Video: The Lifer

Russ Clune is a cornerstone of Black Diamond history and an integral part of climbing’s humble beginnings in America in the Guks.


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

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

READ MORE: 10 Tips to Tackle the New Hampshire 48

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

South Peak

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Little Haystack Mountain

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Guyot

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Clay

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

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

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Mount Hight

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

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

 

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


Alpha Guide: Hiking Hurricane Mountain

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

With a breathtaking trail and 360-degree views from the summit, this fire tower hike and sub-4,000-footer can rival any other peak in the Adirondacks.

With a moderately short hiking distance and elevation gain, and a trail that traverses various diverse ecosystems, you’ll be in awe nearly every step of the way up Hurricane Mountain’s southern access trail. While the summit itself only offers roughly a 180-degree view, a quick climb up the steps into the cab of the firetower will reward you with an unparalleled 360-degree view of the surrounding Keene Valley area, the nearby Adirondack High Peaks, the countless other mountains and valleys in the vicinity.

*NOTICE: Currently, it is considered mud season in the Adirondack park and the DEC is asking people to refrain from hiking anything above 2,500 feet in elevation. This mud season typically comes around in mid to late April, and can last a few weeks or more as the snow begins to melt and rainfall mixes with the soil, creating muddy conditions. If you do choose to hike during mud season, it is important to remember that it is better for the trail to walk directly through the mud, rather than around it to avoid trail widening and furthering human impact on the wilderness.

Quick Facts

Distance: 6.2 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half day
Difficulty: ★★★
Scenery: ★★★★★


Season: Year-round*
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://on.ny.gov/2ZSMwKs 

Download

Turn-By-Turn

Take Route 73 north (from I87) or south (from Lake Placid) into Keene and then head east on Route 9N at a fork with views of the MacIntyre Range. Stay in 9N for 3.5 miles looking for a pullout (44.21141, -73.72289) on the left (north) side of the road.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The Journey Begins

The red-blazed trail starts off with a steady, gentle climb from the trailhead towards the mountains. There isn’t a whole lot to see for the first half mile or so, but after .4 miles and 300 feet of elevation gain, you’ll find yourself looking south from the first viewpoint of the day (44.213516, -73.718133), with unobstructed views of Knob Lock, Green, and Tripod Mountains. Once you snap a few photos, you’ll move forward on the wooded trail, fairly straightforward for another half-mile and 100 feet of elevation gain. At this point, you’ll find yourself on the outskirts of the marshy area that the Spruce Hill Brook runs into, and you will have various planks and floating log bridges to cross.

The First View of the Fire Tower

Once you leave the marshy area, the true climbing of the hike begins. While traditional open viewpoints are mostly missing from this section of trail, be prepared to find yourself in awe of its wooded beauty. Although this is a mostly wooded section of trail, the variety of trees you’ll pass create a sort of natural rainbow; From the white bark of the birch trees to the dark gray, mossy bark of the elm tree and the multicolored hues of leaves, both alive and dead, mix together beautifully with a blue sky to create a peaceful scene. All at once, after climbing a total of 1700’ feet near mile 2.5, you’ll find yourself temporarily breaking out of the treeline, with an unexpected view of the 46ers Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge to the south (44.234019, -73.716460), and catching your first glimpse of the actual fire tower on the summit to the northeast.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The Final Push to the Fire Tower

After the brief glimpse you get of the tower, you will reenter the woods for approximately 0.4 miles, at which point you will reach the junction (44.235908, -73.713253) between the Hurricane Mountain Trail you have been on for nearly 2.9 miles, and the North Hurricane Trail which comes from the Crow Clearing/Nun-Da-Ga-O Ridge Trailhead on O’Toole Road in Keene. Now you’re in the home stretch, with just a tenth of a mile to go before you break the treeline and can begin taking in unobstructed views. Be wary and cautious, for Hurricane often has strong winds that embody its name. Once you’re all geared up, take those final steps and reach the summit (44.235327, -73.710605) after 3.1 miles and 2,000 feet of climbing. Make sure to head up and into the fire tower itself for an incredible 360-degree view of the Adirondacks, with High Peaks, lakes, and wild forests all available with just a turn of your head.

