A Ride Fit For a President: Grant's Trip up Mount Washington

“Man looks so small against the universe,” remarked President Ulysses S. Grant as he stood atop Mount Washington in August 1869. He’d just ascended the mountain’s west side via the Cog Railway, and then strolled about the summit, smoking a cigar. Dressed in suits, top hats, and dresses, his party posed for a summit photo—the only inkling of the approaching fall chill was the blankets wrapped around the women’s shoulders. Skinning away from the Marshfield Base Station early on this mid-winter morning, it sure is a lot colder, but President Grant’s 150-year-old remark still rings true: This mountain puts things in perspective. And we have a long way to go.

President Grant (center left, holding his hat) atop Mount Washington. | Courtesy: New England Historical Society
President Grant (center left, holding his hat) atop Mount Washington. | Courtesy: New England Historical Society

The Cog Railway, which we’ve come to skin and ski today, was the brainchild of New Hampshire native, Slyvester Marsh, who’d made a fortune in Chicago’s meat-packing industry before returning to his home state. After struggling to hike up Mount Washington, Marsh was inspired to build an easier way up the peak. His idea, however, was mocked, with one legislator responding to Marsh’s request for a charter to build the railway with a suggestion that the Legislature instead authorize him to build a railway to the moon. The comment has dogged the Cog for a century and a half; You’ll still hear people call it the “railway to the moon” today.

From the Marshfield Base Station, the Cog, known in Grant’s time as the Sky Railway, ascends up the mountain between Burt and Ammonoosuc Ravines before making a gradual right turn toward the summit. President Grant ascended its 3,600 feet in elevation and roughly three miles in distance in the front of the passenger car. We don’t have that luxury—trains don’t typically run in the winter—and we’re relegated to skinning up the mountain on the open slopes on either side of the track.

His idea, however, was mocked, with one legislator responding to Marsh’s request for a charter to build the railway with a suggestion that the Legislature instead authorize him to build a railway to the moon.

Courtesy: The Mount Washington Cog Railway
Courtesy: The Mount Washington Cog Railway

The average grade is 25 percent and drops of perspiration start to appear on our caps shortly into our climb, despite the single-digit temperatures. Still, the first 1,000 feet of elevation go quickly and in no time we’re cruising by Waumbek Tank, a water tank where Grant’s train probably paused to take on more water and coal for the steam-powered engines.

At the time of Grant’s 1869 ascent, the Cog was the world’s first cog-driven railway, employing engines with cog wheels that mesh with a toothed rail in the center of the track for propulsion up and down the steep grade. The track we’re skinning next to this morning is thus the world’s oldest cog railway—running through 28 presidencies since Grant’s.

Near treeline, our skin track shifts out and left of the track as we approach Jacob’s Ladder. A marvel of engineering both in Grant’s era and now, the tracks at Jacob’s Ladder lay at a puckering 37.4 degrees and balance on trestles 30 feet in the air. On his ascent, Grant, sitting at the front of the train, would have been 14 feet higher than those in the rear of the coach. For us, the slope in the vicinity of the Ladder is the crux of the ascent, our skins searching for purchase we climb the steeps near the tracks.

Courtesy: The Mount Washington Cog Railway
Courtesy: The Mount Washington Cog Railway

Once above treeline, we continue along the Cog as it bends right, slowing down to take in the view. To the north and south, not much has changed since Grant’s time, with the rugged northern Presidentials running on our left and their gentler southern brethren to our right. Behind us today stands the Mount Washington Hotel—which wouldn’t be built for another 30 years after Grant’s visit—and Bretton Woods, which followed Grant by about a century. Grant would certainly have seen signs of civilization, however; logging and railroads were extremely active in the area and hiking in the Whites, especially on the Crawford Path, was rising in popularity.

On his ascent, Grant, sitting at the front of the train, would have been 14 feet higher than those in the rear of the coach.

Arriving on Mount Washington’s summit, we seek refuge from the wind behind the Sherman Adams Visitor Center and quickly dig out puffy coats, mittens, and balaclavas. Grant’s visit to Mount Washington’s summit predates the Sherman Adams building by about 110 years, but the Summit House hotel would have stood nearby. Our arrival on the peak is not met with the same fanfare as Grant’s. A cannon announced the President’s arrival on the summit and the railway’s founder, Marsh, was there to shake Grant’s hand. Between the cold and the wind, none of the few hardy souls milling about the summit this morning venture over to greet us as we transition for our ski down the mountain.

While Grant was our inspiration to come up the Cog this morning, we’re taking our descent cues from the railway’s early employees. They would descend the Cog on a slide board made of metal and wood. Called a “devil’s shingle,” the board fit into the tracks and riders descended toboggan-like using friction-inducing brake handles to control their speed. With the thin, windblown, and rocky snowpack up high, we won’t match the 60 mph speeds achieved on the contraptions, let alone the 2 minute and 45 second record-fast slide. But it does leave us wondering if this was what P.T. Barnum, another early passenger on the Cog Railway, was referring to when he described the railroad as the “second greatest show on earth.”

Courtesy: The Mount Washington Cog Railway
Courtesy: The Mount Washington Cog Railway

As we ski away from the summit and begin sliding downhill, we can only wonder what Grant thought during his descent. Maybe he was thinking back to earlier stops on his trip to New England—Newport, Rhode Island; Boston, Massachusetts; and Manchester and Concord, New Hampshire—or his night before at the Crawford House. Maybe he was thinking ahead to the tour’s next destinations—Littleton, New Hampshire, then off to Saratoga Springs, New York. Or maybe he was doing just what we’re doing now: taking in the serene beauty of the landscape as he cruised down Mount Washington.


It Can't Happen Here: 12 Myths About Northeast Avalanches

Many people believe that avalanches are a problem reserved for skiers and climbers recreating “out west.” However, unstable snowpacks and avy-prone slopes can be found throughout the East Coast’s mountain ranges. Read on for why you should be upping your avalanche awareness this winter.

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1. Myth: Avalanches Only Happen in the Presidentials

In 2018, Aaron Rice (the skier who famously climbed and skied 2.5 million vertical feet in 2016), triggered an avalanche in Vermont’s Smugglers’ Notch. Just days later, six soldiers in the Vermont National Guard were caught in a slide. In February of that same year, a skier was buried up to their waist in an avalanche on Wright Peak in the Adirondacks. Stories abound about recreationalists getting caught in avalanches in the Northeast, inside and out of the Whites. Here’s one about Trap Dike. And here’s another tidbit about two other avalanches in the ’Daks in February 2019. Just because you’re not in Tuckerman Ravine doesn’t mean you should let your guard down.

