11 Tips for Staying Warm While Backpacking in Fall

When you’re in the backcountry during the shoulder seasons, it’s no fun to wake up freezing cold in the middle of the night. You can’t just “turn up the thermostat” or grab an extra blanket from the closet. So, since shivering uncontrollably is only fun for so long, here are 11 tips for staying warm:

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1. Wear dry clothes to bed

If you go to bed in the shirt you’ve been sweating in all day, it’s going to be hard to escape the damp chill. I often pack a spare base layer, so that I’ll have something dry to put on just before bed, and I’ll put all my dry layers—including puffy jackets, hats, and gloves—on over it.

2. Set up camp in a protected area

Finding a campsite away from the wind is another way to increase your chances of keeping warm through night. If you’re doing a multi-night Pemi Loop, for example, you’ll be much warmer if you walk the extra mileage down to the Mt. Guyot tent platforms instead of camping in overflow sites right on the Bondcliff Trail. If you’re unfamiliar, these are located on the ridgeline and get exposed to wind all night long. By contrast, the Guyot tent platforms are tucked away a few hundred yards below the ridge.

3. Keep your stuff warm, too

There’s nothing worse than waking up in the morning and trying to force your feet into damp socks and ice-cold boots. To prevent this, dry your socks in your sleeping bag overnight. And, if it’s really cold and your boots are soaking wet, consider putting them in a plastic bag—a grocery bag works well—and stuffing them into the bottom of your sleeping bag. They’ll stay warm enough, so that your feet won’t turn into icicles when you put them back on.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

4. Zip your sleeping bag all the way up

It never ceases to amaze us that the person complaining about how cold the night was is also the same person who didn’t bother to zip his or her bag all the way up—or who wasn’t using the mummy hood. Pro tip: Wearing a hat to bed is a good insurance policy if you’re likely to squirm out of your mummy bag during the night.

5. Bring two sleeping pads

Although most focus on a sleeping pad’s comfort, it also serves an important insulating purpose by preventing conductive heat loss. I’ve found that the best combination for warmth and comfort is a closed-cell foam pad, like the Therm-A-Rest Z Lite Sol, on the bottom with an inflatable, like the Sea to Summit Ultralight, on top. Pro tip: Closed-cell foam pads also work great around camp, and are much warmer than sitting directly on the ground or on rocks.

6. Make a heater

Fill your water bottles with boiling water before you go to bed, and then stuff them in your sleeping bag. They’ll act like a heating pad, keeping you warm all night long. Just make sure the caps are on tight!

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7. Bring a heater

Get yourself some Yaktrax Handwarmers. Disposable hand warmers are an awesome addition to your fall backpacking kit. It’s amazing how much warmth these little suckers add when tucked into your pockets, at your feet, or simply stuffed into your sleeping bag.

8. Pack and eat extra food

When it’s cold out, your body has to work extra hard to keep warm. To fuel your furnace, make sure to bust into that stash of cookies you hid in your partner’s pack.

9. Have something warm to drink

Hot liquids both increase your body’s temperature and work as fantastic morale boosters. If possible, avoid alcohol, which, in spite of the warm feeling it gives you, actually speeds up heat loss, and caffeinated beverages. The latter is known to dehydrate you—bad for circulation—and could send you on a cold run for the bathroom in the middle of the night.

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10. Get up and get warm

Good circulation is a sure way to beat the cold. If you’re hanging around camp, periodically get up to jog in place or do some jumping jacks—just try to avoid sweating—to increase blood flow and fight off the freezing temperatures.

11. Spread the love warmth

When the going gets tough, cuddle. If it’s colder than expected or you’re less prepared than you thought you were, there is always the miracle of body heat. You always wanted to get closer to your hiking partner…didn’t you?

 

Do you have a tried-and-true trick for staying warm in the backcountry? If so, share it in the comments.

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Go Nocturnal: 6 Tips for Hiking After Dark

By the third quarter of the 2013 Super Bowl, it was completely dark out in the sleepy village of El Chaltén in Patagonia. My buddy and I had been camping two hours away at Laguna Capri and, on a whim, decided to hike down the mountain and into town to catch the first half of the game at a small café. We promised ourselves that, no matter the score, we would leave by halftime and head back up to our tent—where all of our food, gear, clothing, and headlamps were waiting—well before nightfall.

Credit: Lucas Kelly
Credit: Lucas Kelly

But, one round of cervezas inevitably turned into two, and halftime came and went. Before we knew it, we had no choice but to hike back up the steep trail in pitch darkness. It was disorienting and awkward to fumble our way blindly through the woods. We spent much of that evening tripping over roots and rocks, risking sprained ankles and skinned knees as we shivered in the cold, and strained our eyes while looking for our campsite. It was my first after-dark hiking experience, and needless to say, I had gone about it the wrong way. I was simply unprepared.

But, there’s no teacher like experience. I’ve since hiked safely after dark dozens of times, and have come to appreciate how peaceful it can be. No terrain or trail, no matter how many times you’ve hiked it during the day, is the same at night. So, if you can do it right, nocturnal hiking doubles your territory, helps you beat the crowds, and gives you a new appreciation for the still night’s air. To start, here are a few tips to keep in mind the next time you hit the trails after the sun has gone down:

1. Don’t go at it alone

You should always rely on the buddy system when going out into the mountains or woods, as the dark amplifies hiking’s inherent risks. Having another person with you diminishes the likelihood of getting lost, and you’ll also have help if something goes wrong. Plus, who doesn’t want a little companionship and someone to talk with while walking along an empty trail?

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

2. Always have a headlamp

Always—and this doesn’t just apply to nighttime hiking. I’ve found that it’s a good rule of thumb to carry a headlamp, like the Black Diamond Spot, and extra batteries in your pack any time you venture into the wilderness. This way, if you do get caught heading back down the trail after sunset, you’ll be ready. And, if you’re going out at nighttime, the spare batteries can be a lifesaver if your headlamp dies. Also, be sure to practice appropriate headlamp etiquette and tilt your light downward towards the ground, as to not temporarily blind your buddy.

All that being said, check the phase of the moon during your hike. If it’s big and bright enough, and the trail doesn’t have much cover (see: The Presidential Traverse During a Super Moon), you might not need to use your headlamp at all—but bring it anyway, of course.

3. Dress for the elements

The temperature can plummet after dark. A little trick I like to use is to always pack for conditions a little colder than expected. For example, if it’s predicted to be 50 degrees at night, I’ll prepare for it to be 40° or colder. You can always take off layers, but you can’t add what you didn’t bring.

I’ve found it’s better to err on the side of safety and comfort at night—even if it’s at the expense of a few more ounces in your pack. And, since it’s more difficult to keep an eye on the changing weather at nighttime, it’s always a good idea to be ready for rain and to pack accordingly.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

4. Hike a familiar trail

This proved to be our saving grace in El Chaltén. My friend and I had tackled the trail a few times in daylight before we hiked it in the dark, so we (sort of) knew what to expect. Simply put, it’s just a bad idea to be exploring new territory in the woods or mountains without the convenience of daylight. It’s not worth potentially getting lost.

Instead, choose a trail that you’ve done a few times in the daytime. That way, you have a sense of where you’re going and what’s in store. Enjoy how different the experience can be without the presence of the sun and with the trail illuminated by headlamp instead.

5. Hike slowly and carefully

It’s important to remain extra-alert and aware of your surroundings while hiking at nighttime. Branches, thorns, roots, and rocks can hamper your experience and send you falling to the ground. So, move deliberately and keep an eye on the section of trail that’s illuminated right in front of you. This, too, might mean moving a bit slower than you normally would on a day hike. If you encounter wildlife, be mindful, and assuming your bright light has likely startled them, treat the animal with the same respect that you would under any other circumstance.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

6. Think ahead, and bring food, water, and shelter

The same rules of daytime hiking apply after hours. Even though it’ll likely be cooler, it’s still important to stay properly hydrated and fueled. As such, even if you don’t feel thirsty or hungry, make sure you stop to have some water and snacks every so often.

Hiking at night also means you’re likely going to need sleep at some point. To prepare, have a light and a sturdy shelter you can quickly assemble when fatigue starts to set in. Opt for a lightweight tent or, if the weather is favorable and the skies clear, a hammock that you can crash in for the remainder of the night.


