5 Tips for Staying Comfortable Hiking in the Mud

Spring’s arrival is often a welcome change for the hikers, backpackers, and weekend warriors among us. It means that we can finally shed those cumbersome layers of wool and down, hit our favorite recently-thawed trails, and enjoy some warm weather for the first time in months. But, with spring comes mud, and a lot of it.

Hiking through the mud presents a unique challenge. Not only can it be exceedingly uncomfortable to trudge through ankle-deep puddles, but it can also increase your risk of injury and have a disastrous impact on the trail itself. Thus, it’s important to know how to responsibly and safely enjoy a springtime trail. Here are a few hacks to make sure you’re maximizing fun and minimizing impact during your mud season adventures.

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1. Bring the Proper Footwear and Clothing

And, make sure you don’t mind it getting soaked and dirty. Springtime hiking might not be the time to break in your brand-new boots, unless you know how to maintain them, as muddy conditions can potentially damage your footwear. Instead, reach for an older, sturdy waterproof pair that you’re not as concerned about potentially wrecking. In addition, it’s always a smart idea to invest in some high, water-resistant gaiters to keep mud and water from seeping in. You always want to keep your feet dry and comfortable when you’re hiking, especially when you’re walking through the cold spring slush.

Footwear aside, you’ll want to wear a good, sturdy pair of hiking pants that can stand up to the elements and have a water-resistant finish to keep the mud from caking on your legs. You’ll likely be getting a little wet, so look for pants that are made of a quick-drying fabric, like EMS’ Men’s True North Pants, to keep you comfortable on the trails. A moisture-wicking hiking shirt and waterproof top are always a safe bet, too.

2. Carry Trekking Poles and Mind Your Footing

Anybody who’s descended a steep, muddy trail knows how quickly your feet can fly out from underneath you without warning. Not only does a slick trail increase the chances of an embarrassing (and wet) fall, it also heightens your risk for a potential injury. For this reason, it’s important to use trekking poles for the added stability and traction they provide. Even if you’re not otherwise a big fan of trekking poles, bring them on muddy hikes. They help you keep your balance, minimize slips, and prevent falling altogether on a precarious descent.

On the topic of footing, it’s a good idea to make sure your shoes are tied snug—ever had a boot stuck in the mud and then tried to pull it out?—and to keep a close eye on where you’re stepping. Walk using smaller strides than you normally would to help maintain balance and keep sliding to a minimum. If there is any ice remaining on the trail, you should bring your MICROspikes, just in case. Also, when hiking in the mud, you should try to go at a slower pace than you normally would. In these conditions, being deliberate and mindful of your footing benefits you more than speed.

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3. Muddy Trails are Susceptible to Erosion, So Stick to the Middle

Once the winter snowpack has melted, trails are at their soggiest and most saturated. As a result, they are more vulnerable than ever to serious erosion damage. For this reason, it’s super important that you stay on the trail’s center and tread as lightly as possible. It can certainly be tempting to walk on the trail’s edges, or off it entirely, in order to go around that large puddle blocking your way. But, doing so would widen and erode the trail. So, do the right thing, and stay on the trail regardless. If you’ve heard or read that a trail is in particularly rough shape in the springtime, consider hiking elsewhere, until the ground has hardened up a bit.

In addition to sticking to the center of the treadway, do your best to step onto rocks whenever possible. Stepping from rock to rock helps minimize trail damage—not to mention, it keeps your footwear dry and in better condition. The conscious springtime hiker will always understand that the muddiest trails are also the most fragile.

4. Consider the Time of Day and Weather

Springtime is known for its fickle weather. Although temperatures can become warm during the day, evenings and nights can still get very cold—occasionally dropping below freezing. This means that the trail is likely going to be softer around midday and will be at its firmest early in the morning and later in the evening.

During mud season, always be aware of these temperature changes. You may want to plan for an early morning hike, as opposed to one in the late afternoon. The trail will be firmer, making for a less messy and more comfortable experience. Time of day aside, you’ll also want to keep a close eye on the weather forecast beforehand. A steady rain can turn an already-muddy trail into a Slip ‘N Slide. If it looks like it’s going to pour, it might not be a bad idea to reschedule your hike for a sunnier day.

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5. Plan for the Post-Hike

One of the best ways to make hiking in the mud a favorable experience is to know exactly what you’re going to do once you’re done. For starters, you should always bring clean socks, extra shoes, and dry clothes to change into after. Seriously, there’s no better feeling than getting off the trail and having warm, fresh clothes and footwear to put on. Conversely, there’s no worse feeling than a soggy drive home. It’s also important to think about where you’re going to put your soaking wet, mud-caked boots and clothes when you get back to the car. Keep plastic garbage bags handy, or use a tarp to line the trunk as you put them away.

When you get home, wash your muddy clothes right away to prevent further damage and mildew from building. And, even though it might not be fun, remember to thoroughly clean your footwear! Leaving the mud on can dry out the fibers, cause cracking, and ruin your footwear’s weatherproofing altogether. Take care of these post-hike essentials, and you’ll be ready to go for next time.


Alpha Guide: Mount Mansfield

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Hike up Vermont’s tallest peak, scramble along an alpine ridge, and bask in 360-degree views, all on an ascent of Mount Mansfield via a section of the Long Trail, the U.S.’s oldest long-distance hiking trail.

The Green Mountain State delivers on this must-do hike up one of the state’s five 4,000-footers. A roughly five-mile out-and-back trip along Vermont’s most-famous footpath, the Long Trail, gains 3,000 feet in elevation on the way to the state’s highest peak. The journey begins by wandering through an idyllic hardwood forest, and eventually earns an extraordinary alpine ridge that delivers you to a rocky New England summit—one of only three places in the state to find alpine tundra. As you take in the views of Lake Champlain, mountain ranges in three states (the Greens, the Whites, and the Adirondacks), and, to the north, Canada, you’ll quickly discover what the Von Trapps meant when they sang, “The hills are alive…”

Quick Facts

Distance: 5 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half day
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery: ★★★★


Season: May through October
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://bit.ly/2GxSR87 

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Turn-By-Turn

When viewed at a distance, Mansfield’s elongated ridgeline resembles a human head, with the various high points named for facial features: the Forehead, Nose, Chin, and Adam’s Apple. The most straightforward way to get to the true summit, the Chin, follows the Long Trail South’s white rectangular blazes beginning on Mountain Road (Route 108).

From Burlington, take Route 89 south to exit 10 for VT-100 South towards Waterbury US-2. Follow this a short way, before turning on VT-100 North. Continue on VT-100 North for just under 10 miles, and take a left on VT-108 North/Mountain Road. After you drive approximately nine miles, the parking lot will be on your right.

If you’re coming from Stowe, there’s a small parking lot on the left side of Route 108, just after Stowe Mountain Resort. Since the lot is small and easy to miss, pay close attention after the resort. If you begin driving uphill on Route 108 into Smugglers’ Notch, turn around; you’ve gone too far.

Once you’ve geared up, walk on Route 108 back toward Stowe Mountain Resort. The trail starts at a break in the trees (44.537126, -72.790910) about 50 yards down the road. Look for an information board and trail marker a short way into the woods.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Getting Started

The hike begins on relatively smooth trail through a hardwood forest. It is well marked and easy to follow. It also starts climbing almost immediately, which is no surprise, considering the trail gains 3,000 feet in a little over two miles and occasionally crosses some small streams.

Around the one-mile mark, the trail becomes rockier, climbing up short, slabby sections. The footing here is not quite as good, but nothing out of the ordinary for anybody who’s climbed some of the Northeast’s 4,000-footers. Trekking poles are helpful.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Taft Lodge

Just past the 1.5-mile mark is the Taft Lodge (44.542551, -72809568), the oldest hut on Vermont’s Long Trail. For a moderate fee, hikers can stay here overnight either on the way to the summit or as part of a longer outing. The lodge, built in the 1920s and recently renovated, sleeps up to 24 and has outhouses and a water source nearby.

