The 8 Unwritten Rules of Hiking Courteously

In our society, it’s expected that we interact with various types of people on a regular basis. To get along somewhat reasonably, unwritten rules shape and influence many of these social situations. For instance, no law states you must move your grocery cart to the side of the aisle to allow others to pass by in a supermarket. But, we all do that because it’s courteous. Just like in our day-to-day lives, the trails have their own set of unwritten rules. These expectations make being in the woods a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

1. Listening to loud music while hiking

If you enjoy listening to music while you’re hiking, try to monitor how loud it is. When approaching other hikers, turn it down, so that you’re not creating noise pollution. Particularly, please refrain from carrying and blaring portable speakers in the woods. Headphones or earbuds are an alternative, but using them means you will be less aware of your surroundings, including when you approach people.

2. Not giving uphill hikers the right of way

With more and more people heading into the woods, the trails can get very crowded. So, first, keep in mind that you are sharing a narrow trail with other hikers. Particularly, when you’re descending, it’s expected you give anyone ascending the right of way. Some people making their ascent will welcome a rest and let you pass, but as a general rule, the person exerting the most effort gets the trail.

3. Building cairns for no functional reason

Built by trail maintainers to mark the trails, cairns serve a very specific purpose, especially above treeline. For this reason, it’s extremely important that additional cairns aren’t made. Otherwise, other hikers might get confused or even get lost on the trails. As well, building cairns that serve no function goes against Leave No Trace principles.

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4. Offering unsolicited advice to other hikers

Everyone has their own opinions about the right and wrong way to do things. At times, those opinions may spill out onto the trail. However, regardless of how much backpacking experience you have, unless someone is doing something blatantly unsafe or wrong, it’s best to keep your opinions to yourself. We all come into the woods with our own experiences and knowledge, so respect everyone’s right to “Hike Their Own Hike.”

5. Postholing, or damaging monorails in the winter by not wearing snowshoes

Winter hiking can be a very exciting and exhilarating experience. Often, places that you’ve visited in the summer look completely different when covered with snow. The trails also develop into “monorails,” as hikers wearing snowshoes pack fresh snow down into a narrow strip. When people don’t use snowshoes on freshly fallen snow, they begin punching holes into the surface. When the trail eventually freezes and hardens, it becomes difficult to travel along and can even be dangerous. To maintain a well-packed trail in winter, people are encouraged to wear snowshoes, especially on unbroken trail.

6. If hiking with a dog, keep it under control around other hikers

It’s fairly common to bring along a four-legged companion on backpacking trips. Some people bring their pets for an added sense of security, for protection, or as a companion. Nevertheless, it’s important to follow the posted rules about leashing dogs on marked trails, and to keep your pet within eyesight and under control when you approach other hikers. This ensures not only the dog’s safety but also protects the trails from damage. As well, you’re being considerate of other hikers, who might not otherwise want unsolicited attention from your four-legged friend.

7. Don’t stop in the middle of a hiking trail to have conversations

Sharing the trail with family and friends or going with a group can be a great way to learn more about the wilderness from others and lets you make memories in the process. When hiking in groups, always be respectful of others you encounter on the trail. For instance, if you and your party are stopping to take a break or have a conversation, be sure to do so off the trail. Doing so allows other hikers to pass by without having to walk around you. That being said, make sure you’re not damaging fragile vegetation when you step off the trail.

8. Let faster hikers pass

Everyone hikes at their own pace. As such, when you head out into the woods, you will encounter various types of hikers. Some prefer to carry less gear and trail run, others carry a moderate amount and go at a steady speed, and those with heavier packs may travel at a slower rate. In all cases, respect everyone’s right to explore at their own pace. In turn, let faster-moving individuals pass by, and if you’re passing someone, do so respectfully.

 

As more people discover and venture into the great outdoors, it’s imperative to respect each person’s approach and journey. If we agree to treat everyone with the same respect we would want and understand these unwritten rules, the growing number of hikers matters less, and everyone in turn can enjoy the woods.  


The Top 5 Overlooked Hikes in Connecticut

Often overlooked for its grander neighbors to the north, Connecticut actually offers some top-notch trails and a surprising variety of terrain. You could reasonably find yourself scrambling up a cliffside in the morning and relaxing with a lobster roll and a beer on the beach by lunch. That’s the beauty of hiking in the Nutmeg State—you can have it all.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

1. Bear Mountain

The Litchfield Hills in Connecticut’s Northwest Corner account for much of the state’s elevation gain and include both its highest point (on the slopes of Mount Frissell, whose summit is actually in Massachusetts) and its highest peak: Bear Mountain.

This six-mile loop starts out at the Undermountain Trailhead on CT-41 in Salisbury. The blue-blazed trail climbs steadily through a mixed forest before dead-ending at the Appalachian Trail. Bang a right (north) and keep climbing, a bit steeper now, over some semi-exposed ledges, until you reach the manmade stone pyramid at the summit, which is over 1,600 feet higher than where you started.

Once you’re on top, it’s easy to see why this is one of the state’s more popular hikes, despite its relatively remote location.

Descend by continuing north, down a steep stretch of boulders that turn into a bit of an icefall in winter. Keep on the AT to Sages Ravine just over the state line in Massachusetts. Head right yet again on the Paradise Lane Trail for a very chill, flat mile-and-a-half before you take a left back down the Undermountain Trail to the road.

Bonus: Make this a shuttle hike to take in Lion’s Head, an exposed ridge with more excellent views. Start your hike where the AT intersects with CT-41, just three miles south of the Undermountain Trailhead.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

2. Macedonia Ridge Trail

Another Litchfield Hills beauty is the Macedonia Ridge Trail in Kent. Running a 6.5-mile loop around Macedonia Brook State Park, the trail goes through four distinct ecosystems with a little bit of elevation change (around 1,750 feet gained, all told) and varies in footing from a narrow footpath to an old forest road to a ledge scramble.

Beginning from the parking area on Macedonia Brook Road, walk back along the road the way you came (south) to find the trailhead, which is marked by a light blue blaze on the opposite side.

Keep on following those blazes. You’ll get plenty of up-and-down over rolling hills through new-growth forest, along a densely fern-covered brook bed, and an old road with old stone walls that seem less like a manmade intrusion than a component of the surroundings.

At around mile 4.0, you start really going up, reaching a ledge with outstanding southerly views. Hop on down into a little hollow before coming to a fun scramble up to the summit of Cobble Mountain, the hike’s high-point with extensive views west. If you’re rolling with your puppy friend, they may need a hand at this part.

From the top, stick to the light blue blazes, and descend through abundant mountain laurel and coniferous forest for two miles or so back to the parking area.

Bonus: Kent Falls Brewing Company, an independent brewery on a working farm, is just a short drive from Macedonia Brook State Park. Grab yourself a beer—you deserve it.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

3. Bigelow Hollow

Connecticut’s “Quiet Corner,” the rural northeastern part of the state, is home to Bigelow Hollow State Park and Nipmuck State Forest. It’s just a hop, skip, and a jump from I-84 but far from everywhere else, and it feels that way.

Enter the state park on CT-171 in Union, and you’ll find the parking area about a half-mile up the access road on the left-hand side. Here, you can access a white-blazed trail that, after a quarter-mile, runs into the also-white-blazed Park Road, a forest road that runs from CT-171 to Breakneck Pond, our main destination.