Alpha Guide: Mount Marcy via the Van Hoevenberg Trail

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Towering over New York State at a cloud-splitting 5,344 feet, Mount Marcy is a breathtaking Northeast peak and an iconic wilderness hike.

Climbing Mount Marcy is a rite of passage for many area hikers, whether it’s a personal goal on its own or a small piece of the pursuit to become an Adirondack 46er. Beginning from the High Peaks Information Center (HPIC) at the serene Heart Lake, this moderate, 14.5-mile hike passes scenic areas, like the old Marcy Dam and Indian Falls, before climbing for a half-mile on the windswept, rocky slope above treeline to a summit with spectacular 360-degree views of the surrounding Adirondack landscape and adjacent mountains. Mount Marcy is a special place in the High Peaks Wilderness, more than five miles away from any road and a mile into the sky and reachable only by those on foot, thus making it a worthwhile journey into a wilderness as deep as you can find anywhere in the region.

 

Quick Facts

Distance: 14.5 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★


Season: May through October
Fees/Permits: $10 parking at Heart Lake ($8 for ADK Members)
Contact: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/9164.html 

Download

Turn-By-Turn

Parking and the trailhead are located at the High Peaks Information Center (HPIC) at Heart Lake, about 15 minutes south of Lake Placid.

From the south (Albany or New York City), take I-87 north to Exit 30 and head west (left) on Route 73 towards Lake Placid for 26.5 miles, where you’ll take a left onto Adirondack Loj Road. The road is winding and becomes unpaved, however; you’ll reach the ticket booth after 4.8 miles. From the north (Plattsburgh or Montreal), take I-87 south to Exit 34 and head west (left) on Route 9N towards Lake Placid for 26 miles, where you will bear right (west) on Route 73. After approximately 11 miles on Route 73, take a left onto Adirondack Loj Road.

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Credit: Sarah Quandt

The Warmup

Begin by signing in at the trail register, located at the end of the parking area opposite the HPIC (44.18296, -73.96251). The trail is marked by blue discs, which you will follow the entire way to the summit. Almost immediately, you’ll encounter one of the various ski trail intersections. These are denoted by numbers, and by the well-worn path and markers, it is fairly obvious which is the main foot trail. At one mile from the trailhead, you will come to a signed intersection that leads toward the MacIntyre Range. Stay left on the blue trail, and climb gently towards Marcy.

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Credit: Sarah Quandt

At 2.3 miles, you’ll emerge from the woods at the old Marcy Dam (44.15884, -73.95165). Here, stay left, and walk a short ways to the bridge to cross Marcy Brook. Marcy Dam previously impounded the brook, but Hurricane Irene damaged the wooden structure in 2011, and as a result, it’s in the process of being removed. Nonetheless, many hikers still refer to the crossroads and large opening in the trees where a small pond once sat as Marcy Dam. Upon crossing, turn right back towards the dam. Here, you’ll have your first peek at the MacIntyre Range and find a second register, which you should also sign (44.15866, -73.95094).

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

A Gentle Climb

Near the trail register, you’ll notice various paths leading to privies and designated campsites surrounding Marcy Dam, which are occupied on a first-come, first-serve basis. Bear left, following signage for the blue trail, and you’ll quickly reach an intersection at 2.4 miles. Bear left again, heading towards Marcy, and the terrain will become more rugged as the trail parallels Phelps Brook and begins to gain elevation more dramatically.

You’ll reach a high-water bridge at 2.6 miles (44.15719, -73.9474), where you will have the option to cross the brook now or continue about 500 feet farther upstream for a more natural water crossing via rock hopping (44.15616, -73.94622). If it’s early in the spring, if it’s been raining lately, or if you’re unsure about the water level, use the bridge, as it’s better to stay safe and dry this early in the hike. After some more uphill trekking, you’ll come to the intersection with the trail to Phelps Mountain (44.1516, -73.93561) at mile 3.3, a worthy day hike on its own.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Break with a View

Shortly after passing the turnoff to Phelps Mountain, the trail crosses Phelps Brook for the second and last time on your ascent. After the bridge, you’ll immediately begin to climb steeply. Next, you’ll come to the Marcy ski trail at 3.7 miles, where the hiking trail turns sharply right and begins to veer away from the brook. Following the blue trail markers uphill, you’ll eventually encounter the herd path to Tabletop Mountain at mile 4.4—the peak is commonly paired with Phelps for a full day.

Just past this intersection, you’ll cross a stream and reach the spur for Indian Falls at 4.5 miles (44.14051, -73.92827). Less than a minute from the main trail, the falls are a favorite spot for hikers to rest and soak their weary feet while taking in a picturesque view of the MacIntyre Range.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Still Climbing

Just beyond the spur to the falls is the intersection with the Lake Arnold Crossover Trail. Bear left, following the signs towards Mount Marcy and the blue trail markers. From here, you will enjoy a relatively flat walk before beginning to steadily climb again. The terrain begins to become rockier as you near 4,000 feet above sea level.

At 6.1 miles, you’ll reach the intersection with the Hopkins Trail, where the last pit toilet is available before you reach the summit. Stay right, following the signs and blue discs towards Marcy. After more steady climbing, you’ll reach the intersection with the Phelps Trail (44.11561, -73.91551)—not to be confused with the Phelps Mountain Trail, which you passed earlier. You may not notice the sign at this intersection, however, as it’s behind you, facing hikers as they descend from Marcy. There is no sign for ascending hikers, but you should still bear hikers’ right. Past the intersection, the trail will quickly climb above the treeline, so now is a good time to add a layer, secure your pack, and fuel up for the last leg.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Above the Treeline

From the Phelps Trail, switch to following the yellow blazes painted onto the rocks to stay on the trail. The blazes help you follow the trail immediately in front, and large cairns (rock piles) indicate the overall direction in which you are headed. These are especially helpful on cloudy days, which are frequent on Marcy due to its elevation.

Take care to stay on the trail and avoid damaging sensitive alpine vegetation, as marked by twine and rocks.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

In good weather, you will be treated to outstanding views, as you make the final push to the summit. Spruce trees stunted from harsh weather give way to gleaming rock slabs dotted with lichens. Massive rock outcroppings, towering cairns, and the adjacent High Peak summits and rock slides elicit feelings of awe and respect for Marcy and the Adirondacks. To the right (west) is Mount Colden and the MacIntyre range, and to the left (east) is Mount Haystack. As you crest the summit, you’ll see Mount Skylight ahead of you. Behind you, views of Basin and Saddleback Mountains introduce the rest of the Great Range.

With one last scramble, you’ll hoist yourself onto the summit rock, and be sitting on top of the world—or at least New York State! On most days, the summit steward there educates hikers on the alpine vegetation and helps with general questions.


Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

The Kit

  • The LifeStraw Water Filter is a lightweight and economical way to filter backcountry water in a pinch. The filter is good for up 1,000 liters and removes over 99.9 percent of waterborne protozoan parasites and bacteria. Use it in one of the brooks along the trek, but remember, Indian Falls is the last water source between the Loj and the summit.
  • Always carry a headlamp and extra batteries in your pack. It can make the difference between an easy walk out and being forced to spend an unplanned night in the woods. Try Petzl’s Actik headlamp, which delivers 300 lumens and offers both white light for visibility and red light for night vision.
  • A lightweight jacket to keep the wind at bay is an absolute must-have and the key to enjoying the summit. Don the Techwick Active Hybrid Wind Jacket for superior breeze protection, with better moisture control than a standard rain jacket.
  • The hike along Phelps Brook comes with pretty scenery and soothing sounds but typically also includes a wet trail. So, pack the Spindrift Gaiters to keep water, mud, and snow out of your boots.
  • Thatcher’s Mount Marcy Peak Finder is a fun tool to interpret the view from the summit and identify the adjacent mountains. It’s light, weather resistant, highly accurate, and very easy to use.
  • Pick up the Adirondack Mountain Club’s High Peaks topographical map. It shows all trails, campsites, and recreational features and offers relevant information on wildlife history, geology and archaeology.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Keys to the Trip

