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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How the Nansen Ski Club Brought Bigtime Skiing to New Hampshire

New Hampshire has long been at the forefront of skiing in the US. The state is home to the country’s first organized downhill ski race (on Mount Moosilauke), its first gondola (at Wildcat), and a staggering number of trails cut by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that have become legendary resorts like Cannon, Wildcat, and Waterville. Hidden deep in the New Hampshire’s northernmost county, Coos, far above the state’s popular ski resorts, and lost among the numerous historical firsts is the state’s oldest and longest-running contribution to the sport of skiing: the Nansen Ski Club.

Founded in Berlin, New Hampshire, in either 1872 or 1882 (sources differ on the date of the club’s origin), the Nansen Ski Club was one of the earliest ski clubs in the US and is the country’s oldest continually operating ski club. While the club’s original purpose was to facilitate enjoyment of the sport—through trail maintenance and the construction of a warming hut—little did they know their efforts would lead to Berlin becoming the cradle of ski jumping in the US, put the small city on the minds of Olympic hopefuls, and still be attracting nordic skiers nearly 150 years later.

New-England-Skiiing
Fridtjof Nansen visits Berlin to meet Nansen Ski Club Members. | Courtesy: New England Historical Society

The Ski Klubben Club

Scandinavian immigrants brought skiing to Berlin, NH, and founded the Nansen Ski Club shortly thereafter. Arriving in Berlin in the 1840s and 1850s to help build the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad, the immigrants settled in the area (in part due to its hospitable winter climate), finding more permanent work in logging and the city’s mills. By the early 1870s, 30 families had established themselves in Berlin’s Norway Village, an area of four streets—Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. Much like the Nansen Ski Club, those streets are still around today.

During this period, the group founded the Ski Klubben in the upstairs hall of the old Berlin Mills Company Store. The club’s original intent was to foster the sport of nordic skiing and maintain a sense of pride in their home countries. Initially, membership was restricted to male residents of Norway Village, but soon after expanded to “allow any young man of good character.” The membership expansion is one of many changes over the years, most notably the club’s name. It evolved from the Ski Klubben to the Berlin Mills Ski Club to the Fridtjof Nansen Ski Club, before finally settling on the Nansen Ski Club.

The club’s namesake was Dr. Fridtjof Nansen, a famous Norwegian explorer who used cross-country skis to become the first person to traverse the Greenland Icecap. A hero to the club’s early members, Nansen would later be awarded a Nobel Prize for his aid to displaced victims of World War I. Nansen would also go onto visit his namesake club in 1929; when he arrived in Berlin, the whole city welcomed him with a parade.

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Courtesy: Coos Historical Society

The Building of “Big Nansen”

In addition to the nordic focus, club members have been building jumps in Norway Village since the club’s inception. An early jump (built in 1906) was in Paine’s Meadow, where Berlin’s Eleventh Street runs today. Jumps like this one were made by building a chute into the hill and it’s said that the Nansens attained speeds of up to 60 miles per hour before they launched into the air. In 1921, the Nansens constructed their first proper ski jump—it was 65 feet high and featured a 170-foot runout. Just six years later, in 1927, the jump was enlarged.  

In the 1930s, Nansen members constructed a world-class ski jump just north of Berlin in the small town of Milan. Using the legendary ski jumps of Europe as a model, the Nansens, along with the City of Berlin and the National Youth Administration (a New Deal program providing work and education for Americans aged 16 to 25), built the highest ski jump in the US. Fondly called “Big Nansen,” the jump towered 171 feet above the ground with a descent angle of roughly 37.5 degrees and a 312-foot runout.

For approximately 50 years, Big Nansen was the foremost ski jump in the country. Shortly after its completion in 1938, the first Olympic trials were held there, with 25,000 spectators—more than double the Berlin’s current population—watching jumpers launch off Big Nansen. The jump went on to host the United States Ski Jumping National Championships in 1940, 1957, 1965, and 1972.

