Alpha Guide: Franconia Ridge in Winter

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Take on one of the Northeast’s most stunning ridgelines while tagging two of New Hampshire’s 10 tallest mountains.

A true classic, this winter hike crosses one of the White Mountains’ most prominent features, Franconia Ridge; delivers moderate climbing that doesn’t require the use of an ice axe; and features a roughly 1.5-mile above-treeline ridge run between Little Haystack and Mount Lafayette. With 360-degree views of the Whites from the ridge, it is one of the Northeast’s most beautiful hikes. And, with a large section of above-treeline hiking, it’s also one of the region’s most exposed hikes, making it a fantastic winter test piece.

 

Quick Facts

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


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Turn-By-Turn

Most hike Franconia Ridge as a loop, beginning and ending at the Falling Waters and Old Bridle Path trailhead and parking lot on Interstate 93N (44.142048, -71.681206) in Franconia Notch State Park.

Hikers driving north on I-93 will find the parking lot just after the exit for The Basin trailhead. Hikers coming from the other direction should park in the Lafayette Place Campground parking lot and use the tunnel that goes under I-93 to access the lot and trailhead. The trailhead is opposite the entrance to the parking lot, where it climbs a short, paved incline to an outhouse and then becomes dirt as it heads into the woods.

Hikers, take notice: This ultra-classic hike is super-popular on weekends and holidays. So, get there early to find a parking spot.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Time to split

Just 0.2 miles in, hikers will come to the junction (44.139702, -71.679512) of the Falling Waters Trail and the Old Bridle Path. The loop is best done counterclockwise, first up the Falling Waters Trail and then descending the Old Bridle Path. The Falling Waters Trail, which veers right at the junction, gets extremely icy in winter and is much easier to go up than down. Plus, the various waterfalls are more scenic on the approach, as well as more easily overcome with fresh legs early in the day.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Following Falling Waters

From the junction, the Falling Waters Trail heads southeast on a moderate track, until it reaches Dry Brook. From there, the trail intermittently steepens and poses some small technical challenges, as it crisscrosses the icy stream climbing under, around, and over a series of semi-frozen waterfalls. Between the water and ice, the footing along here is often slick, and you’ll probably want your MICROspikes and a pair of trekking poles to negotiate the potentially treacherous terrain. Take care not to slip or plunge a foot into the brook.

Eventually, the trail leaves the brook and begins a series of long, gradual switchbacks up toward Shining Rock. As the trail moves away from the brook, the short, steep, and technical sections dissipate, and the terrain and grade become more consistent—especially once the snow on the ground is packed and covering the ordinarily rocky and rooty terrain.

Shining Rock

After 2.5 miles, the Falling Waters Trail reaches a junction with a short spur trail (44.140186, -71.650940) that heads downhill to Shining Rock, a large granite slab flanking Little Haystack Mountain and visible from Interstate 93. If you have time (remember, darkness comes early in the winter), consider the brief detour.

The Shining Rock junction is also a great place to refuel, add an extra layer and traction devices (if you haven’t already), and get your above-treeline gear ready (such as a balaclava, warmer gloves, goggles, etc.). From the junction, continue upward on the Falling Waters Trail, which steepens and gradually becomes more exposed to the weather for the final 0.5-mile push to the 4,760-foot summit of Little Haystack.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Little Haystack

Shortly after departing the junction for Shining Rock, hikers will push past the treeline to the rocky and icy landscape of Little Haystack Mountain’s summit (44.140362, -71.646080). Although Little Haystack isn’t one of the 48 New Hampshire 4,000-footers (it’s technically a subpeak of Mount Lincoln, the next stop on your journey), it is an awesome summit with fantastic views. Find the hard-to-miss summit cairn, and then, head north on the Franconia Ridge Trail toward Mount Lincoln.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Lincoln

From Little Haystack, it’s 0.7 miles to Mount Lincoln’s summit. The path is easy to follow and, at first, quite moderate. Then, it begins to climb on rockier terrain and crests an ego-deflating false summit, all the while offering fantastic views in every direction and fully exposing you to the wind and weather.

Once you get to the summit of 5,089-foot Mount Lincoln (44.148682, -71.644707), the first of two New Hampshire 4,000-footers on the traverse, take a moment—or more, if the weather allows—to soak in the dramatic landscape and fantastic views. From here, you get views in all directions, with the Kinsmans, Lonesome Lake, and Cannon Cliff to the west and the Pemigewasset Wilderness to the east. To the south, the pyramid-like tops of Mount Liberty and Mount Flume dominate the view, while to the north lies your next objective, the summit of Mount Lafayette.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Lafayette

Standing one mile away on the Franconia Ridge is the day’s high point, the 5,260-foot summit of Mount Lafayette. To get there, you’ll give up much of the elevation you’ve gained since Little Haystack by descending rocky, slabby terrain similar to what you just ascended. The saddle has a scrubby pine grove, which provides a brief respite from the weather on less-optimal days. Beware that snow can build up in the trees, making this section more difficult and take longer than you may have expected.

From the trees, the Franconia Ridge Trail makes a sharp ascent—the steepest section since the climb from Shining Rock to Little Haystack—to Mount Lafayette’s summit. Relatively straightforward, the climb does contain a few slabby sections and rock outcroppings that warrant your full attention before you get to the summit.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The High Point

Lafayette’s summit (44.160717, -71.644470) is well marked with both a large cairn and sign, and is quickly recognizable, as it’s the region’s highest point. If the weather is good, grab a seat in one of the summit’s windbreaks—rock walls built to shield hikers from the elements—and soak up the views. The 4,500-foot Mount Garfield looms in the north, and on clear days, the Presidential Range is visible behind it. To the south, you can admire the distance you’ve traveled, as the peaks of Mount Lincoln and Little Haystack are both visible from this vantage point.

The windbreaks are also a great place to have a quick snack. And, don’t de-layer just yet, as there is still some exposed trail left on the descent.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Descent

From Lafayette’s summit, take the 1.1-mile Greenleaf Trail toward the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Greenleaf Hut. This section is well defined, but the vast majority of it is above-treeline and is very exposed to the weather—in particular, winds blowing from the northwest.

With the hut visible most of the way, progress can feel sluggish. The slow-going is often exaggerated by the trail’s rugged nature, made even more difficult by patches of snow and ice.