  • Check the weather. The last half-mile up is exposed and can feature conditions more severe than what’s happening in the parking lot or woods.
  • Pack some warmer clothes for the summit, where it’s often cooler. Even on the most beautifully sunny day in June, I’ve been thankful for my jacket and hat.
  • Keep up on the latest trail conditions at the DEC’s Backcountry Information for the High Peaks Region webpage, which is updated weekly.
  • Hikers may use the various designated camping sites near Marcy Dam and along the Van Ho trail, although they are first-come, first-served and fill up quickly. Aside from within the marked sites, campers can camp anywhere that is at least 150 feet from a water body, road, or trail, and below 3,500 feet in elevation, unless the area is posted as “Camping Prohibited.” Bear-resistant canisters are required in the eastern Adirondacks, which include the Mount Marcy area.
  • Lodging is also available at the Adirondak Loj on Heart Lake, in the form of private rooms, bunks, campsites, and lean-tos (all must be reserved). Meals are included, and kayak and paddleboard rentals are available.
  • When adding side trips, like Phelps or Tabletop Mountain, it’s best to attempt them on the way back. This will ensure you have enough time and energy for the day’s main prize—Marcy.
  • For strong, experienced hikers looking for a unique way up and a chance to bag other remote High Peaks, consider doing this trek as a long loop hike with Gray Peak and Mount Skylight. Or, opt to hike up in the dark, and watch the sunrise from the summit.
  • Filling a growler at the Adirondack Pub and Brewery, or noshing on some of Noon Mark Diner’s famous pie and milkshakes is a great way to treat yourself after your hike.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Current Conditions

Have you done the entire traverse or even a piece of it recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


The Guide to iPhone Hiking Photography

“What kind of camera do you use?” is something photographers get asked frequently. We like to talk gear just as much as any other hiker or backpacker. But, my answer more often than not takes people by surprise. Several of my photos don’t come from my fancy Canon EOS Rebel T5 DSLR, but my trusty iPhone 7.

Reason number one: It’s smaller, lighter, and always by side. For instance, when I’m on a trail run, I don’t typically carry along a big camera and lenses.

Secondly, the formula for successful landscape photography boils down to three things. While equipment, talent, and skill are essential, dedication routinely comes in as the most important. If you are truly motivated and dedicated to getting the perfect shot, and you are constantly putting yourself in position to do so, success will happen, even if you’re only shooting with a smartphone.

As well, knowing how to properly use your iPhone saves pack weight and space, as well as time and money. And, if you know what you’re doing, the shots will be just as impressive.

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Framing the Shot

In your photo, obviously pay attention to the framing and composition. Step one: Hold your phone sideways. One of the first mistakes many make when taking photos while hiking is holding the phone upright, in a “portrait” orientation. Typically, up-and-down shooting should be avoided in landscape photography, with few exceptions, like a waterfall.

From there, even out the photo with a good balance of background and foreground. As a guide, think about the rule of thirds. If you break your photo into three parts, both vertically and horizontally, you can line up your subjects and frame your shots. You can also turn these lines on through your phone’s settings menu, under “Photos & Camera.”

Also take into account where the horizon is. Keeping this as level as possible will result in a more realistic-looking photograph. For certain shots, you’ll want to achieve as much symmetry as possible, even though this may go against the rule of thirds. This can be tricky, and typically should only be used for certain shots, such as bodies of water.

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If you’re taking a photo of your hiking partner, you can apply the same rules to frame the photo. For instance, if you are shooting at sunrise or sunset, you can focus on the background to create a great silhouetted image. Or, if shooting during the day, try to face the sun’s opposite direction to allow both your subject and the background to be visible. Your phone will typically focus on both, resulting in a great image of your partner.

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Lighting

Lighting can make or break a photo. Pay attention to where the sun is in the sky in relation to your shot’s direction. Having the sun behind you is usually best, because facing it can result in glare or a more faded-looking image. As such, usually the best time of day for shooting is early morning or evening, when the sun is lower in the sky. Therefore, less “harsh light” will affect your photos.

If you are shooting a sunrise or sunset, you’ll want to be facing the sun. But, also take into account that anything but a direct shot focusing on the sun will typically result in a flare or similar spot.

A helpful iPhone tool, the HDR setting allows the phone to take two versions of the same photograph, usually with the HDR version resulting in better quality. HDR comes in handy when you are shooting things such as a mountain in the foreground and a brighter sky in the background. Typically, this results in a washed-out sky or a dark, shadowy foreground.

If set to “Auto,” HDR will bring both the background and foreground into focus with proper exposure, resulting in an image exactly as you saw it. While shooting, you can also use the slider next to the focus box to easily change the exposure value. Just tap where you want the camera to focus, and then, by sliding your finger up or down, change the exposure to brighten or darken to reach your desired result.

Editing Basics

The key to taking a good photo is simply that. But, it can also be valuable to touch it up and perfect your shot before throwing it up on Instagram. And, believe it or not, you don’t need fancy editing software for that. In fact, the iPhone has some pretty great built-in basic editing tools, available just by clicking the slider bar button below the photo.

For instance, to determine if the photo is level, select the “Crop” button first. Then, the iPhone will sense if the photograph is off from the horizon line, and will automatically correct the error for you.

As well, a dial button will bring up three different lighting modes: Light, Color, and B&W. Using the Light option slider, brighten your photo by automatically changing the shot’s various aspects (contrast, brightness, shadows, etc.), while the Color adjuster slider does the same thing with the different elements comprising the photo’s coloring (saturation, contrast, etc.). As a good rule of thumb for most landscape photos, increase both of these slightly in order to make your photo look more vibrant and colorful while still retaining a realistic look and feel.

But, be careful not to over-edit. Your photos probably won’t look nearly as beautiful as you remember the actual scene being, which leads to people overcompensating and editing far more than they should, including over-saturation or increasing HDR or other similar filters too much. Thus, try to keep the editing to the bare minimum, so your photos look realistic while matching the memory you have.

Happy shooting, and share your finished shots with us by using the hashtag #goEast!

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All photos credit: Joshua Myers


Alpha Guide: The Presidential Traverse

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

This Northeast classic is one of the region’s most sought-after trips, and for good reason.

The Presidential Traverse is one of the most challenging and beautiful point-to-point hikes in the Whites, and the Northeast at large. It summits up to eight of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot mountains—including the five tallest in New England—with the most notable being the iconic Mount Washington. Because most of the hiking occurs above tree line, hikers can expect a day full of incredible views…if the weather holds, that is.

 

Quick Facts

Distance: 21.7-mile thru-hike
Time to complete: 1 day (but with overnight options)
Difficulty: ★★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★★


Season: May through September
Fees/Permits: $3/day for parking at the Appalachia Trailhead and/or Crawford Path Trailhead
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/whitemountain

Download

Turn-By-Turn

Most begin the Presidential Traverse at the Appalachia Trailhead and end at the AMC’s Highland Center Lodge in Crawford Notch. Doing the Presidential Traverse from north to south is easier, as it gets the majority of the elevation gain out of the way early in the trip, while leaving smoother, easier trails for the end.

If you have two cars, leave one at each trailhead. If not, take advantage of the shuttle service provided by the Appalachian Mountain Club.

Getting to the Appalachia Trailhead from Interstate 93 is straightforward. Follow I-93 to exit 35, US 3 North. Stay on US 3 North for 12 miles to NH 115 North. After roughly 10 miles turn right onto US 2 East, follow it for a little over 7 miles, and the Appalachia Trailhead will be on your right.

If you’re coming from the Route 16, follow Route 2 West for 5 miles west after its juncture with 16, and look for it on your left.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Climbing up Valley Way

Depart Appalachia on the Valley Way Trail. Although the trail’s start is easy to find, an early morning and a maze of trails leaving Appalachia can make it a careful task to ensure that you start—and remain—on the Valley Way Trail. Otherwise, you’ll spend the morning trying to get back on track.

The Valley Way Trail is initially moderate, but gets progressively steeper as you approach Madison Spring Hut (44.328037, -71.283569). There are numerous trail junctions throughout the trail’s 3.8 miles, but all are well-marked. After 3.1 miles, you will pass the Valley Way Tentsite, one of the few designated camping areas along the Traverse. From the tent site, you will get occasional glimpses of Mount Madison looming above on your left as you close in on the AMC’s Madison Spring Hut.

Overall, the Valley Way Trail gains 3,500 feet of elevation—more than a third of the trip’s total—over 3.8 miles. Equally important, it stays below treeline until the hut, allowing you to get in some miles without being too concerned about the weather.

