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Alpha Guide: The Crawford Path

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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

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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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Video: AMC's White Mountain Professional Trail Crew

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Keeping your favorite trails hike-able isn’t the world’s easiest job.

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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!


Beat the Heat: Top 5 Cooler Weather Summer Climbing Spots in the Northeast

Here in the Northeast we relish the prospect of summer after the long winter months, until we’re all salty and cursing the heatwave that just won’t dissipate. For climbers, heat is a minor nuisance, but sweat makes slick sending. Luckily, the Northeast is endowed with alpine terrain, miles of coastline and countless lakes and ponds, all of which offer cooler micro-climates. Read on for our recommendations of the best climbing areas to beat the heat this sun-drenched season.

Courtesy: Andrew Messick
Courtesy: Andrew Messick

Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont

Roadside Bouldering

The Notch, at a cool 2,165 feet above sea level, sits between Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak in the Green Mountain state. This hobbit hole haven offers over 500 boulder problems as well as “alpine light” trad and sport routes. Trade winds blow through, dropping the ambient temperature to 10 to 20 degrees lower than the tourist town of Stowe, 1,200 feet below. “Bouldering inside the notch has this rather enchanting appeal to it. The cold air floats out from the ice deep within the granite & schist caverns creating these cool air pockets as you walk through,” says Nick Hernandez of Time to Climb.

Cruise up the scenic 108 for drive-in bouldering. Wind around hairpin turns and roadside rocks, park at one of the many pull outs and start climbing in mere seconds. When you’re ready to unwind, head back into town to enjoy a Heady Topper at the world renowned Alchemist brewery.

Courtesy: Michael Martineau
Courtesy: Michael Martineau

Lake Champlain Palisades, New York

Deep Water Soloing

Perhaps the tallest Deep Water Solo (DWS) routes in the Northeast, The Palisades feature 100+ feet of cliff jutting out from Lake Champlain. DWS means free solo climbing (without a rope) but over water; think Alex Honnold, except if one were to fall here they would land in a lake instead of on land.

The approach won’t be easy, nor will the climbing. Located at the easternmost edge of the Adirondacks, boat or paddle from the Westport Marina roughly 4.5 miles south. You will not have to worry about touching bottom (the lake has a depth of 140 feet), however a fall from up high can cause serious harm. Make sure you know how to properly hit the water (you want to enter in a pencil-like position). A gentle breeze will help dry some of your perspiration while climbing, though it won’t do anything for your Elvis leg.

Courtesy: Tim Peck
Courtesy: Tim Peck

White Mountains, New Hampshire

Easier Access Alpine Climbing

The White Mountains are among the highest peaks in the Northeast, which means cooler temperatures and some of the fastest recorded wind speeds on earth. The climbing options are diverse, from long multi-pitch on Cannon Cliff to daring high elevation (for the East Coast) trad on Huntington Ravine on Mount Washington to moderate notch climbing at places like Franconia and Crawford. Be highly vigilant of fast-changing and ornery weather, though the Whites can be a bit more forgiving than backcountry brethren out West due to quicker access to roads and huts.

Courtesy: Kevin MacKenzie
Courtesy: Kevin MacKenzie

Panther Gorge, Adirondacks, New York

Serious Backcountry Climbing

For a backcountry alpine adventure, Panther Gorge is a lesser visited remote locale with a strenuous approach. “It may be one of the most remote places in the Northeast,” suggests local legend, Kevin ‘MudRat’ MacKenzie, who has put up many FAs in the area.

The gorge, at 4,000 feet above sea level, lies between Mount Marcy and Mount Haystack, the tallest and third tallest mountains in New York, respectively. Just to get here requires an eight mile hike with 3,300 feet of elevation, followed by bushwhacking about to find the climbs. You will be rewarded with over 35 trad routes that range from 5.3 to 5.10a, with a mix of single and multi-pitch lines. These not-often-trafficked climbs can be chossy, mossy, and wet, and you’ll want to make sure you are well-equipped with backcountry skills from route-finding and wilderness first aid in order to be safe. You can find detailed descriptions of climbing routes in MacKenzie’s upcoming book, Panther Gorge, on his site adirondackmountaineering.com.

