Northeast Mountaineering Climbs for All Abilities

Each year, the onset of winter transforms the mountains of the northeast. With the shorter days and plummeting temperatures comes a brand new world of icy, wind-scoured summits and long, snowy approaches. The hiking trails and climbing routes of New York and New England, easily accessed in summer, become entirely different challenges, rife with logistical considerations and objective hazards. Meanwhile, terrain that is beyond reach in the summer opens up—the gullies fill with snow, the waterfalls freeze, and beautiful, blue ribbons of ice adorn the cracks and corners of cliff faces from the Catskills to Québec. Come wintertime, the mountains of the Northeast are a playground for those bold enough to brave the cold.

For the vertically-inclined, it’s winter that makes the Northeast an excellent, low-elevation training ground—what the high peaks of the Adirondacks and the Whites may lack in height, they more than make up for in heinous weather, high-quality routes, and a long history of daring ascents. This is the place to be for mountaineers of all abilities—from those who are just starting out, to more experienced alpinists seeking grander objectives, to the west or overseas.

Should you be among those looking to test their mettle in the east, the following five mountains—and these all-time classic routes—will most certainly oblige.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Easy Snow: Franconia Ridge

High and exposed, the Franconia Ridge—including two summits above 5,000 feet—stands at an important place in the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Its western slopes plummet into Franconia Notch, a hub of hiking and climbing in all seasons, while to the east, its flanks drop into the Pemigewasset Wilderness accounting for a sizable chunk of the Pemigewasset Loop, a top-notch classic backpacking trip. By many accounts, Franconia Ridge is the finest high route in the Whites.

While it doesn’t have as many noteworthy technical routes as, say, Cannon Cliff, its neighbor across the notch, it does have a few worthwhile moderate endeavours like Lincoln’s Throat (WI3) and Shining Rock (WI2). It’s Franconia Ridge’s merits as a winter hiking destination, however, that make it an ideal introduction to traveling the mountains of the Northeast in winter. A hike linking the Falling Waters, Franconia Ridge, and Old Bridle Path trails makes for a long, fun day in the mountains. As the trail breaks the treeline and gains the ridge, the exposure and weather combine to create an excellent, non-technical environment to try out some of the tools and techniques required of a true mountaineering objective.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

WI2/Easy Snow: Mount Colden’s Trap Dike 

At 4,714 feet, Mount Colden is the eleventh highest peak in the Adirondacks, a bonafide 46’er, and may appear as a somewhat diminutive selection for a catalogue of classic, Northeastern mountaineering routes. But for one striking feature, however, does Colden draw attention year round: the Trap Dike, a heavy cleft in its northwestern face.

In summer, the Trap Dike is one of the Adirondacks’ main attractions, bringing hikers from far and wide to its base at Avalanche Lake. The lengthy approach is made worth it by the steep, class 4 climbing, and the thrilling exposure of the upper slabs. At times, even in the best conditions, climbing Colden via the Trap Dike can feel like splitting the difference between a hike and a climb.

In winter, the combination of weather, shorter days, and frigid temperatures take hold, and the water that flows in the dike freezes, introducing in turn a new feature to negotiate: waterfall ice. The Trap Dike (WI2, Easy Snow) opens with two pitches of ice climbing, interspersed with some easy snow, before the route opens onto the exposed upper slabs. While not steep, the slabs are extremely exposed, and be downright terrifying in thin conditions. Easier options for descent abound, though none are short—a frozen Mount Colden is a day-long affair, at least, and a stout challenge for newer mountaineers.

WI2/Easy Snow: The North Face of Gothics

The Great Range, in the heart of the Adirondacks, is one of the most spectacular places in the Northeast. Rugged, remote, and wild, a full traverse covering its eight high peaks—over 20-plus miles—is an all-timer, and arguably one of the hardest hiking objectives in New York State.

At its midpoint, miles from the nearest road, rises Gothics, a steep, dramatic mountain recognizable from afar by its steep, bare north face. Though it’s summit only measures 4,734 feet above sea level, Gothics punches above its weight—even the normal hiking routes are aided by fixed cables on the slabby upper reaches. From any direction, at any time of year, Gothics is a tall task.

Come winter, the North Face (WI2, East Snow) route up Gothics is one of the Adirondack’s premier mountaineering challenges—when it’s in. More often than not though, the season conspires to create sub-optimal conditions, ranging from verglass to bare rock, that can seriously have you questioning the validity of its WI2 grade.

When it’s right though the North Face is a thrilling, exposed climb up a sheer 1200-foot wall. The wide flow offers numerous lines of ascent, with varied difficulty and opportunity to place protection, so experience reading ice and snow is critical. Between that, the scenery, and the approach—a true haul—Gothics’ North Face is a legitimate, must-do objective.

Courtesy: Ryan Wichelns
Courtesy: Ryan Wichelns

WI3: Pinnacle Gully

Simply put, Mount Washington is the centerpiece of mountaineering in the Northeast, a hulking mass around which all other objectives in the region orbit. At 6,288 feet, it rises, literally, above everything around it for a thousand miles, and its remarkable features—from the deep ravines and soaring buttresses of its eastern slopes to its rugged summit cone—are host to some of the most spectacular hiking, climbing, and skiing to be found anywhere.