Mount Adams from Madison's Summit. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Adams from Madison’s Summit. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Summits Begin

From Madison Spring Hut make the one-mile roundtrip dash on the Osgood Trail to the summit of Mount Madison (44.328846, -71.276688). Don’t be fooled by the relatively short distance to the summit and back, the Osgood Trails is rugged and steep, gaining 550-feet of elevation. On top of Madison—the Traverse’s first 4,000 footer—take in the inspiring 360-degree views, highlighted by Mount Washington to the south, and your next objective, Mount Adams. However, don’t linger too long before heading back the way you came to the hut, there is still a long way to go.

Back at the Madison Hut refill your water, scrounge for leftover breakfast, or buy baked goods. On a big trip like the Presidential Traverse (especially if you’re doing it in a day) every minute and ounce counts. Since the route after the hut is above treeline for the next 12 miles, the hut is also a good place to reassess the weather. If it is deteriorating, considering bailing here, before the turnaround logistics get too complicated.

Star Lake and Madison from Mount Adams. | Credit: Tim Peck
Star Lake and Madison from Mount Adams. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Adams (44.3203, -71.2909) is the next summit on the Traverse. To get there from the hut, follow the Gulfside Trail to the Airline Trail. It is a 0.9 mile trip, gaining 950-feet of elevation up rocky and rough terrain. From Adams—the second highest mountain in New England—enjoy dazzling 360-degree views of Mount Madison and Star Lake behind you, and Mounts Jefferson and Washington before you.

Mount Jefferson and Clay. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Jefferson and Clay. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Jefferson

From Adams, drop down 0.3 miles through a boulder field to Thunderstorm Junction and rejoin the Gulfside Trail. After 1.2 more miles hiking alongside the Great Gulf, you’ll be longing for smooth trail by the time the Gulfside reaches Edmunds Col. Unfortunately, the 0.6 mile-long hike on the Jefferson Loop Trail across Jefferson’s summit (44.304237, -71.316597) is anything but smooth, climbing 800 vertical feet in some of the most challenging hiking yet on the Traverse. Warning: False summits abound on the way to the actual summit.

Jefferson—the third highest mountain in New England—doesn’t disappoint on views. Take a moment to enjoy them, with Mount Adams behind you and Mount Clay and Mount Washington towering before you. Once you’ve had your fill, continue south along the Jefferson Summit Loop until it rejoins the Gulfside Trail. Before you leave the summit though, evaluate the weather, mindful of how much exposed hiking is left.

If you have any doubts, from here there are numerous trail options that will bring you back to your car at the Appalachia Trailhead, albeit with some difficulty. One way back is to backtrack the Jefferson Summit Loop Trail and connect with the Gulfside Trail. Follow the Gulfside Trail for 0.7 miles to the Israel Ridge Path which you will take for 0.8 miles to the Perch Path. Hikers will want to follow the Perch Path for a short distance—passing the Randolph Mountain Club Perch Shelter—before connecting with the Randolph Path. Backpackers might want to stay the night at the Perch Shelter and try and wait out unfavorable weather, or give themselves an extra day before making the long 6.1 mile trek along the Randolph Path as they drop 3,700-feet in elevation to the Appalachia Trailhead. The Perch Shelter costs $10 (for non-Randolph Mountain Club members) to stay the night, and has a spring to fill your water bottles.  

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

To Clay or Not to Clay

Following the Gulfside Trail 0.5 miles from Mount Jefferson to Sphinx Col, hikers encounter the first “optional” summit of the trip: the 5,533-foot tall Mount Clay. Since Clay is really a sub-peak of Washington (and thus not one of the 48 official New Hampshire 4,000 footers), it’s not always necessary, but it is still worth the short loop detour for the views of the Northern Presidentials and the ground you’ve already covered. That said, many on the Traverse bypass Clay’s summit and the extra 0.3 of a mile and few hundred feet of elevation by continuing on the Gulfside Trail for 1.4 miles to the summit of Mount Washington.

The Cog Railway and summit of Washington from Clay. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Cog Railway and summit of Washington from Clay. | Credit: Tim Peck

Once past Clay, the hike up Washington on the Gulfside often feels like the longest part of the Traverse. Although the summit looks just minutes away, appearances are deceiving and it’s still more than a mile away. The trail also remains unrelenting and rough. Thankfully, you’ll have great views of Burt’s Ravine, the Great Gulf, Mount Washington and the Cog Railroad to motivate your climb. And if at any point you stop to catch your breath, turn around to admire the distance you’ve already traveled, with Jefferson, Adams, and Madison laid out behind you.

Climbing towards the top of Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck
Climbing towards the top of Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Worst Weather in the World and Busiest Summit of the Day

The summit view from New England’s highest peak (44.270584, -71.303551) certainly don’t disappoint. To the east, the Carters and Wildcats dominate the foreground, with, on a clear day, the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. Looking north, Madison, Adams, Jefferson, and Clay take up the skyline. West is the Bretton Woods ski area, followed by the peaks of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Finally, to the south, the remainder of the Traverse is laid-out before you: Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, and Jackson.

Of course, Washington—home to the “world’s worst weather”—doesn’t offer any summit views on some days. But even on rainy, cool, or cloudy days, you’ll also encounter more people on the summit than you will have on the entirety of this trip thanks to the mountain’s popularity, the auto road, and the Cog Railroad.

Civilization isn’t all bad though if you brought your wallet, as the cafeteria in the Sherman Adams building on the summit offers the opportunity to eat and drink something different from regular hiking fair. On more than one occasion a Coke or piece of pizza has boosted morale, busted a bonk, and been key to a successful traverse. Additionally, it also offers a great place for hikers to refill water bottles and hydration packs.

However, don’t let the warm food, places to sit, and great views, lure you into lingering too long on the summit. You still have 7.7 miles and several hours left.

Lakes of the Clouds and Monroe while descending Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck
Lakes of the Clouds and Monroe while descending Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Crawford Path

After Washington, the character of the Traverse changes, as you leave the rugged Gulfside Trail and continue for the duration of the trip (if ending at Mount Pierce) on the more gentle Crawford Path. Almost 200 years old, the Crawford Path is the oldest hiking trail in the contiguous U.S., and at one time was used to guide tourists to the summit of Mount Washington on horseback. Also worth noting is that despite some small climbs, the majority of the trip is downhill from here.

This is especially true of the 1.5-mile descent to AMC’s Lakes of the Clouds Hut (44.258831, -71.318817), the highest and largest hut in the White Mountains. Views of the Southern Presidentials dominate this portion of the hike. As you approach the hut, look for Lakes of the Clouds, a set of small ponds, on your left. Re-filling your water at the hut avoids the lines often found in Mount Washington’s summit, making it a faster and easier option. But again, don’t linger too long, unless they’re serving fresh-baked desserts or you’re planning to spend the night here as part of a multi-day traverse.

Looking back at Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck
Looking back at Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck

From the hut, continue on the Crawford Path for 0.3 miles before connecting with the Mount Monroe Loop Trail. The Mount Monroe Loop trail climbs 350 feet to the open summit of Mount Monroe (44.255089, -71.321373), the fifth 4,000-footer of the trip. From here you get a striking view of Washington and Lakes of the Clouds behind you, and before you, the Crawford Path is visible as it snakes its way to your next objective Mount Eisenhower. Before departing, look east, down Monroe’s sheer cliffs and towards Oakes Gulf.

Hiking from Monroe to Eisenhower. | Credit: Tim Peck
Hiking from Monroe to Eisenhower. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Eisenhower

Dropping off Monroe, connect again with Crawford Path and begin working your way across the 2.1 miles and the 500-foot climb up Eisenhower. Along this stretch you’ll encounter some of the most gentle terrain of the trip, and most likely not a moment too soon for your tired legs. It’s also here that you might begin to feel the effects of an even pleasant day spent above the tree line, as the sun and the wind can start to weather your resolve.

After a steep, but quick, climb up Eisenhower’s flanks, you’ll encounter a giant cairn marking its summit (44.240688, -71.350342) and the sixth four-thousand footer of the trip. Take a moment to look back, take in the view, and appreciate the enormous distance the Traverse has covered so far. Then, if you have the energy, turn south and try to pick out the summits ahead: Mount Pierce (your next objective) and, if you continue further, Mount Jackson and Mount Webster.