Park Road is wide and generally flat—easy for hiking but watch out for the bug population in summer. After another 0.8 wooded miles, you’ll come to a junction with the East Ridge Trail and the Breakneck Pond View Trail, indicated by light blue and red blazes.

Take a left to follow this decidedly more rugged trail for another 1.8 miles. It quickly becomes a narrow footpath along the pond’s western shore and offers intermittent (and beautiful) lake views, until you enter Massachusetts for a quarter mile or so. Then, welcome back to Connecticut!

From here, the Breakneck Pond View Trail runs into the Nipmuck Trail. This takes you back down the pond’s eastern edge and features more intermittent-but-stunning views. Eventually, you’ll return to the junction with Park Road and get back to the parking area.

Bonus: You can do a circuit of the park’s three bodies of water—Bigelow Hollow Pond, Mashapaug Lake, and Breakneck Pond—with a cool, clover loop-style traverse. Total mileage: 11.8 mi.; total elevation: around 1,025 feet.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

4. Devil’s Hopyard

Devil’s Hopyard State Park in East Haddam is a cool spot with a cool name. It also packs a waterfall, a viewpoint, and a couple of geologic formations attributed to the devil into just 860 acres. Connecting the orange-blazed Vista Trail with the unnamed white-blazed trail makes a three-mile loop on the eastern side of the Eightmile River and hits all the highlights.

The area around the parking lot on Foxtown Road and the adjacent Chapman Falls is rather developed and may be mobbed on a nice day but don’t be discouraged. The falls are beautiful, and the woods are right around the corner.

Head down the path (with the falls at your left) and cross the covered bridge to access the Vista Trail. Head straight (south) to start your counterclockwise loop.

Follow the orange blazes, bearing right when the trail splits into two separate spur trails that are both worth checking out. The first, at 0.4 miles, is a short but very steep spur trail to the Devil’s Oven, a small cave in a massive rock formation located in a densely shaded hemlock grove. The second, at 0.8 miles, is the viewpoint that gives the Vista Trail its name. While it’s worth a stop for a snack and a drink, the rolling green hills and the lack of manmade structures make for a welcome relief in one of the country’s most densely populated states.

Back on the trail, at 1.4 miles, bang a right, leaving the Vista Trail for the White Trail. This trail winds its way for another 1.5 miles or so through dense forest back to the falls. However, take care when following the trail here. There are more than a few unblazed footpaths that crisscross this part of the woods.

Back at the falls, end your hike by checking out the potholes, a handful of unnaturally perfect, cylindrical pools carved into the ledge on the eastern bank. Credited to the devil by the area’s earliest settlers, these geologic anomalies were actually caused by tiny grains of sand caught up in the swirling eddies. Not a bad guess, though, by the settlers, since they wound up giving the park such an awesome-sounding name.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

5. Pine Knob

Back in the Northwest Corner is the Pine Knob Loop, a short but sweet little hike in Housatonic Meadows State Park that connects the Appalachian Trail with US-7 in Sharon, CT. In just 2.5 miles, this route climbs around 750 feet in elevation and features some of Connecticut’s finest hiking.

From the trailhead parking lot, follow the blue-blazed Pine Knob Loop Trail into the woods, crossing Hatch Brook and running along an old stone wall up to a junction. Here, the Pine Knob Loop Trail splits, so continue to the left and begin climbing moderately.

With Hatch Brook to your left, the trail continues climbing through a pine forest. With a little breeze, the sounds of the wind through the pines and the brook running down the side of the hill make for a really special, peaceful time.

Keep on climbing, until this branch of the Pine Knob Loop Trail intersects with the white-blazed Appalachian Trail, and take a right. Here, the hike begins a relatively rough ascent, climbing over rocks to one of two excellent viewpoints.

Keep on the AT as it rolls over the ridge and ultimately begins descending. Then, rejoin the Pine Knob Loop Trail as it breaks off to the right. The trail descends steeply to another excellent viewpoint, before ultimately leveling out and arriving back at the split. Here, take a left, cross the brook again, and you’ll be back at the parking lot.


10 Reasons to Wear Sandals During Your Next Adventure

The dog days of summer are fast approaching. Historically, August brings some of the warmest, sunniest days of the year to the Northeast, and it’s prime time to enjoy the abundance of its hikes, camping opportunities, and paddles. By now, you’ve peeled your active wardrobe down a few layers to just a T-shirt and shorts, and you’ve traded the beanie out for a ball cap. But, if you haven’t already, now is also the time to swap out the shoes for sandals—and not just for long walks on the beach or the backyard barbecue. If you need convincing, here are 10 reasons you should consider making sandals your first pick for any summertime multi-sport adventure.

1. Greater freedom of movement

Sandals have no barriers to cram your toes. When you’re wearing boots and shoes, this sensation can be especially painful when you’re descending a mountain (hello, black toenails). An open toe box also eliminates those nagging hot spots on your forefoot.

2. They’re lightweight

Less material than a fully enclosed shoe automatically makes sandals a lighter option compared to hiking boots and sneakers. For those who are especially stoked on the fast-and-light mentality, sandals take this to extremes, cutting down on weight while keeping essential aspects there, like traction and support.

3. More room to grow

Many things may cause your feet to temporarily swell, including high temperatures and exercising. Wearing sandals thus gives your midfoot and forefoot more space if comfort is your primary goal.

4. Leave the smelly socks at home

That’s right. You can ditch the socks for the trip and not risk getting athlete’s foot or smelly shoes. By design, sandals are ultra-breathable, so your feet can sweat. In turn, you don’t have to rely on socks to regulate temperature or moisture like you would if you were wearing a boot or hiking shoe.

5. They’re ideal for wet conditions

Do your summer plans have you traversing a river? How about a paddling trip where you’ll be portaging your boat? For these journeys, sandals are often a first choice. You don’t have to wear socks—they’ll inevitably get soggy—and they dry much quicker than a hiking shoe. As well, many active sandals have a lugged or slip-resistant outsole that performs well on slick surfaces.

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6. Barefoot without the danger!

Many people love to go barefoot in the summer, whenever possible. If it weren’t for sharp rocks, glass, and animal scat on the trails, I’d say follow your heart and ditch footwear altogether. However, some of these factors can really ruin your fun and even sideline you for the rest of the season. Sandals provide a solid compromise, offering protection underfoot and still exposing your feet to the elements.

7. They’re easy to take on and off

Put your shoe horns away. Sandals are far less complicated to put on and take off than lace-up shoes. For this reason especially, sandals make excellent approach shoes to the crag or the trailhead before the terrain becomes too gnarly. Most styles utilize a one-handed closure system, making for a fuss-free transition to more sport-specific footwear.

8. They’re packable

Sandals do not have a rigid exterior, thus making them more compressible and easier to fit into your backpack or luggage. Don’t have any space left in the bag? No problem. Just attach the sandals’ straps to your pack’s daisy chains or gear loops. 

9. Skip the laces

As I mentioned earlier, sandals do not utilize a traditional lace-up system. As such, there’s nothing that will eventually fray and break, and need to be replaced. It also means your laces won’t come untied and trip you mid-stride.

10. They’re exceptionally durable and supportive

Multi-sport sandals are constructed with a sturdy rubber outsole and a supportive midsole, while their straps are either made of strong polyester webbing or leather. In short, these aren’t your grade-school jelly shoes, and they’ll reliably last through many journeys.

