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

Video: 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

Henderson Ridge: Alpine Climbing for the Everyman

The Northeast is filled with fantastic opportunities for alpine climbing, with much of it at a modest grade. For instance, a few iconic places like the Whitney-Gilman Ridge on Cannon Mountain, the Armadillo Buttress on Mount Katahdin, and the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle on Mount Washington offer great New England moderates at a 5.7.

Occasionally, however, 5.7 can feel like 5.9, especially on classic climbs previously graded 5.7 – once considered the peak of difficulty. Sometimes, climbers seek the alpine experience without all the arduousness and fear, and instead would prefer to test themselves on an easier route, work out their systems, and evaluate their readiness before moving onto bigger treks higher in the mountains.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Why Henderson Ridge is Perfect

Henderson Ridge in Mount Washington’s Huntington Ravine is the perfect proving ground for both aspiring alpine climbers and the everyman looking for a weekend adventure. For one, it delivers a big route on a quintessential New England mountain while offering beginner-friendly climbing no harder than a 5.4. Even better, it’s located directly across from the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, perhaps giving a glimpse of a future objective – if things go well, that is.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Be Prepared

Like many alpine climbs, the approach to Henderson Ridge is lengthy and will have you considering what is vital to take. Over the years, my rack has gotten noticeably smaller, the rope has gotten shorter and skinnier, and energy gels have replaced real food to minimize the amount of gear I’ll carry during the two-plus miles and nearly 3,000 feet of elevation to the base.

While thinning out the pack is important, it’s critical to remember that Mount Washington is “home to the world’s worst weather,” and bright, sunny days can quickly become windy, rainy, snowy, and miserable, so pack accordingly. Furthermore, this is a traditionally protected climb with no fixed gear, so you should bring enough supplies to safely get through the route, know how to properly place trad gear, and be comfortable building your own anchors. If you’re a first-timer, bring a standard rack of small- to medium-sized cams and a set of stoppers, as gear placements are abundant.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Know Your Approach

The most common way for climbers to reach Henderson Ridge is via the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to either the Huntington Ravine Cutoff Trail or the Huntington Ravine Trail, and then follow the trail to the base of the ravine. From the ravine’s base, Henderson Ridge is the prominent rib of rock on the far right that occasionally and dramatically juts out over North Gully. To reach Henderson Ridge, continue moving up the trail, until you are near level with the beginning of the ridge and start bushwhacking over to it.

On some visits, I have been able to find what I think is a faint climber’s path that made the traverse easier. Other times, I have not and have been nearly swallowed by undergrowth. Depending on the bushwhack you choose, this traverse may seem like a few forgettable moments before the climb or become the hardest thing you’ll do all day.

Of course, if none of this sounds appealing to you, there is always what I have heard referred to as the lazy, luxurious, or smart approach to Henderson Ridge: Just drive up the auto road, and descend to the climb.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Pitching It Out

The technical beginning of Henderson Ridge is fairly obvious, as a large sliver of rock dips into the lower ravine’s vegetation to form a sharp ridge above North Gully. In my experience, the first pitch is often the route’s hardest point, as my legs struggle to adapt from the uphill hike to the few delicate slab moves you need to make. While I have often climbed Henderson Ridge using only my approach shoes, there have been moments on the first pitch where I have wished for a pair of real climbing shoes.

To continue from the top of the first pitch, hug the ridge for three or four more rope lengths through the increasingly blocky terrain. Then, sustained climbing ends on a large ledge above what’s known as the “diving board,” an incredible feature hanging out over North Gully. Climbers comfortable with exposure will love walking the plank, taking in the fantastic view, and feeling the air beneath their feet.