Monroe and Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck
Monroe and Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck

Leaving Eisenhower, rejoin the Crawford Path heading south towards Mount Pierce. Follow the Crawford Path for 1.3 miles to the split with the Webster Cliff Trail. Follow the Webster Cliff Trail 0.1 miles to the summit of Mount Pierce (44.227802, -71.364769), the seventh 4,000 footer of the Traverse.

On the 1.4 miles between Eisenhower and Pierce you’ll begin to dip in and out of the trees, the first section of below treeline hiking since your ascent of Madison. While only picking up nominal elevation, the rolling nature of this part of the Crawford Path will have you legs feeling weary with the Traverse’s 8,700 feet of elevation gain. The summit of Mount Pierce also signals an exit from the high mountains, as it’s the day’s only peak that doesn’t offer views in every direction.

Mount Pierce's summit. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Pierce’s summit. | Credit: Tim Peck

Decision Time

Traditionally, the Presidential Traverse “ends” at Pierce. If this is your final summit, follow the Webster Cliff Trail back to the Crawford Path. The beginning of the 3.2-mile descent to the Highland Center in Crawford Notch is surprisingly rugged and is characterized by rocks and roots. After a short time, the trail becomes significantly more moderate. As you get closer to Route 302, the sound of traffic is oddly comforting, letting you know that you’re almost there.

If you’re not ready to be done, extend the Traverse by instead hiking south on the Webster Trail for 2.4 miles to Mount Jackson (44.2031, -71.3742), the eighth 4,000 footer of the trip. On the way, you will pass the Mitzpah Hut, giving you the opportunity to refill your bottles and bladder, buy dessert, or even stay for the night. Although Jackson’s summit delivers great views to the north, west, and south, the 2.4-mile trail is rough in parts and rarely a quick trip, especially with almost 20 miles under your belt already. Except for an open rocky section near the top, the 2.5-mile descent to Crawford Notch from the summit of Jackson on the Webster-Jackson trail is moderate and a little bit shorter than the descent from Pierce.


The Kit

Light is right on the Presidential Traverse. So if you have a good weather window and you’re trying to do the Traverse in a day, here are a few tips for trimming your kit.

  • A super lightweight windshell like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite is indispensable on a trip like the Presi that covers so much ground above treeline.
  • If you picked the “right” day to do the Presidential Traverse, plan on getting a lot of sun, especially when hiking north to south. A sun hoody, hat with a brim, and sunglasses are great ways to protect your skin and eyes.
  • Even if the forecast is favorable, the Presidentials are notorious for bad weather. Be prepared for it with a lightweight puffy coat like the Black Diamond First Light and a rain shell such as the Arcteryx Beta SL.
  • The weather changes fast in Presidential’s, make sure you’re ready for it with a winter hat and gloves.
  • You’ll be crossing some of the most rugged terrain the White Mountain’s have to offer. Give your legs some support when they eventually get wobbly with a pair of collapsible trekking poles like the Black Diamond Alpine FLZ.
  • Boots are great but trail runners like the Brooks Cascadia 12 are key for trying to quickly cover 20 plus miles.

Descending Mount Jefferson with Mount Washington in the background. | Credit: Tim Peck
Descending Mount Jefferson with Mount Washington in the background. | Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Hiking the Presidential Traverse is a big day in itself. Consider shuttling cars the night before to ease logistical challenges and ensure your vehicle a spot in the lot.
  • If doing the full Presidential Traverse in a day seems like too much, there are three AMC Huts along the route (Madison, Lake of the Clouds, and Mitzpah). Using the AMC huts allows you to follow the lightweight ethic while getting to savor the traverse over multiple days. However, don’t expect to find much camping on route due to alpine zone restrictions.
  • Because this hike is almost entirely above treeline, it’s not one to do in bad weather, so check the Mt. Washington Observatory Forecast before you go.
  • If you get caught in bad weather, there are lots of trails to bail below treeline on, but they will create significant logistical problems and could make it difficult to get back to your car in a hurry. Many of the trailheads they end on are fairly isolated. Don’t count on weathering a storm in Mount Washington’s summit buildings.
  • Getting an early start is a great tactic to avoid late afternoon thunderstorms.
  • Even though the route is well marked, it’s a good idea to bring a map in addition to a route mileage table to monitor your progress.
  • If you’re looking to refuel post hike, check out Catalano’s Pizza in Twin Mountain on the way back towards I-93. If your phone has reception, call in your order ahead of time to make sure dinner is waiting for you. If you feel like you deserve a drink after a long day on the trail, Fabyan’s Restaurant has a decent beer selection, along with traditional pub food.

Current Conditions

Have you done the entire traverse or even a piece of it recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


5 Hikes in New Hampshire's Lakes Region

It might be tempting to spend your Lakes Region vacation floating on Squam Lake, sitting on Weirs Beach, or riding the Winnipesaukee Railroad, but no trip to New Hampshire is complete without bagging a summit. Whether it’s a quick scamper up West Rattlesnake Mountain or an all-day climb on Mount Chocorua, be sure to devote some time to exploring the area’s incredible local hiking.

Climbing West Rattlesnake. | Credit: Doug Martland
Climbing West Rattlesnake. | Credit: Doug Martland

West Rattlesnake Mountain

Looming above Squam Lake is one of the Lakes Region’s best moderate hikes: the Old Bridle Path to West Rattlesnake Mountain’s summit. Leaving from the parking lot off Route 113 in Holderness, it’s a two-mile round trip with less than 500 feet of elevation gain, all on a well-maintained, yellow-blazed trail that is family friendly and suitable for first-time hikers.

The view south of Squam Lake from the summit’s rocky slabs will impress even the most seasoned White Mountain hikers. For the peak-baggers among us, follow the well-marked Ridge Trail east from the outcrops for over 100 yards to the true summit. If you have more energy, consider adding on some extra miles by hiking on toward East Rattlesnake Mountain or downhill toward Five Finger Point, a peninsula that juts into Squam Lake.

The downside? West Rattlesnake is pretty popular, especially on weekends. To avoid the crowds, consider an early or late start, as the hike is easy enough to complete in an hour or so. Just don’t blame us if you’re late returning because you’ve been lingering on the summit to enjoy the views!

The view from the summit of Belknap Mountain. | Credit: Doug Martland
The view from the summit of Belknap Mountain. | Credit: Doug Martland

Belknap Mountain

Another family-friendly hike, Belknap Mountain is one of New England’s 50 most topographically-prominent peaks. Three different trails—the Red, Blue, and Green—start at the Belknap Carriage Road parking area and wind their way up over the course of a mile. All are well-marked and have about 700 feet of elevation gain.

Once you get to the summit, make sure to climb the fire tower. It offers a fantastic 360-degree view of the region, with Lake Winnipesaukee being the most prominent feature. If you can pull yourself away from the views (and be careful once you do, because the stairs are steep), explore the old ranger’s cabin and still-working water pump, which are a short distance downhill on the Green Trail.

When planning your Belknap Mountain hike, be mindful that the Carriage Road gate is only open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. It’s also worth noting that the Carriage Road’s final segment to the upper parking lot is a steep dirt road that may be difficult for cars with low clearance. But, don’t let either of these stop you from enjoying Belknap Mountain. Instead, you can do a slightly longer hike along the Gunstock Mountain Trail, starting from the lower parking area.

Relaxing on the summit of Mount Morgan. | Credit: Tim Peck
Relaxing on the summit of Mount Morgan. | Credit: Tim Peck

Morgan and Percival Loop

The Morgan and Percival Loop hike is another must-do. Starting from the same parking lot as West Rattlesnake Mountain, this 4.9-mile loop offers something for everyone—fun terrain, a chance to push yourself outside of your comfort levels, and, most notably, fantastic views. While the hiking found here is mostly moderate, the trail does present caves to crawl through, ladders to climb, and open ledges to walk across on your way to the summit of 2,220-foot Mount Morgan and then to 2,212-foot Mount Percival. Of course, if crawling, scrambling, and climbing aren’t your thing, walk-arounds make this hike suitable for almost everyone.

Leaving from the parking lot off Route 113, the Morgan and Percival Loop combines four separate trails: the Mount Morgan Trail, the Crawford Ridgepole Trail, the Mount Percival Trail, and the Morse Trail. Hikers will find them well marked and easy to follow, with signs at all main junctions. Because the trail descending Mount Percival is more gentle in nature, summiting Mount Morgan first is preferred. Be warned that this hike, like its neighbor, is incredibly popular. If you get to the trailhead late, you might find yourself parking on the street and not in the lot. On a positive note, there are plenty of views to go around!