 

Don’t sell your other shoes to a consignment store just yet, though. The aforementioned reasons are not meant to cloud your better logic. If your activity requires specialty footwear—as with cycling and rock climbing—do not substitute them with sandals. Additionally, if you will be going on a long trek or will be doing some serious bushwhacking, even the sportiest sandals aren’t enough. Your feet and ankles require a greater degree of protection and support.

Sandals have evolved to meet the needs of more than just the beachcombers, and are now a practical option for many of your recreational endeavors. To those with hesitation, I encourage you to take a walk on the wild side this summer, and even out those sock tans.

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The Top 8 Things New Backpackers Should Never Do

Three years ago, I started hiking in earnest. I set out on my first solo hike, wearing a cotton T-shirt and jeans, and carrying a water bottle and small number of snacks in my pack. I didn’t carry a map, compass, or any of the 10 hiking essentials recommended for every backpacker. Looking back, I cringe at some of the poor decisions I made. My lack of experience and failure to understand the risks I was taking could have landed me in danger. Luckily, I was never injured and, to date, have returned safely from all of my hikes. But, over the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about hiking safely and the unwritten rules of backpacking.

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1. Wearing jeans and cotton clothing

Wearing jeans or cotton clothing while you’re hiking is not only uncomfortable but it can also be dangerous. Clothing is your biggest defense against the weather and elements. If you’re wearing materials that don’t wick moisture away from your body or that don’t insulate well, you will be uncomfortable and risk becoming hypothermic. Instead, wear synthetic or wool materials. Smartwool’s merino blend, waterproof GORE-TEX, and EMS’ own moisture-wicking Techwick are all great examples. Also, always bring along extras, especially socks, a long-sleeved shirt, a wind-breaking jacket, gloves, and a hat.

2. Wearing flip-flops or shoes with poor traction

For hiking, proper shoes are one of the most important items to have. Thus, before you go, consider very carefully what you’ll be wearing on your feet. Most trails’ terrain is going to be rocky, muddy, wet, and slippery, and for this reason, flip-flops and dress shoes aren’t the best choices. Neither will keep you safe and comfortable in the woods. If the most rugged pair you own are tennis shoes, then wear those. But, still keep in mind you may encounter less-than-ideal trail conditions.

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3. Not carrying enough of the essentials

Regardless of whether you’re going on a one-mile nature walk or a 10-mile 46er ascent, you should be carrying more than just a water bottle. For the most pertinent pieces, start with The 10 Essentials. This list covers items every backpacker should carry, regardless of how short the hike may be, and includes the bare minimum for a survival situation, such as a fire starter, compass and map, extra clothes, water, extra food, and a first aid kit. Most are inexpensive and easy to obtain.

4. Not telling anyone at home your itinerary

Cellphone service is never a guarantee in the backcountry. As such, don’t rely on it to contact home in the event of an emergency. Before leaving, always tell someone where you’re going, how long you plan to be gone, and the trails you will be taking. That way, if you don’t return by a certain time, they know to get help, and have key details about your route and location to pass along.

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5. Not carrying a map or researching the trail ahead of time

Before leaving for a hike, it’s essential that you not only look at a map of the trail you’ll be taking, but read the trail description, as well. A topographic map doesn’t provide enough detail, and thus, reading the trail description might mean you’ll opt for one trail over another to reach the summit.

Designed to help you plan your hike, trail guidebooks often offer suggestions based on experience level, and list alternative routes for winter. Additionally, the trail descriptions prove to be useful in the event a route is poorly marked. In this case, because you know what the trail should look like, you have a greater chance of following the correct path. For these reasons, it’s extremely important to read the guidebook before setting out.

6. Underestimating the weather forecast

Before you set out, know what the weather is going to be like—both on the trail and at the summit. For every thousand feet of elevation you gain, you lose an average of 3.5° F. Don’t underestimate the mountains, and remember that although it may be 60° F at the trailhead, ascending a few thousand feet and adding 20 MPH winds will bring the temperatures down considerably.

Additionally, plan for inclement weather by carrying extra clothes, especially socks, a long-sleeved shirt, and a wind-breaking layer. Being prepared may mean the difference between an enjoyable day in the woods and a miserable one.

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7. Not following Leave No Trace wilderness ethics

If everyone left their garbage in the woods, or didn’t bury their waste, imagine how disgusting the trails would be. To keep the wilderness ready for other hikers, it’s essential that you carry out all trash. To prepare, bring an extra Ziploc bag in your pack to hold onto any trash. If you see other people’s trash on the trail, it doesn’t hurt to pick it up, either.

All waste, along with any toilet paper, should be buried, assuming you follow LNT practices and the land manager allows it. Carry some hand sanitizer in your pack, a trowel, and toilet paper. Walk at least 200 feet from the trail, water sources, and the campsite (70 steps), and dig a cathole using a trowel. Catholes should be four to six inches wide and six to eight inches deep. Bury both waste and paper in the hole.

8. Not being courteous to others while hiking

Although you may feel like you’re the only person in the woods, chances are you’re going to encounter other people. Be courteous and respect their right to enjoy the woods, too. Share the trail with them, allow them to pass if they are hiking faster than you, or turn down your music, so they can enjoy the sounds of nature. If you’re hiking in a larger party, keep in mind how loud you’re getting when engaging in conversations, and respect the solitary hikers you may come across by giving them the option to pass you on the trail.

 

Everyone starts out as a beginner, and trying something new means that you will be learning lessons along the way. Although I call myself a moderately experienced hiker, I’m still learning. As new gear comes out, and I spend more time in the wilderness, I become more familiar with what works for me and what doesn’t. The only way to become better at something is to be open to learning from mistakes made along the way. Spend some time researching backpacking basics, practice smart decision-making, and remember that there is no shame in asking for help or calling it quits when a climb becomes too scary or difficult. The mountain will always be there when you’re ready.

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9 Unbeatable Speed Records in the Northeast

By now, you’ve probably heard the news. On June 4th, Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell broke the speed record on The Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Then, the very next day, the duo returned and broke their day-old record, taking their time under the two-hour mark (1:58:07).

Although the Northeast isn’t known for its speed climbing, it is home to numerous speed records involving the region’s mountainous terrain. With the Guinness Book on our minds, here’s a snapshot of some of the Northeast’s most-coveted FKTs (fastest-known times).

Editor’s Note: Records are current as of July 22, 2018.

Peakbaggers

NH48

For many New England hikers, summiting all of New Hampshire’s 48 mountains over 4,000-feet tall is the culmination of a lifetime goal. For others, like Andrew Thompson, owner of the fastest-known time on the NH48, it’s a good long weekend. It took him just three days, 14 hours, and 59 minutes—an incredibly fast time to cover the roughly 200 miles and 66,000 feet of vertical gain!

Adirondacks

The ADK46ers list shows that over 10,000 people have summited the region’s 46 High Peaks. In fact, the first known record dates back to the 1920s. That being said, none have done it faster than Jan Wellford. In June 2008, he picked them off in a staggeringly speedy time of three days, 17 hours, and 14 minutes.