A host of factors led to the decline of Big Nansen—an accident in the 1970s that paralyzed a skier put a dark veil over the jump, while the volunteers responsible for the events aged. Additionally, professional skiers were seeking more modern jumps. In 1985, the last skier flew from Big Nansen and the jump officially closed in 1988, falling into disrepair thereafter. Big Nansen has since been designated a National Historic Site and efforts to restore it, revitalize youth ski jumping in the area, and host competitions are underway. These initiatives got a big boost when Olympian (and Red Bull athlete) Sarah Hendrickson flew from Big Nansen.

The ski jump today. | Courtesy: MrBerlin NH
The ski jump today. | Courtesy: MrBerlin NH

Ski it for Yourself

Part of New Hampshire’s State Parks, you can visit the jump today. As work continues, the Nansens’ Nordic heritage is still going strong, with over 300km of groomed cross-country ski trails in Milan. The foundational Nansen trails were built by John Morton, a two-time Olympian cross-country biathlon skier and professional trail designer.

The Nansen trail system accommodates skiers of all abilities and allows animals (provided they’re leashed and under control). The trails are groomed by volunteers and a warming hut is available to members anytime (non-members are welcome to visit the hut when a volunteer hut host is onsite—which includes most winter weekends).

The Nansen cross-country ski trails are located a short drive from Gorham and about 30 minutes north of Pinkham Notch on Route 16. Club members have access to the club’s “Ski & Snowshoe Equipment Locker” which includes the free use of skis, poles, boots, and snowshoes. If you don’t have your own gear and you’re traveling from the south, there are numerous places to rent Nordic gear on the way, including Eastern Mountain Sports’ North Conway store. Go visit!


Three Beginner-Friendly New Hampshire Ice Climbing Destinations

If you haven’t busted your ice tools out yet or you’re a beginner just looking to enter the sport, now is the time to do it. But before you head out, consider exploring one of these three awesome New Hampshire locations as the perfect spot to get in the…swing of things.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Kinsman Notch

Blending a mix of beginner-friendly ice with steep columns and big bulges in a fun, craggy setting, Kinsman Notch is a destination where you can find something for everybody, no matter who’s in your crew. Located just outside Woodstock on Route 112, getting to the ice at Kinsman requires a short-but-steep, 15-20 minute walk uphill on an easy-to-follow path. You’ll know you’re at the ice when you see a short, steep pillar straight ahead and the approach trail begins to level out as it bends left.

Kinsman’s first crag contains two fun climbs: Pot O’ Gold (the WI4 pillar) and Killarney (an easier route up the ramp to the right). Whether you’re leading or top-roping—walk around right for good trees above to build anchors—these climbs are well worth doing.

Just a little ways left of Pot O’Gold are several other popular flows. The first is Shamrock—a long, wide flow that ranges from WI3 to WI4 depending on the conditions and the precise path you take. The next flow is Hanging By The Moment, two steep columns on either side of a large rock; these are among the hardest climbs in the area. The final flow in this area is Leprechaun’s Lament. It has three distinct parts with the left-most flow (WI2+) being the easiest, the middle curtain going at WI3, and the right-most ramp falling in between the two in terms of difficulty. All three climbs allow access to the top ledge, which climbers can use to set up anchors above the WI3 curtain as well as some of the more challenging routes on climber’s right.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

If all these climbs are occupied, climbers can follow the typically beat-in path further left for about 200 yards. Soon you’ll see the Beast (WI4+) and the Ramp Route (WI3-4), two multi-pitch routes with steep first pitches followed by some mellower sections above. If climbing columns is your thing, don’t miss the Beast!

If the multi-pitch routes are already taken as well—which is possible because Kinsman is a popular weekend destination—there’s an additional wide flow another 50 yards left of the Beast. Known as Blarney Stone, this is a great place to get some sticks in while the parties ahead of you get pumped out.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Champney Falls

Champney Falls is an excellent location for beginner and intermediate climbers looking to challenge themselves on steeper ice. Located about 30 minutes outside of North Conway Village, climbers will find parking at the aptly named (and well-signed) Champney Falls Trailhead. From the trailhead, follow the normally well-packed Champney Falls Trail as it climbs gradually for roughly 1.5 miles and take the obvious spur into the gorge. Inside the gorge, there’s a small cave which is perfect for stashing gear in—opposite the cave is a wall of ice ranging between 25 and 40 feet.