However, it’s Mount Washington’s “character and hostility,” as legendary climber and author Fred Beckey once put it, for which the mountain is probably best known. The unique topography of the White Mountains, and Mount Washington’s location at the confluence of two, ever-churning weather patterns can result in some famously horrendous conditions. Dangerously cold temperatures, heavy snow and high wind—with gusts reaching hurricane-force—are a regular occurrence in winter. As a direct impact, Mount Washington and the rest of the Presidential Range have a very low treeline (around 4,500 feet) and a ton of exposed, alpine terrain, over which many outstanding winter climbs can be found. One line up “the rockpile” stands out, however, making “best-of” lists left and right: it’s the über-classic ice climb, Pinnacle Gully (WI3).

Ice begins to form early in the north-facing gap between Pinnacle and Central Buttresses in Huntington Ravine. The flow it creates—three pitches of incredible, aesthetic, ice climbing over 600 feet—is about as good as it gets. At WI3 the grade is relatively moderate, making Pinnacle Gully an accessible and popular route in an alpine environment that is unique in this part of the country.

A day on Mount Washington should never be taken lightly, though—the weather is always a factor and even on a bluebird day, high traffic can mean a shower of falling ice. Bring a helmet and enjoy the best of what the northeast has to offer.

WI4: The Cilley-Barber Route on Katahdin

Rising some 4,288 feet from the forest floor, unchallenged, the Katahdin massif dominates the landscape of Baxter State Park, its bulk of rock and ice without rival against the backdrop of Maine’s Great North Woods. Katahdin is wild, remote, and unforgiving at any time of year but it is doubly so in winter, when an ascent by any means is a serious challenge—one that is perhaps unequaled in New England, including Mount Washington.

Already removed from the population hubs of the Northeast, Katahdin becomes significantly more remote come winter, when the seasonal closures of Baxter State Park’s access roads makes for a rigorous, committing, 16-mile approach. Further complicating matters—and adding to that expedition-like vibe—access to Baxter State Park is subject to strict regulations, and winter climbers must apply for permits. Factor in the extreme cold and harsh weather that you’re bound to encounter at some point on a trip to Katahdin, and you have a real-deal, multi-day, winter adventure. It’s fitting then, that its name comes from the Penobscot word for “the greatest mountain.”

The steep headwall of Katahdin’s South Basin, scarred over with dramatic, icy gullies, is the frozen jewel in the crown of New England mountaineering. Classic, technical climbs, have been put up here in all seasons since the early twentieth century. The routes are long and committing and objective hazards—like avalanches and icefall—are very real dangers, and moving fast is absolutely critical. This is as alpine as it gets in the Northeast.

Among these coveted lines is the Cilley–Barber (WI4), a dramatic, ice-and-snow-packed cleft in headwall that soars some 2,000 feet from the bottom of the cirque to the top of the Knife Edge arête. It is a long, sustained, and difficult ice climb—one that is often recognized as one of the best of its kind in the east. The approach, permitting, and weather may lend themselves to the feeling of an expedition, but they also thin the crowds out a bit, and cultivate a wild feel—one unique to the Northeast, that should have a place on everyone’s tick list.


Winter Off-Trail Hiking in the Adirondacks

Overuse on Adirondack trails—especially in places like the High Peaks—is a big problem. One solution to reduce your impact? Get off trail. As winter sets in and snow and ice blanket the park, the solitude of these beautiful and remote places gets even more intense. For those hearty and adventurous explorers who seek a challenge beyond the trail, and are well prepared, winter bushwhacking in the Adirondacks can be both challenging and rewarding. 

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

How to Prepare to Go Off-Trail

Preparing to venture off trail in the rugged terrain of the Adirondacks, especially in winter, requires some vital skills, proper gear, and careful risk management. 

One of the most obvious requirements is developing navigational skills. While modern GPS technology can be tremendously useful, it is important to have adequate map and compass skills before leaving the safety of marked trails. Start by taking an introductory course or practicing in an area like a local park or small trail network where the consequences of becoming “lost” are minimalized. 

Prepare as always for winter hiking with proper gear and clothing, snowshoes, and crampons or microspikes. Learn to read snow conditions and think about if you will be using crampons on an icy hardpack or breaking unconsolidated powder; when in doubt preparing for all possibilities. Realize that moving through tight snow filled woods results in you being constantly wet and snow covered, so often some extra layers, gloves, and even another shell are crucial. 

Trip planning and risk management also become even more vital when bushwhacking in winter months when an unexpected night or two in the woods can have dire consequences. Use traditional maps, online tools like CalTopo, and trip reports from others to carefully plan your route and consider timing of off trail hikes. 

Understand that winter bushwacking often involves breaking trail through deep snow, pushing through thick forests, and bypassing unexpected obstacles like blow down and icy cliff bands. This results in a much slower pace and greater energy use than trail hiking; consider this when planning for both timing and food and water supplies. 

Seeking assistance for an injury or other serious issues is typically a much harder task than on trails or in summer so be sure to prepare at all times for an evening in the cold, let others know a detailed itinerary, and consider use of a personal locator beacon. 

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Our Favorite Hikes

There’s a way to get away from the trail for every hiking ability level, in the Adirondacks. 

Beginner 

Morgan Mountain: This Wilmington hike is a short hop off an easy trail with a nearby pond, lean-to, and slide to explore if interested. Views are limited but the area is still beautiful.

Number 8 Mountain: Number 8 is one of many open summits with nice views of Brant Lake from ledges accessed by the relatively easy bushwacking of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness area.

