The MWOBS Staff's Must-See Mt. Washington Highlights for Seek the Peak

The White Mountains, and Mount Washington in particular, are one of the region’s most densely-packed trail areas. This means you have several options when you head up for Seek the Peak. But, to figure out your route, what’s better than to start with advice from the folks who spend day after day working on the mountains? So, check out the favorite trails and sections from these Mount Washington Observatory employees—the guys who know the region better than anyone.

Credit: Tom Padham
Credit: Tom Padham

Mount Jefferson via Caps Ridge Trail

By Tom Padham, Meteorologist/Education Specialist

While not a hike up Mount Washington, this trail has so much to offer: great views, a relatively short length, and some interesting rock scrambles. The trail starts on Jefferson Notch road at roughly 3,000 feet—the highest of any trailhead in the White Mountains. As such, things open up only a mile or so into the hike, and after a short while, unobstructed views of the Presidential Range and Mount Washington emerge.

The “Caps” section consists of three short rock scrambles. It’s nothing requiring technical gear but enough to offer a great change of pace—and may be the first time you use all four limbs to climb a mountain! Overall, this hike is far shorter than many of the other routes to summit a Presidential Peak, but it still offers some challenges, with nearly 2,700 feet of vertical gain in only 2.4 miles. This is my favorite hike, because it manages to pack so much into just a few short and very beautiful miles!

The view from the Southern Presidentials. | Credit: Sean Greaney
The view from the Southern Presidentials. | Credit: Sean Greaney

Davis Path

By Brian Fitzgerald, Director of Education

Totaling roughly 14 miles from Crawford Notch to the summit of Mount Washington, the Davis Path is one of the oldest and longest approaches to the Northeast’s highest peak. Constructed back in 1845 as a bridle path, this trail is an exhausting ridge hike for an ambitious day-hiker, and a very pleasant multi-day approach for backpackers. Along the way, hikers get stunning views as they summit Mount Crawford, Stairs Mountain, Mount Davis, Mount Isolation, and Mount Washington itself.

The Westside Trail

By Brian Fitzgerald, Director of Education

At over 5,500 feet in elevation and just below the peak of Mount Washington, the Westside Trail is one of the best places to escape the crowds on a pleasant summer day. At 9/10ths of a mile, the trail follows the mountain’s contour, providing excellent views to the west between the Crawford Path and Gulfside Trail. For staff who live and work on the mountain, this is the perfect loop to run when you want to get outside!

Looking North from the Bootspur trail towards Mt. Washington. | Credit: Matthew Charpentier
Looking north from the Boott Spur Trail towards Mt. Washington. | Credit: Matthew Charpentier

Ball Crag via the Nelson Crag Trail

By Ryan Knapp, Meteorologist

After you summit Mount Washington, this can be made into a spur hike or an alternate route down (via the Nelson Crag Trail). While Ball Crag’s technically not a summit and is instead classified as a subsidiary of Mount Washington, the rise in land does come to an elevation of 6,066 feet, based on the Washburn map. From the summit, take a 0.18-mile hike down the Nelson Crag Trail, which will bring you to this rise in land. Here, get sweeping views of Pinkham Notch to the east, the Great Gulf to the west and north, and a unique perspective of Mount Washington to the south.

Boott Spur Trail

By Ryan Knapp, Meteorologist

If you’re looking for a more intimate mountain experience on the east side, away from the crowds on the Tuckerman Ravine/Lion Head Trail, Boott Spur Trail is an excellent choice. This 5.7-mile, one-way trail is a longer route to and from the summit and can be significantly more challenging for hikers. For those willing to put in the time and effort, it provides great views, with plenty of flora and fauna to take in the entire time.
This trail puts hikers above treeline quickly, and for a large portion of the trip, you’ve got those great views. However, you will also be exposed to the elements for significantly longer. So, check the forecast and pack and prepare for any changes in the weather you might experience over the course of a day. And, since this route is longer, it requires more time to ascend and descend.
Mount Washington from Madison. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Washington from Madison. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mt. Madison via the Valley Way Trail