While most climbers will de-rope and scramble after four pitches, first-timers may want to keep the rope out, depending on their comfort with the terrain, their abilities, and location, as there are still some steep sections and intermittent portions requiring more technical skills. Those not satiated with the first four pitches can then scramble left and find a few more rope lengths in North Gully.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Descent

At the top of Henderson Ridge or North Gully, climbers can connect with the Alpine Garden Trail. From here, you can choose to go to Mount Washington’s summit via the Nelson Crag Trail before going down the mountain, or continue across the Alpine Garden to the Lion Head Trail and begin the descent immediately. For those who did this route auto-assisted, jump in your car and enjoy the drive down. And, for those who wish they’d taken the auto road up, stick out your thumb, and hope someone takes pity on you.

 

Hike or drive, rope up or solo, summit or go summit-less, or even link it with The Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle for an alpine extravaganza, Henderson Ridge offers ample adventure opportunities for climbers of all levels. With an incredible setting on a must-visit mountain, it makes the alpine experience accessible to the everyday climber.


10 Tips for Great GoPro Shots in the 48 New Hampshire 4,000 Footers

New Hampshire, home to the beautiful White Mountains, is one of the most underrated states. People travel from all around to hike, bike, swim, fish, camp, explore, and do so much more, but for many hikers, a common goal is to reach all 48 of the state’s 4,000-plus foot peaks. Doing so puts you among a growing list of AMC Club members. In 2014, I started my trek to 48, and even if I had little-to-no idea what I was getting myself into, I brought my reliable GoPro along every time to document this undertaking.

Hiking with my GoPro has inspired me to further my knowledge of photography and to share what I have acquired along the way. I still have more to learn, but here are a few tips that may help you grab the perfect photo in the White Mountains, in any season and in any weather.

GoPro Tips

1. Always keep your GoPro in its case

Only take it out to charge it up or clean the lens. I thought this was common knowledge, but I’ve witnessed countless people remove a GoPro to take some shots in the mountains. Doing so could mean you’ll scratch the lens or potentially drop the device in the process.

2. Follow GoPro on Instagram

They post a “Photo of the Day” every day, which can be inspirational but also give you more information about what you’re doing and what settings to shoot in. Before I hike each mountain, I go on Instagram to search where I’m climbing to see what to expect and to get ideas for cool shots.

3. Download the GoPro app onto your smartphone

GoPros come with built-in WiFi, so if you are shooting with a GoPro Hero 3 or newer model, you can see what you’re shooting on your smartphone. Some don’t come with a screen on the back, so by using this free app, you can make sure you get the perfect shot.

GoPro Tips

4. Invest in REAL accessories

Like most things, you get what you pay for, and I’ve gone through more cheap selfie sticks than I can count. They would break or fall apart, so eventually, I invested in a GoPro 3-Way Mount, and it has been the best accessory I’ve had to this day. This mount doubles as a selfie stick and a tripod, so whenever I hike alone, I can set my tripod down and snap away!

GoPro Tips

5. Anti-fog inserts are a must-have

When I bought my GoPro, I was fortunate enough to work with a salesperson who is also an avid hiker. He recommended I get the GoPro Anti-Fog Inserts in order to prevent water collecting between the camera and the case, which can completely ruin the photos. As a note, I have forgotten the inserts at times, and I was extremely disappointed when the photos didn’t come out. My very first hike with the GoPro and inserts quickly made it clear how helpful they are.

GoPro Tips

6. Time-lapse will be your best friend

I typically only shoot in this setting: I set my camera on 0.5-second time-lapse and let the camera do the rest. Whether I’m trying to get the classic mountain jumping shot, the perfectly timed one-handed handstand, or a great selfie, this is my biggest secret to timing those awesome photos.

GoPro Tips

7. Bring two batteries for the big hikes and winter days

If you plan on shooting things the entire way up and down the mountain, bring two batteries, as there are plenty of hikes that offer more than just views from the summit. When I hiked Mount Pierce in the winter, there was a beautiful waterfall on the way up, gorgeous snow-capped trees, and the summit itself. By the time I reached the top, my battery was running very low, but I was able to quickly swap it out and not worry that it would die. Cold temperatures can also sap the battery quicker than normal, so a backup is a good idea on winter days, too. For the best luck, keep everything, if possible, somewhere warmer, like inside a jacket.

