A Guide to Northeast Sufferfests

If you’re hiking in the Northeast, and you see someone dressed as Wonder Woman flying by, accompanied by a small white wolf, chances are you’ve just met Alton and Cole. Look fast, because you’ll have a hard time finding a more extreme duo. Alton, a licensed mental health clinician by day, is an accomplished triathlete who was nationally ranked in her Ironman days. Today, she spends most of her time power-hiking monster treks that would bury the average day-hiker, often in fluorescent superhero costumes with her Shiba Inu companion.

Any hike they take on isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you’re feeling ambitious, this is where Alton recommends taking a look. However, exercise some caution: Some of the routes described are extremely difficult undertakings, and should only be attempted by hikers with the appropriate experience, gear, skills, and fitness.

1. Hut to Hut Traverse, White Mountains, New Hampshire

The “Hut to Hut” is a gnarly route that connects each of the AMC’s eight mountain huts. It stretches more than 50 miles over rugged terrain, and has a mind-blowing 16,000-plus feet of elevation gain. Alton crushed it in 21 hours straight, solo in 2011.

Best Memory: Finishing! Also, experiencing and learning a massive portion of the trail system.

Worst Memory: Exhaustion at mile 45, and the brief doubts about the desire to finish.

Advice: Leading up to an attempt, get plenty of sleep beforehand. Try this as a “day” hike, and you’re guaranteed to look like the walking dead by the end. Also, avoid spending much time at the huts. The comforts can tempt you to stick around, and the time will add up!

Alton Ultrahikes
Photo courtesy of Alton Eckel.

2. Winter Mahoosuc Traverse, Mahoosuc Range, New Hampshire and Maine

This route contains well over 30 miles and 10,000 feet of vertical, including what many consider to be one of the Appalachian Trail’s hardest stretches. Doing it in deep snow and sub-zero temperatures is simply unheard of. Last winter, Alton and Cole, with a few superhero friends, defied the odds and became the first to complete a full winter traverse in a single day, at 22 hours.

Best Memory: Working as a team to literally survive this one. Passing Cole through treacherous icy boulders and crevasses covered in deep snow in the dark was pretty rad.

Worst Memory: Thinking we might not finish in under 24 hours, and water supplies freezing up.

Advice: Don’t attempt this one solo. You will likely break trail in snowshoes all day, and there are very few bail-out points.

Alton Ultrahikes
Photo courtesy of Alton Eckel.

3. Winter Great Range Traverse, Adirondack High Peaks, New York

This is a classic Northeast challenge that spans over 26 miles and adds over 10,000 feet of elevation gain. The extremely rugged trails, exposed ledges, and cliff scrambles help explain why Backpacker Magazine once labeled this the third-hardest day hike in North America. I had the pleasure of joining Alton and her crew for this hike last year in an especially icy February. Alton hiked it in about 15.5 hours, while I limped into the finish about an hour later.

Best Memory: Catching the sunset on Haystack. Our whole crew grew silent and took it all in during a true Zen moment.

Worst Memory: Honestly, nothing. That day went really well.

Advice: Be sure to have crampons, as you are bound to hit loads of steep ice.

4. Northern Presi “Ravine Day,” Presidential Range, New Hampshire

This is a custom route Alton, Cole, and her boyfriend Nate crushed this summer. It is basically a combination of ascents and descents on the Northern Presidential Range’s steepest and most terrifying trails. Head up Caps Ridge, down the Sphinx Trail, up an abandoned Adams Slide, down into the Great Gully, up King Ravine, down Buttress, up Six Husbands, and finally back down Caps Ridge, for a total of 20 treacherous miles and nearly 11,000 feet of elevation gain. The power couple completed this in a mind-blowing 13 hours.

Best Memory: Exploring so much technical trail and a pile of challenging rock routes, all in one trip.

Worst Memory: Missing the sunset on Jefferson’s summit by a mere 15 minutes.

Advice: Only attempt this hike if you are very comfortable on steep rock slab.

Alton Ultrahikes
Photo courtesy of Alton Eckel.

5. Winter Pemi Loop, Pemigewasset Wilderness, New Hampshire

This loop hike runs roughly 34 miles around the western half of the Wilderness, over New Hampshire’s highest peaks outside of the Presidential Range, and includes a total elevation gain of about 10,000 feet. Alton and Cole became the third female and the first dog to complete a full winter Pemi in a single day. Alton likes this one so much, she has done it three times, all between 14 and 16 hours!

Best Memory: The thrill of victory when completing this myself, and then later with Cole. Also, a great sunset on Mt. Bond during my last trip.

Worst Memory: Anxiety before this trip. I’m rarely nervous before a hike, but this one had me thinking of all the things that could go wrong.

Advice: Pack smart to stay light. A heavy pack will wear you down on these 30 mile-plus days.