As you near the Greenleaf Hut, the trail dips into tree cover, the first real break in exposure you’ve had for nearly three miles. You’re not out of the woods yet, though, as the area around the hut is often very icy.

Unlike during the summer, there is no hot chocolate, soup, or delicious baked goods in your future—unless you brought your own—as Greenleaf Hut (44.160206, -71.660316) is closed in the winter. However, the building itself provides a good windbreak and is a logical place to stop for a snack and to de-layer.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Old Bridle Path

From the hut, take the Old Bridle Path for 2.7 miles to the Falling Waters trail junction, and then, enjoy the short walk back to the car. Below treeline, hikers may feel that the crux of the day is behind them, but the Old Bridle Path’s upper third is challenging and, in places, exposed. Use care negotiating these ledges, slabs, and steep sections.

As you descend the ledges, take a moment to peer back up at the ridge. It’s nice to enjoy the relative warmth of the sun found on these protected ledges while you peer up at the ridge and remember the bone-chilling cold experienced only a short time ago.

After the ledges, the Old Bridle Path begins to mellow, getting more forested with progressively easier switchbacks. From here, it’s a straightforward, albeit longish, walk back to the junction and then to the car.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Trekking poles and traction devices, like Kahtoola MICROspikes, are essential for negotiating the icy terrain on the ascent and descent. And, although the wind often blows the snow off the ridge proper, it, too, can be quite icy.
  • Bring a vast array of winter accessories to contend with unpredictable, above-treeline winter conditions. A winter hat, balaclava, multiclava, and gloves of varying warmth are a good place to start. And, if there’s wind in the forecast, goggles should also be included.
  • A warm down or synthetic parka, like the Outdoor Research Incandescent Hoody, is great for staying warm during rest breaks, cold traverses and descents, and emergencies.
  • Because it gets dark quickly in the winter and the Old Bridle Path descent is treacherous, add a headlamp, like the Black Diamond Spot, to your pack.
  • Snickers bars and gels are great in the summer but can freeze in the frigid temperatures. Nature Valley bars, trail mix, and leftover pizza—just to name a few—are all excellent winter food choices that won’t freeze in your pack.

Have more questions about what gear to bring? Check out “What’s in Our Winter Peak-Bagging Packs.” Don’t be that guy in jeans and a hoodie hiking across the ridge.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Need a good reason for an alpine start? The parking lots fill up fast! In the summer, excess traffic even goes along the highway, but depending on the amount of snow the mountains have received, that might not be an option in winter.
  • Start cold, so you won’t have to stop after 10 minutes to lose a layer. More importantly, if you’re not over-layered, you’re less likely to sweat through your garments and will stay warmer in the long run.
  • Bring a thermos of something hot to drink. It’s great for warming up your core temperature and a nice morale booster when the going gets cold.
  • Know when to say when. If you get above treeline and decide that it’s too windy or too cold, or you just have a bad feeling, don’t hesitate to turn around before committing to the traverse.
  • Have a backup plan. If you live a few hours from the mountains, like many people do, it can be hard to know exactly what the weather will be doing until you get there. If the weather isn’t cooperating for a traverse, Mount Liberty and Cannon Mountain are close by and are less committing than Franconia Ridge.
  • After a cold day in the mountains, warm up at One Love Brewery in Lincoln, New Hampshire. Their Meat Lover’s Burger features grilled pork belly, BBQ pulled pork, jalapeño slaw, and Swiss cheese, and is a great way to replace some of the calories you burned!

Current Conditions

Have you hiked Franconia Ridge recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

MntnReview: 'Where You'll Find Me' by Ty Gagne

“Do you own a PLB?” my mom asked out of nowhere one afternoon this summer.

Embarrassingly, despite spending a decade of my life working in outdoor retail, I had to Google it to know what she was talking about. It’s a personal locator beacon, duh.

“Like, for skiing?” I asked, trying to put off telling her that I do not, in fact, have one.

“Like for any of the crazy stuff you and your husband do!”

[*eyeroll emoji*]

Eventually, I learned why she was suddenly so curious. She had attended a presentation given by Ty Gagne, author of Where You’ll Find Me: Risk, Decisions, and the Last Climb of Kate Matrosova, and had convinced herself that I would die on top of a mountain without one.

I remembered being equal parts sad and annoyed when the stories about Matrosova and her ill-fated hike of the Presidential Traverse first came to light in February 2015.

When Gagne’s book was finally released about two months later, I came home from work to find a copy sitting on my front porch—courtesy of my mom. I held off on reading it for a few weeks, however. I was in the middle of a different book at the time, and I remembered being equal parts sad and annoyed when the stories about Matrosova and her ill-fated hike of the Presidential Traverse first came to light in February 2015. And, I wasn’t in a hurry to revisit those feelings.

Kate Matrosova
Kate Matrosova

But, once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.

Roughly the first half consists of Gagne meticulously piecing together what happened as Matrosova attempted to complete the northern section of the Presidential Traverse (from Madison to Washington) in one day, by herself. Throughout, Gagne tells Matrosova’s story in incredible detail—and without judgment. Data gleaned from her Suunto watch and Garmin GPS, in addition to Gagne’s own exhaustive research, puts her journey together. While he factors in the broader psychology of risk analysis and decision making, he further makes it clear how easy it would be for any confident, hyper-motivated hiker to make the same mistakes.

It further reminds you that, no matter how prepared you may be, how much experience you have, or how detailed a game plan you’ve created for yourself, when you head into the mountains, you are at their mercy.

The book’s second half reconstructs the search and rescue (SAR) effort. Specifically, this pertains to the timeline from the minute NH Fish and Game received the call about Matrosova activating her PLB to the moment the rescue teams returned to the trailhead with her body. Among my personal knowledge of the area, recognizing some of the rescue crew (shout out to Charlie Townsend, a former EMS Climbing School Guide), and Gagne’s ability to explain the entire SAR process in such great-yet-easy-to-comprehend detail, the story gets especially compelling.

As winter approaches and hikers begin to think about their seasonal objectives, reading Where You’ll Find Me should be at the top of your to-do list. Not only is the book a quick and easy read, but it further reminds you that, no matter how prepared you may be, how much experience you have, or how detailed a game plan you’ve created, when you head into the mountains, you are at their mercy. Oh, and if you happen to have a super-motivated but PLB-less hiker in your life, don’t be afraid to “mom” them and give them a copy of Where You’ll Find Me as a hint gift!