Whether you’re day-hiking or backpacking, Taft Lodge is on Vermont’s Register of Historic Places and worth visiting, even if only to have a snack. And, because the lodge is near treeline, it’s also a great place to assess whether you’ll need to add a layer (or two).

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Ridgeline Push

From Taft Lodge, stay on the Long Trail South and continue climbing toward the ridgeline. The trail above the lodge remains rocky, offering hikers regular glimpses of Mansfield’s ridgeline through the thinning tree cover. There are also a few spots to turn around and look south, with Stowe in the foreground and the Green Mountains in the distance. If you’re out of breath due to the elevation gain, spend a few moments trying to spot the unmistakable double-bumped alpine ridgeline of Camel’s Hump, another of Vermont’s classic alpine summits.

In one-third of a mile, the Long Trail South reaches the col between the Chin (the true summit) and the Adam’s Apple. Here, the Hell Brook Trail and the Adam’s Apple Trail join the Long Trail. Since the junction (44.545639, -72.811772) is moderately sheltered, it’s a great spot to add an extra layer before popping further above treeline.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Ridgeline

From the junction, the Long Trail South makes a sharp left, climbing the ridge toward Mansfield’s proper summit, the Chin. This section is open and exposed to the elements. If wind is coming from the west, this will be the first time you feel it.

Near the top of the summit cone, there are a few short-but-exposed sections that require scrambling and careful footwork. As you ascend, try to memorize the hand and foot holds for the descent.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Summit

Mansfield’s summit is a large, flat alpine area that offers plenty of room to spread out. So, find a rock, sit back, and enjoy the broad, open summit (44.5430453, -72.815436) and incredible 360-degree views. Looking west, hikers can see Burlington and Lake Champlain, with New York’s Adirondacks in the distance. To the north is Canada! In the distance to the east are New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Finally, the Green Mountains spill out to the south.

Mount Mansfield is home to 200 acres of alpine tundra, and is one of only three places in the state of Vermont where it is found (Camel’s Hump and Mount Abraham being the other two). In addition to its rarity, alpine tundra is also very fragile and susceptible to human impact. Because of this, please stay on the rocks and in the designated paths when traveling above treeline.

Whenever you can pull yourself away from the summit, just retrace your steps to your car, first by taking the Long Trail North to the clearing. Use particular caution on the exposed portions of the ridge, as they can be harder during the descent. Once you’re back at the junction, continue on the Long Trail to Route 108.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Bonus Points

Hikers not ready to return to their car can make a short (five- to 10-minute) detour from the col to the Adam’s Apple (44.546573, -72.810353). The Adam’s Apple Trail offers great views of the Chin and Mansfield’s other features and is usually much less crowded than the Chin. Since it is also slightly less exposed to the weather, it’s a worthwhile objective if conditions put the true summit out of reach.

A longer detour—and one that requires pre-trip car shuttling or a short road march at the end— is to continue on the Long Trail South from the Chin, crossing all of Mansfield’s features. Over 1.5 miles of ridgeline hiking, you’ll pass the Lower Lip, the Upper Lip, the Mount Mansfield Peak Visitor Center, the parking lot for the Mount Mansfield Toll Road, and, finally, the Nose. From the Nose, hikers can head back to the Visitor Center, and then descend a short way on the Toll Road to link up with Haselton Trail, which ends at the base area of Stowe Mountain Resort. Alternately, arrange to have somebody pick you up at the top of the Toll Road.

Pro Tip: If you do decide to hike the full ridgeline and the weather turns, the Cliff Trail is an early option for bailing out. Connecting with the Long Trail just before the Lower Lip, it descends to Stowe’s Cliff House, near the top of Stowe’s Gondola SkyRide. From there, hikers can follow a marked access road or ski trails to the base area.


Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Kit

  • Traction is at a premium on the exposed sections of Mansfield’s ridgeline. The Asolo Fugitive (Men’s) and Revert (Women’s) are longtime favorites.
  • Lightweight and packable, a windshirt is ideal for any trip above treeline. The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded Jacket (Men’s/Women’s) is perfect for handling the ridgeline’s variable conditions, and much like Vermont’s craft brews, it has developed a cult-like following over the years.
  • A puffy coat is great for cool mornings and cold summits, and is handy to have in case of an emergency. The EMS Alpine Ascender Stretch is a great winter midlayer that’s breathable enough to be worth stuffing in your pack for cool spring and summer days.
  • One minute it’s sunny, and the next, you’re stuck in a downpour. Green Mountain weather can change in a heartbeat, so be ready with the EMS Thunderhead, a reliable and affordable way to ensure you stay dry on your summit bid.
  • In the spirit of the state of Vermont, consider a pair of locally sourced socks from Darn Tough, made in nearby Northfield. Living up to their name, these socks come with a lifetime guarantee.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Keys to the Trip 

  • Depending on the season, you might encounter a Green Mountain Club caretaker at the Taft Lodge. They’re all super nice and great resources for trail information.
  • Vermont takes sustainability seriously when it comes to its trails, so get out before the snow melts, or wait until Memorial Day weekend to climb this ultra-classic mountain.
  • Celebrate a successful summit day at Doc Ponds in Stowe. The bar is packed with Vermont’s best beers (Hill Farmstead, Lawson’s Finest, and Foley Brothers, just to name a few), and the homemade onion dip with housemade BBQ chips is not to be missed.
  • Vermont’s repuation for great beer is well deserved. Since you’re so close, Alchemist Beer’s brewery in Stowe is a must-visit. And, don’t forget to bring your cooler, in case you decide to pick up some souvenirs to bring home!
  • If you’re spending the weekend exploring Vermont, make sure to check out our guides to Exploring Burlington Like a Local and hiking Camel’s Hump.
  • If you’re looking for a great place to camp, the Smugglers’ Notch State Park is just a few minutes away from Stowe Mountain Resort. Sites book well in advance for popular weekends, so make your reservations early.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked Mount Mansfield recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


Maintaining Your Waterproof Shoes and Boots

Investing in a good pair of waterproof hiking boots or sneakers is a smart move. After all, your feet are in almost constant contact with the ground and elements while you’re walking or running. Getting them dirty is part of the adventure, a rite of passage even. But, did you realize you should be putting in some routine maintenance to preserve the waterproofness and materials? Mud can degrade leather by removing moisture, and leftover dirt and sand can actually break down shoe materials through constant friction while you walk. Don’t stress, though. A few minutes can go a long way in extending your shoes’ useful lifespan.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Cleaning Your Footwear

It’s important to keep your shoes clean and free of mud and debris. If you’re like most hikers, you probably change out of those squishy and smelly boots at the trailhead and stuff them in a plastic bag to be forgotten about in the trunk of your car. As tired as you might be after an epic hike or long run, it’s important to not let them sit for more than a day or two.

What you’ll need: water, a vegetable brush and/or toothbrush, and a mild soap or cleaner, like NIKWAX Footwear Cleaning Gel

How To: Begin by removing the insoles and laces. Next, clap your boots together or against a hard surface outside to remove any caked-on muck and stones or gravel that may be lodged in the treads. If sticky gunk like sap is an issue, throw them in the freezer to harden it, and then pry it off with a dull knife. Next, rinse them thoroughly with water while using a brush to scrub grime out of the tough spots. You can use a bit of soap or cleaning gel, but no harsh detergents that may damage boot materials. For extra-stinky boots, use a 1:2 mixture of vinegar and water. If you encounter dusty or sandy trails, use a vacuum with the hose attachment to remove the fine particles from both the outside and inside of your boot. Lastly, don’t neglect your shoes’ soles. Make sure to thoroughly clear them of trapped debris to ensure optimal traction and to prevent breakdown of the rubber.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Conditioning Your Leather Footwear

Full-grain leather, which looks smooth, is the only leather that requires conditioning. In turn, doing so keeps the material soft and pliable, which then prevents cracking.