By Taylor Regan, Weather Observer and Research Specialist

Weather and fitness permitting, this route could be the start of a Presidential Traverse or simply a nice and fairly challenging hike on its own. Mount Madison via the Valley Way Trail rises relentlessly from the Appalachia Trailhead, gaining over 4,000 feet of elevation in roughly 3.8 miles while passing close to several detour-worthy cascades and waterfalls. This sustained effort brings you to the outermost edge of the Northern Presidentials, with sweeping views of Mount Washington and the ribbon-like Auto Road tracing its way upward in the foreground. The summit of Madison is easily one of my favorite vista points.

Mount Washington via the Tuckerman Ravine Trail and Lion Head Route

By Taylor Regan, Weather Observer and Research Specialist

The Lion Head summer route begins along the Tuckerman Ravine Trail out of Pinkham Notch. Two of my favorite sections actually bookend this hike. Shortly after leaving the parking lot, take a slight detour to Crystal Cascade: a stunning waterfall with a total drop of 100 feet, split in two by a small pool. Much farther along, once you’ve crested Lion Head, views open up along a relatively flat traverse flanked by the Alpine Garden on your right—check for rare alpine flowers—and Tuckerman Ravine, often with snow and ice remnants along the headwall, on your left. The summit proper is then only a moderate scramble away.


Alpha Guide: Mount Washington via the Lion Head Winter Route

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

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

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

Quick Facts

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


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

Download

Turn-By-Turn

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Gearing Up

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Starting Out

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Cut Off

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Rock Step

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

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

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Lion Head

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

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

Crossing the Alpine Garden

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

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Split Rock

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit Cone

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit Pose

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Getting Back in One Piece

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

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


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

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

Current Conditions

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


Outings for a Presidents' Day in the Presidentials

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Forget the White House – Visit the White Room

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Better than Climbing the Political Ladder  

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Don’t Settle for Fake Views

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

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

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


Senior Superlatives: Valentine's Day Adventure Dates

Whether you’re looking to slide into romance, hike into their heart, or tie the knot this Valentine’s Day, consider one of these awesome outdoor-inspired trips to stoke the adventurous spirit—and the passion—between you and your special someone.

11941662976_b8ba52e236_o

Most Likely to Make Your Date Feel Like Royalty: Ice Castles, Lincoln, NH

Treat your significant other like the king or queen they are by surprising them with a trip to the Ice Castles in Lincoln, New Hampshire. If you tour the castles early, you can finish the day toasting to your relationship at Seven Birches Winery at the RiverWalk Resort less than a mile away. If wine tastings aren’t your thing, spend the day shredding the gnar at Loon Mountain instead, and hit the Ice Castles at night to see them all lit up. Once there, check out a fire dancing performance, and stay warm with cinnamon buns and cocoa.

13936504648_a401b55958_o

Best Place for a Romantic Outdoor Getaway: The Berkshires, Western MA

No matter what your winter sport of choice is—skiing or snowboarding, snowshoeing, hiking, or cross-country skiing—there are plenty of places to do it in the Berkshires. So, make Valentine’s Day last an entire weekend by treating your beloved snow bunny to a little bit of everything this winter wonderland has to offer: ski under the lights at Jiminy Peak on Friday night, hike Mount Greylock on Saturday, and then, spend a few hours Nordic skiing on trails designed by seven-time Olympian John Morton at Hilltop Orchards. And, be sure to end the weekend on a high note at Furnace Brook Winery while you’re there. Accommodations in the area range from quaint Rockwell-esque bed-and-breakfasts to lavish five-star resorts, making it easy to find the perfect place to turn up the romance (or just recover from the day’s activities) each night.