8. Play around with the wide angle

GoPro’s signature is the wide-angle, fish-eye view that makes the photos and videos you shoot look awesome without even trying. I recently discovered that, when I am trying to take landscape shots, I could lessen the width’s degree. To do so, go to your GoPro’s settings and click on the photo settings. With a GoPro Hero 3, you can change your shot from 10MP/Wide to 7MP/Wide or 5MP/Medium.

9. Edit your photos directly on Instagram

I have tried so many different apps to edit my GoPro photos, but nothing has been better than downloading the photo from my GoPro to my phone, pulling it up on Instagram, and playing with the settings to get the perfect shot. Even if you don’t plan on Instagramming it, just put your phone on airplane mode for a moment and hit post. The post will fail, but you will then have your new perfectly edited photo sitting in your camera roll ready for whatever you need!

GoPro Tips

10. Have fun and be safe!

The best part about the GoPro is putting everything together, editing the perfect photo, and tricking your Instagram followers into thinking you’re super cool and adventurous. When I hiked Passaconaway, there were limited views at the summit, so I climbed up a tree with my camera to get the perfect photo. I didn’t think through getting down and had to toss the camera and jump from the tree. Moral of the story: Think twice before you try to go for the tricky shot. Know your limits, good luck, and happy hiking!


A Step-by-Step Guide to Hiking New Hampshire’s Falling Waters Trail

Heading into New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the highway winds between Cannon Mountain and Franconia Ridge. On most good weather weekends from May until October, cars line in each direction. Some may drive by, wondering about the traffic, but in the hiking community, it is no secret. The people are there to experience one of the most scenic spots in the White Mountains: the Falling Waters Trail, or Franconia Ridge hike. The Granite State boasts many great spots, with hundreds of trails, yet this one remains a favorite.

There many reasons this route should not be missed. The first is easy trailhead access. Unlike other spots in the White Mountains, this one requires no complicated directions, as it sits right off Interstate 93.

The hike is also a loop. The convenience of beginning and ending in the same parking lot means you will not need to arrange for a pickup, leave a car at the end of the trail, or hike all the way back.

Of course, the endless waterfalls along the trail are another top reason. Visually, the scenery is a paradise that will bring out the photographer in anyone.

Know Before You Go­: The Falling Waters Loop

The loop is 8.9 miles and gains 3,900 feet of elevation. The Appalachian Mountain Club lists the average time of completion at seven hours, and further labels it a strenuous hike. As such, do not be fooled by the numerous hikers, trail runners, and even dogs taking the same journey: This is no easy ascent. If you are not accustomed to being active for seven or more hours, I’d recommend a shorter version.

Here are some options you can consider to make it more enjoyable:

  • Head up the Falling Waters Trail to avoid going down slippery steep rocks and doing river crossings when tired.
  • Alternatively, some like putting their feet in the many falls on the way down.

1 Mile Mark

Without much elevation gain, the trail’s first mile has numerous waterfalls for photos or taking a brief break.

[Credit: Kathy Merrifield]
[Credit: Cathy Merrifield]

The Biggest Waterfall

If at the 1 mile mark you feel like hiking some more, continue on another half mile to Cloudland Falls, the trail’s most spectacular waterfall. While the route becomes steeper and there are some rocky sections, the waterfall is worth the effort. This is a great spot to stop, relax for a moment, and take some photos.

Franconia Ridge Amazes

Breaking out of the trees to the ridge, the natural wonders will continually stop you in your tracks, as Cannon, the Kinsmans, and Lonesome Lake are behind you during your ascent. On the ridge, you are treated to breathtaking sights of the vast Pemigewasset Wilderness. There, you will see gorgeous forests without a single road or building to spoil the spectacular view. It is the perfect location to stop and drink in the scenery of rolling mountains and greenery.