Catskills

Although the Catskills might not have as many peaks over 4,000 feet, achieving the fastest-known time for summiting its high peaks—35 summits over 3,500 feet in elevation—is uniquely challenging. Unlike with the NH48 and ADK46, this sought-after FKT takes a single route through the Catskills, with no car shuttling between trailheads. Approximately 140 miles long, with around 38,500 feet of vertical ascent, the route covers roughly 80 miles of trail, 40 miles of bushwhacking, and 20 miles of pavement-pounding. Amazingly, in May 2018, Mike Siudy blazed it all in a breathtakingly breakneck time of two days, nine hours, and 16 minutes.

Classic Routes

Long Trail

For most backpackers, a trip along Vermont’s Long Trail is a three- to four-week endeavor. For fastest-known time-holder Jonathan Basham, it’s a good way to spend a week off, as it leaves a few days free to explore Burlington or take the Ben & Jerry’s Factory tour. Basham covered the 273 miles from the Canadian border to Massachusetts in an astoundingly fast four days, 12 hours, and 46 minutes in September 2009.

Presidential Traverse

A hike across the White Mountains’ Presidential Range, the iconic Presidential Traverse is a bucket-list trip for many Northeastern hikers. For others, like FKT holder Ben Thompson, this classic route is something to do before lunch. Ben blazed across the Presidential Traverse’s 18-plus miles and almost 9,000 feet of vertical gain in four hours, 14 minutes, and 59 seconds.

Yesterday I took the day off work to witness something incredible. Ben Thompson set a new Fastest Known Time on the Pemi Loop in an absurd 6:06:53. Here’s a picture of him cresting Mt. Truman with Lafayette in the background. … I hung out on the ridge to witness the attempt and was absolutely astonished at his speed and fluidity as he descended Lafayette, four hours in and just after a huge climb, he absolutely flew by. Congratulations Ben, what an effort! … (The Pemi is a 30 mile loop with roughly 10,000 feet of vert over technical mountain terrain, For context, I’m not in horrible shape and it recently took me a little over 12 hours) … #pemiloop #fkt #fastestknowntime #franconianotch #franconiaridge #mtlafayette #nh #inov8 #ultimatedirection

A post shared by Rob Blakemore (@rjayblake) on

Pemi Loop

The Whites are also home to another highly coveted route, the Pemigewasset Loop, or simply the Pemi Loop—one of the region’s most popular backpacking trips. The record holders have finished in time to make happy hour at the Woodstock Inn, Station & Brewery. FKT competitors can choose to do the route—more than 30 miles and over 9,000 feet of elevation gain—in either direction. This is one of the most competitive records in the White Mountains, and impressively, Presidential Traverse record holder Ben Thompson also owns this one. He completed it with a zippy time of six hours, six minutes, and 53 seconds in September 2017.

THE TRAIL: The Appalachian Trail covers 2,189 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt Katahdin in Maine. The total elevation gain over that stretch is ~464,000 ft, or the equivalent of 16 Mt Everests. It passes through 14 states and is constantly marked with white blazes that you see in the picture. The trail itself is overseen by the @appalachiantrail @nationalparkservice and @u.s.forestservice, and regionally maintained by thousands of volunteers and local hiking clubs. I found the trail quite quirky, flat farmlands in one section, boulder climbs in another. You’ll meet some amazing people and see all different kinds of small town America. Our nations past is intertwined in historic sections in Maryland and West Virginia. Maine, New Hampshire and Vermud will kick your butt but astound you with views. My perception of states like Georgia and New Jersey are forever changed – surprising me with their beauty and ruggedness. 2-3 million people each year hike some part of the trail, hopefully you will be one of those people 😁

A post shared by Joe McConaughy (@thestring.bean) on

Appalachian Trail

Perhaps the most competitive speed record is the iconic Appalachian Trail (AT), the renowned footpath that starts at Springer Mountain in Georgia and ends at Maine’s Mount Katahdin. In recent years, some of the world’s most well-known ultra runners—such as seven-time Western States winner Scott Jurek and five-time Hardrock winner Karl Meltzer—have held the FKT on this roughly 2,200-mile trail. Currently, though, Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy holds the record. Self-supported, he cruised its full length in just 45 days, 12 hours, and 15 minutes.

Pacific Crest Trail

Coincidentally, McConaughy also holds the FKT on the Pacific Crest Trail—the AT’s West Coast cousin. However, his bicoastal record might not last long. Currently, Cincinnati teacher Harvey Lewis is putting in a strong effort to beat Stringbean’s AT time.

Shortish and Sweet

Just outside Boston, the Blue Hills’ Skyline Trail is a worthy goal for time-crunched runners and hikers. Roughly 15 miles out and back with over 3,500 feet of elevation gain, its challenges are on par with the region’s larger ranges. Fastest-known time-holder Ben Nephew—a Top 5 holder on many of the region’s other classic routes—rapidly dispatched this one in two hours, 25 minutes, and 44 seconds—fast enough to do it before work.

Another awesome out-and-back goes up and over Cadillac Mountain’s iconic North Ridge and South Ridge Trails. This 12-mile trip climbs almost 3,000 vertical feet along Maine’s rocky shoreline and affords incredible ocean views. Fastest-known time holder Tony Dalisio completed the route in one hour, 48 minutes, and 44 seconds. He partially attributes his tremendously fast time to doing the trip in April, thus avoiding tourists, the route’s biggest obstacle.

It only makes sense that the second-most hiked mountain in the world—Mount Monadnock—would have some seriously fast ascents. What is shocking is how long the speed record up the mountain’s most popular trail—White Dot—has stood. Since 2001, Elijah Barrett has held the fastest-known time, having made it to the summit in 24 minutes and 44 seconds.

Of course, we’ve listed just some of the better-known objectives and their record-setting times. To learn more about the records in your region, the Fastest Known Time website is a great resource. And, if you’re planning on doing one of these routes this summer, we want to hear about it—even if it isn’t record setting. So, tell us about your trip in the comments.


How to Choose a Camping Tent

Shelter is undoubtedly one of the most important items in your pack. While there are lots of options for shelters (hammocks, bivy, lean-tos, etc.), tents are still the most commonly used option in the backcountry. But, because of the huge variety out there, a lot goes into finding the one that’s right for you. What type should you get, and what size do you need? What features should you have? Knowing all the ins and outs will help you decide and ultimately make you satisfied with your (very important) purchase.

To start, think about how you will be camping. Will it be out of your car, kayak, or canoe? Or, at a campsite off a trail somewhere in the woods? What about the season and conditions? And, how many people will be staying in it? Will you be bringing your dog with you, and do you want space for your gear?

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Capacity

How many people need to fit into your tent? Unfortunately, there’s no industry standard for how cozy or spacious a tent should be. Thus, a three-person tent from one brand may feel more crowded than one from another. Generally, car camping tents are a little more spacious than backpacking or mountaineering models, which tend to be more snug and compact to reduce weight.

But, to make it as easy as possible, the tent size is typically noted right in the name. For example, the EMS Sunapee 4 is a four-person tent. If you are planning on purchasing a backpacking tent and want to bring your dog or store your gear inside, you may want to think about sizing up one person larger than your group.

As a good baseline to follow, if you are looking to store gear in the tent and want some wiggle room, you should average about 20 square feet per person. If you are more interested in the ultralight movement, don’t mind storing your stuff outside, or being cozy with your neighbor, closer to 15 square feet per person will work.

GO: 1- to 2-person | 3- to 4-person | 5- to 6-person | Greater than 6-person

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Activity Type

For car camping:

For car camping or camping out of a kayak or canoe, weight is not as much of an issue. As such, consider a more spacious structure with lots of add-ons or neat features. Car camping tents typically weigh significantly more, and are sometimes tall enough to stand up in.