When you’re done, retrace your steps back down to the trailhead.


Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The Kit

  • Make sure to have Microspikes or even crampons for this peak, even into the later spring months, as the weather in the Adirondacks in unpredictable and there will often still be snow and ice on trails and summits well into May.
  • There are many sources of water and mud along this trail, including floating log bridges in the marshy area of Spruce Hill Brook (which can often be underwater), so having a reliable pair of waterproof boots or shoes will make the difference in keeping you comfortable.
  • This mountain is great at any time of day, but we highly recommend making a trip up for both sunrise and sunset, for which carrying a good headlamp will be important. That being said, make sure you have a headlamp and extra batteries even if your plan isn’t to stay the night—you never know.
  • No matter what time of year you find yourself hiking Hurricane, the chance of rain and wind are always there, so you’ll want to make sure you’re protected from the elements with a good rain shell!
  • A small blanket or chair, like the Helinox Chair One, is a perfect thing to carry on a hike up Hurricane. If the weather is nice on the summit, you’ll want to sit and stay awhile. The openness of the summit, combined with the essentially flat summit rocks makes this a perfect mountaintop to hang out on, taking in the beauty of the surrounding landscape while you soak up the sun’s rays.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Keys to the Trip

  • Arrive early, as allotted parking spaces tend to fill up quick, and parking alongside the road can be dangerous to yourself and others. If you arrive late and parking is filled up, you can try to head to the Crow Clearing trailhead located on O’Toole Road in Keene, and hike Hurricane that way. Otherwise, you may have to settle for another small mountain nearby!
  • Since Hurricane isn’t an all-day trek, it’s a great idea to add in another nearby mountain or two to extend your hiking day. Some shorter hikes nearby that offer excellent views are Baxter Mountain (whose trailhead is located on the same stretch of Route 9N), and Big Crow Mountain (whose trailhead is located on O’Toole Road in Keene).
  • Bring friends and dogs to share in the beauty of this amazing hike! With a short, moderate distance and elevation gain, beginner and experienced hikers (and your four-legged friends) will have a great time on this trek. If you do bring along a hiking pup, make sure to be prepared with bags, a leash (and often a harness), as well as water and food to keep them as happy as you are!
  • Be sure to fuel up before and/or after your hike! Local hotspots (depending on your direction of travel) include the Stewart’s in Keene, and Noonmark Diner in Keene Valley. If you’re heading even further north, consider Big Slide Brewery and The ‘dack Shack for a delicious lunch or dinner!

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Current Conditions

Have you been up Hurricane Mountain recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


10 Skills to Know Before Taking Your Climbing Outside

You’ve been climbing inside and are pulling hard on the plastic, but now you’re looking for a new challenge: You want to get out to real rock. There are significant differences between the controlled environment of the climbing gym and the dynamic nature of the outdoors. In order to be safe and have fun (of course), there are key skills you need to know before you make a successful transition.

1. Pay Attention!

Climbing gyms were originally designed to help climbers master their technique without concerns for weather, approach logistics, or other impediments which can provide a false sense of security and require you to pay much closer attention once you head outside.

Watch out for environmental factors like rock falls, uneven surfaces to belay from, wet holds, slippery mud, people and nature to distract you (hello, mosquitoes!), and much more. Of course, weather will play a factor as well, from humidity to rain to blazing sun (which can lead to say, sweat seeping into your eyes). Communicating these factors with your partner becomes more important.

A common mistake for experienced and inexpereined climbers alike also comes from not double-checking their system, which includes whether or not harnesses and gear are on correctly, belay devices are set up correctly, knots are right, anchors are double-checked, and more.

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2. Proper Belaying Technique

Belaying takes on particular importance outdoors for a variety of factors.

