey’s Slide is the large slab on the side of Mount Willey. It is easily spotted above the aptly named Willey House while driving Route 302 as it winds through Crawford Notch, allowing climbers to get a sense of ice conditions before making the 15-minute approach. Parking for the slide is in the plowed pull-off just after the Willey House if coming from Conway (or before it, if heading south from the Highland Center). Leaving the parking lot, climbers will typically find a well-traveled path leading up the hill and eventually crossing the railroad tracks before depositing them at the base of the climb. Don’t over-layer in the parking lot or you’ll be roasting by the time you reach the slide.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Willey’s Slide is great for newer ice climbers as it offers numerous opportunities to increase or decrease the difficulty of the climbing. Climbers looking to challenge themselves will find the steepest climbing in the center of the slab, while the slab’s sides offer lower-angle, less-challenging climbing. Even better, climbers tackling the climber’s left side of the route can bail into the woods and onto the descent trail at almost any point if the climbing becomes uncomfortable. Speaking of the descent, there’s no need to rappel or make tricky v-threads to descend the climb; at the top, climbers can simply follow a normally well-packed trail through the woods to the base.

Two warnings about climbing at Willey’s Slide: First, it can get busy, as it is a popular destination for many of the area’s climbing schools, our EMS Climbing School included. Second, the slide has avalanched, so use caution after any heavy snow.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Silver Cascade

A short drive north on Route 302 is Silver Cascade, a gold-star route for those with aspirations of climbing the Northeast’s classic gullies. And, unlike Willey’s Slide, encountering hordes of fellow ice climbers here is a rarity.

Much like Willey’s Slide, Silver Cascade is easily viewable from the road making conditions easy to ascertain. In fact, the route begins at the intersection of the cascade and Route 302. Parking for the route is located at the top of the notch in a small lot just before the AMC’s Highland Center (if coming from North Conway). There’s also a lot directly across from Silver Cascade for summer tourists, but it is not always plowed and folks regularly get stuck.

Once on the route, ice climbers are treated to a wide variety of ice and conditions as they ascend the climb’s four to five pitches. Silver Cascade offers an ample amount of low-angle terrain with the most challenging sections rated no harder than an intermediate-ice-climber-friendly WI2+. After the initial steep, almost all the most challenging sections of Silver Cascade can be avoided, if less-experienced climbers don’t feel up to the challenge. Also, if anchors prove challenging, the climbing is taking longer than expected, or climbers feel like they are in over their head, bailing off the route is as easy as moving into the woods on climber’s right. After four to five pitches, the ice peters out and most climbers descend via a well-trod trail through the woods on the climber’s right side of the climb—once again negating the need to rappel.

One trick to having the best experience on Silver Cascade is to climb it before the snow begins stacking up or in low snow years—climbing Silver Cascade when there is lots of snow is still possible, it’s just more steep snow climbing and a little less fun.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Flume Cascade

Sharing the same parking lot as Silver Cascade is another moderately-graded frozen flow that is sure to please: Flume Cascade.

Similar in character to its neighbor, Flume Cascade delivers a wide variety of climbing, with steep curtains of ice, graded up to WI2+/WI3, interspersed with long sections of snow. Continuing for four to five pitches, the varied terrain on Flume Cascade (very easy initially, followed by several bulgy sections) makes for an engaging outing and is great training for tackling longer, more challenging adventures in Crawford Notch. Like the aforementioned climbs, the most challenging sections of Flume Cascade can be avoided by taking less-steep variations, and the woods on climber’s right (also the descent trail) provide a reliable bail-out option for almost the entire climb—although, you’ll want to try to make it to the top, as Flume Cascade concludes in a very cool cave-like feature.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Although Silver and Flume Cascade are rarely super busy, the variety of climbing options allow ample opportunity for more experienced climbers to pass novice parties—a luxury not found on all of Crawford Notch’s classic ice climbs. Additionally, the proximity of Flume Cascade to Silver Cascade along with the easy walk-offs for both climbs mean that many climbers can tick both routes—and between eight and ten pitches of climbing—in a day.