There are two options for setting up top ropes at Champney Falls. For those uncomfortable leading, it’s possible to scramble through the woods to the top of the cliff. This is a popular destination and you’re likely to have a packed-snow path to follow. If not, a rusty wire fence leads to the top, providing a guide to the clifftop. The other option is to lead the ramp in the back of the gorge—depending on the season, this ramp can range from running water to  snow to a big fat flow. Either way, pack a reasonably long static line for building anchors; the sturdiest trees are quite far back from the edge.

The routes at Champney are all fairly vertical. With the exception of the snow ramp/ice flow, the routes in the back of the canyon are the longest and steepest (WI5). As the routes move toward the front of the gorge, they lessen in both height and difficulty with a normally yellow-ish ice section in the middle going at WI4 and giving way to shorter and bulgier ice in the WI3 range. Some short-ish mixed lines that are fun to play on also form at the mouth of the canyon from time to time. Champney Falls is a popular destination and can accommodate only a few parties, so if you’re heading there on a weekend in prime ice season, you’ll want to get an early start.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The North End of Cathedral

There’s good reason the North End of Cathedral is one of the busiest single-pitch ice crags in New Hampshire—the approach is only about five minutes. Located on Cathedral Ledge Road just after the winter gate, the North End is the most accessible ice in the North Conway area. It sports several large flows offering everything from mellow slabs to steep ice.

The three most popular flows at the North End are Thresher, the North End Slab, and the North End Pillars. In good conditions, the latter two are wide flows that can accommodate multiple parties at once.

Of the three flows, the easiest is the North End Slab (WI2). It is also the longest climb in the North End, climbing a moderately angled ramp that is fantastic for first timers. For climbers planning on top roping the route, be aware that a 60m rope will be too short; climbers can instead build an anchor partway up the climb and top rope from there.

Thresher Slab | Credit: Tim Peck
Thresher Slab | Credit: Tim Peck

The North End Pillars (WI3-4) are located just to the right of North End Slab. A very wide flow, there’s often room for multiple parties on these easily accessible steep columns and they are a great place to practice climbing vertical ice. Climbers interested in top roping can access the good tree anchors at the top via an approach trail on climber’s right.

The final flow at the North End—Thresher (WI3)—begins a bit left of the North End Slab. It starts with a few sporting moves up a chimney, then ascends a slab and bulges toward the trees. One note of caution—you’ll need more than a single 60m rope to rap back to the ground. Of course, there’s an easy solution, enjoy this stellar route as a party of three.

Now that you have the beta on these three awesome areas, it’s time (if you haven’t already) to bust out the tools and get climbing. Make sure to tell us in the comments how you fared!


Support the Mountains of the Northeast With Your Purchase

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

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Adirondack Mountain Club

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

Appalachian Mountain Club

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

Mount Washington Observatory

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

 

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


Ghost Towns of the White Mountains

Did you know that there are ghost towns in the White Mountains? The best known of them is Livermore. Incorporated in 1876, it was a thriving logging town for 50 years before fire, flooding, and deforestation led to the community’s abandonment. Today, exploring the town’s crumbling foundations, stone cellar holes, and still-thriving apple trees is a must-do for any ghost town aficionado or lover of White Mountain history. Easily accessible from Sawyer River Road, mark it as your trick-or-treat destination this Halloween.

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Old Livermore

The history of Livermore is deeply rooted in logging—its establishment shortly followed the founding of the Grafton County Lumber Company and the Sawyer River Railroad by the Saunders family. Bounding Waterville Valley, Lincoln, Bartlett, and Albany, Livermore was geographically huge (75,000 acres), comprised mostly of trees that the lumber company intended to harvest.

The community itself, however, was quite small. At its peak in the late 1800s, Livermore was a thriving logging town with a railroad, sawmill, blacksmith shop, post office, school, and 18 homes—along with the Saunders family’s part-time home, a lavish 26-room mansion. By 1890, the town’s population had swelled to 155 residents; The town even encompassed a separate area called “Little Canada.”

But shortly thereafter, Livermore was on the decline. As was the case with many similar towns, fire and floods eventually sealed Livermore’s fate—the sawmill burned down three times in the town’s short history while torrential rains and flooding in 1927 wiped out sections of the railroad and bridges.