2. Myth: East Coast Avalanches Aren’t Fatal

The East Coast makes up only a small percentage of the fatalities caused by avalanches nationwide. With that said, even one death is too many. The past decade has seen two avalanche-caused fatalities in the East: one was a skier descending Raymond Cataract and the other was a climber in Pinnacle Gully. The right terrain (which the East has plenty of), plus the right snow conditions (which we also get), mixed with a lack of education and bad luck can definitely be fatal.

3. Myth: Eastern Avalanches are Only Deadly to Those Out Alone 

Although only solo travelers have been the victims of deadly avalanches on the East Coast in recent years, groups have not escaped fatalities resulting from avalanches. In 1996, two skiers were killed by an avalanche in Mount Washington’s Gulf of Slides. In 2000, one skier was killed and three others buried by an avalanche on Wright Peak in the Adirondacks. Groups are no less likely to cause avalanches, but if the members of a group are well-trained, they have the ability to rescue a buried friend. Soloists have no such luxury.

Credit: Jamie Walter
Credit: Jamie Walter

4. Myth: I’m With A Guide, It’s All Good 

According to the Utah Avalanche Center, avalanche professionals are far less likely to perish in an avalanche when compared to other users—less than 1 percent of all avalanche fatalities involve avalanche professionals. Having said that, a popular saying is that the avalanche does not know you are an expert! Last year, two AIARE certified Level 3s and one AIARE certified Pro 1 were caught in a slide in Oakes Gulf. Everyone makes mistakes and must practice the same good decision making.

5. Myth: I’m Experienced, I’ve Planned Well, I’m Safe

John Steinbeck said, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” This is especially true with avalanches on the East Coast. You can take all the AIARE classes, read the avalanche reports, and have years of experience in avalanche terrain and still get caught just like the Ski The East team did on a trip to the Chic-Chocs. Vigilance is equally important at all experience levels.

6. Myth: Accidents Only Catch Unlucky Skiers and Climbers 

There are a lot of things in life outside of our control, but more often than not getting caught in an avalanche isn’t the result of bad luck. More than 90 percent of avalanche accidents are triggered either by the victim or someone in the victim’s party, and most could have been avoided by better decision making.

7. Myth: The East’s Comparatively Minute Snowpack Makes Avalanches Less Deadly

The East Coast may not have the dense snowpack of the west, but we do have an abundance of trees and rocks. While asphyxia is the primary cause of death of avalanche victims, trauma accounts for about a quarter of avalanche fatalities.

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8. Myth: Mount Washington Is Home to the Only Avalanche Center East of the Rockies

The Mount Washington Avalanche Center is the only US avalanche center east of the Rockies, but it’s not the only avalanche center in the Northeast. As anyone who’s visited the powder playground above the US border knows, Avalanche Quebec provides forecasts for the Chic-Chocs and has the distinction of being the only avalanche center east of the Rockies in Canada. But as we’ve seen, just because someplace like the Adirondacks or Green Mountains doesn’t have an avalanche center, doesn’t mean they are immune to avalanches. It just means you’re going to need to use your own judgement.

9. Myth: “Everything Will Be Fine, We’re On An Established Hiking Trail” 

Trails that seem simple in the summer, can be more complicated in the winter. Even if they don’t cross an avalanche path directly, they may sit below one, or travel in a gully or other terrain trap. Some trails, like the route up Lion Head on Mount Washington, transition to a winter route when the summer route is deemed to be too risky. But if you’re traveling the summer route before the switch is made, make good decisions.

That being said, as one university outing group recently found out the hard way, it’s easy to get off trail in the winter and stumble into avalanche terrain, even on the Lion Head Winter Route. Their adventures are touched on toward the end of these reports (1, 2) from the MWAC.

10. Myth: Avalanches Strike Without Warning 

The vast majority of avalanches provide warning signs well before they slide—cracks forming around your foot or ski as you move through the snow, a “whumping” sound coming from the snowpack, and signs of recent avvy activity all are indicators of avalanche potential (though you may only have seconds warning in some cases). So, too, are recent snowfall and visible plumes of blowing snow (which is a sign that the areas where the snow stops are loading up). Learn to recognize the signs by taking an American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) class.

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11. Myth: Packing an Avalanche Beacon, Probe, and Shovel Makes You Safe

Avalanche tools such as a beacon, probe, and shovel go a long way toward increasing your safety in avalanche terrain; however, a tool is only as good as the person wielding it. Studies show that 93% of avalanche victims are recovered alive if they are dug out within the first 15 minutes of burial, but the likelihood of survival diminishes significantly after that. The safest bet is to avoid getting buried, but practicing and familiarizing yourself with your beacon, probe, and shovel can mean the difference between life and death. Again, taking an AIARE class includes education for using these tools.

12. Myth: Ice Climbers are Safe if They’re Not Climbing in the Ravines

Popular ice climbing destinations like Shoestring Gully, Willeys Slide, and Mount Willard’s South Face have all avalanched in the past. So have some of the longer gullies on Mount Webster. Looking for an example? Check out S. Peter Lewis’ and Dave Horowitz’s recounting of one such avalanche on Mount Willard’s Cinema Gully in their classic Selected Climbs in the Northeast. Fortunately for them, everything turned out okay.

 

Hopefully that busts a few East Coast myths for you. When you’re out in the field this winter, keep an eye out for red flags like recent snowfall, signs of snowpack instability (whumping, collapsing, and shooting cracks), rapid warming, wind loading, and signs of recent avalanches. And take an AIARE class from EMS Schools to get you up to speed on safe decision making in avalanche terrain. You may not have realized how much we have in the East.


Support the Mountains of the Northeast With Your Purchase

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

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Adirondack Mountain Club

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

Appalachian Mountain Club

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

Mount Washington Observatory

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

 

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


Death and Haunting on the Crawford Path

June 30, 1900, William Curtis and Allan Ormsbee set off to make the 8.5-mile trip up the Crawford Path—w new but relatively well-established trail—to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) annual meeting being held at the Summit House, a hotel on Mount Washington’s summit. By day’s end, both were dead.

Many ghost stories begin with a true story. This one is no exception.

William Curtis, circa 1870
William Curtis, circa 1870

In a story as old as mountaineering, Curtis and Ormsbee knowingly hiked into a fierce storm. Despite deteriorating weather and a warning about the conditions from two guides descending the Crawford Path, Curtis and Ormsbee continued toward the summit. On Mount Pleasant—known today as Mount Eisenhower—conditions were poor; the men signed the summit register adding “Rain clouds and wind sixty miles—Cold.”

As Curtis and Ormsbee forged ahead into the storm, their absence at the meeting created anxiety among the AMC members on the summit. Vyron and Thaddeus Lowe, two respected guides (and the trailbuilders of Lowe’s Path on Mount Adams), set out in search of the men. Their search was short lived. High winds quickly extinguished the Lowes’ lanterns and a thick coat of ice covered the top of the mountain. Realizing the danger of conducting a search in such conditions, the two retreated to the Summit House.