One word of caution for both Silver and Flume Cascades: these are active streams that are often running during even the coldest spells. Their volume tends to increase significantly (and quickly) if it rains, so be sure to head for the woods if liquid starts falling from the sky.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Do you have a favorite ice climb in Crawford Notch? Whether it’s a super-steep single-pitch line or a more moderate multi-pitch route, we want to hear about it—so tell us about it in the comments below.


Alpha Guide: The Carter Range Traverse

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Challenging terrain, breathtaking views, and the summits of six New Hampshire 4,000-footers combine to make the Carter Range Traverse one of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains.

Rugged but weather-protected terrain, fantastic views of Mount Washington and the northern Presidentials, a multiplicity of camping options, all without the crowds of some of New Hampshire’s better-known overnights, and foliage that’s among the best in the Whites make this a must-do fall point-to-point backpacking trip. And, for those who want to go luxurious and light, there’s even an Appalachian Mountain Club hut that’s right in the middle of the traverse.

Many hikers begin the Carter Range Traverse at the Carter-Moriah Trailhead on Bangor Street in Gorham. They then head south on the Carter-Moriah, Wildcat Ridge, and Lost Pond Trails for 17-plus miles, crossing six 4,000-footers before ending at Pinkham Notch on Route 16.

Quick Facts

Distance: 17 miles, thru-hike.*
Time to Complete: 2 to 3 days
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★


Season: Late-May to early November (Late September to early October for the best foliage)
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/whitemountain 

*The AMC Guidebook lists this hike ar roughly 20 miles, but our GPX and other independent sources have tracked it as less.

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Turn-By-Turn

Getting to the Carter-Moriah Trailhead is simple. Bangor Street is across from the Androscoggin Valley Country Club on Route 2 in Gorham. From Conway, follow Route 16 North approximately 24 miles to Route 2. Take a right onto Route 2, and look for Bangor Street on your right about a mile down the road. There’s a small hikers’ parking lot a few houses before the end of the street. Park there, and then, walk down to the trailhead (44.3822, -71.1694) at the end of the street.

If you have two cars, leave one at each trailhead. For an alternative, take advantage of the shuttle service provided by the Appalachian Mountain Club. For leaving a car at Pinkham Notch, it’s even easier to find than the Carter-Moriah Trailhead, as it’s right in the middle of Gorham and Conway. If you’re coming from Gorham, just follow Route 16 South for roughly 12 miles, and the building will be on your right. When you’re coming from Conway, Pinkham Notch is roughly 12 miles past the Glen intersection on Route 16 South, and the building will be on your left.

Although there’s limited parking at the Carter-Moriah Trailhead, the Libby Memorial Pool off Route 16 has additional parking. If you end up parking there, it is just a short road walk to the trailhead. As an added bonus, you get to cross a cool hikers-only suspension bridge to get to the trailhead.

Looking northeast from an overlook near Mount Moriah's summit. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Looking northeast from an overlook near Mount Moriah’s summit. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Moriah

On the way to Moriah’s summit, the Carter-Moriah Trail (CMT) gains more than 3,000 feet of elevation over the course of 4.5 miles. The trail itself is easy to follow but relatively nondescript, with the most notable feature being the rock ledge near the summit of Mount Surprise. If you haven’t taken a break yet, this is a good spot, as it is almost halfway to the summit.

After 4.5 miles of uphill terrain, you’ll reach a short spur trail that leads toward Mount Moriah’s summit ledge (44.3403, -71.1315). The views from the summit and surrounding area are among the best in the Whites, with the Northern Presidentials to the west, the Wild River Wilderness and Maine to the east, and portions of the traverse visible to the south.