GO: Recreational/Car Camping Tents

For backpacking:

You will want something lighter in weight that you won’t mind carrying on your back for longer periods of time. You may need to compromise, depending on what you care most about—weight, features, comfort, or price, to name a few factors. Generally, backpacking tents will be more cramped, with no room to stand up. For comparison, a three-person car camping tent will feel much larger than a three-person backpacking tent.

Going further, some backpacking tents are classified as “ultralight.” The material feels very thin, and the poles are very lightweight; however, they are often stronger than the traditional, heavier options. The downside is, they tend to be more expensive. But, many hikers find the price is well worth the significant drop in weight.

GO: Backpaking Tents | Ultralight Tents

More often, these structures are categorized as three-season tents, which are designed for spring, summer, and fall weather. The lighter weight withstands heavy rain and even light snow, but not harsh winds, heavy snow, or more violent conditions.

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For winter and alpine camping:

You will need a more resilient tent—particularly, a four-season model, which tends to have more poles and heavier fabric. While some very basic ones resemble backpacking tents in shape, actual alpine or mountaineering tents have a geodesic-type body. The dome structure allows them to withstand high winds and even the weight of snow.

Some four-season tents are single-walled, meaning they don’t have a mesh body covered with a waterproof fly. As a result, they are easier to set up in rougher conditions. However, they don’t always perform well in milder weather, as they get stuffy and condensation can build up easily.

GO: Mountaineering Tents

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Livability and Comfort

Your tent should be comfortable! Pay attention to these factors to make your tent a sanctuary during a storm, rather than an uncomfortable coffin.

Peak Height

Height is just as important as surface area and capacity. Particularly, a higher peak will make your new home feel more spacious. The peak height is measured from the ground to the top of the tent’s outside, which includes the fly. So, to calculate the interior height, it’s a good idea to subtract three inches from the actual peak height.

To sit up and be comfortable, look for a tent with an interior height of roughly 3 feet, 6 inches. A tent with more vertical walls also offers more shoulder room and, in return, will feel more spacious.

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Entrances

Having multiple doors is nice, but they will increase the structure’s weight. But, if you plan on sheltering multiple people, more doors may ease how cramped you feel. You’re also less likely to climb over someone for a bathroom break in the middle of the night.

The door’s location is also important. Many tents have doors along the sides, but some place them at your feet. Side doors are larger and easier to pass through, but having a single door by your feet is ideal for multiple campers and makes the tent more sturdy in rougher conditions.

Vents

Vents and mesh are some of a tent’s most important but often-overlooked features. Ventilating hot, humid air makes the tent feel less stuffy, and helps keep condensation to a minimum. Especially when choosing a single-walled tent, vents are incredibly important.

Storage

Vestibules are floorless storage places for your gear, and are made by staking out the rainfly away from the tent’s body. Typically, five square feet is enough for a full-sized pack. Some tents may have a few vestibules, or may need a separate vestibule extension.

Color

Rather than being simply decorative, color influences how comfortable the shelter will be. Lighter colors allow more sunlight to pass through the walls, making the interior less dark and more pleasant if a storm keeps you tent-bound and out of direct sun for hours…or days!

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A Note About Weight

Tent manufacturers put a lot of information on the tags, including a “packed weight” and a “trail weight.” Packed weight is how much the shelter weighs when you pull it off the shelf—all the bits and pieces included. So, you’re taking into account any dry bags, stuff sacks, tent stakes, and the like.

Trail weight is typically the bare minimum—tent body, rain fly, and poles. Trail weight usually does not include the stakes unless noted, and won’t factor in any included repair kits or splints. In reality, unless you are really into the ultralight movement, your actual trail weight will fall somewhere in between the two, likely closer to the packed weight. This number plays an important role when you decide how much your pack will weigh for your trip.

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What Else Should I Pay Attention To?

Footprints

Another often-overlooked feature is the footprint, which creates a barrier between your tent’s floor and the ground. Not all tents have one, and some must be bought separately. Having a footprint will extend the shelter’s life expectancy, saving the floor from the wear and tear of stones, branches, and the occasional stray pinecone. If you don’t have a footprint available, tarps, plastic sheets, and other materials cut to the floor’s size can be used.

Clips vs. Sleeves

Many tents have plastic clips to attach the structure to the poles, and others will have fabric sleeves. Clips create more space between the tent’s body and the rainfly, providing more air circulation and reducing condensation. Plus, they’re much easier and quicker to set up. Sleeves, however, will be sturdier.

Unique Tents

Some tents have special setup requirements. For instance, some ultralight tents use your trekking poles partially for support, and others have to be staked out tightly to be properly set up. While a hassle if they aren’t set up correctly, these tents allow hikers to drop even more weight. For another lightweight choice, tarp tents are very popular!

Still Deciding?

Don’t be afraid to ask store employees if you can try out a tent. Many locations allow you to open the tents and set them up, so you can see for yourself what the structure is like.

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What Else Do I Need?

Tents have plenty of add-on options! Some can be very useful, and others are just for fun.

Solar washes help restore the tent’s water repellency and also protect it from UV rays, thus extending its life. As well, consider a repair kit. Patches, sealant, shock cords, splints, and accessory cords prove to be valuable if things go wrong in the backcountry.

For your supplies, additional vestibules or extensions expand the room for gear and living space. For some models, gear lofts clip into the tent’s roof to increase your storage options. Particularly, it’s a great place for headlamps, small electronics, and that book you’ve been trying to finish!

GO: Tent Accessories

 


What is a Lumen? Shining a Light on Headlamps

Choosing the right headlamp can be daunting. From a wall full of lights that all look similar, covered in numbers that mean next to nothing, how do you pick the right one? To begin, understanding the lumen is the first step toward getting what you need. But, there’s more to know if you want to have the perfect headlamp for your next adventure.

So…what is it?

A lumen is the technical measurement of the amount of light emitted in all directions by a light source. More simply, a lumens rating indicates how bright a headlamp will shine with a fully charged battery. The more lumens a light has, the brighter it is.

Headlamps and other lights run the gamut of brightness. You’ll find anything from the 30-lumen, kid-friendly Black Diamond Wiz to the ultra-powerful, 750-lumen Petzl NAO+. The great thing about these headlamps is, they all have enough lumens for general use. Even those with the lowest lumen count provide enough illumination for an evening stroll around the campsite or a storm-bound day spent in the tent reading.

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How many lumens do I need?

But, for other activities, you might need more lumens. So, how many should you get? The answer to that question is activity dependent. For movement-based activities, like night hiking or backpacking, a headlamp with a minimum of 150 to 200 lumens is best. There are exceptions, of course, like hiking the Presidential Range under a supermoon.

For faster-paced activities when you need to see farther ahead so you don’t trip (think nighttime trail-running), a light with more than 250 lumens is ideal. And, for activities like alpine climbing and mountaineering, when you might need a really bright light to briefly scope the next pitch or skirt some sketchy terrain, a lamp with a super-bright option (e.g., more than 350 lumens) will be really useful.

Most major manufacturers list a headlamp’s lumens on its package. It’s worth noting, however, that the majority will only be able to reach that number with fully charged batteries. More so, the higher power at which you operate your headlamp, the more battery power it consumes. Thus, it may make more sense to use a lower brightness to conserve battery life, rather than operate at the full 300 lumens.