Advanced 

Elizabethtown #4: Herd paths approach this Keene subpeak, there are loads of open rock for views, and Spotted Mountain is a nearby add-on. Use caution near the beautiful but frigid waters of the South Fork of the Boquet River.

Wallface Mountain: An ADK 100 highest list peak and home to one of the largest cliffs in the Northeast, it’s a great hike on its own. A recent search and rescue left a massive clearing on the summit allowing for unique views. 

Credit: Neil Luckhurst
Credit: Neil Luckhurst

Expert

MacNaughton Mountain: Some hikers call MacNaughton the 47th high peak. There are many different approaches to this one and some are becoming faint herd paths, but it’s still a challenging and long day in winter. This summit has a sign and a pleasant summit ridge. 

Sawtooth #2: The entire Sawtooth Range (not to be confused with Sawteeth Mountain) includes some of the most remote and wild land in the park. None of the peaks in this range come easily, especially in winter. The approach from the Averyville side is preferred. Viewpoints feature Lake Placid, the Sewards, MacNaughton, and beyond.


4 Tips for Finding Wintertime Solitude in the Adirondacks

Finding peace, solitude, and quiet in our day-to-day lives gets harder every day. Sometimes I head into the woods looking for a more social natural experience. I like to see other people on the trail or at a campground. It makes me feel even more comfortable if I am alone, or it is getting dark. In some circumstances, I’m expecting to see other friendly dogs for my dog to meet, other hikers to chat with on the summit, and the trail to be worn from other snowshoers so my walk will be a bit easier.

But other times, I am seeking solitude. I want to experience the quiet, untrammeled parts of wilderness. I want to experience the natural world as many people have before me, for hundreds of years. I want to hear birds, and water rushing. I want to have a chance to see wildlife. I want to find an overlook to enjoy the view in seclusion where I can fully let my body relax, look over valleys, rivers and marvel at nature’s wonders.

The reality is that we must share our wildlands; They belong to all of us. However, there are a few things you can do to find a little more solitude if that is the experience you’re seeking when planning your next outing in the Adirondacks this winter.

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Venture into the wilderness outside the High Peaks.

The High Peaks Wilderness area gets a lot of attention for being home to the tallest peaks in the Park. But there are many other Wilderness areas that offer unique outdoor recreation opportunities. There are many mountains, lakes, rivers, and ponds that have trails that connect and offer opportunities to explore the Adirondacks. 

Avoid using apps to find your hikes.

These apps can be helpful, but especially in the Adirondacks, there are so many trails that are not listed on them. You can find more reliable and comprehensive information (and quieter places to visit!) listed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), town websites, regional land trusts, or the Champlain Area Trails. If there is a trail listed on apps or on a review site with many recent reviews, consider picking another location.  

Explore summer destinations.

Snowshoe/ski into popular paddling areas and primitive campgrounds that would be otherwise busy in warmer seasons. Make sure to call the land manager (many times the DEC) beforehand for permission to use the closed seasonal roads first.  

Start from a quieter town.

Whether you’re a local or coming from far away, consider planning your outing in a town that is a bit sleepier during the winter season. You will be much more likely to step out of your car and into solitude. Plan ahead if you’re hoping to make it an overnight trip, as some businesses may be shut down for the season. This may mean bringing your own provisions and cooking a cozy meal in your AirBnB. For locals it may mean bringing dry clothes and a thermos of something hot to keep in your car for a comfortable ride home. 

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It’s our responsibility when we get to any natural place, to leave it better than we find it. Even if we are the only person that visits a place, the next person will feel like they have just discovered a place for the first time too. That also means thinking about how you share your experience on social media after your trip.  

It’s also worth mentioning, that if you’re going to take the responsibility of venturing into more remote, less populated destinations, you should especially be prepared for the conditions for the outing. Understanding the safety implications of where you are going, what you’re doing, and if there is cell service where you are. Even if you’re only planning to be out for a day, have enough gear to survive overnight in case you get stranded. 

At the end of the day, no matter what, even if you’re sharing your experience with many other people, a day spent in the Adirondacks is a good day. However, there are many places in the Adirondacks where you can go and have a quiet winter day. There is a certain magic when we have a moment in winter solitude to experience the gifts of Mother Nature and realize why it is all worth protecting for everyone. 

How do you find solitude, and when do you enjoy a more social nature experience?


Support the Mountains of the Northeast With Your Purchase

At EMS stores this holiday season, customers making a purchase will have the option of donating to one of three outstanding outdoor-focused organizations: the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), and the Mount Washington Observatory (MWOBS). Vital to outdoor recreation in the Northeast, these organizations are making it much easier for all of us to get outside. So while you’re getting a great gift this holiday season, here are some reasons to consider making a small donation to one of these awesome orgs.

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Adirondack Mountain Club

The Adirondack Mountain Club has its roots in a store not all that different from EMS, at least at the time. In 1921, the club was conceived in the log cabin atop New York City’s Abercrombie & Fitch to improve the accessibility of remote areas of the Adirondacks through the construction of trails and shelters. From the first 40-person meeting at A&F in 1921 to the 75 (out of 208 certified charter members) attending the formal meeting a year later in 1922, the group has grown significantly. Today, the ADK boasts 28,000 members across its 27 chapters. However, one thing that has remained the same is the group’s mission to maintain trails, construct and maintain campsites, preserve a bureau of information about the Adirondacks, publish maps and guidebooks, and educate the public regarding the conservation of natural resources and prevention of forest fires.