4260006068_afcef73f6c_o

Most Likely to Earn You a Gold Medal in Dating: Olympic Sports Complex, Lake Placid, NY

Much like the Berkshires, Lake Placid is basically a winter athlete’s paradise. In addition to world-class skiing and so many great winter hikes that it’ll be hard to choose which one (or two) you want to tackle, this cold-weather haven nestled in the heart of the Adirondacks takes it a few steps further with some of the best ice climbing in the northeast, miles and miles of fat biking trails, and, of course, the Olympic Sports Complex, where you can take a run in a real bobsled, take a biathlon lesson, or ice skate on the same rink the 1932 USA Men’s Speed Skating Team made history with a gold medal sweep. If a date here doesn’t get you a podium finish, nothing will.

TK_EMS-Conway-6541-CH

Coolest Date (Literally): Guided Mt. Washington Trip with EMS Schools

Bring your Valentine to the top of the world, or at least of New England, on one of the literally coolest dates ever: a winter ascent of Mount Washington with the EMS Climbing School. Bundle up and head to North Conway, New Hampshire to show the “world’s worst weather” that you’re not afraid of it. Because even if the snow is falling and the wind is blowing, it shows you can weather the storm; you’ve got your love to keep you warm.

Credit: Ashley Peck
Credit: Ashley Peck

Best Way to Warm Their Heart: With a Big, Fancy Rock…Climbing Trip in the South

Even people who truly enjoy winter eventually reach a point in which they’d like to escape it for a few days. If you and your honey are tired of the cold, use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to head south (or southwest) for a warm-weather climbing trip. I’m someone who is typically so anti-Valentine’s Day that my mom sends me a Halloween card every February 14th, but the year that my now-husband took me to Horse Pens 40 for a mid-February bouldering vacation was the best Valentine’s Day I can remember. In fact, I almost surprised him with a Vegas Valentine’s weekend to climb at Red Rocks this year, since we both loved climbing there so much last spring. If you’re into grand gestures, a trip like this is perfect…and even if it’s not the rock she was hoping for, I promise she’ll love it.


Alpha Guide: Skiing in Tuckerman Ravine

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Who says the East doesn’t have bigtime, open backcountry skiing? A classic not just among Northeast skiers, Tuckerman Ravine is a serious challenge for all skiers and boarders.

“Skiing Tucks” is a rite of passage for almost every East Coast skier. The glacial cirque offers some of the best terrain east of the Mississippi, with high alpine conditions, steep chutes, and cozy gullies. The birthplace of “extreme” skiing in the 1930s and ’40s, it’s now the East’s most well-known and highly traveled backcountry skiing destination. Amongst its beautiful, rugged, and powerful terrain, its rich community, and addicting atmosphere, Tucks keeps the locals and the travelers alike coming back year after year.

The trip is easily done in a day, but staying multiple days allows for more skiing, earlier starts, and bigger weather windows.

Quick Facts

Distance: 2.9 miles to Tuckerman Ravine Floor, one way.
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty:★★★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: December through April; best February and later.
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/whitemountain/recarea?recid=78538 

Download

Turn-By-Turn

Parking and trailhead access to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail are at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Pinkham Notch Visitor Center located on Route 16 between Gotham and Jackson. Weekend parking fills up quickly, but an overflow lot is located just south of the Visitor Center. Stop in the Visitor Center for last-minute supplies, trail conditions, and weather information before starting your ski up the trail.

DJI_0015
Credit: Andrew Drummond

The Approach

Follow the Tuckerman Ravine Trail from Pinkham Notch Visitor Center for 2.4 miles to the Caretaker Cabin at Hermit Lake Shelters (44.13269° N 74.85318° W). From the Visitor Center, the trail switchbacks before straightening out for a sustained climb to the intersection with the Huntington Ravine Trail. From there, you’ll pass the Harvard Cabin Fire Road junction before climbing to the Hermit Lake Shelters, where you’ll finally gain stunning views of the ravine. Chat with a Ranger or stop into the Caretaker Cabin for up-to-date weather, snow, and safety information before heading up into the ravine. From the Caretaker Cabin, continue up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail for just over a half-mile to reach the ravine’s floor.