3 Early Winter Hikes on the Kank

Fall in the White Mountains sometimes feels ephemeral. One week, you’ll be hiking along in short sleeves, admiring the stunning foliage. The next, you’ll be trudging through the year’s first snowfall, wishing you’d remembered your traction for that icy descent.

Luckily, the period from late fall into early winter is the perfect time to explore the region around the Kancamagus. Specifically, the leaf-peeping crowds have dissipated, while the temperatures and conditions remain comparatively pleasant. For those looking to experience the Kank beyond the overlooks, here are three hikes from the highway that offer something for everyone.

Credit: Hannah Wohltmann
Credit: Hannah Wohltmann

The Hancocks

One of the most popular hikes off the Kancamagus is the 9.8-mile lollipop loop hike of both South and North Hancock. Leaving from Hancock Notch Trailhead, this hike ticks off two New Hampshire 4,000-footers via the Hancock Notch, Cedar Brook, and Hancock Loop Trails. It remains fairly low in elevation, reducing your chances of encountering snow and ice, and stays in the trees for a long portion, keeping you from prolonged exposure to cold wind. And, because this hike gains and loses the majority of its elevation in short, sustained sections, it’s not surprising to find yourself done with the almost-10 miles a little bit faster than anticipated.

Deciding which direction to hike the Hancock Loop Trail is the hardest part, however. As a tip, head to South Hancock first. It’s a little bit easier to traverse from the South to the North Peak than vice versa, despite the latter actually being higher than the former. Also, North Hancock tends to have better views. Specifically, a large slab here gives you a chance to enjoy a snack as you look out at the Osceolas and the Sandwich Range. Thus, doing it this way lets you save the best for last.

However, summiting South Hancock first also leaves the day’s steepest part for the descent, which can be an adventure in slick or snowy conditions. So, to prepare, don’t forget to bring MICROSpikes and trekking poles.

Credit: Tim Sackton
Credit: Tim Sackton

The Tripyramids

Accessing the Tripyramids from the Pine Bend Brook Trailhead lets you tick off two other 4,000-footers: North Tripyramid and Middle Tripyramid. At about 10 miles round-trip, with almost 3,500 feet in elevation gain, hiking the Tripyramids is much like the Hancocks. Specifically, hikers spend the majority of their time at lower elevations, protected from the elements by the forest. In fact, even their summits are mostly forested, allowing hikers to find shelter from cold weather around the day’s highest points.

While the views here aren’t going to make any “best of” lists, you can look out at Waterville Valley from North Tripyramid, while Middle Tripyramid offers a nice sight of its sister to the north and Passaconaway and Whiteface to the west.

Hikers approaching from the Kancamagus should be prepared for steep terrain. And, even in dry conditions, the section of trail connecting the two summits can be challenging. It’s also worth mentioning that, despite the trek being below treeline, temperatures and conditions change from the parking lot to the summit, so pack accordingly.

Credit: Ben Themo
Credit: Ben Themo

Hedgehog

For hikers looking for a little less mileage, there is Hedgehog Mountain via the Downes Brook and UNH Trails. Although you won’t ascend a 4,000-footer, it will get you to the top of a “52 With a View” peak, and delivers greater vistas and more exposure than its taller neighbors. In fact, at just 2,532 feet, Hedgehog is the shortest “52 With a View.”

Because of the lower elevation, Hedgehog is perfect for those late fall days when snow and ice are starting to accumulate on the higher summits, but you’re not quite ready for hiking in full-on winter conditions. Those tackling Hedgehog are treated to an almost five-mile loop trip that delivers moderate grades, open slabs, and great views of the Presidential Range and Mount Chocorua. Much like when you hike the Hancocks, the hardest decision of the day—other than how long to lounge on the ledges—is which direction to go. We’ve always liked to go clockwise, which allows us to tackle the ledges earlier in the day while our legs are still fresh.

A word to the wise: Don’t be fooled by the minimal elevation. Hedgehog delivers terrain similar to the region’s larger peaks. Because of this, pack not just for the trek, but also for the season. Still bring traction devices for potentially icy terrain, a windshirt for the exposed ledges, and a puffy coat for the summit, in addition to other essentials.

 

Just because the leaves are almost all off the trees, that doesn’t mean it’s time to put the hiking boots away. Now is one of the best times for hiking in the Whites, so get out for a short trek before snowshoes become required gear. Already took one of these hikes from the Kank? Tell us about your trip in the comments.

 


Crawford Notch Slab Climbs for Fall Foliage

Fall is the perfect opportunity for rock climbers to take advantage of the cool air and increased friction, escape the White Mountain crowds, and do a little high-angle leaf peeping. And, those seeking out moderately-rated routes and great views won’t need to look any further than the slab climbs found in and around Crawford Notch.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Central Slab on Mt. Webster

Mt. Webster’s Central Slab has some of the region’s best climbs. Popular moderates—Lost in the Sun, Direct, and A Bit Short—all go at 5.6 or less and have bolted cruxes and belay anchors. About 1,000 feet long, each offers bird’s-eye views of Crawford Notch, Willey’s Slide, and, in the distance, the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Even better, the 30- to 40-minute uphill approach is such a good crowd deterrent that you’ll rarely encounter too many parties.

For first-time visitors, acing the approach might be more of a challenge. If you’re coming from Conway, park in a small dirt pullout on Route 302, just after the Willey House on the left. Climbers coming from the I-93 side of 302 should use the slab itself as a reference, as the pullout is almost directly across. From here, walk across the street and cross the Saco River. Orange ribbons and small cairns lead you uphill on a climbers’ path into the approach gully and the base of the climb. Pro Tip: Leave some post-climb beers in the Saco to chill.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Lost in the Sun and Direct both leave from the toe, while A Bit Short starts a little up on the right. All three climb interesting slab, interspersed with some fun flakes and overlaps on mostly clean rock. Every belay station offers great views, but be sure to check out the flattish one at the end of Lost in the Sun and Direct. Here, sit down, take off your climbing shoes, have a snack, and soak in the expansiveness of Crawford Notch’s foliage, before you transition to the rappel. Note: The route requires two ropes, and there is no walk-off.