In the woods near the start of the Carter-Moriah Trail. | Credit: Douglas Martland
In the woods near the start of the Carter-Moriah Trail. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Moriah to Imp Shelter

From Moriah’s summit, head south on the CMT. After a few minutes, you’ll come to a short, exposed downclimb that can be tricky. Be especially careful if you’re carrying a heavy pack. At the junction at the bottom of the downclimb, keep right to stay on the Carter-Moriah Trail. Although the junction is well signed, if you have any doubts from here on out, you’ll be following the Appalachian Trail’s white blazes, so there’s really no excuse for getting lost.

The trail then meanders across ledges and open slab, with great views east into the Wild River Wilderness and Maine’s forests and mountains. Eventually, the trail begins to descend steeply over the open slabs without compromising those views. Along the way, you’ll come across several fantastic overlooks, where you’ll probably find hikers ascending Moriah from the south pausing to catch their breath. Use caution when descending, however, as this section is often icy.

About 1.5 miles from the summit, the trail drops back into the trees, where it begins to flatten out. Almost immediately, you’ll arrive at a well-signed junction with the Moriah Brook Trail, but you’ll want to stay on the CMT. Soon thereafter, the trail crosses a boardwalk through a marsh area before coming to the Stony Brook Trail junction. At the junction, remain on the CMT for 0.75 miles, until you come to a spur trail for the Imp Shelter.

Coming up the Stony Brook Trail and skipping Moriah is an easier way to reach the Imp Shelter. It’s a great option for those starting late in the day on the first day of their trip or for those looking to do a single-day range traverse.

Down a short spur trail, there’s a shelter (44.3291, -71.1502) and five tent platforms (available for $10), with a caretaker present during summer months, as well. Tucked in the shadow of Imp Mountain, this is a great place to spend the night if you’re doing a three-day trip. If you’re doing the traverse in two days, consider pushing on, as you’ve only done one-third of the mileage.

Pro Tip: Since the stream at Imp Shelter is the last reliable water source before Carter Notch, it’s a good idea to refill here.

Looking back on Carter Ridge from Carter Dome. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Looking back on Carter Ridge from Carter Dome. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Up North Carter

If you spent the night at Imp Shelter, the early-morning hike up North Carter on the Carter-Moriah Trail can be a rude awakening. It’s steep and rough, gaining 1,400 feet over the course of roughly two miles. More so, it is probably the traverse’s hardest part, so take your time—there’s a long day ahead.

If you’re looking to catch your breath, a few spots on the way up North Carter have good views north toward Moriah. You might miss them, though, when heading uphill, since you’ll be facing the wrong direction.

About 1.6 miles from the shelter, you’ll stumble onto North Carter’s summit (44.3131, -71.1645). Although it is 4,530 feet in height, the Appalachian Mountain Club doesn’t consider North Carter a 4,000-footer. The col on the ridge from Middle Carter only descends 60 feet (18 m), thus making North Carter a secondary summit of that peak.

Mount Hight and Carter Dome from South Carter. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Mount Hight and Carter Dome from South Carter. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Ridge Running the Carters

Once you’ve climbed to the ridgeline, the CMT mellows considerably along the rolling Carter Ridge. As well, trees shelter the ridgeline, offering great protection from the weather. Occasionally, breaks in the trees offer views both to the east (Maine, the Baldface Range, and the Wild River Wilderness) and to the west (the Northern Presidentials). And, because Carter Ridge isn’t a straight line, a few opportunities offer a glimpse of what lies ahead.

About a mile from North Carter’s summit, the trail surmounts Middle Carter (44.3031, -71.1673). Although you’ll get great views before and after the summit, the summit itself is wooded and nondescript. And, because you’re near a wilderness area, the summit itself isn’t signed. Look, instead, for a cairn.

From Middle Carter, the trail descends gradually to the col between Middle and South Carter. At this point, it climbs gently toward the summit of the latter peak (44.2898, -71.1762). About a half-mile from the col, be on the lookout for a very short spur trail to South Carter’s official summit. Again, there are no signs, but it is pretty hard to miss the small cairn. And, although the summit has no real views, an outlook sits a few steps away on the other side of the trail. Your next objectives—Mount Hight and Carter Dome—dominate the horizon to the south.