While skiers can hike or skin to the floor, once you choose your runs for the day, climbing on foot is necessary to get to the top of the steep slopes. It is strongly recommended to climb up what you intend to ski down to get an accurate view of the conditions and terrain. Remember that the runs are always changing due to the amount of snow and how the snow fills into each run.

7N3A5582
Credit: Andrew Drummond

After Your Ski

The fastest and most enjoyable way down is the Sherburne Ski Trail, which is accessible from the Caretaker Cabin at Hermit Lake. This trail is roughly three miles long, would equate to a “Blue Square” in difficulty at your local ski resort, and, at the end, drops you off at the south side of the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center parking lot. The “Sherbie” is also a great objective when avalanche danger is high for the day, or if you just want to go for a quick ski tour. As spring progresses, however, Sherburne’s skiable area decreases. So, keep an eye out for a cross-cut back to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail when the coverage gets thin.

If you are looking to spend the night, check out the AMC Hermit Lake Shelters for a winter camping experience and quick access to the ravine; Harvard Cabin for a cozy, rustic night halfway up the trail; or Joe Dodge Lodge next to the trailhead for a bunk, a shower, and a meal.


The Runs

Courtesy: Colin Boyd
Courtesy: Colin Boyd

Hillman’s Highway

Aspect: East-Northeast
Steepest Slope Angle: 40 degrees
Vertical Distance: 1200 feet

Hillman’s is slightly removed from the main “bowl” and is located under the Boott Spur Buttresses. Get a great view of the run from Hermit Lake Shelters’ visitor deck. Easy access is found by heading up the Sherburne Ski Trail from the Caretaker Cabin. Points of reference on Hillman’s include “the dog leg,” the skiers’ left-hand curve near the bottom; the top of “the Christmas Tree,” an area of vegetation to the climber’s right of the slide path that, when filled with snow, looks like a Christmas tree from a distance; and the fork near the top of the run, where skiers have a choice of two different variations.

TuckermanRavine1.3.2017-0011
Credit: Jamie Walter

Left Gully

Aspect: East-Northeast
Steepest Slope Angle: 45 degrees
Vertical Distance: 850 feet

The ravine’s left-most prominent run is Left Gully. In the ravine, this run is often the first and last to be skied over the course of the season, as its northeast orientation helps the slope hold snow a bit longer due to decreased sun exposure. The top offers two general entrances to get into the run. When climbing up the gully, look to the right for a steeper entrance, or continue straight up for a slightly more mellow one. About halfway down, the run narrows a bit before making a left turn to drop you back into the bowl.

Credit: Andrew Drummond
Credit: Andrew Drummond

Chute

Aspect: East
Steepest Slope Angle: 50 degrees
Vertical Distance: 750 feet

Chute is easily identified by the hour glass-shaped choke point near the center. The steep entry funnels skiers through this 30-foot-wide point into open skiing and lower slope angles below. Use caution when climbing through the choke point, as skiers (and their sluff) may be descending. A great spot for a rest on the way up or down, a natural bench is under the rock buttress to the climber’s left of the choke point. It’s ideal for taking a minute to decide whether to keep going, to have a snack, or to take in the great views across the ravine.

Credit: Jamie Walter
Credit: Jamie Walter

The Lip

Aspect: Southeast
Steepest Slope Angle: 45 degrees
Vertical Distance: 750 feet

The Lip is located on the climber’s right-hand side of the headwall, where a gap in the steep wall of rock and ice lets skiers sneak through and make big, open turns into the bowl. When skiing into The Lip, trend to the left to avoid going over the icefall area. The Lip becomes progressively steeper as you ski into it; this decreases the visibility of the run below you, until you reach the steepest pitch. As such, find visual landmarks as you climb up, and use them as a route-finding tool on the way down. All eyes are on you when you’re skiing The Lip, so make it count!