What you’ll need: cloth and leather conditioner (NO oils like mink) like NIKWAX Leather Conditioner

How To: Leather conditioner is typically applied to dry boots, but check the manufacturer’s instructions first. Apply a generous but sensible amount of conditioner. While the conditioner helps keep the leather soft, too much can reduce the support the boot should provide. Use a damp cloth to remove excess, and buff to polish.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Protect and Waterproof Your Footwear

Luckily, you don’t need to re-waterproof your boots or sneakers after every use. You’ll know it’s time when water droplets no longer bead on the surface and, instead, are readily absorbed into the material.

What you’ll need: Waterproof wax or application like NIKWAX Waterproofing wax

How To: Begin with clean, wet boots with water fully soaked into the material. Generally, you’ll apply the waterproof agent, let it sit for a few minutes, and then, wipe away any excess, but be sure to follow the directions on the packaging. Waterproofing agents come in various forms, such as creams that get dabbed and liquids that get sprayed on.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Drying and Storing Your Footwear

It’s important to let your boots dry thoroughly to prevent mold from forming and materials from breaking down. A low-humidity environment is key, and you can speed up the process by using a fan or boot dryer or stuffing newspaper in each shoe. However, be sure to steer clear of heat, including fireplaces, which can damage materials and weaken adhesives. Dry the insoles separately, and do not put them back into the boot until both are completely dry. Then, store the boots in a well-ventilated area, and avoid garages and attics, both of which are notoriously damp and hot.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

When Should I Retire My Footwear?

If you keep up on shoe maintenance, they’ll last forever, right? Not quite. So, how do you know when to toss ‘em? The number of miles a pair boots or sneakers has traveled can be a decent rule of thumb. You can expect hiking boots to get between 500 to 1,000 miles, while running shoes can typically see between 300 to 500 miles. These large ranges account for the many variables that cause wear and tear, such as ground surface and conditions. Visually inspect your shoes every so often for frayed, cracking, or separating materials. Cracking of the sole, compression lines, and worn treads also clearly indicate you’re due for some new kicks. Also, pay attention to your body. If your feet or joints hurt sooner or worse than usual or if you’re starting to get “hot spots,” it’s probably time to retire your boots.

 

Taking a little bit of time to care for and maintain your waterproof footwear ultimately prolongs its use. Following these basic steps will have you and your boots on the trail to happiness for years to come!


In Defense of the Backyard

We woke up early. Grudgingly. Even the worst of sleeping bags and hardest of ground feel warm and inviting at 5 a.m. Slowly, we stirred and dragged ourselves out of the tents. The fire had died and needed relighting, but a short while later, we were gorging ourselves on pancakes, eggs, and bacon, laughing, hollering, and enjoying a morning outside to the fullest. Stories were shared, most of them well-rehearsed classics and a few untried. We were a rowdy bunch, no doubt, but who would complain? No one could hear us but the birds and squirrels and maybe a few larger creatures.

The earliest rays of light began to cut through the trees, nagging and prodding us to be on our way. We packed up only what was needed and set off, leaving the bulk of the load behind and carrying only some water, a few snacks, and maybe a light jacket. We weren’t going far. Our gear would forgive us for this brief time apart.

The going is slow, as are most things before the sun rises. We trudge along without saying much—just listening. But, just as the trek begins to feel strenuous, it ends.

Our destination isn’t new. We’ve all been here at least a dozen times. It’s a summertime favorite: a small cascade that some go so far as to call a waterfall. At the bottom, the water is just deep enough to take a dip. There’s hardly enough room to truly swim but plenty to submerge and refresh—our shower for the day. We spend a few hours, kicking back and enjoying the scenery and good company. Eventually, one of us is forced to check the time, confirming what we all feared. We grab our things and head back to our camp.

We broke down camp while cursing our office obligations. Bags are packed poorly, carried the stones-throw distance back to cars, and tossed in with loving neglect. Our retreat, grand as it may have been, had an expiration date, which we surely exceeded by a healthy margin. Everyone heads off in their own direction, to work or other commitments. It’s nearly 9 o’clock, Wednesday morning, and we’re all late for work.

Our retreat, grand as it may have been, had an expiration date, which we surely exceeded by a healthy margin.

We hadn’t gone very far. We didn’t reach a 4,000-, 3,000-, or even 2,000-foot peak—or any summit, for that matter. None of us were more than 20 minutes from home. Some of us were biking- or even walking-distance from our own back doors. Zero out of 10 doctors recommend the amount of sleep we got, and caffeine was necessary to get through work the next day. Regardless, that night and the following morning became one of my favorite adventures. It was small, without much planning and nearly no investment, but served its purpose. The work week seemed a little less daunting, and the weekend not so far away. Our only cost was breakfast, the total hike was a mile at most, the travel time measured in minutes, and no time was taken off from work.

This is not to say that there’s anything wrong with traveling: You should every chance you get. There isn’t anything wrong with week-long trips, either: That’s the perfect length in my mind. Finally, this isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with peak bagging. In fact, I race to the Adirondacks and White Mountains every chance I get.

A bed of pine needles may not cradle you like your memory foam mattress, but the night-sky promises better dreams than your ceiling.

But, in the age of social media, it can be easy to think that you need to tour a national park to enjoy the outdoors. Your Facebook and Instagram feeds are filled with photos of expensive trips in far-off places. That friend you haven’t talked to since high school now lives on the slopes of the Rockies. Your uncle takes his old RV across the country each summer. A coworker runs up a mountain before work and comes in with a fresh kale smoothie. That girl you met that one time that seems to know everybody is somewhere new every single month, and we’re all wondering how she can afford it.

You don’t need to travel far to get outside, or weeks off at a time to do so. You don’t need to be a superhuman, or to be rich to catch a sunrise. From what I hear, it’s the same sun no matter where you go.

Credit: Luke Brown

Just get out. There are plenty of incredible places only a short drive from home. How many sites do you drive by twice a day, reminding yourself to check it out some time? You’ve lived in the same town for years: How many of its mundane trails or public park loops have you roamed? If you only have a few hours, take a quick walk in the woods. It’ll do you more good than a few hours in front of a screen. A bed of pine needles may not cradle you like your memory foam mattress, but the night-sky promises better dreams than your ceiling. If you can’t walk very far, who says you need to go for miles? If you work all day, buy a headlamp, and own the night. Not every day needs to feature a life-list objective, if your life is already filled with everyday objectives.


The Day I Thought I Might Die

Zack asked me a pretty interesting question for the video this morning: “Are you scared?”

My answer was a bit of a surprise to me, but it would be the same as I write this now.

I’m not scared for me, per se. I’m not scared of getting sick, getting cold, getting blisters, or getting hit by a rock slide. I’m not scared of dying, not because the odds of summiting are low, and certainly not because I welcome death.

I’m afraid of failure. Not failing the summit. Who gives a crap? Four days ago, I spent an entire day with kids battling terminal illness. They are fighting for their lives, their families by their side.

I’m fighting for, all things considered, a fairly meaningless accomplishment. We’ll have about 20 porters carrying our stuff and setting up camps, and a guide to lead the way.

This isn’t chemotherapy. It’s not close.

I’m at ease about maybe not getting to the summit. Once my feet hit the trail tomorrow, I only have two options: up or down. I can’t control AMS, HAPE, or HACE, so I’m not afraid of them.