Does the ability to adjust brightness interest you? To begin, make sure to check out the lights in Petzl’s Active series, like the Petzl Actik Core. A few Black Diamond models fall into this group, including the Icon and ReVolt.

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So, lumen count is the only thing that matters. Right?

All that said, lumen count isn’t the be-all, end-all. It’s also important to consider how the headlamp directs the lumens. Generally referred to as the headlamp’s “beam,” the focusing of the lumens—from pinpoint to diffuse—greatly influences the activities for which the headlamp is ideal.

Types of Beams

A good example of a “general use” model is the 300-lumen Petzl Actik, which lets you toggle between wide and regular beams. Toggling makes the Actik ideal for use around the campsite, where the regular beam is perfect for precision tasks like cooking. The wide beam, meanwhile, is key for navigating around a site without blinding your fellow campers.

Alternately, a headlamp like the 300-lumen Black Diamond Spot has a more focused beam. Thus, it’s ideal for people doing precision work in the dark. Threading rappel anchors after being benighted, checking a climbing partner’s knot before an alpine start, and searching your pack for a midnight snack are all occasions where you benefit from a focused beam.

Some headlamps, such as the Black Diamond Sprinter—built for runners—are engineered to excel at one specific task. The Sprinter uses neither a wide, diffused light nor a concentrated proximity light. Rather, it produces a strong oval beam that is bright enough to illuminate potential hazards on the road or the trail, and shines far enough ahead so that you can anticipate upcoming terrain.

Reactive Lighting

A clear sign of just how far headlamps have advanced in recent years is Petzl’s reactive light technology. These advanced headlamps, like the Petzl Reactik, use a sensor to analyze the amount of ambient light in your environment, and adjust the brightness accordingly. This feature is particularly useful: It ensures you’re receiving just the right amount of light, it uses the headlamp’s battery as efficiently as possible, and it reduces any fiddling with buttons or dials. You can even control the Reactik’s settings via an app to prioritize everything from battery power to brightness.

Courtesy: Black Diamond
Courtesy: Black Diamond

Out Like a Light

The best thing about buying a headlamp at EMS is that there are no bad choices. Almost every model found on our shelves will provide enough lumens for whatever task you ask of it. And, for those looking for a headlamp to perform in a specific instance, manufacturers are rising to the occasion to fill those niches.


Alpha Guide: Day Hiking Mount Washington

 

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

The region’s tallest peak, Mount Washington is a prize of the Northeast and one that can be climbed over and over by numerous different routes. 

A long and notable history, the distinction of being New Hampshire’s tallest peak, and a reputation for being the “home of the world’s worst weather” are just a few reasons Mount Washington tops many peakbaggers’ lists. And, with routes varying from serene to scary, there are plenty of different paths to the peak.

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Turn-By-Turn

Most Mount Washington day hikes start on either the east or west side. For starting on the east side with the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, Lion Head, or Boott Spur, hikers should park 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 to Gorham.

For a west side hike, such as the Ammonoosuc Ravine and Jewell Trails, hikers should park at the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trailhead. From Route 302, turn onto Base Road at the intersection of Bretton Woods and Fabyan’s Restaurant. The parking lot is on the right, several miles down the road. Confused? Just follow the signs for the Mount Washington Cog Railway.

Pro Tip: Get an early start. On most weekends, the lots at Pinkham Notch and the Ammonoosuc Trailhead fill up quickly. For Pinkham, there’s overflow parking just south of the Visitor Center and additional parking on the street.

The summit from the top of Tuckerman Ravine. | Credit: Tim Peck
The summit from the top of Tuckerman Ravine. | Credit: Tim Peck

East Side Trails

Tuckerman Ravine Trail

Quick Facts

Distance: 8.2 miles, round trip.
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty:★★★
Scenery:★★★★


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

Of all the routes to the summit, an ascent via the 4.1-mile, one-way Tuckerman Ravine Trail is perhaps the most sought after, as it climbs directly up the notorious glacial cirque and backcountry ski destination. Because snow and ice may cover the terrain from late fall to early summer—making it more of a mountaineering route than a hike—and due to its popularity, this trail may be busy when in prime condition.

Starting just behind the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, the Tuckerman Ravine Trail begins rather benignly. The wide-yet-rocky trail gradually works its way up the roughly 2.5 miles to Hermit Lake and the base of Tuckerman Ravine. As a note, this section may be particularly busy, as Hermit Lake is a popular destination itself. Above Hermit Lake, the trail climbs a series of narrow, steep, and often slippery switchbacks that deliver hikers to the top of the ravine.

From here, the tops of the summit buildings come into view, and it may seem like the difficulty is over. However, you still have a long way to go. Arguably, the final mile of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail is its most challenging, as it involves as much rock-hopping as it does hiking. As you near the top, the sounds of the Auto Road get increasingly louder, and eventually, the trail runs into the road. Here, hikers tackle the ascent’s final challenge: a steep staircase that deposits you near the summit sign. Because of the trail’s steep and slippery nature, hikers should descend via the Lion Head Trail.

Crossing the Alpine Garden. | Credit: Tim Peck
Crossing the Alpine Garden. | Credit: Tim Peck

Lion Head Trail

Quick Facts

Distance: 8.4 miles, round trip.
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty:★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May through October.
Fees/Permits: None

The Lion Head Trail is a popular alternative to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. The trip offers hikers less exposure, gives you a bird’s-eye view of the ravine, and gets you to the peak when the Tuckerman Ravine Trail’s conditions aren’t ideal. The trip up actually follows the Tuckerman Ravine Trail for large portions; however, it veers off to skirt the ravine’s northern edge, rather than ascend directly up it. Commonly thought to be one of the “easier” routes to the summit, the Lion Head gains roughly 4,200 feet of elevation along its 4.2 miles, and is challenging for even seasoned hikers.

Before leaving home, make sure you know which version of the Lion Head Trail—Summer or Winter—is open by checking the Mount Washington Avalanche Center’s trail information. While both leave from the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, the Winter route branches off shortly before Hermit Lake, and the Summer route starts at Hermit Lake. The latter is less steep and a bit quicker than the former. However, it also crosses an avalanche path, and is only open when there is no possibility of the snow sliding. Want to learn more about the Lion Head in winter? Check out this goEast article about it.

Above treeline, the Lion Head Trail affords an incredible view of Tuckerman Ravine from its granite ledges—if the weather allows, that is. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, and especially if it’s windy, be careful. A good gust could blow an unsuspecting person into the ravine. Yes, the trail is that close to the ravine’s rim! The Lion Head Trail rejoins the Tuckerman Ravine Trail at a well-marked junction for the final 0.4 miles to Washington’s summit.

Looking down on the Boot Spur. | Credit: Tim Peck
Looking down on the Boott Spur. | Credit: Tim Peck

Boott Spur Trail

Quick Facts

Distance: 10.8 miles, round trip.
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty:★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May through October.
Fees/Permits: None

Looking for a little bit longer and less crowded hike up Washington’s east side? Check out the Boott Spur Trail, which climbs the ridge forming the southern side of Tuckerman Ravine. Once above treeline, hikers get spectacular views of Hermit Lake, Tuckerman Ravine, and, in the distance, Mount Washington’s summit cone as they ascend the steps of the Boott Spur, a 5,500-foot sub-peak of Mount Washington.