[Credit: Kathy Merrifield]
[Credit: Cathy Merrifield]

On To Mt. Lincoln

From Little Haystack Mountain, Lincoln doesn’t look too far on the ridge, at only 0.7 miles away. Walking along the rock path, you feel on top of the world. While it’s not very narrow, the dropoffs at both sides of the trail can make some nervous. However, this stretch goes by quickly, as views in every direction keep hikers distracted.

Mt. Lincoln is 5,089 feet and the first on this hike that counts for New Hampshire’s 4,000-footer list. On Lincoln, you can look back to see hikers on Little Haystack and glance ahead to Mt. Lafayette further up the trail. For a hiker, seeing from where you have come and just how far you have to go can be extremely gratifying.

The Final Summit,­ Mt. Lafayette

The trail from Lincoln to Lafayette gets rockier, with some larger boulders and sections that are best described as “scrambles.” The patches of moss and majestic landscape give this part of the route a Lord of the Rings feel.

Dropping down from Lincoln is a short­-lived break before you make the climb up Mt. Lafayette. This section between the mountains is only .9 miles, yet can sap your energy, even though you’ve already traveled four miles.

Lafayette Summit

On this 5,260-foot summit, you might as well say it’s all downhill from here! Enjoy more stunning views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness and Mt. Washington, when it isn’t in the clouds. Many hikers stop to have lunch here, as the climbing is over and refueling for the trip down is crucial.
The Appalachian Mountain Club’s Greenleaf Hut is 1.1 miles down the trail. If it’s open, stop in to refill water or buy some amazing homemade baked goods. You’ll soon find the descending route is steep and rocky, as it is mostly exposed, with only a small section in the woods very close to the hut.

Down Old Bridle Path

The trip from the hut to the parking lot is 2.9 miles. While Old Bridle Path is not as steep overall as Falling Waters, there are many sections that will test your joints. The Hut Crew named these “The Agonies,” and I cannot imagine carrying supplies up this route to the hut!

So, take time to rest those sore muscles and joints on the way down at the beautiful ledges that offer great views. Here, looking back to see the ridge you just hiked is quite incredible. At the final .2 miles, this route meets the Falling Waters Trail again, and in moments, you’ll be back at your car.

Incredible sights and an amazing above-treeline ridgeline put this Franconia Ridge loop on endless best-hike lists nationwide. Even with the crowds, its beauty cannot be denied. To explore, pick which option is right for you, and enjoy this quintessential New Hampshire trail!

[Credit: Kathy Merrifield]
[Credit: Cathy Merrifield]

There's More Than One Way to Seek The Peak: A Mount Washington Route Guide

On Saturday, July 16, 2016, hundreds of outdoor enthusiasts of varying abilities will take on Mount Washington as part of the largest organized hiking event in the country, all in the name of supporting the legendary Mount Washington Observatory’s efforts. Having done more than 100 ascents of Mount Washington over the past 15 years, I’ve discovered there are many options for climbing up, other than the extremely well-known and traveled main routes. Below, I’m offering some suggestions to help hikers find the right one for their skill, experience, and ability, along with perhaps seeking a little solitude on what might be the mountain’s single busiest day.

First, the two big classics:

Tuckerman Ravine Trail

Without a doubt, this is the east side’s most crowded option – and for good reason! Starting from the bustling AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, the first two miles are relatively gentle. After Hermit Lake, a common resting point which will undoubtedly have lots of hikers milling about, the trail gets a little steeper as you work your way up into the large glacial cirque affectionately referred to as “Tucks.”

After entering the ravine’s floor, you’ll find things really steepen up. While the views get more impressive, some hikers might want to focus more on their foot placements, as a few narrower sections of the route require extreme attention. Then, as the the trail becomes more gradual and segues into the alpine zone, the remaining .7 miles and 1,000 feet of elevation gain to the summit make you think, “We must be almost there” for awhile, before you finally step onto the auto road and reach your goal.