In terms of gear, first-timers should bring a standard rack up to two inches, along with a few doubles of smaller cams. As well, some of the pitches—especially on Direct—have several bolts. So, to prepare, consider adding multiple quickdraws to your normal assortment of runners and alpine draws.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The West Wall of Mt. Oscar

If long approaches are a turn-off, then check out Mt. Oscar’s West Wall, home to New Hampshire’s most European approach. Simply park at the Bretton Woods ski resort, walk 100 yards to the chairlift, and take it ($5 per person) to the top. From here, hike west on a gravel road for 10 minutes towards the West Mountain summit, enter the woods, and turn left at a wooden sign for West Wall. Then, walk downhill through a pine forest for 10 to 15 minutes to the wall’s base.

The 300-foot tall West Wall has about nine multi-pitch routes ranging in difficulty from 5.4 to 5.7. The slab climbing is fun, with bolts where you want them and generally good gear interspersed. Moreover, it’s a great place to take less-experienced leaders. Specifically, the pitches are short, and every belay station includes bolted anchors with rap rings. However, the shade-induced dampness does make the climbs’ first 10 feet a little slippery.

Once you get above the second pitch, make sure to turn around and enjoy the wilderness behind you. From left to right, you’ll see Mt. Tom, Zealand Notch, the Pemigewasset Wilderness, Mt. Hale, and the Sugarloafs. As you climb higher, look for Mt. Carrigain looming in the distance.

Most West Wall climbs eventually converge into Guides Route, which becomes markedly easier on the fourth and fifth pitches. As a result, many try a route’s first few pitches, rappel to the ground, and then head back up another route. When you’re done, simply keep climbing up Guides Route, until you can scramble on third-class slabs to the West Mountain summit. From there, savor the views as you unrope and pack your gear for the short hike back to the chairlift.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Main Slab of Mt. Willard

Mt. Willard’s two-tiered slab looms as one of Crawford Notch’s most prominent landmarks. Home to some of the Whites’ first technical climbing, this is the place for fantastic views and fun, history-steeped routes.

To get to Willard’s Main Slab, park on Route 302 at the dirt pullout just south of the Silver Cascade parking lot. A well-tread trail leaves from the back, heading directly uphill to Hattie’s Garden and a railroad track. Turn right, and follow the track for five to 10 minutes to the loose gully that climbs up to main slab’s bottom left side. Pro Tip: Put your helmet on here. Hugo’s Horror Revisited, the slab’s “easiest” route, begins here. The starts for two other popular routes—Time-Space Continuum and Across the Universe—are along the climbers’ path to the right.

Compared to similarly-rated routes on West Wall and Central Slab, the climbing on Willard is stout. Further, although you’ll find some bolts in between the bolted anchors, the runouts sometimes feel spicy, and you won’t always find good gear in between. Some loose, crumbly rock on a couple segments also complicates matters.

All that said, the view down is unparalleled, especially during peak foliage season. Mt. Webster’s slabs command it to the southeast, soaring above the Saco River and Route 302 to the notch’s southern end. In the west, Mt. Willey’s forest and slides reach 4,000 feet in elevation.

 

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

There is much to love about climbing in Crawford Notch, and in the fall, these crags get even better, as the bugs go away and friction improves. Best of all, after a rope-length or two, you’re far removed from the leaf-peeping masses and get rewarded with a view that beats anything they’re seeing down below.


Q&A with Chris Oberg of 'Flags on the 48'

In the days and months following the September 11 terrorist attacks, homes, buildings, and flag poles across the country were draped in the red, white, and blue. The flags were a symbol of mourning, of patriotism and pride, and of national solidarity. But for a handful of New Hampshire hikers, it wasn’t enough. With 48 grand, rocky 4,000-plus foot summits dotting the landscape surrounding them, there was no place more fitting to come together and fly the flag.

Each year, a growing community of ambitious hikers in New Hampshire pays tribute to those affected by the tragedy through a simple and unique memorial: by hiking to the summit of each of the state’s 48 summits and flying the American flag from atop each one of them for two hours. They call this memorial hike “Flags on the 48.”

Sixteen years later, the tradition lives on, partly through the leadership of hikers like Chris Oberg, an organizer of Flags on the 48. We sat down with Oberg to talk about the powerful initiative he is a part of.

The Flags on the 48 crew in 2002, one year following the attacks and their first flay-flying. | Courtesy: Flags on the 28
The Flags on the 48 crew in 2002, one year following the attacks and their first flay-flying. | Courtesy: Flags on the 28

goEast: So what is “Flags on the 48” and how did it get going?

Chris: The initiative began with a group of six friends decided that they would take a flag up to Mount Liberty a few days after 9/11. So on the Saturday after September 11th, 2001, they were at the summit of Mount Liberty flying an American flag in a demonstration of solidarity and patriotism. Afterwards they decided, ‘Hey, we should do this every year and not forget about this.’

Now, Flags on the 48 is a memorial event that we do annually on the 48 4,000-footers in New Hampshire. We do it to recognize and memorialize the folks who lost their lives on 9/11, and all of the responders who helped out in a time of need. It’s basically just a way for us to try not to forget what happened that day, and to pay tribute to those folks who were impacted by responding, or by losing a loved one, friend, or acquaintance.

We’re just a bunch of people who like to get out into the woods and thought it would be a pretty cool way to pay tribute by hiking to the summits—which are pretty amazing places—and to put flags up. It’s a cool sight to see a big American flag (and many other types of flags), flying at the summit of a mountain with so many amazing views.

Many of this year's flag flyings were met with a military flyby. | Courtesy: Stephanie Howes/Flags on the 48
Many of this year’s flag flyings were met with a military flyby. | Courtesy: Stephanie Howes/Flags on the 48

goEast: When is the event, and how do folks learn about it?

Chris: We hike on the Saturday closest to 9/11—unless 9/11 falls on a Sunday like it did in 2016. Essentially, we just let word of mouth get out about the event. And in the past, people very often were actually hiking on the day that the event was held. They might’ve just stumbled across somebody who was hiking up, or maybe happened to arrive at the summit while the flag was flying and just said ‘Wow, that’s really cool. I’d like to do that.’ So they go to our website and check it out.

The fly going up on Mount Moosilauke. | Courtesy: Jon Thyng/Flags on the 48
The fly going up on Mount Moosilauke. | Courtesy: Jon Thyng/Flags on the 48

 

goEast: How many flags are flown? Is there one for each summit?  

Chris: We do at least one American flag at each summit of all 48, and then we also highly encourage people to bring whatever flags they would like to fly. There are a bunch of POW/MIA flags that get flown, some people bring prayer flags like you see in Nepal. I once invited a guy who was working with me from Brazil, so we flew the Brazilian flag along with the American flag. There are all kinds of people who will come up with lots of different ways to bring attention to the event, and fly different flags—each one meaning something different to each of them.