Climbers indoors and out use what is called a dynamic rope, which means it stretches under a load and absorbs some of the impact of a fall. Gym ropes typically have less elongation, or less stretch, so the climber will not fall as far. As a belayer, it is important to understand this variable because more stretch means a longer fall, and a higher likelihood of a climber hitting the ground or other obstacle, i.e., if they fall from an early bolt or from above a ledge. This is a key factor for belaying a lead climber, where recognizing how much slack in the system is imperative. For a top-rope belayer, know that your climber will fall slightly further than they would in the gym.

3. Knots

While your gym may have required you to learn and tie-in with a figure-8 knot, many allow climbers to just clip into the end of the rope with a carabiner, which means a figure-8 (the standard tie-in knot for climbers) and several other knots are critical knowledge before heading outside. Aside from the figure-8, a barrel knot or another stopper knot are important to make sure the unused end of a rope never slides through a belay device. Other knots like the clove hitch, bowline, water knot, prusik hitch, and more are important to know for anchor building, emergency situations, or other utilities.

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4. Route Finding

In the gym, your route is marked by brightly colored plastic pieces that are easy to spot. That’s not the case outside. The challenge lies in choosing the proper hand holds and foot placements from a near limitless set of options, which often slows down climbers as they have to work out their moves. Choosing the wrong holds can make the route feel several grades harder.

Cheyenne Chaffee, an AMGA certified rock climbing guide, calls this “micro route-finding,” or the ability to read your next moves while climbing, close up and fatigued. He says it is one of the most challenging aspects for beginner outdoor climbers to get used to.

Study the guidebook for the route you want to climb and match the prescribed route to what you see on the rock face. How might that move go? Where is the bolt placed and what hold might you clip in from? Identify key reference points and look for rest spots as well as the crux.

5. Footwork

There is incredible diversity of terrain outside and it can take some time to learn what actually constitutes a foot hold. Microchips, smearing, drop knees and flagging are all skills you need to learn in order to make your way up the rock.

Chaffee encourages you to practice traversing on the lower parts of the crags or on boulders to get a feel for the precision needed for small foot placements.

6. Endurance

Another key difference is the need for physical (and mental) endurance. It is common for outdoor routes to take 15 minutes or more to climb (good climbers can scale routes so large they take days) because route-finding and proper body positioning can take longer to figure out. Not to mention, the walls outside can just be taller than they are inside!

There are also many minute muscles in your feet and hands that may tire faster than they would indoors where they are less likely to be used. Be forewarned, your core is going to get a workout as you will find yourself in more varied positions compared to indoor route setting.

Chaffee suggests preparing by doing laps on a moderately graded route indoors, with the goal of seeing how long you can stay on the wall. Aim to climb continuously for 15 minutes to get used to a typical outdoor route.

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7. How to Set and Clean a Top-Rope Anchor

Outdoor climbs don’t come with ropes pre-installed, so you’ll need to learn how to choose anchor points and set up your top-rope on your own. It is important to install your own top-rope anchor in order to minimize wear and extend the life of the existing hardware attached to the wall. Common systems include using quickdraws (if there are bolts or hangars ready to use), or using lengths of slings or static chord to lengthen the system or anchor off trees of other natural features.

Anchors are a highly customizable, technical, and critical piece of climbing, so it’s best to learn how to use them safely with an expert like the guides at EMS Schools who can teach you everything you need to know about anchors and the technical aspects of outdoor climbing, before you step out of the gym on your own.

8. Risk Management

Outdoor climbing is far less controlled than it is inside. Without gym employees to check on gear and make sure it’s in good shape, that falls to climbers. There are all sorts of precautionary measures you should consider before even attempting a climb:

  • Identify a compromised rope: When you flake your rope, check for softspots and visible signs of wear. If the sheathing is cut through that’s a serious red flag.
  • Evaluate anchors: Is the anchor rusted or loose? Can you swivel the anchor bolt around? Weigh the bolts before loading them with your weight. If they seem unsafe, don’t use them.
  • Reading the guide: Learn to evaluate what to expect on a route. Is the route new and prone to having rocks pull off? How are you getting down? Is it a walk off? How much sun does the route get? Is it prone to being wet?
  • Nutrition and hydration: Diminished attention can be caused by dehydration or low blood sugar levels. Stay sharp by packing tasty sustenance.  