Courtesy: National Park Service
Courtesy: National Park Service

Acadia National Park, Maine

Coastal Climbing

Cooling sea breeze awaits climbers at Acadia. The ocean battered granite features some of the most classic climbs in the Northeast, from the salt-sprayed Adair by the Sea (5.10b/c) to the 3-pitch Story of O (5.6), among many others. America’s most easterly national park, Acadia is the first place the sun touches in the U.S. from October to March. In the summer, you will still want to arise early to capitalize on the daily changing low tide (otherwise your rope and belayer are liable to get caught in the waves at seaside areas like Otter Cliffs). Check out The Precipice for inland multi-pitch routes or Canada Cliff for some forested bouldering.


Bagging Peaks and Avoiding Packed Parking Lots in Franconia Notch

Thanks to iconic routes like Franconia Ridge, two easily accessible huts, and some of New Hampshire’s most spectacular scenery, Franconia Notch has long been a popular destination for hikers and backpackers. Surging interest in the area has resulted in more cars at the Lafayette Place parking lot than available parking spaces, in turn causing visitors to park on the side of the highway. While parking along the highway has long been illegal, it hasn’t been enforced until this year, with signs, ropes, and cones prohibiting it along both the north and southbound sides. Using the hiker shuttle running between the lots in Franconia Notch is one solution for folks who can’t access their desired trailhead. Here’s another: Avoid the trailheads that start at Lafayette Place altogether and instead hike these super-popular summits via one of the lesser-known trails listed below.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Skookumchuck Trail to Mount Lafayette

Checking all the boxes, the Skookumchuck Trail to the Garfield Ridge Trail to the summit of Mount Lafayette delivers fantastic scenery and minimal crowds while avoiding the hustle and bustle of Lafayette Place.

Leaving north of the notch on Route 3 from the Skookumchuck Trailhead, the Skookumchuck Trail and Garfield Ridge Trail combine to deliver a just-over-10-mile round trip to the 5,260-foot summit of Mount Lafayette, the highest New Hampshire summit outside the Presidential Range. Though slightly longer than the classic Franconia Ridge Traverse, more secure footing and straightforward hiking make this trip quicker, as there aren’t slippery sections of trail like portions of the Falling Waters Trail or disconcerting slabs like on the Old Bridle Path.

Hugging the Skookumchuck Brook for the first few miles, you won’t confuse the sound of the stream for the powerful waterfalls of the Falling Water Trail; however, skookumchuckis a Chinook word that translates to “strong water” or “healthy water.” After leaving the brook, the Skookumchuck Trail climbs steadily through the forest, eventually giving way to low scrub before finally joining the Garfield Ridge Trail above treeline. From here, take in the view of the first crowds you’ve most likely seen all day on Lafayette’s summit a little under a mile away (and moving up and down the Greenleaf Trail to and from the AMC’s Greenleaf Hut).

From the junction with the Garfield Ridge Trail, the path is a gorgeous above-treeline ridge that rivals its counterpart on the other side of Lafayette in beauty but not in the number of hikers. And like its more popular counterpart between Little Haystack (a non-counting 4,000-footer) and Mount Lafayette, this section of trail also crosses a non-counting 4,000-footer, North Lafayette (5,260). Although North Lafayette isn’t one of the New Hampshire 48, its view is equal to any peak in Franconia Notch and is a great place to stop and take a break away from the bustle of Lafayette’s main summit.

From the summit of Mount Lafayette, simply turn around and descend the 3,500 feet of elevation you just climbed.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Kinsman Trail to North and South Kinsman

The common route to the summits of North and South Kinsman is via the Lafayette Place parking lot and past the AMC’s Lonesome Lake Hut. However, an easy way to beat the parking ban—and the crowds—is to hike the mountains from the opposite side via the Mount Kinsman Trail to the Kinsman Ridge Trail.

Located off of Route 116 in Easton, New Hampshire, is the small, wooded parking lot for the Kinsman Ridge Trail. Providing a starkly different experience than the flurry of activity often found on Kinsman Ridge, this route remains quiet as hikers begin the approximately 10-mile out-and-back trip gaining roughly 4,000 feet in elevation and ticking the summits of two 4,000-footers: North and South Kinsman.