Appalachian Mountain Club

From overnighting at a hut or tent site to maintaining the region’s historic trails to protecting wilderness in New Hampshire, the AMC has been providing assistance to hikers, climbers, and skiers in the White Mountains for generations. Born to encourage adventure and exploration in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the Appalachian Mountain Club predates the formation of the White Mountain National Forest by more than 40 years. Founded in 1876, the AMC is the oldest nonprofit conservation and recreation organization in the US. The AMC has grown up a lot over the last century and a half, swelling to more than a quarter-million members in its 12 chapters between Washington, D.C., and Maine. With age, the AMC’s mission has also morphed; in addition to adventure and exploration, the organization now supports conservation advocacy and research, runs youth programs, maintains 1,800 miles of trails, and provides hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours.

Mount Washington Observatory

Whether you’re a hiker, skier, or climber, the MWOBS’ Higher Summits forecast is a must read before any day in the Whites. Operating on the summit since 1932, MWOBS recorded the world’s fastest surface wind speed ever observed by man: 231 mph. Although the instruments and technology employed by the observatory have changed over the years, the goal remains the same: to observe and maintain a record of weather data, perform weather and climate research, foster public understanding of the mountain and its environment, and provide excellent forecasts for the public recreating in the White Mountains.

 

Edward Abbey famously said, “Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.” So, this holiday season, give a little extra to help preserve the places we all love by supporting these indispensable mountain services.


Alpha Guide: Climbing Little Finger on Lake George

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

With three moderate pitches of splitter granite hanging high above Lake George, Little Finger is one of the Northeast’s most enjoyable climbs.

How many climbs in the Northeast have a paddle approach? One of the most unique climbs in the Northeast, the approach to Little Finger begins with a short paddle approach across the clear, blue water of Lake George. Once situated at the base of the route, climbers are treated to three moderately rated, easy-to-protect pitches of splitter granite climbing 500+ feet above the lake. Be sure to style the climbing—you’re likely to have an audience of captivated boaters below.

Quick Facts

Length: 3 Pitches
Time to Complete: Half-day
Difficulty: ★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May through November
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/24493.html

Download

Turn-By-Turn

Climbing Little Finger begins with a paddle approach from Rogers Rock Campground in Hague, New York. Located right off 9N, the campground is just six miles from Ticonderoga.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Canoe Approach

From the boat launch, paddle left away from the swimming area (43.792904, -73.480690). Almost immediately, there’s a large cliff along the shore to your left. That’s not the climb, but it’s a good clue you’re headed in the right direction. Continue hugging the lakeside as you head for a shallow break between the shore and Juniper Island. Round the bend. After a few more minutes of paddling, the face is visible on your left. Aim for the low spot dead ahead (43.797157, -73.466560). Overall, it’s about 25 minutes of paddling.

Pro Tip: The water is deep, it’s often windy, and the waves can be big. Wear a PFD. Also, pack your gear in dry bags and secure them to your canoe, kayak, or SUP.

 

The Scramble

Once you’ve lugged your boat out of the water, scramble up to a sort-of-flat spot just above. This is a great place to transition from paddling to climbing. Empty the dry bags, don your climbing gear, and get ready to scramble along the base of the ledge to the start of the climb.

The scramble across is about 30 yards. It goes across, then down to the water, then up a short blocky section that you’ll want to watch less experienced climbers on. From there, it’s an easy stroll to the base of the climb, which starts at a good platform by a boulder right at the base of a vertical crack running up the entire face (43.797398, -73.466385). On the platform, there’s plenty of room to flake your ropes.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The First Pitch

The first pitch follows the obvious vertical crack for about 200 feet to a depression by a small overlap. Anchor there using, among other things, two new-ish pitons. Although the pitons are awkwardly spaced, there are opportunities to use small and mid-sized gear to build a solid three-piece anchor.

The climbing to this point is fantastic. Right off the deck is a short blocky section leading into an awesome crack that pierces the slab. The crux of the pitch is early on, in the bottom half of the crack, but it is never very hard, maxing out at 5.5.

After the initial difficulties, the pitch is a low-angle calf burner. There’s protection everywhere, with the crack eating everything from nuts to mid-sized cams. Since the pitch is long, be sure to bring a lot of gear in that range to ensure you have enough to zip it up.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Second Pitch 

Leaving the first pitch’s belay (43.797676, -73.466774), step up and right into the crack, then charge up it to the bottom of a large roof and build a traditional anchor there. Although it doesn’t look it, the pitch is a long one, running almost 200 feet.

Again, the climbing is moderate and well protected, all in the 5.4-5.5 range. The crack eats mid-sized gear, so protecting it shouldn’t be a problem. Throughout this pitch, there’s also lots of feet, meaning there’s plenty of comfortable stances from which to place gear.

The trickiest part of the second pitch is building the anchor. Just below the roof are several hollow flakes that don’t inspire confidence and aren’t the spot to place a cam. Slightly above the flakes there’s a small slot in the crack for a mid-sized cam and a medium nut. Below the roof, at about 11 o’clock, there’s also room for another mid-sized cam and, with some finagling, a bigger nut. If all this doesn’t sound appealing, there’s a small depression just below the hollow flakes (15 feet before the roof) with lots of options in the crack for a gear anchor.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Third Pitch

From the anchor under the overlap (43.797886, -73.467148), step up so that you can reach above the roof, then traverse right for about 10 feet to rejoin the crack. From here, the climb follows a runnel for about 175 feet toward bolted anchors, one at the top of the crack and another, with rap rings, about 25 feet off to the right.