Meanwhile, as conditions worsened, Curtis and Ormsbee’s strength waned. They sought shelter in the scrub spruce near the edge of Oakes Gulf where the Crawford Path meets the Mount Monroe Summit Loop Trail. The body of William Curtis was found near there the following morning.

At some point, Ormsbee continued on. He made it within sight of the summit buildings on Mount Washington. His body was discovered there the next afternoon.

Many ghost stories begin with a true story. This one is no exception.

The duo’s deaths set off shockwaves in the northeast hiking community, particularly because 63-year-old Curtis was among the most accomplished hikers in the country. Considered “the founder of athletics in America,” he had taken to mountain climbing some 18 years earlier. An account of the tragedy in Above the Clouds—a newspaper published on top of Mount Washington from 1877 to 1908—reported that Curtis regularly “climb[ed] alone in all kinds of weather,” and was “confident…in his strength and skill,” as well as “perfectly fearless.” Ormsbee, by contrast, was a newcomer to New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Just the week before, he made his first hikes in the range, ascending Mount Lafayette, Whiteface, Passaconaway, Tecumseh, and Sandwich Dome.

Courtesy: Appalachian Mountain Club Library and Archives
Courtesy: Appalachian Mountain Club Library and Archives

While their bodies were brought down the mountain on the Cog Railway, local lore hints that the spirits of both men remained on the mountain. In the aftermath of the tragedy, a wooden cross was erected to mark Ormsbee’s final resting place, a bronze plaque commemorating Curtis was placed on a boulder on the saddle beneath Mount Monroe, and a since-removed shelter was placed on the saddle connecting Mount Monroe to Mount Washington.

He was found the next morning huddled in a cupboard under the hut’s kitchen sink, clutching an axe.

The legend about Ormsbee’s cross is that passing hikers critical of Curtis and Ormsbee’s decision to forge ahead into the storm are pushed or knocked over by an unseen force. Not wanting to tempt fate or raise the ire of Ormsbee’s spirit, AMC staff got into the habit of saying, “it could have happened to anyone” when passing the site where Ormsbee perished.

As for the plaque, AMC croomembers at Lake of the Clouds Hut—which eventually replaced the shelter constructed following the tragic hike—found Curtis’s plaque detached from its rock beneath Monroe and sitting on the hut’s threshold. As detailed in the book Haunted Hikes of New Hampshire, author Marianne O’Connor details how the croo repeatedly returned the plaque to the boulder, only to find it again in the hut’s doorway. Eventually, the plaque was bolted to the wall in the hut, hopefully putting an end to this ghostly episode.

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Neither superstitious sayings nor bolted plaques put an end to the ghost stories, however. Guests at AMC’s Lake of the Clouds Hut in the 1930s claimed to see a menacing face peering into the hut’s windows while other visitors felt the sensation of an icy hand gripping their shoulders in the middle of the night. Others reported hearing footsteps come up from the hut’s basement and doors opening and closing, despite the whole hut being in bed. But these are just bumps in the night compared to what one AMC croo member, who was staying there solo, experienced. He was found the next morning huddled in a cupboard under the hut’s kitchen sink, clutching an axe after a terrifying encounter with a ghostly face leering at him from each of the hut’s boarded-up windows.


Alpha Guide: The Crawford Path

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

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One of the nation’s most historic and scenic trails runs across the ridge of New Hampshire’s Presidential Mountain Range.

One of the nation’s most iconic hikes, the Crawford Path leaves from the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) Highland Center, ascending through quiet forest before gaining one of the region’s most beautiful ridgelines, passing a stunning alpine hut, and culminating on the summit of New England’s highest mountain. The Crawford Path is steeped in history, too—it’s the country’s oldest continuously maintained hiking trail and a federally-designated National Recreation Trail. The segment between Mount Pierce and Mount Washington, which is part of the Appalachian Trail, delivers incredible views and opportunities to summit four New Hampshire 4,000-footers.

Quick Facts

Distance: 8.5 miles with 4,700 feet of elevation gain, one way
Time to Complete: Full day for most.
Difficulty: ★★★
Scenery:★★★★★


Season: May through October
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://bit.ly/2YjUC0P

Download

Turn-By-Turn

The Crawford Path begins across the street from the AMC Highland Center on Route 302. Getting onto Route 302 is easy from both the east, via Route 16, and from the west, via Route 3 (exit 35) and Interstate 93.

Hikers typically park in one of three areas near the Highland Center:

Highland Center: The AMC Highland Center is an ideal jumping-off point for Crawford Path hikers. While parking here is reserved for the Center’s guests, water, restrooms, and a staffed information center are available to all. If you do end up starting here, the trail begins across the street from the facility.

Crawford Depot: A stone’s throw south of the Highland Center is the Crawford Depot. Hikers will find free parking, bathrooms, water, information, and supplies here as well. To access the trail, simply cross Route 302 and walk north for 100 yards to where the Crawford Path heads into the woods.

Crawford Connector Trailhead: On the opposite side of the street just north of the Highland Center is Mount Clinton Road, which has a parking lot for the Crawford Connector Trailhead. The Crawford Connector Trailhead features pit restrooms but no other amenities. Hikers leaving this trailhead will also tack on an additional 0.4 miles of hiking to gain the Crawford Path. Joining the Crawford Path a little bit above its official start, hikers hoping to see the historic plaques, or simply start from the actual beginning, can either walk back along the road or backtrack after the Crawford Connector/Crawford Path junction to the trail’s well-marked start. Note:A daily recreation pass is required to park at this trailhead—they can be purchased with cash at the trailhead. Annual passes ranging from $30 (individual) to $40 (household) are also available online, at the White Mountain National Forest Information Center, and at White Mountain National Forest Offices.

Credit: Chris Shane
Credit: Chris Shane

Heading Up Mount Pierce

The sights and sounds of Route 302 and the bustling of numerous hikers surrounding the trailhead are left behind as soon as you step onto the Crawford Path. Shortly after entering the woods, hikers pass a sign detailing the trail’s status as the oldest continuously maintained hiking trail in the country. A few moments after that, hikers will pass a bronze plaque commemorating the Crawford Path’s status as a National Recreation Trail.

After 0.4 miles, hikers will encounter a short spur trail leading to Gibbs Falls. Dropping 35 feet into a shallow pool below, Gibbs Falls is a quick and scenic diversion for hikers who feel comfortable covering the 8.5 miles and 4,700 feet of elevation gain ahead. Above the Gibbs Falls spur, the trail begins to steepen and increases in ruggedness for 1.1 miles to the Mitzpah Cutoff (44.220695, -71.382462). If you haven’t done so yet, the Cutoff is an ideal place to stop for a quick snack or drink.