To reach them, continue south on the CMT for 0.8 miles as it heads downhill toward Zeta Pass. While it descends quickly at first, it then meanders through the woods and over boardwalks as it nears the pass.

The Northern Presidential Range from Mount Hight. | Credit: Douglas Martland
The Northern Presidential Range from Mount Hight. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Carter Dome and the Mount Hight Detour

From Zeta Pass, the Carter-Moriah and Carter Dome Trails temporarily merge, both headed for Carter Dome’s summit. Soon, however, they split at a junction (44.2789, -71.1737), with the CMT taking a slightly longer route with a detour to the outstanding overlook atop Mount Hight. If time is of the essence and you want to skip Mount Hight, take the Carter Dome Trail (blue blazes) directly to the top of Carter Dome. It saves about 0.2 miles, but you’ll be skipping one of the hike’s key highlights.

To get to Mount Hight, a subpeak of Carter Dome, simply continue following the AT’s white rectangular blazes. After a few minutes, the trail begins to climb steeply. Although some effort is involved, keep hiking: The alpine zone and 360-degree views of the Presidentials, the sections of the Carter Range you’ve traversed so far, and the Wild River Wilderness are well worth it. When you can peel yourself away from the summit (44.2759, -71.1702), continue along the CMT and AT, until it intersects with the Carter Dome Trail, a short distance below Carter Dome.

Compared to Hight, Carter Dome is unimpressive, with a small open space and some competing summit cairns (44.2674, -71.1792). The summit’s northwestern side also has an overlook toward the Northern Presidentials.

Fall foliage behind Carter Lake. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Fall foliage behind Carter Lake. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Carter Notch

From Carter Dome, the CMT descends into Carter Notch. Here, the trail is steep with several sections where you’ll want to watch your footing. About halfway down the trail is a nice overlook, where you can see the Carter Notch Hut with Wildcat Ridge as a backdrop.

The CMT spills out into Carter Notch at the junction at Carter Lake. If you’re spending the night at the Carter Notch Hut (44.2588, -71.1951) or just looking for snacks and water, follow a short spur trail left, past two small lakes for 0.1 miles. Built in 1914, the hut offers full services during the summer months, as well as self-service during the rest of the year. Those thinking of spending the night in one of the two bunkhouses can make reservations with the AMC.

If you’re continuing on toward Wildcat Ridge, turn right instead, following the trail along the edge of Carter Lake and then up as it begins to climb out of the Notch. Since the trails around Carter Notch are maze-like, pay careful attention, so you don’t get lost and lose any time.

Fall foliage from near the top of Wildcat D. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Fall foliage from near the top of Wildcat D. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Up Wildcat Ridge

Whether you spent the night at the hut or continued to push on, the 0.7-mile climb up Wildcat A is a tough one. The trail travels continuously over rough terrain, gaining elevation with a series of long, traversing switchbacks. Since the best views are behind you, use that as an excuse if you need to take a break.

You’ll know you’re near the summit when the trail briefly levels out. The summit (44.2590, -71.2015) itself is inconspicuous—just a small cairn a few feet off the trail. But, just before, an overlook delivers good views of Carter Dome, the Notch, and the Hut.

Mount Washington with Tuckerman (left) and Huntington (right) Ravines from below Wildcat C. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Mount Washington with Tuckerman (left) and Huntington (right) Ravines from below Wildcat C. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Across the Ridge

Wildcat Ridge rolls along across Wildcat’s five named peaks—A, B, C, D, and E. Although only two count as official 4,000-footers (A and D), you’ll still have to earn each one, as even their short elevation gains seem like real work this late in the traverse.

The most notable of the subpeaks is C, mainly because of the stellar views of Mt. Washington’s Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines on the descent. Be careful, as well, on the descent off C into Wildcat Col; a few of the sections require some easy downclimbing.