9. Bouldering Safety

“I know more people who have been hurt bouldering than on a rope,” Chaffee says.

In the gym you have a uniform landing. Outside you have to place pads and spotting needs to be much more dynamic and aggressive. Take note: Where are the hazards? Where are the hard moves? Where is someone likely to fall?

As a spotter, you are not trying to catch a climber, rather you are attempting to direct their hips, and to stop their head and neck from smacking on something hard. With bouldering you always hit the ground.

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10. Ethics

Access to climbing areas has become an increasing tension and challenge as the sport has increased in popularity. According to the Access Fund, 1 in 5 climbing areas in the United States are threatened. Crags are often located on private land with easements, at a National Park, or on Forest Service property, and Howard Sebold, Metro NY Section Chair of the American Alpine Club (AAC), warns, “It doesn’t take a whole lot to get an entire crag shut down.”

It is the very popularity of the sport that is leading to some of the gravest challenges. “In many cases crags are becoming loved to death,” Sebold says, whether from trail degradation, improper waste management, or even illegal parking which causes friction with the local municipalities or private landowners.

When you go outdoors, be sure to abide by the Leave No Trace principles, which are best practices to follow to keep the land you love protected for everyone’s enjoyment. The Seven Principles cover topics from how to minimize human-impact to respecting fellow visitors. You can read the full list here.

Beyond this, there are basic “good neighbor” guidelines to follow specific to climbing, such as not monopolizing routes in an area, being respectful of fellow climbers, and donating to crag maintenance efforts to further support preservation efforts.


Tradition or Truth in New Hampshire’s White Mountains

The goal of climbing New Hampshire’s 48 mountains over 4,000 feet in elevation and joining the Four Thousand Footer Club has a 60+ year history dating back to 1957. However, over the past few years, the United States Geographical Survey (USGS) has been re-examining the topography of the White Mountains using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), and has made a shocking discovery: at least one of the 48–Mount Tecumseh, the shortest of the 48 4,000-footers—is actually 8 feet shorter than previously thought, putting this now-3,995 foot peak in jeopardy of being excluded from the AMC’s list of recognized 4,000-footers. And while 8 feet is small potatoes in most contexts, for the list-conscious hikers among us, it’s a huge deal.

But, the potential “losers” list may be broader than just Tecumseh. To date, the USGS hasn’t yet made all of the survey data collected public and the AMC has only evaluated the new information pertaining to 26 of the 48 4,000-footers. Still, with more accurate mapping technology available and more survey data to be reviewed, it’s safe to assume that low-lying 4,000-footers besides Mount Tecumseh could be in jeopardy of losing their status as 4,000-footers. Mount Isolation (4,004 feet) and Mount Waumbek (4,006 feet) are two candidates that come to mind. “The NH45” doesn’t have the same ring.

Of course, during the new survey, some mountains could find themselves picking up elevation. For example, at 3,993 feet, Sandwich Dome is just 7 feet shy of the magical mark under the old standards—is it possible it’s “grown”?

Likewise, some peaks could see their prominence (to qualify as a 4,000-footer, a peak must have a minimum rise of 200 feet from all surrounding peaks) increase, thus making them new additions for the 4,000-footer list. Indeed, according to the new data, Guyot now has sufficient prominence on the side facing South Twin. However, the data from Guyot’s other side has either yet to be released or analyzed. But if substantiated, it would mean that a full Pemi-Loop would net a peak-bagger 13—not 12—4,000-footers in one trip.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

How Will This Affect List-Conscious Hikers?

Revising the list of 4,000-footers in New Hampshire is certain to send shockwaves through the peak-bagging community. For many pursuing the NH48, this will surely alter their plans—possibly adding new peaks to their lists while subtracting others. For those with more committed projects—like gridding—changes to the list could significantly complicate their quests. Meanwhile, for those competing for a fastest known time (FKT) for completing New Hampshire’s 48 4,000-footers, subtracting Tecumseh could save a speed-hiker a couple of hours (including drive time, of course).