I’m afraid of letting my team down—this team with me and my Flowfold team back home. I’m afraid I pushed the limits of the crew with a 5.5-day ascent. I just don’t want to let anyone down. That’s really all I’m worried about.

Because that I can control.

Other than removing and cleaning up a few swear words (I apparently curse like a pirate when fatigued and stressed), this is verbatim from my journal, written during the trip. What you see below is exactly what I was thinking and feeling along the seven-day journey atop Mt. Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest free-standing mountain.

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

Sunday, March 4, 7:04 p.m.

High Camp, 12,539 feet

I thought I might die today.

But, I’ll get to that. Let’s start here: I summited. 19,341 feet. Check.

As predicted, I couldn’t sleep. At 10:30 p.m. last night, I took all my summit clothes that I had packed a few hours before and put them in my sleeping bag. I spooned them for about 15 minutes to get them warmed up. I got changed, packed up, and met the team for some tea, and we started our summit push around midnight.

It was a full moon but cloudy, so we went slow, working step by slow step under headlamps until around 6:30 a.m. By that time, we were meaningfully higher than we’ve ever been (I’d assume near 18,000 feet) but still hours away from the summit. It was right around then that I started to get emotional.

It had been a cold and dreadfully slow 6.5 hours, but the conditions were tough, and the mountain demanded difficulty. My toe warmers felt frozen at this point and may have been working against me. I was cold, very cold. But, as light started to hit the horizon, I turned behind me to see our porters lending a hand to other members of the Flowfold team by carrying their bags (on top of their own bags, mind you). They were holding the struggling climbers by the arms, encouraging them and even singing to them. I was blown away by the showcase of human spirit.

Although I had no signs of AMS [acute mountain sickness], several on the team were pushing themselves beyond the limits that any of us thought possible. It was was gut wrenching and heart warming at the same time. My heart broke for a member of our team who had to turn back. She fought so hard. Harder than anything I’ve ever seen in my life. I am amazed by her as I write this. But, the mountain was not worth her life. It was the right decision for her to turn back. It was a brave decision. Without the guides, I think two other climbers would have likely turned back with her. I’m not a spiritual person, but the guides were angels for us that day—myself included, as I would later find out.

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

We continued to climb on well into the morning, until we reached Stella Point (18,885 feet). Although not the summit, this is effectively when the push is over. We had been told that it was just a short trek to Uhuru Peak, the true summit at 19,341 feet, and that Stella Point was the real challenge and even had the better views.

The views didn’t matter much. We summitted Uhuru in a whiteout and could basically only see the person’s heels in front of us. We all completely broke down in tears at this point. Zack was trying to interview me, but I was sobbing too hard to actually say anything. All I was able to get out was, “I’m just so proud of the team.” Then, I saw Matt crest the summit, porters by his side and Jerald, our head guide, singing to him. I walked over to him and embraced him with Chris and Adam. We stood there, holding Matt, all crying as he just kept on saying, “This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” I will never, in my life, forget this moment. I really hope Zack got it all on camera.

Up until this point, my climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro had been comparatively and relatively easy. But, I did not escape her without my own hardship. Ironically, everything went bad for me after I summited.

We took pictures at the summit but started heading down as quickly as we could. Conditions were worsening, and the normal six- to seven-hour summit push had taken us over 10. It was late to be on the summit, and we needed to get down, quickly.

I didn’t have goggles (the rainy season had come early, and no one was expecting conditions like this) and had to wear sunglasses to protect my eyes from the blinding snow. But, because of that, I couldn’t wear my balaclava to protect my face. My sunglasses would fog up, leaving me blind. So, I had to decide: Do I protect my eyes or my face?

“Luckily” for me, I had sort of prepared for this. I had purchased a specific type of sunscreen designed for high-altitude mountaineering. It was supposed to shield my face from the sun and wind. The wind was sending snow directly into our faces at this point. It was unrelenting. So, I lathered my face and lips with the sunscreen. A thick coat. In a twisted case of irony, I had saved this sunscreen for this very moment. I hadn’t tested it before. This could have cost me my life.

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

As I started walking back down towards Stella Point, I made it about 200 feet before my lips and face started to burn. And, then, my eyes started to water. And, then, my face started to swell up. I didn’t know what was happening, but when both of my index fingers (the fingers used to put the sunscreen on my face) became red and burned like my mittens were an oven, I knew I was in trouble. I knew I was having a reaction to the sunscreen. I’m on top of a mountain at this point, 19,000 feet up, and when my lips started to swell up, I thought I might actually die. In my mind, I just assumed my throat was next or my eyes would swell up, and I wouldn’t get off the mountain.

Remember when I said there was something spiritual about Jerald? I don’t really understand this next part, but here goes. Jerald was never around me during this hike. He was always helping other people. I was in good shape for the whole hike, so he didn’t need to pay attention to me. But, as soon as I realized I was in trouble, I got myself off the trail. I took off my hat and my gloves, and I used the rest of the water to wash my face.

I used my hat to wipe off as much sunscreen as I could, but I didn’t have a towel or any wipes or anything, and it all still burned. My lips were still swollen, and I was still terrified. Then, out of nowhere, Jerald appears with a full jar of Vaseline. A whole thing of it. What was he doing with that on a summit day? I lathered it all over my face, and the burning and swelling started to go down. My heart rate relaxed, and I continued onto Stella Point.

But, I wasn’t out of the hot water yet. Not even close. It’s hard to describe Kilimanjaro. She was mean. She was equal parts stunning and wicked. Beautiful and conniving. It was freezing cold, windy, and snowing on the way up to the summit. But, here I am, 19,000 feet up, having an allergic reaction to sunscreen, and the weather turns. From Stella Point on, from about 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., it was the hottest I’ve ever felt in my life. I cannot describe just how uncomfortable it was. All of us took every layer off. Long johns, fleeces, hats, and gloves, it all came off. There was this strange haziness everywhere. You couldn’t see without your glasses on.

I couldn’t see the sun, but it was the brightest day I’ve ever seen. It was blinding, and we were completely exposed. We were prepared for bone-chilling cold. We didn’t have bandanas or flat-brimmed hats on us. We were on the trail roasting, for over three hours with no shade anywhere. We were 18,000 feet up. Trees don’t live up there. To make matters worse, my face was covered in Vaseline. As I write this, my lips are swollen, and I’m in a tremendous amount of pain. I’ve been told I don’t look good. I don’t know what I’ll look like in the morning or whether or not I’ll need medical attention. I’m in rough shape and I’m scared.

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

Monday, March 5, 6:04 p.m.

Aishi Machame Hotel

I don’t think I need medical attention. My lips feel like they have a mix of chemical burn and sunburn on them and are extremely painful. But, I was able to shower and wash my face off. At this point, the swelling has gone down, and I’m no longer dealing with the allergic reaction. I simply have to deal with the burn. I have the feeling it’s going to be an uncomfortable few days flying home.

I’ve had a little time to reflect at this point, and the overwhelming feeling I have now is gratitude. I’m about to go have our last dinner with the team, and I’m so grateful for them. I’m so proud of them. They all fought so hard. I’m likely done documenting at this point and plan to soak up any time I have left with the team.

Bottom line, we survived, and this has been the single greatest accomplishment of my life.

Time to go home.

 

Editor’s Note: James Morin is the COO and President of Sales at Flowfold. This post has been excerpted from his blog post documenting the climb. Read the full post here

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

Alpha Guide: MacIntyre Range in Winter

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Get views for days on this three-peak traverse that includes the Adirondacks’ second-tallest.