The silence of the forest is palpable as hikers on the Mount Kinsman Trail follow its blue blazes past small waterfalls and over slight streams—especially when compared to an ascent of the Kinsmans from Franconia Notch, where the first mile of the trail is shared by hikers destined for Cannon Mountain and Lonesome Lake. Sure, Lonesome Lake and Kinsman Pond are beautiful, but they’re likely to be crowded on most weekends. By contrast, hikers willing to make a roughly 0.25-mile detour off the Mount Kinsman Trail are treated to an additional summit and a fantastic view on 2,470-foot Bald Peak.

Before reaching the summits of the Kinsmans, you’ll join the throngs of other hikers on the Kinsman Ridge Trail, almost all of whom approached the mountains from the Franconia side. From the junction, follow the Kinsman Ridge Trail for roughly a half mile to the summit of North Peak, then for another mile to the expansive summit and astounding view afforded from South Kinsman.

Take in the vast view of Franconia Ridge across the notch, pose for a picture in the throne-shaped cairn marking the summit, and think back to the peaceful moments on Bald Peak before returning the way you came.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Cannon Mountain via Kinsman Ridge Trail

It’s silly to stash your car at Cannon Mountain’s overflow lot only to take a shuttle to hike Cannon via the popular Hi-Cannon Trail. Instead, try the Kinsman Ridge Trail, which leaves from a hiker lot attached to the large parking lot for the Aerial Tramway and avoids the busier parts of the notch.

Not unlike the Hi-Cannon Trail in Franconia Notch, the Kinsman Ridge Trail is a lung and leg burner—the trail climbs just under 2,500 feet over roughly two miles. Thanks to the directness of the trail, and short 4(ish)-mile round trip, hikers comfortable with the at-times-near-vertical terrain are afforded a quick ascent and descent.

Running roughly adjacent to the tramway, it’s not uncommon to spy a yellow or red cable car high overhead whisking visitors to the summit. Roughly a half mile from Cannon’s summit, hikers are treated to the terrain the mountain is notorious for—ledgey, rocky, slabby, and treacherous—as the Kinsman Ridge Trail nears a side trail with access to some ledges. If you explore it, don’t let the stunning view of Franconia Ridge lull you into complacency; a misstep here would be unfortunate.

Signs of civilization become more apparent as you approach the top of Cannon Mountain. Here you’ll encounter hikers lounging and scrambling around the slabs and ledges dotting the mountain’s summit along with numerous tourists transported here via the aerial tram. Fight the crowds and climb the lookout tower for one of the finest views in the White Mountains before seeking solitude on the slabs below.

After resting on the summit, return the way you came or splurge for a ride down via the tram.

 

Do you have a trick for avoiding the crowded parking lots of Franconia Notch? If so, we want to hear it! Leave your tip in the comments below.


It's Never Too Late: An Introduction to Camping in the White Mountains

“It wouldn’t be a trail,” dad muttered between groans, “if there wasn’t a rock in the middle.”

I had explained in muted detail before we started that the trail was steep and rocky. By now, nine and a half hours into our second day of a hut-to-hut trip in the White Mountains and a mere 100 yards from our day’s final destination, he knew exactly what I meant.

My dad got himself into this mess months before. We’ve always found time for at least one day hike together each year. When I lived in Boston, we would make the straight-shot north into the Whites. Other years, we’d squeeze in a hike wherever we happened to meet up: the Catskills, the Adirondacks, the southern Appalachians, Florida, Colorado. We never pushed the envelope, but always had fun.

Courtesy: Brian Cooke
Courtesy: Brian Cooke

This year, I suggested something a little different, something a little out of his comfort zone. I sold him on a 15-mile three-day, two-night hike between two of the White Mountain Huts run by the Appalachian Mountain Club. It would be a step down in difficulty from any trip I’d ever planned for myself, lacking sleeping on the ground and dehydrated meals, but it would be a step up from dayhikes for him. We’d do shorter days, eat homemade food, sleep out of the elements on bunks, and share a few good laughs between just the two of us. I’d even reschedule if the weather soured. It was the perfect introduction to camping

Dad and I share a lot in common, but lifestyle isn’t one. He has hardly camped in his 63 years, and I travel full-time with my wife in a converted SUV. He chases summer weather, and I’m outside in any weather. His calendar is planned around rounds of golf, and my calendar is planned around backcountry trips. Regardless, he agreed to the trip and ended up at the foot of Gale River Trail on a sunny Sunday, ready to tackle the 4-plus miles up to Galehead Hut.