The third pitch is well protected except for the traverse, where there’s little gear. To protect your second from a big swing, make sure to set a solid piece at the first good spot at the roof’s right end.

If you’re looking for something slightly harder than 5.5, consider the 5.7 variation that follows a thin vertical crack straight up from the belay. After a couple of difficulties, you’ll end up at the anchor just above the runnel that pitch 3 finishes on.

Once you’re atop the third pitch (43.798054, -73.467148), take some time—if you haven’t already—to admire the view. The climb drops away in the foreground, replaced by the deep blue of Lake George and the dark green of the mountains in the distance. It’s a fantastic setting, one you’ll be reluctant to leave.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Raps

Whenever you can break away from the view, it’s three double-rope rappels with 60m ropes back down to the ground. Each of the anchors is bolted and very easy to spot while on rappel. With true 70m ropes, you can do it in 2 rappels, but the last rap to the ground is a rope stretcher.

The last rap will leave you on a ledge a little to climbers’ right of the climb. On the ledge, coil your ropes, then scramble back to your boat. Just before the base of Little Finger, there’s an open slab that drops down into the base of the water. It’s easy to traverse, but watch less experienced folks closely as they cross; any fall would be a long (and wet) one.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Paddle Back

Once you reach your boat, dump your gear in your dry bags, put your PFD back on, get the boat in the water, and retrace the paddle you did earlier in the day. The paddle back will likely be challenging, as it’s usually into the wind and waves. Wakes from passing motorboats can add a little spice as well.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Between the waves and deep water, it’s great to have dry bags to store your ropes, rack, and climbing shoes. A couple of 65L bags from Sea to Summit will hold everything with room to spare.
  • The boat landing at Little Finger is rocky and slippery. Send it in style with a water shoe from NRS such as the Kicker Remix (men’s/women’s) or a river sandal like the Teva Terra Fi 4 (men’s/women’s).
  • On summer days, the sun beats down on Rogers Rock until mid afternoon. Wear a sunshirt like the Black Diamond Alpenglow Hoodie (men’s/women’s) to avoid baking in the sun.
  • Multi-pitch climbers on low-angle routes such as Little Finger are at risk of something either falling or getting knocked down on them. With this in mind, pack a climbing helmet like the Black Diamond Vapor.
  • Two 70-meter ropes, like the Sterling Fusion Nano Dry 9.0 70m allow you to cut out a rappel.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Motorboat traffic can sometimes make communication between climbers difficult. Before you leave the belay, have a plan so that your second will know what to do even if he/she can’t hear you.
  • You might think that climbing above the water is a great choice for sweltering summer days; However, Little Finger has a well-deserved reputation for scorching unsuspecting climbers thanks to the exposed slab and reflective water. Consequently, it’s best avoided on the sunniest summer days.
  • Climb in a bathing suit because there are lots of places to swim on the way back (including the Rogers Rock Campground swimming area).
  • A great way to cool off and replace the calories you burned is with soft-serve ice cream from the Wind-Chill Factory.
  • If you prefer craft beer to ice cream cones, take the 30-minute drive to Battle Hill Brewing in Fort Ann, New York.
  • If you loved Little Finger and are anxious for more climbing, Rogers Rock is home to a lot more routes. Get the beta for the rest of the climbs in Adirondack Rock, the routes around Lake George are found in Volume 2.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Current Conditions

Have you climbed Little Finger recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!


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.


8 Tips for Your Next Long-Distance Paddle

Don’t get us wrong, long-distance paddling trips are a battle. While they’re not necessarily physically hard, but they demand the skills and mental willpower to navigate a wide variety of circumstances. But for paddlers willing to take on the distance, the trials come with exceptional rewards: access to some of the most pristine wilderness in the world, genuine and informative interactions with small-town locals, uninterrupted views and plenty of vitamin D. A human-powered adventure of this nature, such as the Florida Saltwater Trail, Northern Forest Canoe Trail and rivers like the Mississippi, Susquehanna and Delaware, gives paddlers experiences to take with them beyond the water. For those ready to take recreational to the next level, here’s 8 tips to help you get there:

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

1. Be flexible

On a long-distance trip or any kind, there’s little guarantee that things will go according to plan. At some point, bad weather will roll through, gear will malfunction, and our bodies and mind will scream for a break. There’s only so much planning you can do to prepare for such a feat, so keeping an open mind is crucial. The more you can stop stressing about the circumstances outside of your control, and put your focus into problem solving as things come up, the greater joy you’ll get from the experience. That adaptability is the heart of endurance activities.

2. Know your vessel

Depending on the route and your personal preferences, you may opt for either a kayak or a canoe. Regardless, it’s important to understand your boat before setting out on a long trip. The longer the distance, the more variety in conditions you’ll experience. The size and type may vary from trip-to-trip and paddler-to-paddler, but remember that there will be give and take and nothing will be perfect in every condition. Take your boat out as much as possible prior to a big trip to better understand what it can and can’t handle. How stable is it? Is its composition durable enough to handle a rocky river at lower water levels? Know what elements you can and can’t take it through to avoid learning the hard way.