From the Mitzpah Cutoff, the Crawford Path continues for 1.2 miles to its intersection with the Webster Cliff Trail just below the summit of Mount Pierce. Watch your footing on this section as it’s often wet and slick. When the trail begins to level out and the trees start to thin, make sure your above-treeline gear (windshirt and, depending on the day, hat and gloves) is readily available—after this section, the trail is predominantly above treeline.

The trees begin to give way to rocky slabs just above the intersection with the Webster Cliff Trail and a short diversion (less than one-tenth of a mile) off the Crawford Path leads to the summit of 4,312-foot Mount Pierce (44.227802, -71.364769). Marked with a large cairn, the summit provides a semi-protected place to enjoy a snack—watch out for the ever-opportunistic gray jays! On the slabs below the summit, hikers are treated to a spectacular view of the Crawford Path as it continues on toward Mount Eisenhower, with Mount Washington (the Crawford Path’s endpoint) looming the distance.

Eisenhower's summit. | Credit: Chris Shane
Eisenhower’s summit. | Credit: Chris Shane

On to Eisenhower 

Backtrack from the summit of Mount Pierce and regain the Crawford Path at its junction with the Webster Cliff Trail. From here, it descends into the col between Mount Pierce and Mount Eisenhower. Primarily staying above treeline with views of Bretton Woods to the west and the pointy peak of Mount Chocorua, among many others, to the south, the Crawford Path then ascends out of the col before connecting with the Eisenhower Loop after 1.2 miles.

Peakbaggers will want to take the 0.8-mile trek from the Crawford Path onto the Mount Eisenhower Loop Trail to tick the summit of 4,760-foot Mount Eisenhower. Marked by a giant cairn, the bald summit of Mount Eisenhower (44.240688, -71.350342) is easily recognizable and treats hikers to a stunning 360-degree views. Make sure to admire the section of the Crawford Path you’ve just traveled and scope out the section that lies ahead—namely Mount Monroe and Mount Washington. On pleasant days, the summit of Mount Eisenhower is also a fantastic place to stop for a quick break.

The Crawford Path affords a more direct route than the Eisenhower Loop Trail. Traversing the east side of Mount Eisenhower, it shaves off 0.3 miles and some elevation from the Eisenhower Loop and is a great alternative in bad weather. It’s also perfect for hikers trying to capture the historic feel of the Crawford Path. Even if you’re planning on summiting Eisenhower, it’s worth following the Crawford Path a football field or so past the junction with the Eisenhower Loop Trail for a fantastic view of the trail ahead and the Presidential Range-Dry River Wilderness below. Much less traveled than Eisenhower’s summit, but with views that are almost as good, this might be the place for you if you’re looking for a momentary reprieve from the peakbagging masses. If you do pause here, try to pick out the summits of Mounts Davis and Isolation one ridgeline over to the east.

Monroe's summit, Lakes of the Clouds, and Mount Washington. | Credit: Chris Shane
Monroe’s summit, Lakes of the Clouds, and Mount Washington. | Credit: Chris Shane
Looking down on Lakes of the Clouds from Monroe. | Credit: Chris Shane
Looking down on Lakes of the Clouds from Monroe. | Credit: Chris Shane

Moving along to Monroe

Leaving from the Crawford Path’s northern junction with the Eisenhower Loop Trail, hikers will follow the path as it moves across the col between Mount Eisenhower and the prominent summit of Mount Monroe. Largely above treeline, hikers can take in a picturesque view of the Crawford Path as it winds toward Mount Monroe with the massive Mount Washington in the background. Just to the west is Mount Franklin—despite rising to 5,001 feet, Mount Franklin doesn’t count as a New Hampshire 4,000-footer due to its lack of prominence.

After 1.2 miles, hikers must again decide between staying on the Crawford Path proper or taking an alternate route to the summit of a 4,000-footer. The 0.7-mile Monroe Loop Trail brings hikers to the summit of one of the White Mountains’ prettier peaks, 5,372-foot Mount Monroe (44.255089, -71.321373). Here, hikers are treated to a stellar view of the AMC Lakes of the Clouds Hut to the north in the foreground with the Rockpile filling the background.

Below and to the east, the Crawford Path rolls toward the hut, delivering the same distance as the Monroe Loop Trail but on a packed dirt path and without the elevation gain. This portion of the Path follows the rim of Oakes Gulf, offering spectacular views of Oakes Gulf’s headwall, as the Presidential Range-Dry River Wilderness spills out below.

Lakes of the Clouds Hut with Monroe behind. | Credit: Chris Shane
Lakes of the Clouds Hut with Monroe behind. | Credit: Chris Shane

Lakes of the Clouds 

From the junction of the Crawford Path with the Monroe Loop Trail, hikers will travel a short way downhill to the Lakes of the Clouds Hut (44.258831, -71.318817). Taking its name from the two small alpine lakes sitting beside the hut on the col between Mount Monroe and Mount Washington, Lakes of the Clouds is the AMC’s largest hut. Always a welcome sight, the hut provides a sweet reprieve from the above-treeline elements—whether it’s shade on a sunny day, warmth on a cold day, or simply a break from the seemingly ever-present wind on the exposed ridgeline.

The hut also provides an ideal opportunity to refuel. An indoor faucet is available for hikers to refill their bottles or hydration bladders, and if you were smart enough to pack your wallet, coffee, lemonade, soup, and baked goods are available for purchase. If the full Crawford Path in a day feels ambitious, lodging is also available at Lakes of the Clouds from the end of May to the middle of September. As an added bonus, visitors staying overnight at the hut are served a full breakfast and dinner. If you’re planning on turning your Crawford Path trip into a multi-day adventure, this is the only place on the path that hikers can stay without running afoul of National Forest rules and regulations—other overnight alternatives require a substantial detour off the Crawford Path and are likely to add considerable elevation.

Credit: Chris Shane
Credit: Chris Shane

Up the Rockpile

The hike from the Lakes of the Clouds to the summit of Mount Washington delivers the most challenging and exposed section of the Crawford Path. Steep and rocky and covering a little over a mile, it’s here that hikers get a true taste of the rugged northern Presidentials. If the hike up doesn’t take your breath away, the view from here will. To the south, the Lakes of the Clouds Hut is picturesquely nestled between its namesake lakes while Mount Washinton’s summit cone stands starkly above to the north. On all sides are mountains and forests—take some time to pick out the peaks of the region’s other classic hikes, like Franconia Ridge and the Pemi Loop in the distance to the west.

The section of trail between the hut and Mount Washington has regular cairns to aid hikers in bad weather and low visibility. Pay attention to them, as the weather on the Rockpile can change in a heartbeat. Focus as well on the trail’s direction, as many other trails intersect this segment of the Crawford Path. Fortunately, the junctions with the Tuckerman Crossover, the Davis Path, the Westside Trail, and the Gulfside Trail are all well signed.