For each peak, we only allow 10 registrations. We don’t want to have this massive group of like 50 people hiking together and plowing through the wilderness. But at the same time, we don’t ever tell people well, don’t participate, don’t go, because we can split up the team into a variety of different groups.

Courtesy: Flags on the 48
Courtesy: Flags on the 48

goEast: I would imagine that this is a really powerful experience for a lot of reasons and evokes a lot emotions in all the participants.

Chris: I’ve personally met with people who have lost spouses. There was one guy who drove up from New York because he watched live as the towers fell. He was in Manhattan watching these buildings crumble. And he said it was just indescribable, that there’s nothing that could ever prepare you to see that kind of an event. It’s not something you’ll ever forget.

I met a woman whose husband died. She hiked up by herself and met us, and she didn’t want to be part of the group. She kind of wanted it to be her own solitary moment, but she met us at the summit and thanked us for doing the event. She just said, “Thank you guys for doing this. My husband was in Tower Two, and I really appreciate people remembering that this happened. It’s not something that we want to forget or move on from.”

I appreciate hearing stories like that. I don’t necessarily enjoy it, but I do appreciate that people think about what we’re doing and they aknowledge what we’re doing and support it, through their thoughts, actions, posts on message boards, etc. You’re doing this thing that you feel passionately about and you really care about the folks that were involved and then somebody says “Hey you know what, I think you’re doing the right thing, and I really appreciate that you guys do this.” That keeps us going for sure.


Newsflash: American Alpine Club purchases climbers camp at Rumney

The American Alpine Club is bringing its collection of climbers’ campgrounds and huts, which includes a campground in the ‘Gunks, to the best sport crag in the East. The organization announced, today, that is has purchased Rattlesnake Campground adjacent to the Rumney Rocks Climbing Area in New Hampshire.

Previously owned and operated by a local couple, the 15-acre property sits between the Baker River and Buffalo Road, directly across the street from the Meadows and Parking Lot Walls on the crag’s east side.

“Rumney is one of the country’s finest sport-climbing destinations,” said AAC CEO Phil Powers. “With visitation on the rise, and with more than 22 million Americans and Canadians within weekend striking distance, the American Alpine Club is proud to participate in a sustainable long-term camping solution for this popular spot.”

Rumney Rattlesnake

Courtesy: American Alpine Club
Courtesy: American Alpine Club

Rumney Rattlesnake will continue to act primarily as a first-come first-serve campground with a large communal area, fire pits, and picnic tables. In addition, the AAC plans to set aside a small number of online-reservable, private campsites in the near future. Porta potties and access to potable water will continue to be available at the property’s barn, but the AAC also plans to open the barn in the future as a community space and weather shelter for climbers with full bathrooms and showers.

AAC members will see a discounted $8 per night rate starting immediately and non-members will be charged $12 per night. Dogs are also now allowed on the property.

“With the Rumney Campground now part of the AAC’s growing lodging network, we are looking forward to welcoming climbers from around the Northeast and the world to experience this wonderful place, learn, challenge themselves, and meet old and new friends,” said Powers.


The New Hampshire Climber's Guide to Pizza

Whether I spend the day testing my mettle at Cathedral, getting in laps on Cannon, clipping bolts at Rumney, or wrestling pebbles at Pawtuckaway, I know I’m not making it all the way home without stopping to eat. But, what to eat? That’s usually an easy answer: pizza. 

In my humble opinion, it’s the perfect post-climbing food. It’s delicious, its various toppings can accommodate most palates, and it is relatively inexpensive. Those of us who climb in New Hampshire are lucky to have some fantastic pizza options in close proximity to most of our major crags. My girlfriend recently coined the term “sending slices,” because sometimes that warm slice in the near future is all the motivation you need to push through the crux.

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Pawtuckaway: Pizza by George

Perhaps the best pizza in New Hampshire is right down the street from what’s probably the state’s best bouldering spot. Pizza by George in Raymond is perfect for cooling down after a hard day battling Pawtuckaway’s coarse granite boulders and cracks. Offering gourmet pizza by the slice, this place is a must-visit. But, be warned: These slices are more filling than they look. Insider tip: Save some room for a pepperoni roll or two—they’re delicious.

Rumney: The Common Cafe

For years, I bemoaned having to leave Rumney to drive to Plymouth for a decent post-send slice. That’s no longer an issue, thanks to The Common Cafe. Located in Rumney Village right on the way to the crag, The Common Cafe and Tavern features generously sized pizzas and super-fresh toppings. My inner dirtbag also appreciates the free popcorn they give you while you wait for your food. No one-trick pony, The Common Cafe and Tavern is as good for a coffee and breakfast sandwich earlier in the day as it is for a pizza and pint at the end. 

Cannon: GH Pizza

Rock climbers spending time on Cannon—or anywhere in Franconia Notch—should certainly pop into the town of Woodstock and grab a pie at GH Pizza. The best thing I can say about GH is that there isn’t much to say. The place is totally unassuming.

More specifically, GH makes Greek-style pie, and has a classic pizza-place ambiance. Along with great food, it offers reasonable prices and fast service. For this last point, the hungry climber in me really appreciates this.

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Crawford Notch: Catalano’s Pizzeria

Climbers in the Crawford Notch area are hard-pressed to find a place to eat, much less one that’s great. Catalano’s Pizzeria in Twin Mountain offers incredibly good pizza at reasonable prices, which is quite a trick, as they seemingly have no competition.

Ice climbers leaving Frankenstein will love the “large” large pizzas that always appear extra big. Generally, Catalano’s pizza is always loaded with cheese, and they never skimp on toppings, helping you to replace all the calories you just burned. Insider tip: Stash their number in your phone and call ahead. Things move a little bit slower this far north.

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North Conway: Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co.

In addition to being New England’s climbing hub, North Conway is also northern New Hampshire’s busiest tourist destination. Thus, the town has an abundance of places to eat, and there is no shortage of great spots to grab a slice.

With that being said, after a hard day climbing Cathedral classics and sweating it out on Whitehorse slabs, I head to the Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co. to calm my nerves with a fresh-brewed pint (or two) and a wood-grilled pizza. Also at this North Conway staple, you are sure to be surrounded by your climbing brethren. Just be careful with what you say, though. You never know if the guy sitting next to you made his first ascension on the route you thought was “a little soft for the grade.”