Credit: Andrew Drummond
Credit: Andrew Drummond

Sluice

Aspect: South-Southeast
Steepest Slope Angle: 50 degrees
Vertical Distance: 700 feet

Sluice is found between The Lip and Right Gully. Its entrance is steep and has a tricky double fall-line, when the obvious ski run dictates one direction of travel, but gravity wants to take you in another. A good reference point for this climb is Sluice Ice, a cliff that holds vertical ice a few hundred feet up from Lunch Rocks. Use caution with your route-finding in the spring, as ice begins to shed as the temperatures rise. Skiers finish the run by skiing to the left side of Lunch Rocks.

Credit: Andrew Drummond
Credit: Andrew Drummond

Right Gully

Aspect: South
Steepest Slope Angle: 45 degrees
Vertical Distance: 700 feet

The most prominent gully on the south-facing wall is Right Gully. Because of their orientation, this run and Lobster Claw see the most sun in the ravine, so keep this in mind when searching for the perfect soft spring corn. Though it’s a bit shorter than some of the others, the consistent slope angle and half-pipe-like feel make this a favorite. A great place to scope out the line, decide whether to keep climbing, or have a snack is on the natural bench that forms under the climber’s right side of the slight choke point, just under halfway up the run.

7N3A6585
Credit: Andrew Drummond

Lobster Claw

Aspect: South
Steepest Slope Angle: 40 degrees
Vertical Distance: 700 feet

Once you locate Right Gully, look a few hundred feet to the right to find Lobster Claw. This run is under the ravine’s Lion Head area. Slightly narrower than Right Gully, the slope angle is a bit mellower and gets about the same amount of sunlight. Lobster Claw is home to quite a bit of vegetation and can often take longer to fill in enough to be skiable. When the ravine is crowded with skiers, however, Lobster Claw is often a less-crowded option. Use caution exiting the run, because plenty of rocks and trees sit below the main part of the gully.


7N3A3582

The Kit

  • Your avalanche rescue kit and the skills to use it are crucial when you’re traveling into the ravine. A popular combo is the PIEPS DSP Sport beacon, Black Diamond Transfer 3 shovel, and Black Diamond QuickDraw 280 probe.
  • Though they are not a substitute for crampons on steep slopes, Kahtoola MICROspikes are useful on lower-angle trails, or if you have to hike with your ski boots on a slick surface.
  • The slope angles in Tuckerman are steep! Having a small, lightweight ice axe, like the Black Diamond Raven Ultra, and knowing how to use it are extremely valuable tools for steep skiing and can add a bit of extra security.
  • An ultra-portable sunscreen like the Beyond Coastal Natural Lip and Face Sun Protection will help protect your face from burning while skiing in the ravine. Remember that snow is highly reflective and can amplify the effects of your goggle tan to a very unpleasant point.

Credit: Andrew Drummond
Credit: Andrew Drummond

Keys to the Trip

  • Avalanches are real and happen very regularly in the ravine. Check out the Mount Washington Avalanche Center forecast online in the morning, before you head into the ravine, and then, check in with USFS Avalanche Rangers or the AMC Caretaker for up-to-date beta on the best spots of the day.
  • On the way through North Conway, stop by Frontside Grind Coffee Roasters for a hot brew and bagel before you start your climb.
  • For beers and burgers after the trip, check out Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co. and Tuckerman Brewing Co.
  • For some early morning pre- or afternoon post-skiing yoga, check out the yoga classes at The Local Grocer. This is a great way to both warm your body up before a big day and recover after by stretching and keeping your body moving before the car ride home.
  • North Conway has many quirky shops that are unique to New Hampshire. Some of my favorites are the candy counter and hot sauce aisle at Zeb’s General Store; Dondero’s Rock Shop, where any geological nerds can find local and global samples of rocks and minerals; and Beef & Ski for truly bangin’ sandwiches.

The Legend of Mike Matty

There are 157 names on the wall, and we stood there, reading each one in an uneasy silence. This mountain—the one we were currently standing atop—has killed more than its fair share of hikers, climbers, and skiers.