To access the Boott Spur Trail, hikers begin at Pinkham Notch and hike an easy 0.4 miles on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. The Boott Spur Trail begins at a signed junction where the Tuckerman Ravine Trail makes a sharp right turn and begins climbing uphill. Hikers will quickly cross the John Sherburne Ski Trail and then climb forested terrain up the ridgeline. Above treeline, the trail summits Boott Spur and then traverses along the edge of Tuckerman Ravine, until it joins the Davis Path. From there, there’s approximately two miles of rock-hopping to the summit. Overall, climbing Washington via this route is 5.4 miles, with an elevation gain of 4,654 feet. And, since so much is above treeline, make sure to save it for a nice day.

The Pinnacle and the Huntington Ravine Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Pinnacle and the Huntington Ravine Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

Huntington Ravine Trail

Quick Facts

Distance: 4.5 miles, one way.
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty:★★★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May through October.
Fees/Permits: None

One of the White Mountains’ hardest and most dangerous trails, the Huntington Ravine Trail should only be attempted by experienced hikers who are comfortable with exposure. To get there, follow the Tuckerman Ravine Trail 1.3 miles to the junction with the Huntington Ravine Trail and then follow the trail 2.1 miles as it climbs 2,450 feet to the Alpine Garden. The trail initially climbs through forested terrain, before it reaches a junction with the Huntington Ravine Fire Road. It then enters Huntington Ravine, gradually transitioning from a trail to rock-hopping through the bottom of a huge open boulder field called “The Fan.” Navigating up, over, and around these boulders is fun and challenging.

After working through The Fan, continue on the Huntington Ravine Trail as it ascends steeply toward the top of the ravine. Some portions of the upper section require scrambling and rock climbing-like moves to ascend. These sequences have serious exposure and may be difficult to reverse if you get stuck or the weather deteriorates, so only attempt this route on nice days when the trail is dry. On a clear day, though, this section offers a fantastic perspective of the Huntington Ravine.

At 2.1 miles, the Huntington Ravine Trail exits the ravine and intersects with the Alpine Garden Trail. Hikers heading for the summit should continue on this moderate section for 0.3 miles until it ends at the Mount Washington Auto Road and the junction with the Nelson Crag Trail. From there, it’s 0.8 miles of rock-hopping on the Nelson Crag Trail to the summit.

Pro Tip: The Huntington Ravine Trail is hard enough to ascend. Don’t use it as your descent route.

Lake of the Clouds and Mount Madison from Washington's summit cone. | Credit: Tim Peck
Lakes of the Clouds and Mount Monroe from Washington’s summit cone. | Credit: Tim Peck

West Side Trails

Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail

Quick Facts

Distance: 9 miles, round trip.
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty:★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May through October.
Fees/Permits: Ammonoosuc Ravine Trailhead is $5 a day

The Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail (“The Ammo”) is the quickest route up to the Lakes of the Clouds Hut (3.1 miles) and a beautiful way to start a hike to the summit of Mount Washington (4.5 miles). The trail follows a crystal-clear stream up the ravine, eventually climbing steeply as it passes several waterfalls. A little way before Lakes of the Clouds, the trail pokes above treeline, crossing a series of open ledges to the hut. These ledges offer hikers fantastic views of Washington’s summit cone and back west, and are a great place to catch your breath.

At the hut, refill your water bottles, grab a snack (the hut crew’s baked goods are delicious), and enjoy the views. When you’ve recovered, take the Crawford Path 1.4 miles up Washington’s summit cone. This portion is above treeline and open to the elements, so before you head up, reassess the weather and layer up. If the weather is deteriorating or you’re just too tired, the summit of Mount Monroe is a relatively easy, 0.3-mile side hike in the opposite direction. The views are almost as good, and it’s a lot less crowded.

Pro Tip: With replenishment opportunities at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut and again on the summit proper, this is the route for hikers looking to carry a lighter pack.

Descenting the Gulfside Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
Descending the Gulfside Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

Jewell Trail

Quick Facts

Distance: 10.2 miles, round trip.
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty:★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May through October.
Fees/Permits: Ammonoosuc Ravine Trailhead is $5 a day

Another popular west-side route to Washington’s summit is the Jewell Trail to the Gulfside Trail. Although it’s a tad longer than the route via the Ammonoosuc Ravine (5.1 miles one way versus 4.5 miles) and has a little more climbing (4,000 feet of elevation gain versus 3,800 feet), overall it is a slightly easier route, as the Jewell Trail is neither as difficult nor as steep.

The Jewell Trail begins at a trailhead directly across the road from the Ammonoosuc Ravine parking lot and climbs gradually on moderate terrain (at least by Mount Washington standards) up an unnamed ridge on Mount Clay. Near treeline, the views dramatically improve, and the trail gets a little rockier as it nears the intersection with the Gulfside Trail at 5,400 feet.

From the junction, hikers have another 1.4 miles on the Gulfside Trail to Washington’s summit. After skirting Mount Clay, the Gulfside Trail hugs the upper rim of the Great Gulf, a massive east-facing glacial cirque framed by the summits of Washington, Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison. Since it holds the Great Gulf Wilderness, New Hampshire’s smallest and oldest wilderness area, hikers should definitely stop to check it out.

The Gulfside Trail with the Northern Presidentials. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Gulfside Trail with the Northern Presidentials. | Credit: Tim Peck

Longer Options

If a simple ascent of Mount Washington isn’t challenging enough, you have numerous popular ways to incorporate summiting Mount Washington into larger hiking objectives. The most notable is the Presidential Traverse, the White Mountains’ classic point-to-point hike.

Of course, if a full Presidential Traverse seems too daunting, half Presidential Traverses are also popular. Typically, half Presidential Traverses start from the north (at Mount Madison) or the south (at Mount Jackson or Pierce), and hikers will work their way across the range, which culminates in an ascent of Mount Washington.

Another longer, more off-the-beaten path way is via the complete Davis Path. Originally built in 1845 as a bridle path, the Davis Path fell into neglect and disrepair before being re-opened as a footpath in 1910. Today, the Davis Path takes hikers roughly 14 miles over Mount Isolation, crossing over Boott Spur, and eventually joining the Crawford Path beneath Mount Washington’s summit.


Washington and Lake of the Clouds from Mount Monroe. | Credit: Tim Peck
Washington and Lakes of the Clouds from Mount Monroe. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • It’s not uncommon for an ascent of Mount Washington to take longer than anticipated. So, bring a headlamp to avoid having to make a death-defying descent in the dark. We like the Black Diamond ReVolt.
  • Spending time on Mount Washington involves a lot of above-treeline hiking, which often leaves you exposed to the sun. The Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody (men’s/women’s) is an easy way to avoid getting sunburned on your trip.
  • Mount Washington has a well-deserved reputation for being “home to the world’s worst weather.” Prepare for the worst by bringing a lightweight insulated coat, like the EMS Feather Pack Down Jacket (men’s/women’s).
  • The record high temperature on Mount Washington’s summit is 72 degrees. Be prepared for a chilly summit by bringing a winter hat (we like the Smartwool NTS 250 Cuffed Beanie) and gloves (like the Black Diamond Midweight Windbloc Fleece), even on summer ascents.
  • A cold Coke and a slice of pizza from the summit’s cafeteria have saved more than one trip for us, so don’t forget to bring your wallet with cash. Keep your outdoor cred and distinguish yourself from those who drove up or took the train with The North Face Base Camp Wallet.
  • All of the trails on Mount Washington are rugged. Because of this, we always pack trekking poles, like the Black Diamond Distance FLZ (men’s/women’s), for added stability and to reduce the wear and tear on our joints.