Alpha Guide: The Presidential Traverse

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

This Northeast classic is one of the region’s most sought-after trips, and for good reason.

The Presidential Traverse is one of the most challenging and beautiful point-to-point hikes in the Whites, and the Northeast at large. It summits up to eight of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot mountains—including the five tallest in New England—with the most notable being the iconic Mount Washington. Because most of the hiking occurs above tree line, hikers can expect a day full of incredible views…if the weather holds, that is.

 

Quick Facts

Distance: 21.7-mile thru-hike
Time to complete: 1 day (but with overnight options)
Difficulty: ★★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★★


Season: May through September
Fees/Permits: $3/day for parking at the Appalachia Trailhead and/or Crawford Path Trailhead
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/whitemountain

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Turn-By-Turn

Most begin the Presidential Traverse at the Appalachia Trailhead and end at the AMC’s Highland Center Lodge in Crawford Notch. Doing the Presidential Traverse from north to south is easier, as it gets the majority of the elevation gain out of the way early in the trip, while leaving smoother, easier trails for the end.

If you have two cars, leave one at each trailhead. If not, take advantage of the shuttle service provided by the Appalachian Mountain Club.

Getting to the Appalachia Trailhead from Interstate 93 is straightforward. Follow I-93 to exit 35, US 3 North. Stay on US 3 North for 12 miles to NH 115 North. After roughly 10 miles turn right onto US 2 East, follow it for a little over 7 miles, and the Appalachia Trailhead will be on your right.

If you’re coming from the Route 16, follow Route 2 West for 5 miles west after its juncture with 16, and look for it on your left.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Climbing up Valley Way

Depart Appalachia on the Valley Way Trail. Although the trail’s start is easy to find, an early morning and a maze of trails leaving Appalachia can make it a careful task to ensure that you start—and remain—on the Valley Way Trail. Otherwise, you’ll spend the morning trying to get back on track.

The Valley Way Trail is initially moderate, but gets progressively steeper as you approach Madison Spring Hut (44.328037, -71.283569). There are numerous trail junctions throughout the trail’s 3.8 miles, but all are well-marked. After 3.1 miles, you will pass the Valley Way Tentsite, one of the few designated camping areas along the Traverse. From the tent site, you will get occasional glimpses of Mount Madison looming above on your left as you close in on the AMC’s Madison Spring Hut.

Overall, the Valley Way Trail gains 3,500 feet of elevation—more than a third of the trip’s total—over 3.8 miles. Equally important, it stays below treeline until the hut, allowing you to get in some miles without being too concerned about the weather.

Mount Adams from Madison's Summit. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Adams from Madison’s Summit. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Summits Begin

From Madison Spring Hut make the one-mile roundtrip dash on the Osgood Trail to the summit of Mount Madison (44.328846, -71.276688). Don’t be fooled by the relatively short distance to the summit and back, the Osgood Trails is rugged and steep, gaining 550-feet of elevation. On top of Madison—the Traverse’s first 4,000 footer—take in the inspiring 360-degree views, highlighted by Mount Washington to the south, and your next objective, Mount Adams. However, don’t linger too long before heading back the way you came to the hut, there is still a long way to go.

Back at the Madison Hut refill your water, scrounge for leftover breakfast, or buy baked goods. On a big trip like the Presidential Traverse (especially if you’re doing it in a day) every minute and ounce counts. Since the route after the hut is above treeline for the next 12 miles, the hut is also a good place to reassess the weather. If it is deteriorating, considering bailing here, before the turnaround logistics get too complicated.

Star Lake and Madison from Mount Adams. | Credit: Tim Peck
Star Lake and Madison from Mount Adams. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Adams (44.3203, -71.2909) is the next summit on the Traverse. To get there from the hut, follow the Gulfside Trail to the Airline Trail. It is a 0.9 mile trip, gaining 950-feet of elevation up rocky and rough terrain. From Adams—the second highest mountain in New England—enjoy dazzling 360-degree views of Mount Madison and Star Lake behind you, and Mounts Jefferson and Washington before you.

Mount Jefferson and Clay. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Jefferson and Clay. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Jefferson

From Adams, drop down 0.3 miles through a boulder field to Thunderstorm Junction and rejoin the Gulfside Trail. After 1.2 more miles hiking alongside the Great Gulf, you’ll be longing for smooth trail by the time the Gulfside reaches Edmunds Col. Unfortunately, the 0.6 mile-long hike on the Jefferson Loop Trail across Jefferson’s summit (44.304237, -71.316597) is anything but smooth, climbing 800 vertical feet in some of the most challenging hiking yet on the Traverse. Warning: False summits abound on the way to the actual summit.

Jefferson—the third highest mountain in New England—doesn’t disappoint on views. Take a moment to enjoy them, with Mount Adams behind you and Mount Clay and Mount Washington towering before you. Once you’ve had your fill, continue south along the Jefferson Summit Loop until it rejoins the Gulfside Trail. Before you leave the summit though, evaluate the weather, mindful of how much exposed hiking is left.

If you have any doubts, from here there are numerous trail options that will bring you back to your car at the Appalachia Trailhead, albeit with some difficulty. One way back is to backtrack the Jefferson Summit Loop Trail and connect with the Gulfside Trail. Follow the Gulfside Trail for 0.7 miles to the Israel Ridge Path which you will take for 0.8 miles to the Perch Path. Hikers will want to follow the Perch Path for a short distance—passing the Randolph Mountain Club Perch Shelter—before connecting with the Randolph Path. Backpackers might want to stay the night at the Perch Shelter and try and wait out unfavorable weather, or give themselves an extra day before making the long 6.1 mile trek along the Randolph Path as they drop 3,700-feet in elevation to the Appalachia Trailhead. The Perch Shelter costs $10 (for non-Randolph Mountain Club members) to stay the night, and has a spring to fill your water bottles.  

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

To Clay or Not to Clay

Following the Gulfside Trail 0.5 miles from Mount Jefferson to Sphinx Col, hikers encounter the first “optional” summit of the trip: the 5,533-foot tall Mount Clay. Since Clay is really a sub-peak of Washington (and thus not one of the 48 official New Hampshire 4,000 footers), it’s not always necessary, but it is still worth the short loop detour for the views of the Northern Presidentials and the ground you’ve already covered. That said, many on the Traverse bypass Clay’s summit and the extra 0.3 of a mile and few hundred feet of elevation by continuing on the Gulfside Trail for 1.4 miles to the summit of Mount Washington.