The Sherman Adams Visitor Center’s double doors crashed open, blowing in near-hurricane-force winds and a bone-chilling cold. The man who walked in had a balaclava and ski goggles completely masking his face. The weather had turned overnight from cold-but-manageable to now dangerous, idling at around 25 degrees Fahrenheit, with wind speeds hitting 74 MPH. For a moment, everything seemed to stop, as this mysterious man strolled across the room with the weather appearing to have no effect on him. The rime ice that had been engineered onto the masked man’s shell jacket immediately started melting and dropping off behind him as he made his way to a bench.

IMG_2515

There weren’t any hikers or tourists up here today—the weather had turned them all away. So, I assumed he was with the state park. But, that didn’t make sense. I had become quite familiar with the team in the observatory after spending the night in their quarters, having dinner with them, and chatting it up about the weather, gear, Game of Thrones, and The Pats’ upcoming season. I didn’t recognize this guy, and the dayglow orange shell, trekking poles, and Black Diamond gloves were clearly not state-issued.

Sharon hustled over to him. “Hi…I’m Sharon,” she said in a hesitant tone that I hadn’t heard even a hint of since I’d met her the day before. As a Coast Guard commander prior to becoming the president of the Observatory, doubt wasn’t a part of her make-up. Earlier in the morning, she had been warning us that our descent down the Auto Road would be delayed, as they put chains on the Observatory van’s tires. And, there was absolutely no way she could allow our two store staff members, Amy and Eric, to hike back down the mountain. The site of this man calmly strolling in from the churning weather threw off her game a bit.

There was absolutely no way she could allow our two store staff members, Amy and Eric, to hike back down the mountain. The site of this man calmly strolling in from the churning weather threw off her game a bit.

“Yeah, I think my name is up on the wall, over there somewhere,” he said and casually strode over to a different wall made of blue name plates lining the stairs that went down to the museum for the Observatory’s top donors and members. His nonchalant attitude toward it added a new layer of curiosity. I turned and looked in the direction of his outstretched trekking pole. “Mike Matty” read the white lettering on the plate.

IMG_2339“Oh, welcome! I’m the president of the Observatory,” Sharon replied, smoothing her demeanor now that she knew the potential trespasser had literally paid his dues.

“We have the folks from EMS with us for an overnight. This is Tom,” she said as she introduced my boss.

“I’m surprised you made the trek, given the weather,” Tom commented, clearly still feeling the shock of this stranger ambling out of the roiling weather as if he were coming back from a walk in the park.

“That’s why I came up,” Mike deadpanned. “So, you work at EMS?” Mike asked Tom, our Vice President of Ecommerce and Marketing. “My nephew loves that store.”

I chuckled to myself, as I made my way over to windows in the rotunda. Outside, the rime ice flowered and grew seemingly out of nowhere, carried by the dense cloud enveloping the summit. I felt like I had woken up on a different planet. Not even 18 hours ago, our ascent up the Auto Road had been sunny, calm, and beautiful.

IMG_2513

“The home of the world’s worst weather” is a catchphrase Mount Washington has certainly earned. The hike up itself isn’t one the most dangerous or difficult. Rather, this 6,288-foot peak’s volatile conditions are the reason for those 157 names posted in the Adams Center.

The gusts whipping up over the western corner of the deck made it feel like you were stuck in the world’s worst washing machine. A 10-minute, 30-foot trek from the door to the corner and back had exhausted me.

Mount Washington is in a unique position. The highest point east of the Mississippi, it sits directly at the epicenter of a topographical funnel that compresses and accelerates the wind to such an extreme that the 231 MPH wind speed recorded at the summit in 1934 still stands today as the fastest-ever observed by man. It’s even said that the sheer force of the wind tore apart the measuring instruments. Only once was this record ever beaten, at an unmanned weather station in Australia in 1996.