The slabs on Welch. | Credit: Tim Peck
The slabs on Welch. | Credit: Tim Peck

Welch-Dickey Loop Trail

If you’re looking for something a little more difficult, consider the Welch-Dickey Loop. What attracts many is its big-mountain feel jam-packed into just a few miles. With jaw-dropping views, semi-exposed ledges, massive stone slabs, and above-treeline hiking, Welch-Dickey seems like a hike found in New Hampshire’s “big” mountains.

However, with Welch Mountain standing at just 2,605 feet and Dickey Mountain peaking at 2,743 feet, even those of us with sea legs can summit both. Although it’s far from New Hampshire’s most challenging, be warned that it can feel longer and harder than its 4.5-mile length. As well, expect to climb over 1,600 feet and through terrain that can be challenging for non-hikers. Also, because of the hike’s slabby nature, it can be difficult when wet.

Located off Route 93’s exit 28, the Welch-Dickey Loop sits at the Lakes Region’s northern corner. Navigation is relatively easy, as yellow blazes and cairns clearly mark the trail. Most prefer to go counter-clockwise and summit Welch Mountain first, before heading to Dickey Mountain’s summit. Expect to pay a $3 per-day fee to park at the trailhead, or splurge and buy a White Mountain National Forest season pass for $20.

Mount Chocorua. | Credit: Doug Martland
Mount Chocorua. | Credit: Doug Martland

Mount Chocorua

The pinnacle of Lakes Region hiking, Mount Chocorua is one of the Whites’ most recognizable mountains. While just 3,478 feet, its rocky, treeless summit leads many to believe it’s much greater in stature than it is. As such, Mount Chocorua is as challenging, if not more so, than many of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers. When you consider the exposed ledges, steep slabs, and above-treeline weather, hikers should plan for a full day.

The most popular and direct route up, Piper Trail starts off Route 16 in Albany, N.H., behind Davies General Store. At 4.5 miles (nine miles round trip) and gaining roughly 2,700 feet, the Piper Trail presents a challenge even for seasoned hikers. And, with very steep sections, open ledges, and cliffside scrambling, this trail is perfect for those who like a charge of adrenaline.

For a different route up, continue approximately one mile past the Piper Trailhead on Route 16 to the White Ledge Campground and the Carter Ledge Trail. With nearly the same mileage and vertical gain, the Carter Ledge Trail gives you an option to beat the crowds. However, while this makes the route slightly harder to follow, you intermittently get fantastic views of the summit along Carter Ledge.

 

If you’re heading to the Lakes Region, or are looking for a reason to go, check out some of these fantastic hikes for their impressive views and challenging terrain. And, of course, we want to hear about your experience. In the comments, tell us which Lakes Region hikes you love or just about the great day you had here!

 


A Guide to Backpacking the Virginia Triple Crown

From lush, dense forests to stunning overlooks and winding ridges, Southwestern Virginia offers plenty to keep any hiker busy. And, the three iconic destinations included in the Virginia Triple Crown give hikers an unparalleled set of challenges and rewards.

The Virginia Triple Crown combines three spots along the Appalachian Trail, all of which are located in close proximity to each other, and can be reached via day hikes or in one fell swoop through 30- to 40-mile backpacking routes. Whether you’re a day-hiker or backpacker, you’ll enjoy what the Triple Crown has to offer.

Things to Know Before You Go

If you’re considering day-hiking or backpacking the Triple Crown, plan to:

  • Start your hike early. Parking lots fill quickly during the peak season.
  • Be challenged and know your limits. Each day hike covers five to eight miles with a minimum elevation gain of 1,500 feet. Triple Crown backpacking routes may feature up to 16-mile days, depending on your route.
  • Spend time doing careful, thorough route planning. Water sources and campsites may be few and far between.
  • Practice Leave No Trace, observe group size restrictions, and camp only in designated areas to help protect the trail and landscape.
Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

Day-Hiking to McAfee Knob

Start: McAfee Knob Parking Area
Round-Trip Distance: 7-8 miles, steep
Time: 4-5 hours
View Route

McAfee Knob is one of the area’s most photographed hiking destinations. It has also seen an exponential increase in visitation recently, making observing rules and Leave No Trace principles paramount. You’ll share the trail with others, but the overhanging cliffs and panoramic views will be worth it.

Start at the McAfee Knob Parking Area, cross VA 311, and pick up the white-blazed Appalachian Trail, heading north. Pass an information kiosk, wind through dense forests, and pass the Johns Spring Shelter (0.8 miles) and the Catawba Mountain Shelter (1.5 miles). As you continue to gain elevation on the AT, you’ll see signs for an overlook, and as you hike through, you’ll arrive at McAfee Knob. To return, retrace your steps on the AT or take the McAfee Knob Trail back down to the parking lot.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

Day-Hiking to Tinker Cliffs

Start: Andy Layne Trail Parking Lot
Round-Trip Distance: 7.5 miles, steep
Time: 4-5 hours
View Route

Tinker Cliffs offers beautiful creek crossings, panoramic valley views, and a trail section named after a 1980s incident called Scorched Earth Gap. It’s a tough, steep hike but absolutely worth the journey.

From the parking lot, follow the yellow-blazed Andy Layne Trail. Cross two bridges over Catawba Creek, avoid stepping in cow patties, and move through a gate (1.2 miles), which indicates passage onto private land. The remaining part of the Andy Layne Trail is steep; you’ll gain 900-plus feet of elevation before arriving at the white-blazed AT and Scorched Earth Gap. Turn right onto the AT, and then, you’ll come to the first good viewpoint (0.5 miles). Over the next quarter mile, take in the views along Tinker Cliffs. To go back, retrace your steps to the parking lot.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

Day-Hiking to Dragon’s Tooth

Start: Dragon’s Tooth Parking Lot
Round-Trip Distance: 5.7 miles, steep and technical
Time: 4 hours

Dragon’s Tooth is a giant, scraggly rock formation sticking out of Cove Mountain and the sand-covered land above the Catawba Valley. It’s the shortest of the three Triple Crown day hikes but by far the steepest, and it requires some hand-over-hand climbing and good balance.

From the parking lot, pick up the blue-blazed Dragon’s Tooth Trail, cross two small bridges, pass the yellow-blazed Boy Scout Connector Trail, and continue up. Here, climb steadily through dense tree cover, until you reach the intersection with the AT (1.4 miles). Then, turn right onto the AT. The next 0.7 miles cover extremely rocky terrain, including rock steps, two sets of iron rungs, and narrow sections just wide enough for two feet. As this portion eases, continue 0.3 miles to Dragon’s Tooth. To return, you have two options: Retrace your steps, or follow the AT north, turn left onto the Boy Scout Connector Trail, and catch the last bit of the Dragon’s Tooth Trail back to the parking lot.

Credit: Katie Levy
Credit: Katie Levy

Backpacking the Virginia Triple Crown

Start: McAfee Knob Parking Area
Type: Loop
Round-Trip Distance: 37 miles
Time: 3 days, 2 nights

If you’re a seasoned backpacker looking for a challenge, you can visit all three Triple Crown destinations in one trip. The recommended route is a loop, but it’s also possible to complete it via a point-to-point route along the AT. For the recommended loop, refer to this trip report and the following itinerary:

Day 1: 10.6 miles. Starting at the McAfee Knob parking lot, follow the AT north. Then, pass McAfee Knob, three AT shelters (Johns Spring, Catawba Mountain, and Campbell), and Scorched Earth Gap, and stay overnight at Lamberts Meadow Shelter.

Day 2: 15.5 miles. Retrace your steps 0.7 miles south on the AT to Scorched Earth Gap, and take the Andy Layne Trail down the valley. Pass through the Andy Layne Trail parking lot, cross the road, and hike up to North Mountain Trail (yellow blazes) via the Catawba Valley Trail (blue blazes). Come down North Mountain, cross VA 311, head through Dragon’s Tooth parking lot, and camp at the campsites off the Boy Scout Connector Trail.

Day 3: 9.6 miles. Leave your packs at the Boy Scout camp, and then, tag Dragon’s Tooth via the Dragon’s Tooth Trail. After you retrace your steps back to camp, pick up your backpacks, and take the Boy Scout Connector Trail to the AT. Follow the AT back to VA 311 and the McAfee Knob parking lot.