Following the flood, the mill closed, all but 12 acres (which are now privately owned) of land were absorbed into the White Mountain National Forest, and the population declined precipitously. Between 1935 and 1937, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) removed the railroad and buildings, leaving behind just the foundations. In 1951, the state legislature revoked Livermore’s charter, leaving the town to be reclaimed by the forest it once was established to log.

The wall of a pumphouse in Livermore. | Credit: Tim Peck
The wall of a pumphouse in Livermore. | Credit: Tim Peck

Livermore Today

Livermore’s remains are still easily accessed today, just not by railroad. Rather, Livermore is best accessed via Route 302 and Sawyer River Road, just a few miles outside the village of Bartlett. About two miles up Sawyer River Road, just after a modern cabin, is a pull-off. From the pull-off, a short walk downhill toward the Sawyer River leads to the best preserved ruins—most notably the red brick foundation of the powerhouse as well as a broad cement structure that was once the sawmill. On the other side of the road, there are several cellar holes with solid stone foundations which are easily found by looking for the flat spaces on the hillside. A little further up the road is the cement foundation of the community’s school house.

Although this map is not to scale, we found it very helpful as we tramped around the ghost town. Be on the lookout as well for the town’s historic apple trees, which are still—some 100 years later—producing bountiful crops of what are now heirloom apples.

Remnants of a sawmill in Livermore. | Credit: Tim Peck
Remnants of a sawmill in Livermore. | Credit: Tim Peck

Livermore & Mount Carrigain

Much of the land that once produced the raw material for Livermore’s sawmill is also accessible today. Looking at a map of the Grafton County Lumber Company’s holdings, one quickly notices many familiar 4,000-footers—most notably the Bonds, Hancocks, and Twins. However, one mountain feels particularly entertwined with Livermore: Mount Carrigain.

The most obvious reason for the association of Mount Carrigain with Livermore is that the most popular route to the mountain’s summit—Signal Ridge—is accessed via Sawyer River Road. In fact, many unaware hikers have probably driven right past the remnants of Livermore on the way to the mountain, oblivious to the region’s rich history and fascinating historical site. The other reason for the linking of these two entities is that Livermore locals explored Mount Carrigain on early AMC-sponsored trips using the railroad line for access, as written about in an 1879 edition of Appalachia, the AMC’s journal of mountaineering and conservation.

The foundation of Livermore's schoolhouse. | Credit: Tim Peck
The foundation of Livermore’s schoolhouse. | Credit: Tim Peck

Other New Hampshire Ghost Towns

Livermore is the best known of the White Mountain ghost towns, but there are plenty more for the interested hiker. We even discovered what appeared to be a cellar hole on a recent off-trail excursion on the way to Guy’s Slide. If you’re looking to explore other abandoned towns in the area, Passaconway is a great place to start; Russell-Colbath House is conveniently located on the Kancamagus Highway and is now run as a museum by the United States Forest Service. Another interesting site is the remains of Thornton Gore—a town that, during the late 1800s, consisted of 26 homes, a school, a church, and a mill—which is located off of Tripoli Road near Russell Pond Campground (It’s an awesome trip to tack onto a hike of the Osceolas).

Have you visited one of the White Mountains’ ghost towns before? If so, tell us your best tips and must-visit places in the comments below!


Death and Haunting on the Crawford Path

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

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

William Curtis, circa 1870
William Curtis, circa 1870

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Guy's Slide: Adirondack-Style Slide Climbing in New Hampshire

Ascending Mount Lincoln in Franconia Notch, Guy’s Slide is an Adirondack-style slide climb located in the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Best climbed in the fall when the water in the approach brook is low and the foliage is prime, Guy’s Slide should be on every slide aficionado’s list this season.

What is Slide Climbing?

Combining aspects of hiking and rock climbing, slide climbing has long been a popular activity in the Adirondacks and has only gained steam since Hurricane Irene created new slides while also lengthening, widening, and steepening existing ones. Drew Haas’s book, The Adirondack Slide Guide, encompasses a staggering 91 slides—but with the exception of a few well-traveled slides (Owl’s Head and Mt. Tripyramid’s North Slide), there is little enthusiasm for slide climbing in the Whites.

What is Guy’s Slide?