The sights and sounds of civilization indicate you’ve climbed out of the col and are nearing the summit overlook atop Wildcat D (44.2493, -71.235). It’s the first summit on the trip that’ll be crowded with non-hikers—Wildcat’s gondola runs near D’s summit on fall weekends—but you can at least appreciate that your climb up was much more challenging. And, if the crowds are minimal or it’s off-hours, the observation platform is a great place to admire Mount Washington.

The trail approaching Carter Dome. | Credit: Douglas Martland
The trail approaching Carter Dome. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Down to Pinkham

From the overlook, the trail meanders over Wildcat E and soon thereafter begins to descend. Easily one of the Whites’ hardest hikes, descending the Wildcat Ridge Trail may be even more demanding than ascending it. Rocky, slabby, and at times extremely steep, the trail even features rock and wooden steps to ease hiking on such vertical terrain. As it plummets down two miles and roughly 2,000 feet of elevation, people who are carrying big packs, have tired legs, or are uncomfortable negotiating exposed terrain should consider taking the shortcut down the Wildcat Mountain Ski Area.

Near the bottom of the Wildcat Ridge Trail, take the Lost Pond Trail for an easy 0.9 miles to Pinkham Notch. Although this route is longer than just finishing out the Wildcat Ridge Trail, it eliminates the need to cross the Ellis River.

As another reason doing the traverse from north to south is advantageous, after passing the final summit, hikers can quickly scamper down the ski slope to the resort’s parking area, instead of continuing on the steep and rugged Wildcat Ridge Trail to the Glen Ellis Falls Trailhead. The preferred hiking trail is the Polecat Trail, a 2.2-mile green circle that gently weaves down the mountain. From Wildcat, hikers can do a quick road march back to Pinkham Notch.


The Wild River Wilderness from Mount Hight. | Credit: Douglas Martland
The Wild River Wilderness from Mount Hight. | Credit: Douglas Martland

The Kit

  • The EMS Refugio 2 Tent is a great choice for those who feel that staying in the hut is too luxurious but aren’t psyched on going super-lightweight. Weighing roughly a pound and a half more than its ultralight sibling, the Velocity 2, the Refugio delivers plenty of space to stretch out and has voluminous vestibules for storing gear.
  • The Sawyer Mini Filter makes access to potable drinking water easy. Simply screw it onto a water bottle or rig it to your hydration bladder. Or, even drink right from the source using the included straw.
  • After a long day on the trail, appetites are high, but the motivation to cook is low. A canister stove like the Jetboil Flash makes preparing dinner as easy as pushing a button.
  • Super small and compact, the Sea to Summit Ultralight Sleeping Pad is perfect for keeping pack size down and doesn’t disappoint when it comes to comfort.
  • The EMS Mountain Light 20 is warm, compressible, and cozy, making it perfect for trips like the Carter Range Traverse. Open the super-versatile bag up for unseasonably warm weather, or wear your jacket to bed and cinch the hood for those cold fall nights.

Foliage from near the top of Wildcat D. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Foliage from near the top of Wildcat D. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Keys to the Trip

  • From mid-September through mid-May, the AMC’s Carter Notch Hut is self-serve. During the self-service season, a bed is provided and so is the use of the hut’s stove, cookware, and utensils. While neither dinner nor breakfast is offered during the self-serve season, you can ditch the weight of a tent and stove. The cost is $45 a night for AMC members and $54 a night for non-members. However, it’s always a good idea to reserve a place in the hut in advance.
  • Although the Carter Wildcat Traverse is pretty straightforward, it’s always smart to carry a map, and the White Mountains Waterproof Trail Map is a good one. In addition to being helpful in the event you get turned around, it’s also perfect for getting stoked before your trip and scheming up the next traverse once you’ve checked the Carter Range Traverse from your list.
  • After a couple long days of GORP, granola, and freeze-dried meals, you deserve something decadent. Treat yourself to an incredible cupcake (or two) from White Mountain Cupcakery.

Current Conditions

Have you recently hiked in the Carters or Wildcats? Have you done the complete traverse? What did you think? Post your experience in the comments!