Nearing the summit, the quiet found along much of the Crawford Path begins to dissipate. The whistle of the Cog Railroad, the sound of cars motoring up the auto road, and the summit crowds—in conjunction with the numerous summit buildings—conspire to offer a picture of civilization on the summit of New England’s tallest mountain (44.270584, -71.303551). Fight through the crowds and take a photo at the summit sign.

While it’s easy to disparage the infrastructure on Mount Washington’s summit, hikers will find restrooms, a place to refill their water bottles, and a cafeteria here. If a piece of pizza or an ice-cold soda sounds appealing, remember your wallet. A cold drink or warm bite to eat has saved more than one Mount Washington trip. Even if you don’t plan on stopping, a few bucks tucked into your first-aid kit might be a welcome sight if the weather hasn’t cooperated or the day is taking longer than planned.

Credit: Chris Shane
Credit: Chris Shane

Choose Your Finish

Dead-ending on the summit of Mount Washington, Crawford Path hikers have a wide variety of options for descending the mountain. The Gulfside Trail to the Jewell Trail is the most obvious descent route, but hikers will do everything from backtracking to the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail to hiking down the Lions Head to continuing north and completing a south-to-north Presidential Traverse. Check out our Alpha Guide: Day Hiking Mount Washington for a detailed description of Mount Washington’s major routes.

Looking to hike the Crawford Path, but not sure your body can handle the rigors of 8.5 miles and 4,700 feet of elevation? Consider taking a ride up the Mount Washington Auto Road or the Mount Washington Cog Railway (which is celebrating its 150th year of operation this year), then hiking the Crawford Path in reverse, from Washington to Crawford Notch. Although it’s the same distance, the elevation gain is comparatively modest.


"STOP. The area ahead has the worse weather in America. Many have died there from exposure, even in the summer. Turn back now if the weather is bad." | Credit: Chris Shane
“STOP. The area ahead has the worse weather in America. Many have died there from exposure, even in the summer. Turn back now if the weather is bad.” | Credit: Chris Shane

The Kit

  • A pair of trail runners like the Salomon Sense Ride 2 (men’s/women’s) is an ideal choice for speeding across the relatively gentle above-treeline terrain between Mount Pierce and Mount Washington but burly enough to handle the rugged rocks of the Presidentials.
  • The Black Diamond Speed 22 is lightweight, trail-tested, and just the right size pack for carrying trip essentials.
  • Cash is king for snacks at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut, a soda in the snack bar at Mount Washington’s summit, or springing for a ticket on the Cog Railway. Keep your outdoor cred high and packweight down with the Flowfold Minimalist Card Holder Wallet.
  • The Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell (men’s/women’s) provides protection from the ever-present winds found above treeline and takes up virtually no space in your pack. (FYI—for 62 years, Mount Washington held the world record for the second fastest wind gust ever recorded: 231 mph!)
  • Conditions along the Crawford Path can be cool even in the dead of summer. A super lightweight puffy like the Arc’teryx Atom SL Hoodie (men’s/women’s) is a great choice for warm weather missions while the Arc’teryx Atom LT (men’s/women’s) is a reliable choice in colder conditions.
  • With the hut and summit of Mount Washington providing places to refill water bottles, hikers can cut down on the amount of water weight they carry. A standard 32 oz. Nalgene bottle or a 48 oz. Nalgene Silo water bottle are inexpensive, lightweight, and easy to refill on the fly.

Credit: Chris Shane
Credit: Chris Shane

Keys to the Trip

  • A large portion of the Crawford Path is above treeline, making it a hike to avoid in bad weather. Before you head up, check the Mount Washington Observtory’s forecast.
  • Speaking of bad weather, limited visibility is not uncommon in the above-treeline sections, particularly between Lakes of the Clouds and Mount Washington’s summit. Follow the cairns carefully and when in doubt turn around; the mountain will be there tomorrow.
  • The Crawford Path intersects with numerous trails which can make navigating confusing. This is especially true in bad weather. Stay on course with a waterproof map of the White Mountains.
  • If you descended the Jewell Trail or Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, cool off in the Ammonoosuc River at one of the numerous swimming holes lining Base Station Rd.
  • Grab a beer and a burger at Rek-Lis Brewing Company in Bethlehem—you’ve earned it!
  • Wondering what to pack for a day on the Crawford Path? Check out our blog Top to Bottom: Gear to hike the NH 48

Current Conditions

Have you hiked the Crawford Path, or even a piece of it, recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!

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Faces of the Crawford Path

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In 200 years, the Crawford Path has seen a lot of footsteps, but today, its tradition is as strong as ever. Everyone from Appalachian Trail hikers in the last few weeks of their trek, to weekenders and trail runners traversing the Presidential Range, to day hikers, to those who drove to the top of Mount Washington and are taking a hike into the tundra calls the Crawford Path home. We sent photographer Chris Shane hiking the length of the Crawford Path this summer to get a taste of who is adding their footsteps on top of 200 years of history, and why.

 

Do you have your own story of connection to the Crawford Path and the trails in the Whites? Share it on Instagram (wear your EMSxWMTX shirt for bonus points) with a picture from your hikes and the hashtags #goeast and #HikeItHelpIt for a chance to be featured on here and on EMS’s social media.

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Combine and Conquer: The White Mountain Trail Collective

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The forested trail on the Crawford Path echoed with the shattering of rocks, lively conversation, and heavy breathing. The oldest continuously used hiking trail in the country was undergoing a long-needed facelift in preparation of turning 200 this year. Volunteers and professional crew members from organizations such as the Randolph Mountain Club, the National Forest Service and the Appalachian Mountain Club were working side-by-side clearing water bars, repairing rock steps and cleaning debris from the path. Cooperation like this is a common sight these days, but none of this would have been possible a few years ago. 

They were gathered there by the White Mountain Trail Collective, a two-year-old nonprofit that coordinates resources, training and large scale projects in the White Mountains. The group has participation from 16 clubs and crews which traditionally haven’t worked together on larger or longer-term endeavors.

Coordination is important these days because the trails are experiencing historic levels of usage, without the concomitant upkeep to properly maintain them. There are over 1,400 miles of non-motorized trails in the White Mountains which are frequented by 6 million people each year. 

A majority of the work falls on the shoulders of volunteer groups who maintain “their” regional areas. These self-organized and self-funded trail clubs have been in operation since before the the White Mountain National Forest existed, and established many of the paths used today. The regional clubs are having a hard time keeping up, and the National Forest Service doesn’t have the budget or capacity to cover all the work that needs to be done.

Courtesy: Joe Klementovich/WMTC
Courtesy: Joe Klementovich/WMTC

“Our own crew is getting smaller and older,” says Ken Smith, President of the Chocorua Mountain Club, one of these local groups. “We’re only able to complete Level 1 maintenance once per year but heavy use and huge rainfall can wash away a day’s work in a matter of minutes.” 