Have you done any of the Triple Crown destinations as day hikes, or done all three via a backpacking trip? We’d love to hear from you!


Top to Bottom: Gear to Hike the NH 48

Looking back on some of our early hikes together in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the first thing that sticks out is how much time we spent agonizing over the “right” gear to bring. Always packing at the last minute, we both had many late nights where we considered what to bring and what to leave behind. Indeed, questions like what layers we would need and how much emergency gear is too much kept us up way past our earlier bedtime and often resulted in packs that were bigger and heavier than they should have been.

These days, with many 4,000-footers under our belts, our process is much more dialed. Our packs, as a result, are a lot lighter and smaller. So, what’s our ideal kit for summer hiking in the White Mountains?

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Upper Body Layers

A long-sleeve, hooded sun shirt, like the Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody, is the staple of our kit. It’s no warmer than wearing a short-sleeve T-shirt, with the added benefit of keeping the sun off your arms and head. The long sleeves and hood also serve a second purpose during bug season.

Then, for layering over the sun shirt, we pack three additional layers: a windshirt, a lightweight rain shell, and a puffy.

The most versatile layer, the windshirt easily handles the Whites’ ever-changing weather. From lightweight, ultra-packable nylon versions like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite to more substantial woven jackets, such as the Outdoor Research Ferossi (also available in women’s sizes), these jackets take up minimal space and are perfect for hiking above treeline or if the temperature drops.

As staying dry is one of hiking’s central tenets, a good waterproof hard shell is vital. However, much like windshirts, shells vary in weight and durability. While an ultra-lightweight option like the Outdoor Research Helium Hybrid might be perfect for when you’re wearing a small pack or the chance of rain is slight, a more robust option made with heavier-duty nylon and high-end waterproofing like the Marmot Minimalist Jacket (also available in women’s sizes) makes more sense if the forecast looks wet.

A lightweight puffy, like the Arc’Terxy Atom SL Hoodie (available in women’s sizes), is the final upper body layer. Whether you’re waiting while your hiking partner gears-up in the parking lot, taking in the White Mountains’ fantastic views, or facing a real emergency, a good puffy can be the difference between feeling cozy and being miserable.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Lower Body Layers

When it comes to pants, we keep it pretty simple. A stretchy soft shell is our general go-to, but the exact weight depends on the forecast temperature. If only one pair is in the budget, check out the Marmot Scree—the perfect blend of comfort and durability. Plus, you can add a base layer underneath to adjust their warmth. With June being a fierce bug month, however, the one thing you won’t find us wearing is shorts.

If the weather looks wet, bring along a pair of rain pants, as well. Although the amount of time carrying rain pants far exceeds the time spent actually wearing them, we are always thankful to have them during a heavy rainstorm. Pick something like the EMS Thunderhead for the right amount of lightweight breathability, at a price that won’t break the bank.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Footwear & Trekking Poles

Picking the right footwear is one of the most complicated decisions for spring and early-summer hiking. On some trips, where encountering snow, deep mud, and wet trails is a real possibility, waterproof hiking boots are mandatory. As the snow melts, water crossings get less spicy, and the trails begin to dry, we transition to waterproof trail runners for their lighter weight and ability to provide some protection in muddy, wet conditions. And, as the trails dry further, you’ll find us wearing regular trail runners for the chance to let our feet breathe.

We also carry trekking poles to reduce the strain on our knees and improve balance. Warm-weather hikers will appreciate a pole with either cork or foam handles, like the Black Diamond Trail Pro, as they help absorb moisture from sweaty hands.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Hats & Gloves

With many of the White Mountains rising above treeline, the weather on your favorite summit can be starkly different from what you found in the parking lot. To prepare, we carry a winter hat, as having one can make the difference between enjoying a summit vista or scrambling back down to the trees.

For the same reasons, we also pack a pair of EMS Power Stretch Gloves. In the early spring, we often supplement them with a warmer set of gloves or mittens.

Finally, for sun and bug protection, the venerable trucker cap is a staple of almost every trip. With their mesh backs, truckers vent well, making them ideal for high-exertion activities.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Emergency Gear

When you pack for a day in the mountains, it’s fun to think about summits and good times. But, you should also take a minute to plan for the worst-case scenario. While packing the layers mentioned above checks off some of your essentials, and our guide helps you out with food and hydration, you still need a few more items.

A headlamp, like the powerful and rechargeable Black Diamond ReVolt, is important, just in case the hike is longer than expected. A lightweight bivy can be a lifesaver if someone gets injured and you need to wait for help. As well, a minimalist first aid kit, supplemented with other first aid supplies, helps address trail injuries. Additionally, fire starters, a water purification device like a Sawyer Mini-Filter or purification tablets, and a map and compass (or another navigational device) are all worth the extra weight.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Packs

Although this may seem like a lot of gear, it all fits neatly into a 20- to 30-liter pack. The Black Diamond Speed Series—especially the Speed 22—delivers the space you need in a lightweight, no-frills package. While it may be tempting to bring a larger bag, remember that you’ll end up filling that extra space, resulting in a heavier load, slower times, and maybe a missed summit.

 

Although not every item listed above is essential to hiking a New Hampshire 4,000-footer, having the right combination of layers, equipment, and emergency gear can make your experience safer and more enjoyable—not to mention more efficient. But, the best advice is to get outside and discover what works for you. If you have a key piece of hiking gear, tell us about it in the comments!


The Top 8 360-Degree Adirondack High Peak Views

You’ll see a lot of things from the top of an Adirondack High Peak—endless summits, gray slides scarring mountainsides, alpine lakes, and deep gouging passes. But, aside from the stray ski jump peaking up above the thick carpet of trees, one thing you won’t see much of is civilization. More than any other range in the Northeast, the Adirondacks are alone, set far away from the region’s cities and towns. As a result, this makes the views from these bare (or not) summits all that much better.

No two summits offer the same perspective, however, so which ones are the best? See them for yourselves below, and then, start planning your next hike to one of these high alpine islands.

1. Mount Colden

There’s no quick way to get to Mount Colden, but the longer hike definitely pays off. You’ll climb into the heart of the High Peaks Wilderness, an area completely surrounded by giant summits, including the state’s two highest—Marcy and Algonquin—directly east and west of you, respectively. Peer down into Avalanche Pass and Lake Colden, and then out to the Flowed Lands, located just north of the Hudson River’s beginning. The hike from the Adirondack Loj will take you past the former site of Marcy Dam, where a clearing offers views down Avalanche Pass as if it were a gunsight.

 

2. Mount Marcy

Not having anything above you definitely goes a long way to making a mountain’s views memorable. In New York, Mount Marcy is the place to do that. The summit is completely bare and rocky for a few hundred feet up, meaning absolutely nothing obstructs your view of just about all the other High Peaks. To the east, gaze 1,000 feet down into Panther Gorge and Mount Haystack beyond. Catch views of Lake Placid to the north, and the river valleys to the south. Plus, the hike via the Van Hoevenberg Trail offers a smattering of worthy views, like Marcy Dam and Indian Falls.

 

3. Gothics Mountain

The Great Range peaks make up a continuous line extending from Marcy and Haystack all the way into Keene Valley. Here, Gothics sits smack in the middle. The summit has the best views of the Upper Great Range, including Haystack, Basin, and Saddleback, all lining up and pointing to Marcy. The Dix Range dominates the southeast, and Big Slide’s bald face sits alone across the Johns Brook Valley. Hike it from the Ausable Club and past Beaver Meadow Falls.

 

4. Mount Skylight

Marcy’s next-door neighbor to the south, Skylight has similar panoramic views from its bald summit, with one notable addition—Marcy herself, rising from behind Lake Tear of the Clouds. For reference, this article’s header image was taken on Skylight at sunrise. You’re pretty close to the High Peaks’ southern edge, which means, as you’re looking out, the mountains slowly shrink away and give you great views of the Upper Hudson River Valley. Hike this one from Upper Works, tracing the Hudson River’s path to Lake Tear, the river’s highest source.

 

5. Cascade Mountain

Cascade is one of the Adirondacks’ most popular “first-timer” peaks, and for good reason. For starters, while it’s a relatively quick and easy hike up from Route 73, the views from the top are spectacular, making it one of the 46’s best bang-for-your-buck treks. The rocky summit lines up with the rest of the peaks to the south and Lake Placid and Whiteface just down the road to the north. Make it a two-fer by adding the less-impressive Porter Mountain to your itinerary.