The MacIntyre Range has it all: stiff climbs, a frozen waterfall, scrambling, and more than enough incredible views to keep you enjoying it from the second you step on the trail to the moment you return to the parking lot. While it’s certainly not the longest hike out there, the elevation gain you’ll have to tackle over this chain of three High Peaks makes you really feel like you’re earning the 360-degree views that await you on each exposed summit.

Winter daylight is fleeting, and temperatures on summits often reach well into the negatives. But, the sharp contrasts in the sights of the surrounding mountains and lakes make this a unique experience in the winter. Sunrises and sunsets in the spring, summer, and fall are always wonderful, but ones in winter tend to be a little more colorful due to the ice crystals in the air. Inversions, too, are more common, as clouds hang low over bodies of water after being heated from the day before. Summer rock-scrambling sections become a little easier with the packed-down snow. Overall, this route has an incredible amount of long, steep stretches that are practically designed for butt-sledding, thus making it the perfect winter day hike.

Quick Facts

Distance: 10.6 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★


Season: November through April
Fees/Permits: $10 parking at Heart Lake ($5 for ADK Members)
Contact: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/9164.html 

Download

Turn-By-Turn

The trailhead for the MacIntyre Range is the same one you use for Marcy, Phelps, and Table Top, starting on the Van Hoevenberg Trail as it leaves the High Peaks Information Center (HPIC) parking lot on Adirondack Loj Road (44.183061, -73.963870).

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.

Credit: Francis Willis
Credit: Francis Willis

Stepping into Nature

After signing the trail register at the eastern end of the parking lot, follow the Van Hoevenberg Trail for approximately 1 mile. The Van Ho Trail, here, is unique, as it is well-marked with blue DEC trail markers and well-traveled by hikers. It also crosses many oft-traveled cross-country ski trails, identifiable by their wooden signs. A favorite trail you will cross is the Fangorn Forest Trail, named after a location in the Lord of the Rings series. After a mile, you will reach a junction (44.172403, -73.958979) where the Van Ho Trail connects with the Algonquin Trail. Here, the Van Hoevenberg Trail breaks left, but you should continue straight ahead, onto the Algonquin Trail.

Credit: Francis Willis
Credit: Francis Willis

The Thigh-Burning Begins

The real work begins after the junction. Continue to follow the Algonquin Trail, where you’ll steadily gain elevation as you twist and turn your way through the range’s foothills. Expect to slow down considerably here, as there are some notoriously steep parts. After approximately two miles of following the path through the trees, you’ll find yourself at MacIntyre Brook. Here, there is a beautiful waterfall to your left, called MacIntyre Falls (44.159344, -73.979633).

Continue along the trail as you gain more elevation. Between MacIntyre Falls and the next junction, a few treacherous sections ice over early in the winter season and stay that way until the spring thaw turns the ice to rivulets of water flowing through the rock. Be prepared to use your feet, hands, and wits in order to find the safest way to traverse these sections. Oftentimes, you will be able to see the path that hikers before you took and can get some insight into how to proceed safely.

After these sections, you will reach a small, unofficial junction. Here, some people branch off to the west to climb a small shoulder of Wright, affectionately nicknamed “Rong.” After this small junction, continue following the Algonquin Trail to reach the Algonquin/Wright junction (44.152531, -73.985754).

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Heading the Wright Way

At this junction, many people will often leave their packs as they take the left fork and head up the 0.4-mile trail to Wright’s summit (44.151635, -73.979473), itself quick but steep (0.8 miles, 500′ elevation gain) and great for butt-sledding back down. However, only take this route if you are experienced and prepared enough to handle any accidents, should something happen between the junction and the summit. Wright’s summit is open and offers amazing views of the park, especially when you look toward the northeastern face of Algonquin. Also, be prepared for winds, as strong gusts often buffet the exposed summit, regardless of the season. You’ll have great views of Heart Lake down below, and if you look to the northeast, you’ll see Whiteface rising into the sky all by itself, creating an impressive silhouette.

After leaving the treeline and heading to the summit, be sure to keep your eyes out for any kind of debris. In 1962, a B-47 plane crashed on the mountain, and the impact threw its parts all over and around the summit. Today, much of it is still readily visible.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Short and Steep to the Summit

After returning to the Algonquin Trail junction, make a left and begin the final ascent to Algonquin’s summit (44.143693, -73.986437). This section is undoubtedly the toughest you will encounter all day. Particularly, slick, packed-down snow and ice make the hike’s 28-percent grade (0.7 miles, 1050′ elevation) far more difficult. After climbing steadily through the trees, leave the treeline, and follow the highly visible, human-sized cairns that mark the official path to the summit. Even in winter, you’ll want to stay on the trail, because any step on snow covering the fragile alpine vegetation can still do serious damage.

From Algonquin’s open summit, you get amazing views of nearly every High Peak, including everything from Whiteface to the Sewards, Santanonis, and especially Mount Marcy as it rises over Mt. Colden. Algonquin also offers a very unique view of Colden’s famous Trap Dike, a fun climb for those adventurous and prepared enough to tackle a High Peak in an unconventional manner.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Boundary, the Poor Peak That Doesn’t Count

After taking in the view, head over the other side of Algonquin toward your final High Peak of the day, Iroquois. After dropping down to the col between Algonquin and its neighbor, Boundary Peak, you will reach another intersection where the Algonquin Trail meets the Iroquois Trail (44.141591, -73.991251). Here, the Algonquin Trail becomes what is commonly referred to as the Boundary Peak Trail and begins a very steep descent toward the Lake Colden Trail. While not traveled nearly as often in winter, it forms a beautiful loop after descending Iroquois by heading back to your starting point through Avalanche Pass.

Just after this intersection, as you head along the Iroquois Trail, make a short climb to the summit of Boundary Peak (44.139831, -73.993863). This 4,800-foot mountain is unfortunately not counted as a High Peak due to its proximity and lack of prominence to both Algonquin and Iroquois. Boundary has some great views of its own, however. It offers a different perspective of both neighboring peaks that you won’t get from anywhere else while also offering a unique view of the wilderness to the range’s west. After dropping down the other side of Boundary’s summit, you will have a short and easy final push to Iroquois’ (44.136802, -73.998087). If you’ve been keeping track, there’s just an .85-mile distance from Algonquin’s summit to Iroquois’, with an elevation gain of 180 ft.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The Return Trip

After celebrating your third major summit of the day, it’s time to turn around and head back to your car! Retrace your steps, heading back the exact way you came. The only tedious portion lies in ascending Algonquin from the col between it and Boundary Peak. You will have to gain approximately 500 feet of elevation to reach the summit again, but then, you will have a completely downhill hike on the way out (a total of five miles).


Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The Kit

  • When it comes to staying dry and warm during a winter hike, midweight base layers are usually the way to go, unless it’s an incredibly cold day. Midweight products will be more than sufficient on all but the very coldest winter days. You also want to be careful to not overheat, because you will be working hard throughout the hike. EMS’ Techwick Base Layers are perfect, because they’re inexpensive, comfortable, and work perfectly for winter hiking.
  • When hiking in the High Peaks region in the winter, you are legally required to have snowshoes or skis on your person when there is eight inches of snow or more on the ground. While there are a variety of brands and styles available, the MSR Evo line is a favorite choice of many seasoned winter 46ers for its durable deck that twists and flexes when it needs to. This feature can save your ankles and knees when you misstep or have an awkward landing.
  • When it comes to hard-packed trails, snowshoes are better left on your pack. Instead, you’ll want something that digs in and still allows you to step with confidence. Kahtoola MICROspikes are an oft-chosen option for such conditions, with a durable rubber frame that grips your boot snugly, and spikes that allow for a sense of security and safety as you trek along.
  • Even on mild and moderate days, you’ll want to make sure you have some kind of hard-shell jacket for when you leave the treeline. On warmer days, with dry base layers on, a heavier rain jacket, like the Marmot Minimalist, works wonders, but on colder days, when the wind chill may drag the temperature well below zero, you’ll want something with a little more insulation and protection – like the EMS Alpine Ascender Stretch.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Keys to the Trip

  • While this hike typically takes most of the day, you can move the start time around in order to catch a sunrise or sunset from any one of the three peaks. Sunsets on Algonquin never disappoint, and neither do sunrises. It’s a quick hike out afterwards if you time it to catch the sun setting there before you head back down. Just bring a headlamp.
  • Wright Peak is notoriously windy—more so than any other peak in the Adirondacks. Many first-time Wright summitters are unaware of the conditions, however, and it’s quite common to see or experience the feeling of having to crawl the last section to avoid being blown right off the summit. Because of the surrounding mountains and valleys’ shape, wind gets funneled over Wright’s summit and can easily reach gusts of 50 mph on any given day, so be prepared with warmer layers and traction.
  • Hungry after your hike? A favorite spot to grab food is the ‘Dack Shack in Lake Placid. They have a wonderful menu that consists of 46 unique sandwiches, all served on fresh homemade breads and named after the 46 High Peaks. The Blake sandwich on Asiago peppercorn bread is one that won’t disappoint!
  • If you’re feeling a bit parched, not far from the trailhead is the Big Slide Brewery. From IPAs to stouts and more, Big Slide Brewery is home to a delicious variety of microbrews, with a rotating selection of 10 on tap. For the perfect post-hike relaxation atmosphere, this brewery never disappoints.

Current Conditions

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


8 Reasons to Choose Waterproof Trail Runners

Anybody who’s working through the Northeast’s 4,000-footers should have a pair of waterproof trail runners in their footwear arsenal. Lightweight and blocking out moisture, they’re the perfect shoe for getting to the summit and back quickly on those less-than-perfect spring, summer, and fall days. Don’t believe us? Here are eight reasons they’re the ideal rainy hike footwear.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Light is Right (Even When It’s Raining)

Everybody knows that a pound off your feet equals five pounds off your back. Since that adage holds true even when it’s dumping buckets, wearing these shoes is a great way to avoid a difficult choice between heavier hiking boots and lighter-but-not-waterproof trail runners. Not only will they allow you to maintain the hiking efficiency that you’re used to from regular trail runners, but they also provide almost as much weather protection as boots.

2. The Skinny on Being Heavy

Boots are also stiffer and less responsive, reducing your body’s efficiency. For every pound you put on your feet, you expend five-percent more energy. Five percent might not sound like much, but on a four-hour hike, that’s more than 10 minutes. Think of it as an extra 10 minutes to linger at the summit after the weather breaks.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Flash the Flats

Waterproof trail runners let you move fast and keep your feet dry on soggy spring days or when you encounter unexpected showers. Since they’re designed specifically for running, you can race across that ridge, sprint ahead of that shower, or see just how fast you can cover that flat.

4. Warming Up to the Idea

Although trail runners might not be as warm as boots, especially traditional full-leather hikers, their waterproof liners add just enough coverage to make them suitable for cool spring weather or a little bit of snow lingering high up on the ridge. Even better, they adapt great on those days that start cold but warm up fast.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. Find Their Niche

Make the most out of waterproof trail running shoes by using them for the right types of hikes and conditions. Longer trips with lengthy stretches of flat ground and numerous short water crossings, like Bondcliff in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, are the perfect place to ditch the boots so you can cover the flats faster. They’re also ideal for shorter hikes, like Camel’s Hump in Vermont, where the support of boots isn’t needed—especially when you’re traveling through rainy and muddy conditions.

Pro Tip: When water levels are high, getting past a water crossing requires more than the right footwear. Check out this guide on safely crossing backcountry rivers.

6. No Need to Give ‘Em the Boot

Spring conditions—mud, rain, and repeatedly getting wet and drying—shorten the lifespan of both shoes and boots. Ironically, getting wet is what commonly leads to the demise of waterproof liners, as moisture brings minute dirt particles into the space between a boot’s exterior and its inner membrane. Here, the particles then slowly abrade the liner. Because waterproof trail runners are traditionally less expensive than boots, it is less painful to replace them when their time has come.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

7. Quivering for a Pair of Trail Runners

Even though trail runners are typically less expensive than boots, no one wants to be constantly replacing a key piece of gear. One of the great things about them is, they are an essential arrow in your quiver, truly shining during mud season and rainy days. Because of this, it’s not uncommon to get a few years out of a pair.

8. The Right Choice for the Right Day

Maximizing your time in the mountains is all about matching the right gear with the right conditions. Waterproof trail runners are perfect for logging miles in damp spring weather or whenever your trip has a high probability of mud and rain. Although they’re a key piece of gear, a lot of occasions still call for traditional hiking boots, as well as non-waterproof trail runners.

 

We want to know which types of footwear you wear hiking. Let us know in the comments!


EMS Alpine Ascender Stretch: The Every-Condition Jacket

You might think that creating an article for goEast is as simple as sitting in front of a computer and writing about your favorite trip, piece of gear, or outdoor activity. However, the reality is, for most articles, you spend just as much time outside taking photos, recording GPS tracks, and refreshing your memory of a trail’s nuances. With deadlines looming this winter, we’ve often had to take trips in typical Northeast winter conditions—think cold temperatures, high winds, and snowy weather. It’s here that we’ve come to appreciate the EMS Alpine Ascender Stretch.

The Ascender’s versatility managed to give us a good time up and down this ultra-classic route.

On a recent reconnaissance trip up Mount Washington via the Winter Lion Head Trail, the Ascender proved its merits. There, we made frequent stops—in spite of the winds gusting up to 100 mph—to gather waypoints and shoot photos for an upcoming article. Layered under our hard shells while we were above treeline, the Ascender performed equally well when we dashed across the Alpine Garden as it did while we stopped for photos. Throughout, it breathed on the move and insulated when we stopped, thanks to its Polartec Alpha insulation. Overall, the Ascender’s versatility managed to give us a good time up and down this ultra-classic route—always a concern during the short days of winter. In part, this was due to not having to dig around our packs for a puffy every time we stopped.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

A recent ice climbing trip in Crawford Notch further highlighted this go-to layer’s value. Ice climbing’s mechanics involve working hard and getting warm while climbing, only to stop and freeze at the belay. The misery builds up if you’re pausing here to take notes or photos for an upcoming article, like we were. The Ascender proved its versatility once again, however. That day, we wore it as our outer layer and found that it breathed while on the go and still kept us warm when we stopped. As well, the insulated hood fits well over a climbing helmet. We also appreciated the large internal pockets for stashing a notebook, camera, snack, and gloves.

These days, it seems every innovation gets labeled “game-changing.” But, the EMS Alpine Ascender truly is the next step forward.

The Ascender looks and functions like a traditional puffy coat, making it easy to pigeonhole. But, we’ve discovered that it’s so much more. In fact, this winter, we’ve used the Ascender just as much as a traditional midlayer as we have as a lightweight belay jacket. Accentuating that, the Ascender is much warmer and more packable than a traditional fleece midlayer, and you can still wear it like a standard soft shell.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

These days, it seems every innovation gets labeled “game-changing.” But, the EMS Alpine Ascender truly is the next step forward. Particularly, its overall construction increases the functionality of an essential layering piece.

Over the past year, we’ve tinkered a lot with active insulation. With the Ascender, we’ve been trying to find the perfect application for it within our layering strategies. At the end of it all, we’ve concluded that it will be either on our bodies or in our packs on most trips. Whether you’re freezing on the ski lift and then shredding downhill, working hard while ice climbing and cooling off while belaying, or doing any other activity that involves varying exertion levels in cold environments, the Ascender should be a key part of your layering system.