Protips: From the mountain’s east side, this is the shortest and one of the easiest trails. Being the most crowded, it might be best for those seeking a social hiking experience. For something different on your way back, descending via the Lion Head Trail makes for a nice loop hike that returns you to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail a few hundred feet below Hermit Lake.

Lakes of the Clouds Hut as seen from Mount Washington's summit come. [Credit: Ryan Wichelns]
Lakes of the Clouds Hut as seen from Mount Washington’s summit come. [Credit: Ryan Wichelns]

Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail

The most popular option from the west side, and the easiest trail to the summit, this route has the benefit of starting 600 feet higher than the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. While it has less total elevation gain, it’s also much more interesting, so to speak, for the first couple miles.

 

It climbs very gently at first, until you reach the scenic “Gem Pool.” From here, the hiking steepens considerably, with the next mile being a relative “stairmaster.” The views come quickly, though, as does the treeline after crossing a few open slabs and reaching the AMC Lakes of the Clouds Hut. This beautiful mountain location is another popular resting spot, which often sells fresh baked goodies and juice at their counter. From here, the nearby Crawford Path climbs up to the summit, offering some of the same “almost there” spots along the way.

Protips: If your legs are feeling strong once you reach the top, and you have plenty of daylight left, descending via the Jewell Trail lets you have a different view during the return trip, although it does add an extra mile.

Boott Spur Trail

Back on the east side of the mountain, and also departing from the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, the Boott Spur Trail offers a less-crowded option. While adding a little over a mile to the ascent, it spends more time above the treeline, so this is a great route on a stable weather day for those with a bit more experience.

Protip: Here, too, descending via the Lion Head Trail takes you around the Tuckerman Ravine Cirque, allowing you to view it from almost all possible angles.

Huntington Ravine Trail

For the truly adventurous and those not faint of heart, the iconic Huntington Ravine Trail offers a very steep climb up Tuckerman’s more jagged neighbor. The two overlap during the first hour, but then, you break off onto a nice narrow trail that crosses the Cutler River and climbs up into the ravine.

Sections of the headwall will feel like actual rock climbing, and as a result, people get stuck here every year, because they underestimated the exposure or their own level of comfort in steep places. This is also a poor choice for those traveling with canine companions. However, when the weather is nice, and the hiking shoes are “grippy,” it can make for an exhilarating ascent.

Protip: It is much easier to go up steep trails than to go down them, so also consider descending via the Lion Head Trail, especially if there is any chance of rain!

Alternatives

For days when the weather looks poor, for those with limited hiking experience still wanting to climb Mount Washington, or for those with very small children, there is an excellent trail network around Pinkham Notch with much less committing trips than the four I have listed above.

Some recommendations: Take the Square Ledge Trail, which is about one hour round trip and has a stellar view of Mount Washington at the top. You can combine this with the Lost Pond Trail and a trip to the amazing Glen Ellis Falls if you wish to keep hiking. Or, on the west side of Route 16, where you should have parked, Liebeskind’s Loop with a trip out to Lila’s Ledge offers a very family-friendly hike with a pleasant view through the notch.

For more information on these trails, pick up a copy of The AMC White Mountain Guidebook.


How to Make the Most of a Long Summer Day: The Prezi Traverse

At over 23 miles and with more than 9,000 feet of elevation gain, a one-day Presidential Range Traverse is no small feat. To get the best visibility, those attempting it often schedule their journey close to the summer solstice to maximize available daylight. Generally, experienced, fit hikers can complete the Traverse in 12 to 14 hours, while it can take about 18 to 20 for those less fit.

The route is most often traveled from north to south to get the majority of elevation gains over early. There are a few approaches, but most hikers choose either Valley Way or Airline. After Mt. Madison, the Gulfside trail is followed most of the way south, with diversions over individual peaks. Once Washington is achieved, the Crawford Path, the oldest-used footpath in the U.S., brings you through the Southern Presidentials, with spur trails allowing you to tag the actual summits.