Stewardship projects are broken into three levels: Level 1, like Smith mentions, consists of light maintenance like clearing brush, cutting back foliage, and digging out water bars (the rocky troughs you see in a path, which acts like a gutter to funnel water to the side of the trail). This generally doesn’t involve hard labor. 

Level 2 is heavier work where actual repairs need to be made, like cleaning bogged ditches, or installing drainage. Level 3 are issues beyond repair. This is about re-building, such as pulling out dilapidated stair steps and building new ones. This involves quarrying rocks, splitting them, and moving them up and down the trail.

Level 2 and 3 projects are needed for long-term stewardship and are the least likely to get done because regional clubs don’t have the manpower or resources. These projects require a larger budget for materials, specialized tools, a dedicated crew for weeks or months (not days), and specific expertise to complete the work. Without a dedicated workforce, maintaining existing trail conditions is difficult, while improving the paths for the long-haul is nearly impossible. That’s where the WMTC decided to pool resources to help. 

“Our goal is to think 5 to 10 to 20 years out about how trail maintenance is going to get done.”

The organizing capacity of the WMTC offers the first opportunity for long-term planning to take place in the White Mountains. 

“Our goal is to think 5 to 10 to 20 years out about how trail maintenance is going to get done,” said Melanie Luce, the group’s executive director. The WMTC focuses on the large-scale challenges that need a long-term strategic plan, serving as the organizing force to build the plan and utilize smaller groups where they’re most useful. By uniting these groups around a single shared project, the WMTC allows them to divide and conquer. 

The WMTC also makes it easier for donations and fundraising to go directly towards trail maintenance. “Like most established trail maintaining clubs, our biggest challenge is always how to find funding for our pro crew each season,” said Bob Drescher, the Trails Co-chair of the Randolph Mountain Club. “Without grants, it would be nearly impossible. But instead of competing with other clubs for the same funding, the idea of combining our efforts [through the WMTC] to secure larger amounts seemed worth a try.” 

As if that weren’t enough, the WMTS also puts together specialized trainings for local trail crews, such as stone work and alpine rigging, maintain a tool cache for participating organizations to use, and organize additional volunteers to bring even more hands to projects.  

The Collective kicked off with a two year project on the Crawford Path in 2018, thanks in part to a grant, the help of the US Forest Service, and participation from many of the local trail clubs. The first project—now wrapping up its second year—was a success, and has grown to involve over 200 volunteers on the project. For 2020, the group plans to move into the Mount Washington Valley. 

“Instead of competing with other clubs for the same funding, the idea of combining our efforts to secure larger amounts seemed worth a try.” 

After each project is complete, on-going maintenance of the trails remains in the hands of the volunteer trail crews, often comprised of members who are aging out. To help develop the next generation of stewards, the WMTC partnered with Plymouth State University to help connect students to the local trails.

“With PSU this year, we helped start a conservation corp,” said Luce. “Students are being paid this summer, with funding that we raised, to learn how to do trail maintenance, so that they can come back next year to help do the work.”

This is a long-term commitment that needs leadership dedicated to the cause. Luckily, Luce is up for the challenge. “It’s not really a job for me. It’s a passion,” she says.

Thanks to the coordinated effort of the local trail crews, the Forest Service, and the WMTC, the trails of the White Mountains may very well celebrate centennials for years to come.

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The Old Route: Hiking For History on the Crawford Path

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Editor’s note: The alpine along the Presidential Range is extremely fragile and off-trail travel can do irreparable harm to the delicate plant life. For that reason, goEast does not recommend hikers venture off-trail along the Crawford Path and specific details about the exact location of the former trail have been removed from this article. The authors took specific steps to ensure they made no impact on the environment. 

From the comfort of our home computers, it didn’t seem that daunting. Finding the remnants of a 100-year-old abandoned shelter along the original route of the Crawford Path, somewhere between Mount Monroe and the summit of Mount Washington couldn’t be that hard. After all, traces of the original route are discernible on Google Earth. We just needed to hike to the general vicinity, find the trail, and then follow it along until we (hopefully) stumble upon the shelter. Easy! But having spent our adult lives hiking in the region, we should have known that the White Mountains wouldn’t give up their secrets so easily.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Winding its way across the southern Presidentials toward Mount Washington’s summit, the Crawford Path has captured the hearts of hikers for centuries. Built by Abel and Ethan Crawford in 1819, the trail marked the birthplace of wilderness activity in the White Mountains. It’s opening, as Christopher Johnson writes in This Grand & Magnificent Place: The Wilderness Heritage of the White Mountains, coincided with a burgeoning outdoor movement, where “Americans were beginning to view the mountain wilderness as worthy of exploration for personal, aesthetic, and scientific reasons.”

While an increasing number of visitors used the trail in those early years, often guided by Ethan Crawford or, later, one of his employees, they’d be shocked by how many hikers have followed in their footsteps now. So far today, we’ve already encountered hundreds of people. And we’ve barely even left the parking lot.

The vast majority of the nation’s oldest continuously maintained hiking trail still follows the original route. It leaves Crawford Depot at the top of Crawford Notch, then climbs gradually up Mount Pierce. Just below Pierce’s summit, the trail turns north, a streak of well-trodden dirt amongst a sea of alpine green as it traverses near the west rim of Oakes Gulf, past Mount Eisenhower and Mount Monroe. Around the seven-mile mark, the trail begins its final ascent, climbing a little over a mile up Mount Washington’s rocky summit cone. The one exception is the section between Mount Monroe and the Westside Trail on Mount Washington—that section of trail was relocated from the long, open ridge and tucked in next to Lakes of the Clouds before climbing up the less-windy underside of the ridge. It’s the original path we’re heading for today.

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Several hours into our hike, we’re standing on Mount Monroe’s summit, our eyes tracing the Crawford Path below us, first as it traverses north along the western rim of Oakes Gulf, then as it descends down toward the relative shelter of the Lakes of the Clouds. Once we spy the Lakes of the Clouds Hut, we visually backtrack, working back up the Crawford Path until it reaches a flat area near the rim of Oakes Gulf. Now oriented, we begin scanning the area to the northeast, where our intuition suggests we’ll see the remnants of the old trail.

One thing we’re looking for is terrain capable of being climbed by a horse. Although the trail’s origins are as a footpath used by Abel and Ethan Crawford to guide tourists to the summit of Mount Washington, in 1840 it was converted to a bridle path by Abel’s grandson (Ethan’s son), Thomas. Shortly thereafter, Abel made the first ascent of Mount Washington by horseback at the age of 74.