The Gulfside Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Gulfside Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • It’s easy to get disoriented on Mount Washington, especially above treeline. Get the Waterproof White Mountains Trail Map, study your route beforehand, and then bring it along—just in case.
  • After a big day on the Rockpile, east-side hikers can cool off with a cold pint from one of Barley & Salt’s 32 drafts on tap in North Conway, while west-side hikers can find cold brews at Fabyan’s Restaurant, conveniently located on the way back to Route 302.
  • Or, stop into a local store, and pick up a six pack of Tuckerman Brewing’s aptly named Rockpile IPA to celebrate when you get home.
  • Let your friends and family know about your successful summit by sending a postcard from the post office located on Mount Washington’s summit.
  • If you’re leaving from Pinkham Notch, make sure to sign the climbing register inside the visitor center, just in case something goes wrong.
  • Any trip to Mount Washington is going to be influenced by the weather. Check the Mount Washington Observatory’s Higher Summit Forecast to know what weather to expect, and read up on how to interpret their predictions.

Mount Washington's Summit. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Washington’s Summit. | Credit: Tim Peck

Current Conditions

Have you hiked Mount Washington recently? Which route did you use? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!


A Guide to Hammock Camping

For many, a swaying hammock is synonymous with relaxation. The word alone conjures memories of breezy summer afternoons: a cold beer sweating in the heat, dappled sunlight dancing through leaves, and gentle rocking that lulls you into a midday nap. It is the physical manifestation of the word “chill.” But, its portable, lightweight design is just as convenient for camping in the backcountry as it is for lounging in the yard, the park, or on the beach.

I started hammock camping a couple of seasons ago, and on solo overnight trips, it’s my absolute go-to. It’s wicked easy to set up after a long day of hiking, and it’s a significantly more sustainable, lower-impact way to camp. Provided you don’t need all the add-ons for every trip—like a rainfly or bug netting—it’ll even lighten the load in your pack. It is a different game, though, and you have to consider a couple of things before grabbing your hammock and hitting the trail.

From left to right the packed ENO SingleNest hammock, Atlas Hammock Suspension System, and DryFly Rain Tarp, weighing in at 3lbs 1oz. | Credit: John Lepak
From left to right: the packed ENO SingleNest hammock, Atlas Hammock Suspension System, and DryFly Rain Tarp, weighing in at 3 lbs., 1 oz. | Credit: John Lepak

Finding the Right Hammock

First thing’s first: you’ve got to get yourself a hammock. However, the “right one” is really just about finding a combination of size, material, and extras that make sense for you.

Backpacking hammocks tend to come in two widths—single and double wide. Just like it sounds, a single is a good fit for one person, while a double is a bit wider and good if you’re expecting company or just want a little extra room to kick it solo.

The material boils down to weight versus durability. A heavier-duty fabric lasts longer but will add ounces to your pack. A lighter fabric will wear quicker but packs down smaller and keeps it light on the trail.

Extras are in name only. In the backcountry, you’re probably going to want at least a few of them. So, let’s start with suspension. I love the ENO Atlas Hammock Suspension System. It goes up quickly—a bonus after a long day of getting beat up in the mountains. Also cool? They’re designed to lessen the impact your hang has on the trees you’re using.

The Atlas Hammock Suspension System straps are webbed so it’s really, really easy to adjust the hang as needed. The unused ones are good for hanging other stuff too, like a camp light, or clothes that need drying out. | Credit: John Lepak
The Atlas Hammock Suspension System straps are webbed, so it’s really, really easy to adjust the hang as needed. The unused ones are good for hanging other stuff, too, like a camp light or clothes that need drying out. | Credit: John Lepak

Next up? Bugs. Heading out in black fly season or just want to keep the mosquitoes at bay? Check out the ENO Guardian Bug Net. It’s another piece of gear, but it’s worth the weight in your pack if you’re in particularly buggy terrain.

Keeping Warm

Among the unique considerations hammock camping presents, keeping warm is likely the first you’ll hear about. On the ground, it’s easy: just a sleeping bag and pad. In a hammock, however, it’s not so simple.

Most sleeping bags have down or synthetic insulation on the bottom layer. But, when compressed, as it is under a person’s body weight, it’s significantly less efficient than its temperature rating would indicate. On the ground or a tent platform, the surface itself and a sleeping pad, which provides insulation of its own, correct this flaw.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

With a hammock, you can get around this in one of two ways. Insulate the bottom with an under-quilt, which hangs under the hammock itself. Or, place a sleeping pad inside the hammock. Personally, I prefer the latter, and run with a Big Agnes Deer Park 30 Sleeping Bag, a Big Agnes Gunn Creek 30º Sleeping Bag, and a Big Agnes Air Core Ultra Sleeping Pad.

Big Agnes ditched their bags’ bottom layer of insulation for a built-in pocket to fit an air pad. But, really, you can use any bag-pad combo. Once you’re in the hammock, your weight will pin the pad down, and the sides help keep it in place overnight. I dig this setup primarily because, unlike with an under-quilt, I can use it in a tent or for cowboy camping just as easily.

At the end of the day, it’s a matter of personal preference and takes some trial and error to get it right.

Staying Dry

It seems obvious enough, but a tarp or rainfly is critical if you’re out in weather or in a place where weather can move in quickly. For this, I use the ENO DryFly Rain Tarp. It’s light, it’s quick to set up, and it has kept me dry. The trick is, rig the tarp just above the hammock, so when the hammock sags under your body weight, you’re not exposed to the rain and wind blowing in from under the sides.

Motion Sickness

If you’re the type that gets motion sickness, this may not be for you. You’re going to move around, be it from wind or your own tossing and turning. Over the period of a night’s sleep, this may lead to some problems. If you’re unsure, give it a go for an hour or two out in the yard on some sunny afternoon to see how it makes you feel. Laborious, I know, but sometimes, that’s just the way it goes.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Picking Your Spots

In the mountains, two trees are often easier to find than a patch of earth flat enough to pitch a tent. This factor alone is enough reason to give hammock camping a try. It’ll take some time to feel out your preference—the perfect hang is subjective—but you’re good to go with two trees and enough line or a pair of straps (more on that below). Keep it off the trail (human or game), and give yourself about two feet of ground clearance. That’s just enough space to keep yourself from an unfortunate midnight run-in with a curious porcupine. 

Getting Comfortable

All right. You’ve done the dishes, rigged up the bear hang, and are ready to hit the hay. Your hammock is strung up just the way you’ve found yourself liking it in the yard and now’s the time. You’ve made your bed, and now must literally lie in it. Great!

Now, sleeping in a hammock is completely different from sleeping on a surface and takes some getting used to. There’s no one way to get comfy, and just like in the yard, it’s going to take some time to find the best fit. So, try out a few different ways to see what feels comfortable. Shift your bag up or down, and change the tension on the straps—do what feels good, and don’t be afraid to adjust! Hopefully, by the time you’ve tucked yourself in, you’ve also gotten your miles in and crushed a couple of mountains. If you’ve done it well, they’ve crushed you back, and you’re just about ready to sleep the sleep of the dead, anyway.