  1. Mt. Madison – 5367 feet

  2. Mt. Adams – 5774 feet

  3. Mt. Jefferson – 5712 feet

  4. Mt. Clay – 5533 feet

  5. Mt. Washington – 6288 feet

  6. Mt. Monroe – 5384 feet

  7. Mt. Franklin – 5001 feet

  8. Mt. Eisenhower – 4780 feet

  9. Mt. Pierce – 4310 feet

  10. Mt. Jackson – 4052 feet

It should be noted those who have already bagged these peaks on other trips may opt to bypass them on a traverse, saving significant time and effort, while others may argue this was not a “true” traverse.

The Saturday before or the Saturday after the solstice is probably the most popular time to get through this trek. If you work Monday to Friday, you are really going to want all day Sunday to recover!

During this timeframe, intrepid hikers have almost 16 hours of useable daylight. Daylight, however, is not really the main issue, as a quality headlamp can make night hiking quite enjoyable. Instead, full-moon traverses are still possible when the weather is stable, so with any above-treeline White Mountain adventure, it really comes down to this factor.

[Credit: Ryan Wichelns]
[Credit: Ryan Wichelns]

Tip #1: Be flexible

It would be wise to keep checking the Higher Summits Forecast every Thursday if you are thinking, “This Saturday might be the day!” Because of this aspect, don’t lock into the Saturday before or after the solstice. Rather, give yourself two weekends as potential green-light dates. As you do, pay close attention to the weather. Low pressure coming in with freezing rain and high winds? Not this weekend. High pressure cresting on Saturday with a stable-looking Sunday? Let’s go for it!

Tip #2: Carry the right gear

If you’ve been planning this trip, you probably know a good amount about the gear you should take hiking. But for this journey specifically, aim for a total pack weight no greater than 15 lbs., including 100 oz. of water in a hydration bladder. While you shouldn’t skimp on proper clothing and food, realize the goal is to keep moving, so a light pack will really help here. As well, trekking poles should not be sacrificed to save weight; instead, use them for ascent and descent.

Tip #3: Plan for the best, and prepare for the worst

Mountain weather is fickle, and physical fitness sometimes eludes us. While this traverse is committing, it is not without escape routes, so find them in advance. Study the map to know which trail offers the best getaway below tree-line from each section of the route – hopefully, on the same side as your vehicle.

Also, consider carrying a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon), but realize the very important fact that outside help can often be 12 or more hours away! So, for these extreme cases, be self sufficient and know how to self-rescue!

Tip #4: Bailing is not failing

Success in the mountains is not judged by the summits reached or miles covered. Instead, it is judged by whether you had fun with your friends and made it home safe – that is the most important part of any mountain adventure. If the weather turns, or if a companion isn’t feeling great, do the right thing and shorten the trip – it’s okay. The range has been there for thousands of years, and it will be there for thousands more, so you can alway come back next year to try again!


20 Years Later on Cannon Cliff

It was 1994, and I was 16 years old. I had been spending every paycheck I earned after school at the Salem, N.H., EMS on climbing gear. While cooling off one night at the long-since-closed Mill City Rock Gym, I thumbed through a climbing magazine article titled “Ten Classic Trad Climbs Under 5.10.” Number 6 on this list? Lakeview, Cannon Cliff, N.H., Grade 3 YDS 5.6.

I was intrigued. Moderate multi-pitch climbing in New Hampshire? I had to do this. I started obsessing about it that summer. My first attempt was with my assistant manager, Peg Foss. We drove up I-93 in a light drizzle that ended right as we arrived at the iconic Franconia Notch. The cliff looked like it might dry, so we hiked up to the base. I took the first pitch – damp 5.3 climbing but doable. Peg started up the second pitch and, at the first overlap, struggled, yelling “Watch me,” and then slipped off.