The last message that buzzed into my phone before I lost service was from my mom, “Hope you enjoy your hike with Dad! Don’t hurt him.”

Flat trails don’t last long in the Whites, and our route was no exception.

We ate sandwiches at the trailhead, packed bags, and talked gear. The whole thing seemed like we’d done it before. He came prepared and excited, so we set off at a quick clip, the trail flat and soft. This was the terrain dad was expecting.

Flat trails don’t last long in the Whites, and our route was no exception. Dry pine duff changed to mud then to boulder-hopping. By the time we crested the climb to the hut, dad’s quads were pumped and his shirt soaked through. We’d covered only half the distance we would need to cover tomorrow.

Rested and refueled, we started day two all smiles en-route to Greenleaf Hut. The topographic maps I’d consulted showed two bigger climbs, one up Garfield Mountain and one up Mount Lafayette. The rest, it seemed, was just an undulating ridge. The hiker guide at Galehead Hut was ominous, simply stating, “There is no easy way between Galehead and Greenleaf.” Had I set us up for failure? Will this be fun or just plain difficult? Had I overestimated his fitness or underestimated the terrain?

Credit: Brian Cooke
Credit: Brian Cooke

The first four hours were a success, save for a bloody shin. We made it to the top of 4,500-foot Garfield Mountain for lunch. Dad recounted his college years as a lift rat on the top of Loon Mountain, its grassy runs peaking over Owls Head and Mount Flume. Pressing on, our hiking speed dropped as quickly as the trail did down the mountain’s steep western slope before the long climb to Mount Lafayette. Our slowing pace lent itself to a feasting frenzy for black flies, with most latching onto dad.

In theory, backpacking is simple. Strap what you need to your back and walk. No special training necessary. But as I watched dad tackle the trail, it was clear that the extra weight of the backpack and the uneven trail challenged his balance and wore on his legs. A rocky section which took 30 seconds at the beginning of the day was taking a minute in the afternoon. There’s a difference, he admitted, between the circuit workouts he does at the gym and a relentless day in the mountains with a pack.

Up on Franconia Ridge, we were spared buffeting winds as we linked cairn to cairn up to 5,249 feet, but nothing could make the steep descent to Greenleaf Hut easier on the knees. As dad limped onto the hut’s porch just in time for dinner, I was sure this was our first and last backpacking trip together. We shared some bourbon as tonic and he watched the sun set out our bunk room window from the cramp-free, prone position.

The last message that buzzed into my phone before I lost service was from my mom, “Hope you enjoy your hike with Dad! Don’t hurt him.”

We tumbled down Old Bridle Path the next morning with as fresh of legs as we could muster. We rejoiced; he at the end of the trail, and me at not hurting dad as mom had requested. Spirits were high, much higher than I had imagined they would be all said and done.

For years, I’d avoided suggesting overnight hiking trips. They were off limits. My dad, I thought, wasn’t interested, didn’t have the skills, and didn’t have the gear. As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve traded adventure defined by higher, steeper, harder, farther for adventure in the form of new experiences with new people.

Credit: Brian Cooke
Credit: Brian Cooke

All I had to do was ask if dad wanted to go backpacking. As much as he’s tied to his own lifestyle, he isn’t afraid to try something new, even if it turns out that he should be. He didn’t need to spend thousands on specialized gear or practice any sort of special skills to walk (and slip and slide).

As after any difficult trip, the pain and apprehension sifts out with time and what settles are the successes: peaks bagged, laughs had, advice shared, and a damn good workout. Just days later, dad pulled out pictures of the trail in an attempt to warn my wife who was headed up to Whites for a trip. Hours later, he was regaling my sister and brother-in-law with the story. His golf buddies weren’t sure the story they heard was true. Despite it all, he maintains that he would go on another trip. What was once torture morphed into an adventure, and what was a once in a lifetime trip became a seed for future outings.

It’s his choice of trip next year, but until then, dad joked with his golf buddies, “Back to country club life.”