 

6. Rocky Peak Ridge

In this area, Giant Mountain gets most of the attention. But, its smaller neighbor, Rocky Peak Ridge, has arguably better views. Unlike Giant, they’re nearly 360 degrees. Plus, the view of Giant itself is impressive. Look down toward Keene Valley with the Great Range beyond, or try to pick out the fire tower on Hurricane Mountain, located on the other side of Giant. The bummer is there’s no quick way to get here. So, climb over Giant and through the deep col between the two, or approach RPR from the ridge to the east—longer but with consistent views all the way to the top.

 

7. Algonquin Peak

From Algonquin, the state’s second-tallest mountain, the views of the Trap Dike and slides on Mount Colden dominate. Beneath that, Avalanche Pass and Lake Colden slice a deep gorge into the valley. Above Colden, Mount Marcy’s bare summit towers over everything, with the Great Range extending to the left. Algonquin is part of the four-peak chain known as the MacIntyre Range, and thus, you can also tag Wright and Algonquin in one long day, with views extending across all three summits. Keep in mind that the range’s final peak, Marshall, isn’t connected by the same ridgeline trail.

 

8. Whiteface Mountain

Far to the north, Whiteface offers a unique perspective of the region. Immediately south, scenic Lake Placid is laid out, surrounded by smaller mountains. Beyond that, the High Peaks’ center, a jumble of jagged summits, clusters together. The views here are so popular that a road goes up to the top. But, for a handful of viewpoints on the way up, hike it via Marble Mountain from the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center.


The Top 6 Summit Views in the New Hampshire 48

With almost 50 4,000-footers to choose from, picking out just a few with the best views can be as challenging as hiking them. No matter where you hike in the White Mountains, you’re in for a visual treat, but these six take the cake for the most impressive summit views. That is, if you can get up to them.

Easy Hikes

Looking towards Mt. Washington from Pierce. | Credit: Tim Peck
Looking toward Mt. Washington from Pierce. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Pierce

If you are looking for a big view, with a minimal investment in “sweat” equity, try Mount Pierce. It delivers the best view-to-effort ratio among New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers. Beginning from Route 302 in Crawford Notch, a little over three miles of hiking on the gentle (for the Whites) Crawford Path brings you to Mount Pierce’s stunning summit. With its almost 360-degree views, a lot can catch your eye. But, first, you’ll have to avert your gaze from the jaw-dropping perspective of Mount Washington’s southern aspect, the Ammonoosuc Ravine and the Cog Railway.

From Pierce’s summit, you can head back to Crawford Notch. Or, if you’re feeling fit, follow the Crawford Path for an additional 1.2 miles to Mount Eisenhower, another New Hampshire 4,000-footer with fantastic views. From Eisenhower, you can backtrack on Crawford Path or take the Edmands Path to Mount Clinton Road, and then road-walk back to Crawford Notch.

Franconia Ridge from Cannon. | Credit: Doug Martland
Franconia Ridge from Cannon. | Credit: Doug Martland

Cannon Mountain

Another moderate 4,000-footer with great views is Cannon Mountain. Located directly off Route 93, this 4.4-mile round-trip hike up the Hi-Cannon Trail gains approximately 2,000 feet on the way to one of the Whites’ best views.

Once you get to the top, climb the summit tower, and look east for a breathtaking vantage of the iconic Franconia Ridge. On a clear day, you can look past the ridge to see the Presidentials, including Mount Washington. To the south, you can see the Kinsmans and, to the west, the Connecticut River and Vermont’s Green Mountains.

On days when the tram is running, Cannon’s summit gets busy, however. Luckily, the Hi-Cannon Trail has a few great places to sit back and admire the view without the crowds along the way. Plus, you can poke around the summit’s Franconia Ridge side for slides offering solitude and stunning vistas.

 

Moderate Hikes

Franconia Ridge from Garfield. | Credit: Tim Peck
Franconia Ridge from Garfield. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Garfield

Most climb Garfield via the Garfield Trail, which starts at the Garfield Trail parking area off Gale River Loop Road. From the lot, it is five moderate miles to the foundation of an old fire tower on Garfield’s bald summit. From there, you can look out at the entire Pemi-Loop. Here, the distinct peaks of Franconia Ridge extend on your right and Twins and Bonds to your left. In the middle lies Owl’s Head and the eastern half of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. On clear days, don’t forget to look further east towards the Presidentials to find Mount Washington looming on the horizon.

If day-hiking 10 miles feels like too much effort, or if you like to linger, the Garfield Ridge campsite is only 0.2 miles from the summit. Stopping here makes this trip a little more accessible for those looking to step up the effort level or just wanting to take it slow.

Signal Ridge from Carrigan. | Credit: Tim Peck
Signal Ridge from Carrigain. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Carrigain

Another 10-mile out-and-back trip brings you to what many consider to the Whites’ best view, Mount Carrigain. Leaving from the parking lot on Sawyer Pond Road, off Route 302, hikers can follow the Signal Ridge Trail as it slowly gains altitude towards the 4,700-foot summit. As you approach, you’ll gain a ridge that meanders in and out of the trees. In between, a few spots give you a sneak peek of what’s to come. Forge past these appetizers to the main course, the observation tower on Carrigain’s summit.

From the tower, you’ll get an unimpeded view of many of the Whites’ most notable areas. To the northeast, you will see Mount Washington and the mighty Presidential Range with Crawford Notch laid out before it. To the west is a breathtaking view of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Look back toward Signal Ridge to get a great look at the terrain you covered to earn this dramatic view.

Then, after taking in some of the Whites’ hottest vistas, cool off in the numerous pools and eddies found along the river that hugs the Signal Ridge Trail for the first mile.

 

Difficult Hikes

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Bondcliff

If you’re looking to truly “earn” your views, Bondcliff and Madison are strenuous yet rewarding options. Of all the 4,000-footers, Bondcliff might be the best at making you truly feel like you’re in the mountains. With views in every direction and a sheer cliff on one side, it exemplifies the ideal summit. Although none of the hiking up is particularly difficult, there is a lot of it.

From the Lincoln Woods Visitor Information Center, follow the Wilderness Trail to the Bondcliff Trail roughly nine miles to the summit. Standing on the cliff’s side can give you the feeling that you’re on the edge of the world—that is, until you look out. Look to the west to clearly see the eternity of Franconia Ridge. Then, turn your gaze to the right, where the Pemigewasset Wilderness unfolds with the prominent peaks of Mount Bond and West Bond in the foreground and Mount Garfield looming in the background. Turn away from the cliff, and the Pemigewasset Wilderness’ entire western half dominates the landscape.

Mount Washington from Madison. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Washington from Madison. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Madison

For those willing to expend the effort, Mount Madison, located at the end of the Presidential Range, delivers big views after a heavy dose of hiking. While numerous trails lead to the summit, the most common, and perhaps “easiest” way, is to leave from the Appalachia Trailhead parking lot on Route 2. Then, follow the Valley Way Trail to the Madison Hut, before connecting with the Gulfside Trail for just under a half-mile above-treeline push to the top. Despite being under eight miles round trip, this route is rocky, rugged, and gains roughly 3,500 feet in elevation.

The summit delivers a dramatic view of the northern Presidentials and the three tallest 4,000-footers: Mount Jefferson, Mount Adams, and Mount Washington. From here, what’s always striking is the expansiveness and remoteness of the Great Gulf Wilderness—a glacial cirque walled off by the Presidentials’ prominent peaks.

If Mount Adams looks enticingly close, that’s because it is. At a little under a mile and a half away, tagging a second summit is very doable for fit and motivated hikers. For even more of a challenge, the Star Lake Trail, which leaves from Madison Hut, has much better views than Air Line, the normal thruway, and is among our favorite trails in the Whites. Farther down, the AMC’s Madison Hut can turn this long day hike into an enjoyable overnight, or provide the perfect place to stage a summit attempt on Mount Adams.

Honorable Mention

Limiting ourselves to the six “best” summit views forced us to leave several great 4,000-footers off our list. Fantastic cases can be made for others, including Moosilauke, Washington, and Franconia Ridge’s Lincoln and Lafayette. So, whether you agree with us or not, make your case for the Whites’ best views in the comments below.