3. Pack light

It’s easy to cram too much gear into a boat. Lightweight tents, sleep systems and cooking equipment will simplify your portages and daily tasks in camp. Popular gear for backpacking and thru-hiking will work equally efficiently on a long-distance paddle, but keep everything in high-quality dry bags. Carry one set of clothes for paddling, and one for sleeping, plus a cold or wet weather layer. Since you’re on the water, rinsing clothes out couldn’t be easier that carrying extra clean options. Stick to the basics as best you can and remember that the longer you’re out, the less you’ll care about luxury items like camp chairs and books.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

4. Understand your partner well

Or, be ready to find out about them pretty quickly. If you’re in a tandem canoe (or kayak), prepare for long days with little space from your partner. An integral communication system needs to already exist between you, or have the patience to develop one while you’re out on a multi-week trip. A fluid understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses helps when dividing up responsibilities when it comes to paddling, navigation and camp. A long-distance paddle test any relationship but the skills gained from the endeavor will stretch beyond days on the water.

5. Practice navigation skills

Navigating hundreds of miles of waterways, often very remote, can be intimidating. While there are long-distance rivers and trails that already exist, many paddlers opt to map their own unique routes connecting waterways. Both will require sufficient navigational skills without relying on electronic devices. It’s advisable to practice general topographic map and compass skills, be familiar with waterway markers, and have an understanding of your pace in a variety of conditions. Pay attention and study you’re route as you go, so you recognize being off-course quickly.

6. Come up with a resupply plan

Resupplying on a long paddle can be challenging with a boat in tow. It’s easiest to map your route to hit boat launches within walking distance of town amenities (or, like the Mississippi or NFCT, plan your route to travel directly through towns). I’ve had great luck bringing a cable lock or chatting up folks at marinas or boat rental shops about housing our boat for a few hours while I run errands.

Water-Guages

7. Watch water levels

Unless you’re trip strictly follows lakes, oceans or large bodies of water, you should be aware of the water levels and what they mean. TheUSGS Water Datais a reliable resource for current water levels. Keep an eye on the CFS flow measurement (cubic feet per second) and gage height (feet). Directly after a big rainfall they will spike and then settle. They can vary but typically June is a great month for paddling after the snow melts in the mountains, but there can be great windows of opportunity later in the summer or fall after a good spell of rain. Late in the season, rivers will be become unpaddleable below 300 CFS. If you’re paddling water affected by tides, find an updated tide schedule.

8. Invest in a good cart

Chances are, you’ll be portaging your boat at some point. A wheel-able cartmakes things much easier, even for short distances around dams and bridges. Some avid paddlers will build their own custom carts, because many of the of the carts on the market today aren’t built with the durability to endure distance and variable terrain. Weight aside, pick a cart with at least 15-inch tires.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

The Top 5 Shorter Trips Along the NFCT

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail, or NFCT, travels over 700-miles from upstate New York to the Canadian Border in Maine. It follows lakes, streams, ponds, and rivers to connect historic old trading routes. Paddlers who travel its waters experience solitude, joy, and challenges. But thanks to its length, few people paddle it in one go, end to end. Most will opt to paddle in smaller pieces in days or weeks, but even this isn’t easy: There are a number of spectacular sections of this trail, but not all are accessible to paddle in shorter chunks. Thankfully, some of the best pieces of the NFCT are do-able in a short trip, and are begging to be paddled.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

1. Fulton Chain of Lakes

Beginning at the Western Terminus of the NFCT, the Chain of Lakes connects eight flatwater lakes and ponds through the Adirondacks. This section requires some straightforward portaging through dense woods and is home to some of the most well-managed and pristine campsites around. There’s a reason thru-paddlers are captivated by this trail from the start.

Where: Old Forge, NY to Raquette Lake, NY

Distance: 20 miles (1-3 days)

Portages: Three; You’ll want a set of wheels for this section. The Fifth Lake (.4 miles) and Eighth Lake Campground (1 mile) portages are a short distance and wheelable, however the Brown Tract Carry from the north end of Eighth Lake follows a rougher trail that might require moving by hand for short distances.

When To Go: Late summer to fall. The bugs can be vicious and the lakes get crowded with visitors during early summer, meaning there could be lots of boats and jet skis.

Camping: Plentiful. Primitive lean-to’s at Seventh and Eighth Lakes between miles 13 and 17. State Campgrounds located on Alger Island (mile 5.5), Eighth Lake (mile 16), and Brown Tract Pond (mile 20) by reservation for a fee.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

2. Long Lake & The Saranac Lakes

In the heart of the Adirondacks lies one of the most pristine sections of the NFCT. The trail travels 9 miles across Long Lake to the winding and gentle Raquette River before entering the Saranac Lakes. This stretch is fairly wild and remote, with quaint waterside towns, and excellent swimming and camping. Depending on the wind, this can be a quick paddle.

Where: Long Lake, NY to Saranac Lake, NY

Distance: 42 miles (3-6 days)

Portages: Three or four. The first of them, the 1.3-mile Raquette Falls Carry isn’t easy. Most of the trail has too many roots and rocks to navigate, making wheeling unlikely. After allocating some time to this portage, paddlers are rewarded with views when they put-in below the falls. During high water in the spring, the bridges along the brief Stony Creek stretch will force paddlers to briefly portage around. Half of the 1.1-mile Indian Carry from Stony Pond is challenging to wheel and finally the Bartlett Carry is quick and wheelable on a road.

When To Go: Spring through fall. This area can be buggy so it might be best to wait until after all the snow has melted in the High Peaks for a more enjoyable experience.