It was her first leader fall.

It was my first leader fall catch.

She slid past me on the slab with enough time to make eye contact and ask, “You got me!?”

Her only piece, an inverted pink Tricam, kept her from going more than a few feet past the belay. Her ankle was bruised, and she had torn through her nylon hiking pants to her underwear, but we somehow decided it would be a good idea to keep going. I volunteered to do all the leading.

Two pitches from the top, the description in the guidebook confused me: “Up this gully into a left-facing book”?

“Well, this must be it,” I thought.

20 minutes later, while sketching out in what I later discovered was off-route 5.8x terrain, I finally admitted defeat and lowered off a suspicious horn, and we bushwhacked our way off the route to the north. After 20 years, I still remember it as being one of the most heinous bushwhacks of my life.

[Photo: Dave Lottman]
[/media-credit] [Photo: Dave Lottman]
So, then, my junior year of high school started.

For my second attempt, I convinced a schoolmate to play hookie to “Come try rock climbing.” I drove us north up I-93 with a borrowed harness and convinced myself he would be fine following in sneakers. At the top of the second pitch, he declared he was terrified and didn’t want to continue, so I traversed out right into the shrubbery and embarked on the second-worst bushwhack of my life.

On my third attempt, I teamed up with Tom. We arrived at the base of the route just as another party was starting. I did everything I could to stay on their heels, so I would find the correct finish to the climb. Finally, I stood out on the Old Man’s Brow and tried to take in the amazing valley that sprawled below me, having just completed my first multi-pitch rock climb: In only three attempts, in just under nine hours.

It’s been 20 years. What has changed? There were the four years in the Marines, covering 18 countries in five continents. Then, getting out and moving back to N.H., and going back to work for EMS in Newington, N.H. Transfer up to North Conway. Retail. Waiting tables. Bartending. Seeing people die in the mountains. Avalanche courses. Guiding courses. The Old Man falls down! Get hired as a guide. More courses. A couple more deaths. Some…Strangers in the mountains doing what they loved, and others…much closer.

A girlfriend. A fiancee. A wife! A son! A daughter!

Here I am, 20 years later, now back at the climb that made me a climber, leading Oliver, who started climbing a decade before I was born and was now making his way back into the sport after a 30-year hiatus. For this adventure, he still used the 40-year-old backpack he climbed with in Yosemite and the Cascades!

Here I am, 20 years later, now back at the climb that made me a climber.

[Photo: Dave Lottman]
[/media-credit] [Photo: Dave Lottman]
We left the car at 10:35 a.m. – a late start for Cannon in my opinion, but Oliver had shown endurance and skill over the past few weeks when climbing with me on Cathedral and Whitehorse, and I was confident we could make good time.

We reached the base of the climb in about 35 minutes. I had mistakenly took us up the Moby Grape approach trail, forgetting that the Lakeview trail requires taking a hard right on the Pemi Trail after crossing the bridge. No matter, I thought, as this only cost us five to 10 minutes. We roped up and off we went.

We made fairly good time up the first four pitches. The Old Man falling in 2003 had greatly altered the fifth pitch, and I chose to do the uphill tree thrutching bypass to the right to gain the traverse over to “Lunch Ledge.” Here, at 12:30 p.m., we took a minute to eat and drink.

Then, we went up the two iconic last pitches, where you’ll find some of the best 5.5 and 5.6 climbing anywhere.

All day in the back of my mind, I had been thinking about the memorable “Archival” Flake that guards the fun-stemming corner at the top. This flake has frustrated quite a few good climbers, and for the leader, it is a bit of a no-fall zone, due to the low-angle slab below it. I had it mastered 20 years ago, and today, muscle memory brought me up it via “monter a cheval,” or “mount the horse.”

At 2 p.m., we reached the top. While the flake move had provided a solid challenge for Oliver, the reward was obvious.

“This may be the greatest climb I have ever done,” said the guy who used to stay in Camp Four and lead friends on climbs in the Cascades in his college years.