The Cog Railway and summit of Washington from Clay. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Cog Railway and summit of Washington from Clay. | Credit: Tim Peck

Once past Clay, the hike up Washington on the Gulfside often feels like the longest part of the Traverse. Although the summit looks just minutes away, appearances are deceiving and it’s still more than a mile away. The trail also remains unrelenting and rough. Thankfully, you’ll have great views of Burt’s Ravine, the Great Gulf, Mount Washington and the Cog Railroad to motivate your climb. And if at any point you stop to catch your breath, turn around to admire the distance you’ve already traveled, with Jefferson, Adams, and Madison laid out behind you.

Climbing towards the top of Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck
Climbing towards the top of Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Worst Weather in the World and Busiest Summit of the Day

The summit view from New England’s highest peak (44.270584, -71.303551) certainly don’t disappoint. To the east, the Carters and Wildcats dominate the foreground, with, on a clear day, the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. Looking north, Madison, Adams, Jefferson, and Clay take up the skyline. West is the Bretton Woods ski area, followed by the peaks of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Finally, to the south, the remainder of the Traverse is laid-out before you: Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, and Jackson.

Of course, Washington—home to the “world’s worst weather”—doesn’t offer any summit views on some days. But even on rainy, cool, or cloudy days, you’ll also encounter more people on the summit than you will have on the entirety of this trip thanks to the mountain’s popularity, the auto road, and the Cog Railroad.

Civilization isn’t all bad though if you brought your wallet, as the cafeteria in the Sherman Adams building on the summit offers the opportunity to eat and drink something different from regular hiking fair. On more than one occasion a Coke or piece of pizza has boosted morale, busted a bonk, and been key to a successful traverse. Additionally, it also offers a great place for hikers to refill water bottles and hydration packs.

However, don’t let the warm food, places to sit, and great views, lure you into lingering too long on the summit. You still have 7.7 miles and several hours left.

Lakes of the Clouds and Monroe while descending Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck
Lakes of the Clouds and Monroe while descending Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Crawford Path

After Washington, the character of the Traverse changes, as you leave the rugged Gulfside Trail and continue for the duration of the trip (if ending at Mount Pierce) on the more gentle Crawford Path. Almost 200 years old, the Crawford Path is the oldest hiking trail in the contiguous U.S., and at one time was used to guide tourists to the summit of Mount Washington on horseback. Also worth noting is that despite some small climbs, the majority of the trip is downhill from here.

This is especially true of the 1.5-mile descent to AMC’s Lakes of the Clouds Hut (44.258831, -71.318817), the highest and largest hut in the White Mountains. Views of the Southern Presidentials dominate this portion of the hike. As you approach the hut, look for Lakes of the Clouds, a set of small ponds, on your left. Re-filling your water at the hut avoids the lines often found in Mount Washington’s summit, making it a faster and easier option. But again, don’t linger too long, unless they’re serving fresh-baked desserts or you’re planning to spend the night here as part of a multi-day traverse.

Looking back at Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck
Looking back at Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck

From the hut, continue on the Crawford Path for 0.3 miles before connecting with the Mount Monroe Loop Trail. The Mount Monroe Loop trail climbs 350 feet to the open summit of Mount Monroe (44.255089, -71.321373), the fifth 4,000-footer of the trip. From here you get a striking view of Washington and Lakes of the Clouds behind you, and before you, the Crawford Path is visible as it snakes its way to your next objective Mount Eisenhower. Before departing, look east, down Monroe’s sheer cliffs and towards Oakes Gulf.

Hiking from Monroe to Eisenhower. | Credit: Tim Peck
Hiking from Monroe to Eisenhower. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Eisenhower

Dropping off Monroe, connect again with Crawford Path and begin working your way across the 2.1 miles and the 500-foot climb up Eisenhower. Along this stretch you’ll encounter some of the most gentle terrain of the trip, and most likely not a moment too soon for your tired legs. It’s also here that you might begin to feel the effects of an even pleasant day spent above the tree line, as the sun and the wind can start to weather your resolve.

After a steep, but quick, climb up Eisenhower’s flanks, you’ll encounter a giant cairn marking its summit (44.240688, -71.350342) and the sixth four-thousand footer of the trip. Take a moment to look back, take in the view, and appreciate the enormous distance the Traverse has covered so far. Then, if you have the energy, turn south and try to pick out the summits ahead: Mount Pierce (your next objective) and, if you continue further, Mount Jackson and Mount Webster.

Monroe and Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck
Monroe and Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck

Leaving Eisenhower, rejoin the Crawford Path heading south towards Mount Pierce. Follow the Crawford Path for 1.3 miles to the split with the Webster Cliff Trail. Follow the Webster Cliff Trail 0.1 miles to the summit of Mount Pierce (44.227802, -71.364769), the seventh 4,000 footer of the Traverse.

On the 1.4 miles between Eisenhower and Pierce you’ll begin to dip in and out of the trees, the first section of below treeline hiking since your ascent of Madison. While only picking up nominal elevation, the rolling nature of this part of the Crawford Path will have you legs feeling weary with the Traverse’s 8,700 feet of elevation gain. The summit of Mount Pierce also signals an exit from the high mountains, as it’s the day’s only peak that doesn’t offer views in every direction.

Mount Pierce's summit. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Pierce’s summit. | Credit: Tim Peck

Decision Time

Traditionally, the Presidential Traverse “ends” at Pierce. If this is your final summit, follow the Webster Cliff Trail back to the Crawford Path. The beginning of the 3.2-mile descent to the Highland Center in Crawford Notch is surprisingly rugged and is characterized by rocks and roots. After a short time, the trail becomes significantly more moderate. As you get closer to Route 302, the sound of traffic is oddly comforting, letting you know that you’re almost there.

If you’re not ready to be done, extend the Traverse by instead hiking south on the Webster Trail for 2.4 miles to Mount Jackson (44.2031, -71.3742), the eighth 4,000 footer of the trip. On the way, you will pass the Mitzpah Hut, giving you the opportunity to refill your bottles and bladder, buy dessert, or even stay for the night. Although Jackson’s summit delivers great views to the north, west, and south, the 2.4-mile trail is rough in parts and rarely a quick trip, especially with almost 20 miles under your belt already. Except for an open rocky section near the top, the 2.5-mile descent to Crawford Notch from the summit of Jackson on the Webster-Jackson trail is moderate and a little bit shorter than the descent from Pierce.