Camping: Plentiful and spread out, but require some planning for the Saranac Lakes area. Many beautiful lean-tos placed along the shores of the 10-mile Long Lake and the Raquette River. There are several primitive campsites along the north shore of Stony Creek Pond and one at Huckleberry Bay on Upper Saranac Lake. On Middle and Lower Saranac Lakes, the sites are state-managed and require a reservation and fee. You can stop in at the State Bridge boat launch and if sites are available, and can register the same day. Once you re-enter the Saranac River, there’s a lean-to near Lower Lock.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

3. The Connecticut River

Sandy beaches along the winding Connecticut River offer a fun, leisurely trip for both new and experienced paddlers. It can be paddled in one long day or split into two. Through bright agricultural valleys and old trestles, New England’s longest river gives a peek into logging and railroad history. The river meanders south, with the occasional rips and osprey nests. As you approach Groveton, the NFCT turns left up the Ammonoosuc River, where you’ll have to travel 1.5 miles upstream before reaching the Normandeau campsite (the alternative is to take out at Guildhall).

Where: Bloomfield, VT to Groveton, NH

Distance: 22 miles (1-2 days)

Portages: None

When To Go: Late summer to fall. Water levels on the Connecticut are not a concern, so it can be paddled anytime between spring and late fall, but the camping areas along this section can be buggy May through July.

Camping: The Maine Central RR Trestle Campsite (7 miles in) and Samuel Benton Campsite (13 miles in) are primitive NFCT camping areas along the river. Both are located on private property where the landowners permit paddlers to stay assuming they pack out all trash and otherwise leave no trace. Remember to treat water from the river before drinking.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

4. The Maine Lakes

This is perhaps the most ambitious trip on this list, but not without great reward. It is mostly flatwater paddling across some of the most pristine immaculate lakes in Maine: Umbagog, Lower and Upper Richardson, Mooselookmeguntic and Rangeley. Paddling times can vary depending on the weather and wind, but the abundance of wild camping provides plenty of places to rest and relax. Most of these lakes are home to more wildlife, namely the Bald Eagle, and few people.

Where: Errol, NH to Rangeley, ME

Distance: 44 miles (3-6 days)

Portages: Three. You will want wheels for this section. The first portage, around Errol Dam, can easily be avoided by coordinating a shuttle. The largest portage of this stretch is the Rapid River Carry, which travels 3.2 miles along an unwheelable trail and then an old road. The Upper Dam portage to Mooselookmegntic (0.1 mile) and Carry Road to Oquossoc (1.5 miles) are easy and  wheelable along roads. Other portages may be required if water levels are too low.

When To Go: Summer and fall. Despite being quite remote, these lakes are popular destinations for travelers during mid-summer. Aim for August or September for ideal conditions.

Camping: Plentiful, but requires planning during peak season. Most of the remote campsites along this stretch are State or privately managed and require a small fee. The remote, water-accessed-only sites on Umbagog Lake, Rapid River, Lower and Upper Richardson Lake, and Mooselookmeguntic Lake are State- or privately-managed and require a reservation and small fee. In late season, it’s possible to pay for empty sites retroactively. On Rangeley Lake, The Rangeley Lake State Park is busy with RVs and car campers; it’s less-than-ideal for paddlers.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

5. The Allagash

Paddling the Allagash River in Northern Maine presents iconic backwoods paddling at its best. It’s on just about every Maine Adventurer’s bucket list and for good reason: Its remote and wild setting is the perfect place to unwind and relax. This marks the grand finale of the NFCT where paddlers are rewarded for weeks of hard work with frequent wildlife sightings, fishing, soaking in the river and stunning camping. There are some shorter sections of Class I to II rapids on an otherwise calm and easily traveled river. It’s an entertaining trip for the whole family, kids included!

Where: Chamberlain Lake, ME to Allagash Village, ME

Distance: 86 miles (5-7 days)

Portages: Three, maybe four. It would be helpful to have wheels here. The Tramway carry from Chamberlain to Eagle Lake is short and wheelable, and features some spectacular logging history. The portages around Churchill Dam and Long Lake Dam are very short (.1 mile), except if you want to avoid the whitewater at Churchill, which requires a longer carry. The final portage, around Allagash Falls, travels on a well-worn path through campsites and is fairly straightforward.

When T Go: Spring to early fall. Spring and early summer allow higher, more enjoyable water levels, but campsites can get full. If you’re looking for greater solitude and cooler temperatures, the Allagash makes for a wonderful fall trip as long as the water levels are above 300 to 400 CFS.

Camping: Plenty available for a small fee. The Allagash Wilderness Waterway sites cost $6/night per person for Maine residents and $12/night for non-residents. When you get to Churchill Dam, visit the Ranger Station and pay (cash or check only) for the number of nights you’ll camp along the river. Groups cannot exceed 12 people and children under 10 are free. The campsites include privies, picnic tables, and fire pits.


11 Tips to Coexist with Bears in the Adirondacks and Elsewhere

Across the Northeast, black bear populations and encounters are on the rise. In fact, the number of bears has more than doubled in New England since the turn of the century. As a result, conflicts between people and bears are becoming more commonplace, especially when humans head into the bear’s environment: The woods.

While black bears get a bad rap from their interactions from humans, they are typically only in search of food, and tend to be solitary, shy creatures more afraid of humans than we are of them. So how do we limit our interactions with, keep ourselves safe, and keep the bears safe?