It was at this moment I realized I first stood up here 20 years ago, a somewhat reckless teenager getting hooked on something that would steer my life forever.

After a 30-minute break, we made our way down the descent trail, reaching the car at 3:15 p.m. Along the way, I continued to pique Oliver’s interest in some of the area’s great climbing spots.


Presidential Traverse Under the Super Moon

We stepped out of the brush for, as far as I could tell, the last time, and clicked off our headlamps. It only took a minute for my eyes to adjust to a full moon. It floated off to our right, casting long shadows across the alpine tundra in front of us, easily bright enough to keep us from stumbling on every rock, but the peaks ahead were just silhouettes along the horizon.

Any mountain that advertises itself as having “the world’s worst weather,” must obviously be a pretty serious objective in the daylight. So for me, it was obvious. Of course! Let’s try it in the dark!

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Known for it’s sudden mood swings, abnormal cold, and extreme winds, Mount Washington has never been an objective for the faint of heart and certainly not when it’s undertaken as the crown jewel of a 22-mile Presidential Range traverse. But any hike becomes a completely different experience when it’s done without the aid of the sun. Visibility is the first and most obvious thing to go. Visibility to see incoming weather, the trail, the summertime views. Not that this is entirely a bad thing, the mountains at night are surreal. Try your hardest, no matter where you go, to get a cool, clear night. As it gets dark, the most spectacular views very quickly shift from below you, to above you.

The Mount Washington Observatory as seen on a night time hike in early September.
The Mount Washington Observatory as seen on a night time hike under the supermoon earlier this summer.

But probably the most important piece of gear that you can bring on any hike like this is a good headlamp. True, we didn’t use it for the majority of our late-night trek, but having something you can count on is essential. Any who knows, maybe you’re brave enough to try a hike even without moonlight. My pick: the Petzl Tikka R+. The active lighting technology is not only extremely cool, but incredibly functional when you’re going back and forth from looking at the cairn in the distance, to the trail at your feet, to the map in front of your face.

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And definitely try and time it so that you can experience both sunset and sunrise from up high. With a Prezi Traverse, you probably won’t have much of a choice, but on anything shorter it’s worth watching the sun go down on one side, only to have it come up on the opposite side hours later. It’s a strange realization and proof of all those astronomy lessons you got in school. Not to mention just being above the treeline for sunrise or sunset is one of the most spectacular displays of color and light on earth. Imagine having both of them rolled into one hike!

It might not hit you until later on, but the next thing that goes is your stamina. Those of us who can’t survive completely on hiking also can’t disrupt our entire sleep/wake cycle days in advance to become nocturnal. So by the time we finished in Appalachia the next morning, I had been awake for approximately 28 hours, the last 15 of which had included nine peaks and 8300 vertical feet of elevation gain. Add another six hours until we got home, and I was destroyed.

Food was my best solution. Don’t plan on having a sit-down meal at 2:30 in the morning, instead bring a lot of little, energy-dense snacks that you can pick on every hour or so to keep your sugar levels up and mind entertained. I did it with a good supply of Honey Stinger Waffles, Cliff Shot Blocks, and Snickers bars.

Also have a good supply of water. What’s normally available in the Appalachian Mountain Club huts along the way, becomes a little harder to get once the huts are shut down and everyone’s asleep for the night. In an emergency, it’s there, but I’d rather not barge in and risk upsetting anyone not as crazy as I am. A 3 liter Reservoir, topped off at Mizpah Spring Hut before it got too late, came down to it’s last few sips as I was strolling into the parking lot the next morning.

Any hike you think you know becomes something totally new after dark, just as long as you’ve done the right planning and have all the right equipment for it. Give it a try, take your favorite daytime hike, sleep in a little bit, and head out just before dark. And if you’re up for the challenge, a beautiful night entirely above treeline on the Presidential Range is a spectacular take on the nightlife.