Interest in the area continued to grow during the 1850s and 1860s, and the summit of Mount Washington was a happening place, with five bridle paths to the summit along with a carriage road and the Cog Railway (which, coincidentally, happens to be celebrating its 150th anniversary this year). Two hotels also dotted the summit. And although the era of bridle paths was short lived due to a decline in mountain tourism in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, how the public accesses Mount Washington and its surroundings remains a recurrent theme.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

From Mount Monroe, we’d spotted a greenish path winding through the rocks and rubble heading up a gradual incline running across the Camel Trail toward the intersection of the Tuckerman Crossover and the Davis Path. Generally consistent with our Google Earth imagery, it seems like the perfect route for a horse to take up Mount Washington (even though the Crawford Path had largely reverted to a footpath by the 1870s). Thus, our plan is to hike from the hut to the Tuckerman Crossover, then follow that to its intersection with the Davis Path.

As we traverse this web of trails, it is clear that the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and other trail crews have been busy—large, well-maintained cairns mark the current Crawford and Davis Paths. Much of this trail building energy dates to 1876, which Guy and Laura Waterman, the preeminent historians of hiking and climbing in the Northeast, describe in Forest and Cragas “a pivotal year” for hiking in the White Mountains. That year, the AMC was founded, the first hiker-focused guide book was published (A Guide to the White Mountainsby M.F. Sweetser), and the “first sustained period of trail building began in the White Mountains.” Essentially, the trails, as we know them today anyway, date to that period.

Courtesy: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts
Courtesy: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts

Crossing the Tuckerman Crossover, it becomes clear why the AMC, about a century ago, relocated the Crawford Path to the more sheltered terrain by the Lakes of the Clouds Hut. This area is wide open, fully exposed to the wind and weather. Fortunately for us, the weather is clear and pleasant today. But that was hardly the case on June 30, 1900, when William Curtis and Allan Ormsbee, two of the foremost hikers of the era, traversed the same area while hiking up the Crawford Path for an AMC meeting on Mount Washington’s summit. They got caught in a storm and perished. In response to their deaths, in 1901 the AMC constructed the long-since-removed shelter we’re hoping to find the remnants of today.

Near the junction between the Tuckerman Crossover and the Davis Path, we begin rock hopping, heading off trail to a large dirt patch that we’d spied from Mount Monroe and have been keeping an eye on since. It’s the only flat dirt patch in the vicinity and it looks human made. Careful to stay on solid surfaces and avoid the delicate plant life that calls this inhospitable place home, we make our way toward it.

While the contours of the original path are discernible from a distance, they seamlessly blend into the rocky terrain up close. As we get closer to the dirt patch and explore the area, it is challenging to pick out where, exactly, the path went.

Venturing off the trail, we bound between boulders and locate the dirt patch. Protected by higher ground on three sides and surrounded by gentle terrain, the dirt patch seems like a logical place for the shelter to have stood. Hidden from other hikers by our vantage point, we step out of the past to retrieve our iPhones and align our position on Google Earth. The map confirms we’re in the correct vicinity; however, researching the path that evening shows that, while we found the re-routed Crawford Path, we never found some old iron rods that may still remain from the shelter.

Courtesy: Appalachian Mountain Club Library and Archives
Courtesy: Appalachian Mountain Club Library and Archives

Eventually, we head south, trying to follow the Crawford Path’s original route toward Mount Monroe. When we reach the Camel Trail, we turn west to regain the Crawford Path near the Lakes of the Clouds Hut. Drawing near the throngs of hikers by the hut and on the Crawford Path, it’s sobering to think that much of this hike was almost a road—the Presidential Skyline Drive. Proposed in the 1930s while the country was in the midst of the Great Depression, the 25-mile scenic drive would have skirted the summits of Pleasant, Franklin, Monroe, Washington, Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison, catering to motorized recreationists instead of human-powered travelers like ourselves. We’re thankful for the foresight that earlier generations had to preserve this wonderful range for us and so many others—a blueprint we hope our generation will follow.

With about a mile left of our ascent, we head up the Crawford Path toward Mount Washington’s summit. Somewhere above the intersection of the Crawford and Davis Paths, we turn around. Much of the Crawford Path is visible from here—the well-packed dirt path running along the spine of the southern Presidentials. The view is amazing, but soon our gaze wanders more toward the east, as we attempt to follow the rolling green that once was the Crawford Path. It’s there again, the faint green stripe running along a gentle depression on Mount Washington’s rugged, rocky southern flank. Now 200 years old (and counting), we’re sure Abel and Ethan Crawford would be proud of the simple pleasures the Crawford Path has provided to generations of hikers.

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Hike It, Help It: Celebrating 200 Years of the Crawford Path

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Believe it or not, hiking for fun hasn’t always been a thing. 

Back 200-plus years ago, people were just a little more concerned with plowing the fields, hunting for food, and fighting for independence. Walking in the woods was something you did every day as a necessity—not so much something you did on your time off. 

Mount Washington changed that. 

When the Crawford family built the first recreational footpath to the top of the region’s highest peak in 1819, it wasn’t supposed to be something radical. It was really just a way to make things a little easier for the tourists who came from the big cities to marvel at the snow capped, rocky peaks, towering over New England. Instead, it ignited the area’s second revolution in less than 50 years. 

Before long, hundreds and then thousands of people were making the 8.5-mile trek along the expansive, tundra-like domes of the Southern Presidentials to the top of Mount Washington. More trails were cut, campsites and huts were built, gear was developed, organizations sprung up, and a sport—at least on this side of the ocean—was born, right in our backyard. 

Credit: Chris Shane
Credit: Chris Shane

This summer, 200 years after the Crawford Path—America’s oldest hiking trail—was built, Eastern Mountain Sports wants to celebrate it. 

That strip of dirt leading up Mount Washington still holds some of the country’s most jaw-dropping scenery, and the past time that grew up because of it is a point of Northeast pride, so help make sure the Crawford Path and trails like it stick around for at least another 200 years.

Shop online (men’s/women’s) or swing through EMS locations in North Conway, Concord, and Nashua and pick up a Techwick t-shirt celebrating the Crawford Path’s 200th Anniversary and 20 percent of that purchase will be donated to the White Mountain Trail Collective, which organizes a medley of professional trail maintenance organizations to update and care for the now two-century-old trails in the Whites, ensuring they all last just as long as the Crawford Path.

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Credit: Chris Shane
Credit: Chris Shane

Plus, wear your t-shirt in the Whites and post a photo to Instagram with the hashtags #goeast and #HikeItHelpIt for a chance to be featured on goEast and EMS’s social media.

That’s it! Take a hike where it all began and discover why, of all places, Mount Washington and the spectacular Southern Presidentials attracted hikers before hiking was even cool. And in the process, help EMS support the trails that will keep us hiking for another 200 years to come. 

See you out there!