Courtesy: Eric Kilby
Courtesy: Eric Kilby

1. Take a Bear Canister

Erin Hanczyk of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) recommends taking a bear canister on your next backpacking or camping trip. “Bear hangs aren’t working like they used to,” she says. Hanczyk recommends canisters similar to the COUNTER ASSAULT Bear Resistant Food Keg as other models have been ineffective against bears, particularly in the High Peaks.

Bears have a powerful nose and are motivated by food, so any products with a strong scent, including food, toiletries, bug spray, garbage, food waste, and more should be kept in the canister. In order to fit everything in, minimize the food you’re bringing, remove extra packaging material when possible, and leave space for waste and garbage. Pack the canister ahead of time to assure it all fits and you know how it properly locks!

2. A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear

Don’t feed bears, intentionally or inadvertently. For one, intentional feeding of black bears is illegal. But bears are quick learners and have strong memory; Males will often travel dozens of miles to past feeding areas and they will repeat maneuvers that have led to food in the past (i.e., if people feed them). Don’t help them habituate to easily preventable behavior, because euthanasia is a dramatic last resort.

3. Know the Lay of the Land

A little research and preparation will go a long way as you plan for your trip. Just as you seek trail conditions for your destination, knowing whether there are bear advisories or bear-proof food storage lockers at the campsite is important information. The visitors center of the park or the state wildlife department (which generally is responsible for bear management) will often have the details you are looking for.

4. Consider the Bear’s Calendar

Bears will travel further and take bolder actions when food is sparser, such as in early spring, or in late summer and fall, particularly during years of poor berry and nut yields and during draughts.

Bears tend to arouse from a long slumber between March and April, and during their hibernation they lose between 20 and 40 percent of their weight, so you can imagine they are quite hungry at this time of year. Pay particular caution to newborn cubs around May as the highly protective (and hungry) mother is likely close by. Mating season typically occurs between mid-June and mid-July, when males can be more aggressive.

5. Hike During Daylight Hours

Bears are most active at dawn and dusk. They may be around during the daylight hours too, though they are rarely active at night (except during breeding season, between mid-June and mid-July). Take this into account as you come around bends in the sidelong light or greet the first rays of the day.

6. Cook Earlier in the Evening

For the same reason as above, you don’t want all those lovely dinner smells wafting in the air just as bears are rousing into their most active time of day. Hanczyk urges campers to cook between 4 or 5 p.m. and to be cleaned up before dark.

“We’ve had examples of bears circling campers while they are cooking [later in the evening],” notes Hanczyk.

7. Use the Camp Triangle

The idea is to keep a distance of at least 100 feet between the three points of your camp: the sleeping area, cooking site, and where you store your bear canister overnight. This will help separate those savory smells and drippings, as well as your food stores, from your sleepy bed head. Hanczyk recommends putting the bear canister behind the bathroom facility, which reduces visibility for a passing bear.

8. Cook Only What You Need

Be conservative with your ingredients so as to avoid leftovers, only take out the food you plan on cooking with, and keep everything else in your bear canister. Make sure not to leave your meal unattended as a watching bear may use that as an uninvited opening to steal your meal.

9. Keep a Clean Campsite

Again, bears are attracted to the scent of food, so you want to keep your sleeping area clean of smelly smells. Don’t keep food or scented items (such as toiletry products) in your tent and avoid wearing the clothing you prepared your meals in to bed. After cooking, clean your pots and pans, and strain your water to filter out food particles—Put the bits in your trash bag to be kept in your bear canister. Disperse the leftover waste water away from your cooking station. If you are at a campground, take all garbage and recyclables to on-site receptacles each evening. Lastly, don’t put grease, food scraps, garbage, or other refuse into the fireplace as the items will not properly burn and may attract bears with their odor.

Courtesy: NYSDEC
Courtesy: NYSDEC

10. Keep an Eye Out

While you hike, pay attention to bear signs such as tracks and prints, tree markings, and scat. Bears have broad footprints about 4 to 7 inches wide with all 5 toes and claws typically showing. Claw marks can be found on tree trunks with parallel lines that gouge the bark or look for saplings that are broken partway up the trunk. Their scat is typically dark brown, tubular, and contains seeds or grass.

11. Don’t Leave Packs Unattended

Want to check out that vista 0.3 miles down the side trail? You will want to think twice about leaving your pack behind if you do, and no, it’s not because humans might get to it. Bears have been known to take stashed packs. Easy pickings.

What To Do If You Encounter A Black Bear

Black bears may react aggressively if they feel threatened, so avoid startling, approaching or surrounding them. In an area with known encounters, make noise such as clapping or talking loudly as you hike to try and alert bears of your presence. If hiking in a group, stay together.

If you do encounter a bear don’t run. Running can trigger their predator instinct, and they can reach speeds up to 32 miles an hour. That is not a footrace you will win. If the bear doesn’t see you, slowly back away, keeping your eyes on the bear.

Bears tend to be more curious than aggressive so if a bear does see you, your first action should be to stop, stay composed, raise your arms to make yourself look bigger, speak in a loud and calm voice, then slowly back away. If a bear stands on its hind legs, it is most likely trying to get a better view, it is not typically a combative posture. If the bear approaches you, again, don’t run, and avoid throwing your backpack or food at an approaching bear. That may condition bears to approach future hikers in the hopes of acquiring food.

If a bear charges you, stand your ground and dispense bear spray if you have it. If the bear makes contact with you, your best bet is to fight back with whatever you have at hand. But, especially in the East, those situations are exceedingly rare and it’s easiest to try and avoid that situation in the first place.