“He’s climbed the seven peaks!” I thought I heard Amy squeal behind me to Eric. She excitedly handed her phone over for a picture with Mike. Amy’s sudden exuberance seemed odd, but I was more focused on the portentous conditions threatening to trap us on the summit. As Eric handed the camera back to her, Mike started reassembling his gear for the descent.

I thought about our earlier excursion out on the deck of the observatory. We had to gear up in MICROspikes to gain some semblance of traction, leaning into frigid, hurricane-force winds. The gusts whipping up over the western corner of the deck made it feel like you were stuck in the world’s worst washing machine. A 10-minute, 30-foot trek from the door to the corner and back had exhausted me.

IMG_2510

This guy had hiked all the way up in that, and was about to hike all the way back down, too. I shuddered. Mike adjusted his goggles before punching the exit door depressor. A 15-minute break had been enough to rest, dry off, and get warm before he plunged back into weather that would make the average person cower and yearn for their Uggs and a cozy Duraflame fire.

He was training for bigger things, searching for the conditions to match his more sizable feats, and found them on this windy New Hampshire peak more than 4.5 times smaller than Everest.

Sitting back at my desk on Monday, I couldn’t get the mysterious encounter with Mike out of my head. It was odd. Who was this guy? What did he mean when he said that the weather was the reason he hiked up? So, I did what any red-blooded, digitally inclined American would do.

To my slack-jawed, wide-eyed amazement, the Google results showed that Mike had indeed mastered the seven summits: Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, Mount Vinson in Antarctica, Kosciuszko in Australia, Elbrus in Europe, Denali in North America, Aconcagua in South America, and, the crown jewel of them all, Everest.

To Mike, the conditions on Mount Washington that day, September 1, were ideal. He was training for bigger things, searching for the conditions to match his more sizable feats, and found them on this windy New Hampshire peak more than 4.5 times smaller than Everest. The harsher the conditions were, the better his training.

Or, maybe that’s just how an outdoor masochist gets some exercise. Who knows.

IMG_2500


The Top 6 Summit Views in the New Hampshire 48

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

Easy Hikes

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

Mount Pierce

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

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

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

Cannon Mountain

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

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

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

 

Moderate Hikes

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

Mount Garfield

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

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

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

Mount Carrigain

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

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

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

 

Difficult Hikes

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Bondcliff

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

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

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

Mount Madison

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

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

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

Honorable Mention

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

 


Win a One-Night Stay for 2 to the Mount Washington Observatory!

Spend a night atop the Northeast in the home of the “World’s Worst Weather!”

When it comes to hiking in the Northeast, Mount Washington is a crown jewel. Aside from being just the regional high point, its rugged alpine beauty, a network of multi-sport trails and routes, and its sometimes-ferocious difficulty make it one of the premier adventure destinations anywhere. But, with all the people that travel over the mountain every year, there’s one way very few get to experience the mountain: at night.

In cooperation with the Mount Washington Observatory, which staffs a weather station on the summit 24/7, Eastern Mountain Sports is offering you the chance to spend a night on top with the observers and see Mount Washington like you never have before.

You’ll have the opportunity to see what goes into weather recording and forecasting, which go a long way towards keeping hikers and explorers safe in its notoriously volatile conditions. EMS is a sponsor of the Observatory’s annual Seek The Peak event, which helps raise money for the weather station. Sign up to help out here!

18670804_10154788941004685_257130437158666768_n

What you’ll get:

Winners will receive a trip for two to the Mount Washington Observatory, scheduled from Thursday, August 31 through Friday, September 1. In total, this includes:

  • Transportation to the summit of the mountain. (Winners will need to provide their own transportation to the base of the mountain in Jackson, New Hampshire.)
  • Lunch, dinner, and breakfast served at the Observatory.
  • A hike with the Observatory’s staff.
  • A tour of the Observatory’s weather station.
  • Sunrise and sunset viewing from the top of the Northeast.
  • Transportation back to the base of the mountain.

Enter here:

A Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Header image credit: jwardell