The flux in elevations of the New Hampshire 48 thus begs the question: How, if at all, will the AMC adjust the list? Will it just change the list to reflect the mountains’ true elevations? Or will it continue to include some of these now-“lesser” peaks on the list even though they no longer technically qualify? Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time the list keepers in the Northeast have faced the question.

History of AMC Changes

In the past, the AMC has adjusted the list according to a peak’s true elevation. In fact, the story of the New Hampshire 4,000-footers begins with just 46 peaks, ironically mirroring what was thought to be the number of Adirondack peaks over 4,000 feet in elevation. It wasn’t until the USGS published a new South Twin Mountain quadrangle that the New Hampshire 4,000-footers became 48 with the addition of Galehead Mountain in 1975, followed by Bondcliff in 1980. The most recent change came in 1998, when new survey data lead to Wildcat D replacing Wildcat E on the list of 4,000-footers.

Despite these changes, the AMC has not, to our knowledge anyway, ever just subtracted a 4,000-footer from the list. Indeed, even when they swapped the Wildcats, they made clear that ascents under the old standard would still “count.”

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

An Adirondack Tradition

With a tradition dating further back than New Hampshire’s (Robert Marshall, George Marshall, and Herbert Clark first completed the Adirondack 46 in 1925) more than 10,000 hikers have followed in their footsteps since, according to the ADK46ers—the ADK46 list is more steeped in tradition than true elevation, as more recent USGS surveys have shown 4 peaks to fall short of 4,000 feet, while one peak found to meet the essential elevation has been omitted (MacNaughton Mountain). Despite the updated information, the ADK46ers continue using the same list of 46 peaks that was used back in 1925. And, as two Tecumseh traditionalists—to be clear, we’ve hiked the mountain a lot—this could be a great solution in New Hampshire as well.

 

Given all this, what do you think the AMC should do? Would you be excited to see a new list and a new challenge? Or, would you prefer the AMC keep the tradition of the 48 alive? We want to hear! Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.


Video: How to Adjust Your Petzl Helmet

If it doesn’t fit right, are you even wearing it?


Top 5 Beginner Mountaineering Objectives in the Lower 48

How do you climb some of the biggest mountains in the world? Simple, you start on smaller ones.

If you have your eyes set on the likes of Everest, Denali, or even Mont Blanc, there are plenty of breathtaking beginner mountains you can start climbing in the next few months (with proper training and skill acquisition), that will help you prepare for larger summits.

But where do you begin?

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Mountaineering Basics

Mountaineering is a general term that refers to climbing big mountains in snowy and icy conditions. This style requires knowledge of movement on snow and ice, and tends to follow standard routes with less technical climbing, at least for beginners. At high altitudes, weather and environmental conditions are harsher than at lower ranges (for example, 80mph winds, whiteout conditions, and rock fall), which makes this a more challenging endeavor than hiking.

Winter hiking and backpacking are great ways to develop mountaineering techniques at lower elevations with less hazards.

Mountaineers should have experience and the skills related to glacier travel, traveling on a rope team, use of an ice axe for self-arrest and self-belay, crampon technique, anchor building on rock, snow and ice, hazard recognition (crevasses, rockfall, serac fall, etc.), traditional rock climbing, knowledge of climber’s knots, crevasse rescue, route finding, wilderness first aid, and much more. The breadth of skills needs to be paired with requisite gear and knowledge of best practices for equipment usage.

Given the broad and deep skill base, it is prudent to gradually develop your techniques and attempt increasingly more challenging climbs over time. It is much safer to refine your abilities in lower risk environments than to find yourself in a high-exposure situation lacking (or missing) the proper tools and knowledge.

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What Makes a “Beginner” Mountaineering Objective

Beginner mountaineering routes will incorporate fundamental techniques on easier terrain in the spring and summer months. For these objectives, they will take less than a day to summit and stick to Class 3 climbing and below. Generally, they will require snowshoes, crampons and an ice axe, but not roping up.