Alpha Guide: Mount Washington via the Lion Head Winter Route

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Take on a genuine mountaineering challenge by going for a winter ascent on the Northeast’s tallest peak. 

Mount Washington is the pinnacle of winter mountaineering in the Northeast, and the Lion Head Winter Route is the trail of choice for many looking to summit this iconic mountain. Although this is the least technical way to summit the “Rock Pile,” mountaineers will be challenged by everything from the route’s steep, icy terrain to the mountain’s notorious “worst weather in the world.” Depending on the day, you could find yourself huddling behind one of the summit’s buildings, trying to escape the wind, or proudly posing in front of the summit sign while taking in grand views of the Presidential Range.

Quick Facts

Distance: 8.2 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery:★★★★★


Season: November through March
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/whitemountain/recarea?recid=78538

Download

Turn-By-Turn

Parking for the Lion Head Trail is at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Pinkham Notch Visitor Center in Gorham, just north of Jackson on Route 16. It’s about a 25-minute drive from North Conway or Gorham.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Gearing Up

The Pinkham Notch Visitor Center (44.257320, -71.253052) is a great place to get ready. The gear room, in the basement, has tables and benches that are perfect for getting organized, tying your boots, and doing those last-minute gear checks. It also has bathrooms and a water fountain, and snacks and meals can be purchased upstairs.

Equally important, the AMC posts the Mount Washington Observatory’s daily Higher Summits Forecast and the Mount Washington Avalanche Center’s daily avalanche forecast on a cork board in the visitor center’s basement. Make sure to read both! And, while you’re there, sign the winter hiker register, too.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Starting Out

To get on the trail, leave the basement, and follow the sidewalk towards the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center’s main entrance. Continue past the entrance and around the back of the building to the large sign marking the beginning of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which you’ll take for the first 1.7 miles and more than 1,000 feet of elevation.

The easy-to-follow Tuckerman Ravine Trail begins as a very rocky dirt road and is wide enough to allow side-by-side hiking. Depending on the weather, trail conditions range from ice-covered rocks to packed snow. In most cases, starting out in MICROspikes is usually a good idea.

From the Visitor Center, the trail is moderate for the first few minutes, and then begins to climb consistently. As it climbs, an occasional path cuts off to the left, heading over to the Sherburne Ski Trail. A bit higher up, there is also a signed cutoff to the right for the Huntington Ravine Trail (44.261887, -71.269882). Hikers should ignore all of these cutoffs.

Trees protect this portion of the trail, keeping the wind and wind chill at bay. And, although the trees also limit the views—especially compared to the awesome ones you’ll get once you’re above treeline—the Tuckerman Ravine Trail does pass a few key scenic spots as it climbs out of the valley. The most notable are the two bridges that cross the Ellis River and the Cutler River and the waterfall—or icicle, in this case—Crystal Cascade. It might be tempting to dig the camera out, but don’t stop. You have a long way to go, and the days are short this time of year.

If the weather permits, you’ll also get a preview of the Lion Head as you move up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, giving you an appreciation for the route’s expansive scale and how much distance you have left to travel.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Cut Off

After about 1.7 miles, the junction with the Huntington Ravine fire road (44.263844, -71.277946) is on the right. The junction is well-marked, with a sign pointing toward the base of the Lion Head Winter Route. The wide, flat fire road makes for easy hiking. Take it a short distance to a junction (44.264603, -71.279106). Look for a rescue cache on the trail’s opposite side for confirmation.

The flat area at the Winter Route’s base is a great spot to grab some food and water and add a layer. Most people, too, put their crampons on here and get their ice axe out.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Rock Step

The steeps on the Lion Head Winter Route come pretty quickly. Climbing along a tree-lined trail, the route gains almost 1,800 feet in elevation.

While most of the climbing is on steep but easy snow, there is a short, 30-foot, rocky section near the beginning that has some exposure. Almost all the guided parties carry a short section of rope to use as a hand line, but it is probably unnecessary if you are comfortable climbing in crampons.

Pro Tip: The Lion Head Winter Route is the Whites’ most popular guided winter route, and there is sometimes a bottleneck at the rock step. So that you can maintain your pace, try to stay ahead of guided groups, if you see them gearing up at the base.

Above the rock step, the route continues up, staying in the trees until it eventually breaks treeline. Around treeline, you’ll find numerous spots along the side of the trail to take a break (44.264332, -71.286575) and enjoy the excellent view of the Wildcat Mountain Ski Area across the notch. Since you’ll be fully exposed to the wind from here on, now is a great time to don your above-treeline gear. On windy days, remember full-face protection, including goggles.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Lion Head

From treeline, the trail continues up over open, rocky terrain towards Lion Head proper (44.264.042, -71.291275). As you climb, you’ll probably feel the wind speed increasing. And, be on the lookout for another steep and exposed section just before the Lion Head. It’s easy, but you don’t want to fall.

As you approach the Lion Head, you should evaluate the weather, the wind, and your group’s motivation. If the wind’s too strong, the weather’s getting worse, or it has taken longer to get here than anticipated, this is a good place to turn around without significant consequence.

Crossing the Alpine Garden

Above the Lion Head, the trail continues along the edge of Tuckerman Ravine, crossing the Alpine Garden. If it is a nice day, enjoy the view of the ravine in all its splendor. But, don’t get sucked too far left, especially if it’s windy. You don’t want to get blown in!

This section is also likely to be one of the hike’s windiest segments. Since the trail here is mostly flat, it’s a great idea to hustle across as quickly as possible. The prevailing wind is west to northwest; so, once you are in the shadow of the summit cone, you’ll likely get a brief reprieve.

After a short time, the trail intersects with the Alpine Garden Trail (44.265045, -71.295603). Some scrub here makes a passable wind break, but you’ll probably want to keep going. From the junction, continue straight on the Lion Head Trail.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Split Rock

The trail begins climbing again after the junction, crossing a couple of open snowfields on the way towards Split Rock (44.265850, -71.301437). Since there are few landmarks here, route finding is critical. Moreover, the consequences of a sliding fall on this section are significant, so make sure to have your crampons on and ice axe ready.

Split Rock is easily identifiable: As the name implies, it’s a large boulder that is split in half. Split Rock is also the last place that offers passable protection from the weather before you reach the summit. Many parties choose to take advantage of the flattish area and windbreak to grab a snack, make a final determination of the weather, and prepare for their summit push before following the trail through the boulder itself. Once you’re ready, the next junction (44.265980, -71.302155) is just a few minutes ahead.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit Cone

The Lion Head Trail traverses west for a short ways before connecting with the Tuckerman Ravine Trail at a large cairn. From here, turn right and follow the cairns uphill on the final 0.4 miles to the top. Frequently, this section provides a respite from the wind. Enjoy the break, as the wind will only increase as you near the top.

The Tuckerman Ravine Trail leads to the first sign of civilization—the Auto Road (44.269550, -71.302048). Shortly thereafter, you’ll pass the tracks for the Cog Railway, before you come to the final small hill leading to the summit (44.270424, -71.303375).

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit Pose

If it is a nice day, spend some time to enjoy the summit view of the Presidentials and the surrounding White Mountains. More likely though, ripping winds and cold temperatures will have you taking shelter by the buildings and putting on an extra layer before you make your way to the summit sign to get the requisite shot.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Getting Back in One Piece

To quote the world-famous mountaineer Ed Viesturs, “The summit is just a halfway point.” Although getting back to Pinkham Notch is as simple as reversing course, you have ample opportunities to get lost or disoriented above treeline, especially when the weather is at its worst. So, take the time at trail junctures to ensure you’re descending in the right direction, and look for memorable landmarks. Most notable are the large cairns marking the Tuckerman-Lion Head junction, Split Rock, the scrub at the Alpine Garden Trail junction, and the flat area on top of the Lion Head. As you make your way towards treeline, look for several sets of reflectors attached to the trees for descending at night or in deteriorating conditions.