5 Big Projects That Could Improve Northeast Climbing

The Northeast is home to some of the best trad and sport climbing in the country, and the options continue to grow with new areas being developed. With this great privilege comes great responsibility, for all climbers, as our love for the sport can actually play a role in bringing about its demise. As the sport increases in popularity, it is becoming more likely that crags will face access issues due to landowner concerns or environmental deterioration. Luckily, there are dedicated organizations working to maintain our beloved crags, fighting to re-open long-lost places, and educate new climbers about how to climb in a sustainable way so we can all enjoy the rock for years to come. Here are some of the biggest projects improving Northeast climbing right now:

Credit: Anne Skidmore Photography
Credit: Anne Skidmore Photography

A Cooperative Climbing Gym in the Mount Washington Valley

New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley community has grumbled about the lack of a climbing gym in the area for years. During rainy days or over the long winter months, a local indoor climbing spot is a way to stay in shape and connected with friends. Instead, resident climbers have resigned themselves to driving 1.5 hours (and cussing all the way, one might imagine) to the nearest facility.

Eventually, Chelsea Kendrick and Jimmy Baxendell-Young had enough, and they’re now organizing their own cooperative gym in North Conway—the Mount Washington Valley Climbers’ Cooperative, or MWVCC. The local market is too small for a typical commercial operation, with a cumulative population of 20,000 people between the eight towns of Conway, Bartlett, Jackson, Madison, Eaton, Ossipee, Tamworth, and Fryeburg. They decided to engage the climbing community in creating a coop, to great success; The yet-to-exist gym already has over 75 paying members, well on its way to covering the cost of operations once it opens. The 2,000 square feet will provide bouldering and training, as well as a community gathering space. And because it is a cooperative, all members have a say into the direction of the project. If, say, enough people want to offer dry-tooling, it is in the cards for the future.

If you frequent the MWV for ice climbing or skiing in the winter, or hiking in the summer, and want to support the effort, consider becoming a member, donating, or joining their upcoming fundraising event on May 21.

Courtesy: Jeremy Gilchrist
Courtesy: Jeremy Gilchrist

Reopening Vermont’s Hardest Crag

Bolton Dome, just 30 minutes from Burlington, was once one of the most popular cliffs in Vermont, until it was closed in 1990 due to concerns from the private landowner. For decades, access was closed off to dozens of high-quality crack and sport climbs, including the region’s only 5.13 trad route and the state’s highest concentration of 5.12-s. Through it all, the Climbing Resource Access Group of Vermont (CRAG-VT) maintained good standing with the land owners, and early last year the organization was able to purchase the area with help from the Access Fund, in what constitutes Access Fund’s largest Climbing Conservation Loan to date. There is plenty of work to be done: The loan must be paid back, a parking lot needs to be built, and various legal fees to be covered.

CRAG-VT had previously secured 5 other crags in Bolton, making the Dome the newest and most significant addition. Overall, the organization works to protect Vermont’s vulnerable climbing areas, build long-term relationships with landowners, and develop the areas with responsible stewardship. Now that Bolton is protected, there is a cornucopia of potential for new routes for climbers to enjoy for generations. You can support their effort by becoming a member, donating, or joining the Bolton Dome Launch Party! on May 18.

Courtesy: Brad Wenskoski
Courtesy: Brad Wenskoski

A Sport Crag for New York’s Capital Region

Opened in July of 2017, the Helderberg Escarpment at New York’s John Boyd Thacher State Park is the newest sport climbing haven in the Northeast, and only the third New York State Park to allow climbing (Minnewaska and Harriman being the others). Located 20 minutes from Albany, Thacher sits between the ‘Gunks, 75 miles south, and the Adirondacks, 120 miles north, and is much closer than Rumney, New Hampshire, for New Yorkers. The area services the massive population in New York’s Capital Region who were once stuck with long drives in many directions in order to climb.. There are currently about 65 routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.12a, and they will appeal to gym enthusiasts as most climbs are roughly 50 feet high, with none longer than 90′.

What makes the Thatcher Climbing Coalition’s approach special is that they spent 5 years negotiating a climbing management plan with the state in order to demonstrate commitment to success and long-term cooperation. So far, it’s been a rousing success and may serve as a model for partnerships between climbers and parks around New York, and the country. If you want to help make the Helderberg Escarpment into a premiere rock and ice climbing destination in the Northeast, you can become a member, buy a t-shirt, or volunteer to help establish new trails.

Credit: Robbie Shade
Credit: Robbie Shade

Keep the Northeast’s Premier Crag Pristine

Rumney’s wild popularity is also a cause of environmental damage, a common narrative for highly-trafficked climbing areas. The Rumney Climbers’ Association aims to prevent the high usage from diminishing the experience of the 38 cliffs by getting ahead of the issues, which include soil erosion, deteriorating infrastructure, and unsafe climbing conditions. “We are tackling the problem before it’s too big, because there is a tipping point [in these situations],” says Travis Rubury, a board member with the organization. This year, RCA and the Access Fund are performing stewardship projects at three of the most popular areas: Orange Crush, Meadows Crag, and the uber-accessible Parking Lot Wall. They will construct retaining walls, install stairs, and further secure the trails to assure they are sustainable for the long term.

Rumney has become an international draw, attracting the likes of Alex Megos in 2017 when he remarkably sent Jaws II in only three attempts. The route is one of only four 5.15s in the U.S., and the only one of its grade east of the Rocky Mountains. This world class area came about through a lot of hard work, much of it performed by the RCA since the early 90s. If you’d like to support their efforts, you can become a member, donate to the restoration efforts, volunteer, or join the American Alpine Club Rumney’ Craggin’ Classic later this year.

Courtesy: Western Massachusetts Climbers' Coalition
Courtesy: Western Massachusetts Climbers’ Coalition

Fixing the Parking Situation in Western Massachusetts

Farley Ledge has experienced its share of contestations over the decades, from being closed four times in the early 2000s to notorious bolt chopping. The situation remains precarious as most of the routes are on private land. “Climbing is unique in that it is resource-dependent. We need this cliff, we can’t [easily] have another. Not a lot of sports are so tied to topography,” notes Wayne Burleson, President of WMCC. While tensions have been soothed over the years, access is not assured. These days, the primary challenge is parking (be warned: Do not park on Route 2). The Western Massachusetts Climbers’ Coalition purchased roadside land (with the help of Access Fund) in 2008 and opened a 20-space parking lot. They are exploring options for additional parking areas.

Farley has a certain mystique for two reasons: One, trad and sport routes are delightfully interspersed on the cliffs as the original developers maintained an ethic to not bolt what could be climbed traditionally. And two, you won’t find any information about the routes (and no guidebook, of course), the result of a policy agreement set up with landowners back in 2007. While this offers intrigue, it also makes it harder for the WMCC to educate climbers about local ethics and share the history, while eliminating a potential revenue stream to help fund future efforts. The coalition has been hard at work since 2000 and is one of the few areas where you don’t have to pay for access. If you want to support this important crag, become a member, donate, volunteer, and definitely don’t park on Route 2.