Seasons and Weather

The spring and summer are high season for mountaineering in the larger mountains in the U.S., including Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, and Mount Hood. These months generally run from April through September. Compared to winter, you have longer days but also a higher risk of sunburn or snow blindness. Some routes are best attempted earlier in the season to avoid rock fall. Winter ascents are a serious advance in difficulty due to harsher and more tempestuous weather conditions.

The climate at higher elevations is much different than the forecast at the base, and weather can change drastically in the mountains. Your best bet is to wait for a good weather window, and to pay attention to the dynamic conditions. As a rule of thumb, storms come from the south in winter and north in summer. Climbers often leave early in the morning (before sunrise) in order to be on the snow and ice before the sun starts to warm things up, increasing chances of rock and icefall.

Adjusting to the Altitude

The body requires time at a higher altitude to adapt to the lower levels of oxygen. A variety of maladies can occur at these heights, including Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), High Altitude Cerebral Edema, and Pulmonary Edema. These can be lethal. Not everybody is adapted for life in the mountains, so you want to progress gradually and pay attention to how you are responding. Generally, teams ascend to higher elevations during the day, then descend for rest at a lower camp, in preparation of a summit push.

Now let’s put it all together and consider some beginner mountaineering routes. Let’s emphasize again, these should only be attempted after proper physical training, skill practice, and preparation.

The Mountaineer's Route is the first large snow gully to the right of the summit pinnacle. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
The Mountaineer’s Route is the first large snow gully to the right of the summit pinnacle. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

High Sierras, California

Mount Shasta’s Clear Creek is the standard route on the southeast face. The route is about 5 miles and 7,600 feet of elevation one way, with some Class 2 climbing through a boulder field. Note that the trail is inaccessible in winter and early spring, though snow will still cover parts of the mountain through the summer.

The Mountaineer’s Route on Mount Whitney is a class 3 route with steep trail, with about 6,000 feet of elevation gain over 5 miles. Fast parties can summit in 10 hours in the summer, and it’s a good test for your route finding skills. Mount Whitney is the high point of the lower 48 states.

Looking up at Mount Adams from a camp on te nearby Mazama Glacier. The South Ridge is to the left. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Looking up at Mount Adams from a camp on te nearby Mazama Glacier. The South Ridge is to the left. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Cascades, Washington and Oregon

South Sister in Oregon via the south side route climbs the third tallest mountain in the state but is class 3 climbing at worst. The path starts from the Green Lakes, and is 12.4 miles round trip, with about 5,000 feet in elevation gain. It also features eight glaciers, so you can practice your snowshoe, ice axe, and crampon technique.

Mount Adams’s South Spur Route route offers an easy and popular snow climb in the eastern Cascade range in Washington. It can be done in 1 or 2 days and is known to be thigh-busting, rising 6,676 feet over 5.7 miles, with a max angle of 30 degrees.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The White Mountains, New Hampshire

Mount Washington via the Lion Head Winter Route is best known for holding some of the worst weather in the world, which may surprise observers who see only the 6288-foot height of the mountain. This particular route is the least technical way to summit in the winter, but still offers a steep, icy ascent and the potential for very high winds at the top.

 

No matter where you are starting from, you can find an appropriate mountain goal to take you to the next level. Remember: Savor the inspiration that comes with big mountain climbing, be realistic in your progression plan, and research and prepare more than you think is necessary. 


6 Skills to Know Before Climbing Mount Washington This Winter

Hiking Mount Washington is a feat in the warmer months, but a winter summit exposes you to extremely volatile and ferocious weather conditions on the tallest mountain in the Northeast, which means there are specific skills that you’ll want to know for this climb that may not have been as important on other winter excursions.