The final crux for hikers will be reversing the rock step and the terrain just above it. Once again, many guided parties use a rope here, but those comfortable climbing in crampons should be fine simply downclimbing.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • The Lion Head Winter Route is steep and often icy. Because of this, an ice axe and crampons are essential equipment. The Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe and Contact Crampons are great choices.
  • The combination of high winds, snow, and ice often necessitates the use of goggles, like the Smith I/O 7, to protect your eyes and maintain vision. We suggest bringing a second pair in the event one freezes.
  • Summiting Mount Washington in the winter is a long day even in the best conditions—not to mention, the days are shorter this time of year. A headlamp like the Black Diamond Revolt helps prevent getting caught in the dark and provides peace of mind if you fall behind schedule.
  • It’s easy to get disoriented or lost above treeline on Mount Washington, especially if it’s snowing and the wind is howling. A route plan, pre-set waypoints on a phone-based mapping app like GAIA GPS, and a map and compass as backup are all extremely valuable when you’re trying to stay on course no matter the weather.
  • A heavy puffy coat, like the Black Diamond Stance Parka (Men’s/Women’s), and summit mittens, such as the EMS Summit (Men’s/Women’s), are must-haves for extreme cold. Using chemical hand warmers is also a great way to keep your hands warm.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Mount Washington’s reputation for the “world’s worst weather” is well-deserved, and weather conditions play a huge role in any successful ascent via the Lion Head Winter Route. Before you head out, make sure to read the Mount Washington Observatory’s Higher Summits Forecast. If the conditions don’t look right (for instance, high winds are forecast or the temperatures at higher elevations are just too cold), consider a different trip for the day: A hike up to HoJo’s at the base of Tuckerman Ravine or skiing the Sherburne Trail is a nice alternative that never leaves the protection of the trees.
  • Similarly, if the weather starts to turn during your hike, bailing is a smart decision. After all, the weather rarely gets better the higher you go, and the “Rock Pile” isn’t going anywhere.
  • Before leaving the Visitor Center, take a moment to make sure the Lion Head Winter Route is actually open. Its opening depends on the amount of snow received, and in recent years—like the 2017-2018 winter season—it has not opened until late December.
  • Early starts on Mount Washington are par for the course. The AMC’s Joe Dodge Lodge is a great place to stay if you want to roll right from bed to the trail. Accommodation options include private and bunk rooms, with most options encompassing breakfast and dinner.
  • Not confident doing this journey yourself? Consider a guided ascent of Mount Washington with the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School. EMS guides have climbed the “Rock Pile” hundreds of times each winter, and have the skills and knowledge to get you up and down the mountain safely. And, if you’re looking for more than just the up-and-back, consider combining a guided climb with an overnight at the Mount Washington Observatory.
  • Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co., or simply The Moat, is the place for Conway-area climbers to eat, grab a pint, and brag about everything from their successful summits to just how bad the weather was above treeline.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked the Lion Head Winter Route on Mount Washington recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


Outings for a Presidents' Day in the Presidentials

Presidents’ Day falls on the third Monday of every February. In the Northeast, New Hampshire’s White Mountains make the perfect place to celebrate the holiday. Home to nine 4,000-footers named after past Presidents, they offer numerous outdoor activities with a historical connection. So, whether you’re looking to ski, climb, or hike, here’s how to have a genuinely Presidential Presidents’ Day.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Forget the White House – Visit the White Room

Presidents’ Day originated in the 1880s to commemmorate George Washington’s birthday. For those looking to slide on snow while also honoring the nation’s first President, the slopes of Mount Washington deliver something for everyone.

The Sherburne Ski Trail, often called “the Sherbie,” links the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center with HoJo’s, the caretaker’s cabin at Hermit Lake. Dating back to the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps, established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of his New Deal Legislation, built the Sherbie just for skiers. Considering the innovations since then, most will find the Sherbie sufficiently broad for turning and never extremely steep. As David Goodman notes in his book AMC Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast, the Sherburne never exceeds 24 degrees and is as much as 60 feet across at its widest point.

Although many advanced skiers view the Sherburne Trail as a quick way to descend from the steeper Tuckerman Ravine, it’s a worthy destination by itself. Because of its moderate pitch and tree-lined location, it’s a great place to head when the weather above treeline is unfavorable, if avalanche danger is high, or to just gain confidence on less-consequential terrain.

The trail, however, is for downhill use only. You can access it via the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which also leaves Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. Heading up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, skiers will notice various entry points to the Sherbie on their left. As another popular option, you can cut over below HoJo’s to avoid the trail’s flat upper portion.

Of course, the Sherbie is just one of Mount Washington’s fantastic ski routes. You can find other intermediate backcountry skiing along the Cog Railway, while the Gulf of Slides and the iconic Tuckerman Ravine present more advanced options.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Better than Climbing the Political Ladder  

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

In the 1970s, Congress officially moved Presidents’ Day to the third Monday of February to give federal workers more three-day weekends. But, many believe that the move also broadened the holiday’s scope by additionally commemorating Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 15th). If you fall into this camp, get your presidential celebration started on Mount Lincoln.

While most people get to the summit via Franconia Ridge, ice climbing Lincoln’s Throat is the most direct way up. Viewed from a distance, Lincoln’s Throat is the pronounced gully between Lincoln and Lafayette that tops out on Franconia Ridge just below Lincoln’s summit.

The route also offers a bit of everything (except crowds) for alpine climbers. You’ll hike or bushwack off trail, do steep snow climbing, climb a single moderately rated WI3 ice pitch, and have the opportunity to summit a 4,000-footer. Or, if you choose to descend down the Old Bridle Path, you’ll get in two 4,000-footers.

If Lincoln Throat’s sole ice pitch isn’t fully formed, is rotten, or is over your head, consider alternatives. However, those involve mixed climbing, and not the type you’re thinking of. Instead of rock and ice, you’ll find krumholtz and snow. These might be less treacherous, but they’re also slower and more frustrating.

Consider making this trip early in the season or in low-snow years. But, if you’re going when heavy snow covers the ground, be sure to bring snowshoes, an avalanche kit, and the knowledge of how to navigate avalanche terrain.

Of course, if this President-worthy climb gives you a case of the willies, you can always check out the beginner-friendly Willey’s Slide in Crawford Notch. It’s not on a peak named after a President, but on a clear day, you’ll get a great view of the southern Presidentials.     

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Don’t Settle for Fake Views

Over time, the public consensus about Presidents’ Day has broadened even further. These days, we think of it as a celebration of all past Presidents. Fortunately, the White Mountains include eight more 4,000-foot peaks named after Presidents (Adams, Madison, Jefferson, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, and Garfield) or with a Presidential-sounding name. For the latter, Jackson is actually named after New Hampshire State Geologist Charles Jackson, not the seventh President, Andrew Jackson.

Of these, Mount Pierce—named after the only President born in New Hampshire—and Mount Garfield are both great options for a moderate day hike with fantastic views. For more of a challenge, Mount Adams (named after John Adams) is one of the Northeast 115’s toughest winter climbs. And, if you’re supremely motivated and the weather is good, consider attempting a Presidential Traverse. In one trip, you’ll hopefully bag Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, and Jackson.

Although the President might spend his days in the White House, you can get out of the house, away from the office, and into the fresh air to honor our nation’s past leaders. Let us know how you spent your Presidents’ Day in the comments below.