Guy’s Slide is named after Guy Waterman—a famous northeast author of books such as Forest and Crag and Yankee Rock and Ice and the first person to hike all the New Hampshire 4,000-footers in winter from all four compass points—who popularized climbing the slide in the mid-to-late 70s. Since Hurricane Irene in 2011, Guy’s Slide has opened up a bit and is now a wide slab that offers a fantastic adventure climb up Mount Lincoln.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

How Do I Get to Guy’s Slide?

The most challenging part of Guy’s Slide is getting there. From the Falling Waters Trailhead in Franconia Notch, hop on the Falling Waters Trail as it ascends next to Dry Brook. Along the trail, you’ll criss-cross the brook several times, passing multiple beautiful cascades. At the final cross-over, where the Falling Waters Trail begins a series of long switchbacks up Mount Haystack, leave the trail and begin rock-hopping up the brook.

Although there are usually some downed trees that hinder progress, the going along the brook is mellow, at least as far as off-trail hiking goes. After about 30 minutes, the Brook opens into a secluded alpine bowl bookended by Mount Lincoln on the left and Mount Haystack on the right, with Franconia Ridge connecting the two. While a new, wide slide ascending toward Mount Haystack is on hikers’ right, you’ll want to look straight ahead to pick out Guy’s Slide in the distance.

Near the back of the bowl, Dry Brook continues up Mount Lincoln. Find the brook, then thrash up it for about another 30 minutes. This section is steep and overgrown and likely to be the low point of your day. However, things will greatly improve as the brook transforms into an open slab and you pop out at the bottom of Guy’s Slide.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

What’s the Climbing Like?

Guy’s Slide begins on a slab atop the approach gully, ascending up Mount Lincoln for 1,000+ feet. There is a nice natural bench at the base of the slab—making it an ideal place to grab a snack, dry off after the approach, and get your climbing gear together. The slab broadens as it rises toward the ridge, offering mostly fourth-class climbing with the occasional easy fifth-class move sprinkled in. You’ll need to negotiate numerous small grass patches to link the large slabs together; Since this is a drainage, the grass is routinely wet which can lead to wet shoes and add a little spice to the slab climbing.

About two-thirds of the way to the ridge, the route doglegs left for a few rope lengths below a short section through some trees. Here you’re likely to hear the voices of hikers above. You’ll also become pretty easy to spot for hikers enjoying the view of the Kinsmans and Cannon, so plan on having an audience on the top third of the route. Just below the ridge, you’ll encounter a scree field that’s about a rope-length long. Use caution on this part of the climb; it’s pretty loose. If inspired, consider climbing one of the short pinnacles guarding the ridge instead.

Guy’s Slide is all adventure climbing, with no fixed route up the slab and no bolted anchors. In fact, you’re unlikely to see any evidence of other climbers and hikers. Just follow your nose for route finding and gear.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

What Do You Do When You Get to the Top?

Upon topping out, hikers have two main options. One is to head south on Franconia Ridge toward Mount Haystack and then descend via the Falling Waters Trail. A longer option is to head north on Franconia Ridge, ascending Mount Lincoln and Mount Lafayette on the way, then descend via the Greenleaf and Bridle Path trails. On nice days, the latter option is the way to go, allowing climbers to bag two 4,000-footers along the way and scope the foliage from atop Franconia Ridge.

What Do I Need to Climb Guy’s Slide?

Approach shoes, a light alpine rack, and a 30-40 meter light rope like the Beal Zenith 9.5mm are ideal for parties planning on moving while roped together. Since the route wanders up the slab, some slings to extend gear are useful to prevent rope drag. Finally, a helmet is a must given one section of loose rock near the top as well as the hundreds of hikers traversing Franconia Ridge above you.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

When’s the Best Time to Go?

Fall is definitely the best time to climb Guy’s Slide. The bugs are gone, the foliage is prime, and the friction is perfect. Pick a day after a dry spell and the ascent up the approach brook should be manageable, too. Then, once you’re on the slab, enjoy a unique perspective of Mount Lincoln in solitude.


Video: Bode Miller is a Force of Nature

For this New Hampshire boy, life is lived on a knife edge.


Alpha Guide: The Crawford Path

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

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

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

Quick Facts

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


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

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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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