READ MORE: Mount Washington via the Lion Head Winter Route

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Check the conditions ahead of time

Mount Washington holds records for the most extreme weather in the world. Between frigid temperatures (year round!), regular hurricane force winds, and lots of snow, you’re going to want to know what you’re getting into ahead of time. Be sure to read the Mount Washington Observatory’s Higher Summit’s Forecast before you start climbing. The risk of frostbite and hypothermia is real, and if the wind is over 50 mph, the summit temperature near zero, or heavy snow is expected it may require you to postpone your climb. In whiteout conditions, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the amazing summit views anyway.

Avalanches are not something we often expect to need to be prepared for while hiking in the East. However, these are a real danger on Mount Washington, so check the Avalanche Forecast before you head out.

READ MORE: Safe To Climb, Reading Weather Reports for Mount Washington

Courtesy: Mount Washington Observatory
Courtesy: Mount Washington Observatory

2. Be prepared for wind to avoid frostbite

Frostbite becomes a real danger when temperatures and wind are as wild as they are on Mount Washington. Be sure to bring a balaclava and ski goggles to cover any skin from being exposed to these harsh elements. Be sure to test out the equipment before you actually leave for your hike.

3. Know how to walk in crampons

Crampons are important on Mount Washington’s icy summit but walking in them is quite different than walking in winter boots and MICROspikes.

READ MORE: How to Choose Crampons

Each foot has to be lifted horizontally off the ground and stomped into the ground in the same manner, with knees flexed and shoulder width apart. This is known as the French (or flat foot) technique, and is best for flat ground or minimal incline.  It is very easy to rip a pair of hiking pants or tripping over yourself, so be aware of your footing!

Once your trail becomes a bit steeper and you are unable to keep your feet flat on the slope, the technique that is required is known as “front point.” As you face directly into the mountain, kick the toe of your boot straight into the slope. Take very small steps, and remember that you are only using the front spikes of your crampons rather than the entire foot. This technique can be extremely tiring, so a hybrid technique may help on certain slopes.

Practice this on snow beforehand: High on Mount Washington is not the place to attempt mastering walking in crampons.

TK_EMS-Conway-6638-CH

4. Learn how to self-arrest

Attempting to summit Mount Washington in the winter is definitely more of a mountaineering feat than your average winter hike. One skill to practice and be comfortable with is using your ice axe to self-arrest and stop a slide on snow.

Hold the ice axe at the head with the pick of the axe pointing backwards. If you do slip and start to slide, bring the ice axe across your chest diagonally at shoulder level with one hand on the top of the axe with the pick now facing out, and the other hand on the shaft. Keep your arms tucked into your sides and a very firm grip on the axe. Once in this position, place as much pressure as you can on the pick of the axe to stop your slide. Arch your back, keep your knees wide, try to keep your stomach off the snow, and continue to put pressure on the pick until you slow and stop.

Take a mountaineering course from Eastern Mountain Sports Schools to get proper instruction on self-arrest, and practice is regularly before climbing Mount Washington via a snowy route like Tuckerman Ravine.

5. Stay hydrated

We have all been there: Several hours into your winter hike, starting to get parched and you reach for your water only to find that the top has been frozen. Being stuck on Mount. Washington without water is less than ideal. To prevent this from happening, fill your water bottle with boiling hot water and bury it deep in your backpack with your insulating layers, or use an insulated water bottle or Nalgene Thermos. You will probably need 2 to 3 liters of water for your hike up Mount Washington.

Credit: Andrew Drummond
Credit: Andrew Drummond

6. Don’t go at it alone

Usually hiking alone isn’t a problem, but the tough terrain on Mount Washington may make you think otherwise. If you have never hiked mountains in the Presidential Range in winter, it may be recommended to try these before you try Mount Washington. Even if you do feel you are experienced enough, the terrain is tough, cairns are often nearly impossible to find, whiteout conditions are common, and ferocious winds can make hiking alone extremely dangerous. Going with a group of similarly-experienced winter hikers, may make the dangers more manageable and enjoyable!

Do you have any other tips for climbing Mount Washington in the winter? Leave them in the comments!


3 Beginner-Friendly Ice Climbs in Crawford Notch

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Willey’s Slide

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Silver Cascade

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

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

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Flume Cascade

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

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