The Kit

Light is right on the Presidential Traverse. So if you have a good weather window and you’re trying to do the Traverse in a day, here are a few tips for trimming your kit.

  • A super lightweight windshell like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite is indispensable on a trip like the Presi that covers so much ground above treeline.
  • If you picked the “right” day to do the Presidential Traverse, plan on getting a lot of sun, especially when hiking north to south. A sun hoody, hat with a brim, and sunglasses are great ways to protect your skin and eyes.
  • Even if the forecast is favorable, the Presidentials are notorious for bad weather. Be prepared for it with a lightweight puffy coat like the Black Diamond First Light and a rain shell such as the Arcteryx Beta SL.
  • The weather changes fast in Presidential’s, make sure you’re ready for it with a winter hat and gloves.
  • You’ll be crossing some of the most rugged terrain the White Mountain’s have to offer. Give your legs some support when they eventually get wobbly with a pair of collapsible trekking poles like the Black Diamond Alpine FLZ.
  • Boots are great but trail runners like the Brooks Cascadia 12 are key for trying to quickly cover 20 plus miles.

Descending Mount Jefferson with Mount Washington in the background. | Credit: Tim Peck
Descending Mount Jefferson with Mount Washington in the background. | Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Hiking the Presidential Traverse is a big day in itself. Consider shuttling cars the night before to ease logistical challenges and ensure your vehicle a spot in the lot.
  • If doing the full Presidential Traverse in a day seems like too much, there are three AMC Huts along the route (Madison, Lake of the Clouds, and Mitzpah). Using the AMC huts allows you to follow the lightweight ethic while getting to savor the traverse over multiple days. However, don’t expect to find much camping on route due to alpine zone restrictions.
  • Because this hike is almost entirely above treeline, it’s not one to do in bad weather, so check the Mt. Washington Observatory Forecast before you go.
  • If you get caught in bad weather, there are lots of trails to bail below treeline on, but they will create significant logistical problems and could make it difficult to get back to your car in a hurry. Many of the trailheads they end on are fairly isolated. Don’t count on weathering a storm in Mount Washington’s summit buildings.
  • Getting an early start is a great tactic to avoid late afternoon thunderstorms.
  • Even though the route is well marked, it’s a good idea to bring a map in addition to a route mileage table to monitor your progress.
  • If you’re looking to refuel post hike, check out Catalano’s Pizza in Twin Mountain on the way back towards I-93. If your phone has reception, call in your order ahead of time to make sure dinner is waiting for you. If you feel like you deserve a drink after a long day on the trail, Fabyan’s Restaurant has a decent beer selection, along with traditional pub food.

Current Conditions

Have you done the entire traverse 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!


5 Hikes in New Hampshire's Lakes Region

It might be tempting to spend your Lakes Region vacation floating on Squam Lake, sitting on Weirs Beach, or riding the Winnipesaukee Railroad, but no trip to New Hampshire is complete without bagging a summit. Whether it’s a quick scamper up West Rattlesnake Mountain or an all-day climb on Mount Chocorua, be sure to devote some time to exploring the area’s incredible local hiking.

Climbing West Rattlesnake. | Credit: Doug Martland
Climbing West Rattlesnake. | Credit: Doug Martland

West Rattlesnake Mountain

Looming above Squam Lake is one of the Lakes Region’s best moderate hikes: the Old Bridle Path to West Rattlesnake Mountain’s summit. Leaving from the parking lot off Route 113 in Holderness, it’s a two-mile round trip with less than 500 feet of elevation gain, all on a well-maintained, yellow-blazed trail that is family friendly and suitable for first-time hikers.

The view south of Squam Lake from the summit’s rocky slabs will impress even the most seasoned White Mountain hikers. For the peak-baggers among us, follow the well-marked Ridge Trail east from the outcrops for over 100 yards to the true summit. If you have more energy, consider adding on some extra miles by hiking on toward East Rattlesnake Mountain or downhill toward Five Finger Point, a peninsula that juts into Squam Lake.

The downside? West Rattlesnake is pretty popular, especially on weekends. To avoid the crowds, consider an early or late start, as the hike is easy enough to complete in an hour or so. Just don’t blame us if you’re late returning because you’ve been lingering on the summit to enjoy the views!

The view from the summit of Belknap Mountain. | Credit: Doug Martland
The view from the summit of Belknap Mountain. | Credit: Doug Martland

Belknap Mountain

Another family-friendly hike, Belknap Mountain is one of New England’s 50 most topographically-prominent peaks. Three different trails—the Red, Blue, and Green—start at the Belknap Carriage Road parking area and wind their way up over the course of a mile. All are well-marked and have about 700 feet of elevation gain.

Once you get to the summit, make sure to climb the fire tower. It offers a fantastic 360-degree view of the region, with Lake Winnipesaukee being the most prominent feature. If you can pull yourself away from the views (and be careful once you do, because the stairs are steep), explore the old ranger’s cabin and still-working water pump, which are a short distance downhill on the Green Trail.

When planning your Belknap Mountain hike, be mindful that the Carriage Road gate is only open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. It’s also worth noting that the Carriage Road’s final segment to the upper parking lot is a steep dirt road that may be difficult for cars with low clearance. But, don’t let either of these stop you from enjoying Belknap Mountain. Instead, you can do a slightly longer hike along the Gunstock Mountain Trail, starting from the lower parking area.

Relaxing on the summit of Mount Morgan. | Credit: Tim Peck
Relaxing on the summit of Mount Morgan. | Credit: Tim Peck

Morgan and Percival Loop

The Morgan and Percival Loop hike is another must-do. Starting from the same parking lot as West Rattlesnake Mountain, this 4.9-mile loop offers something for everyone—fun terrain, a chance to push yourself outside of your comfort levels, and, most notably, fantastic views. While the hiking found here is mostly moderate, the trail does present caves to crawl through, ladders to climb, and open ledges to walk across on your way to the summit of 2,220-foot Mount Morgan and then to 2,212-foot Mount Percival. Of course, if crawling, scrambling, and climbing aren’t your thing, walk-arounds make this hike suitable for almost everyone.

Leaving from the parking lot off Route 113, the Morgan and Percival Loop combines four separate trails: the Mount Morgan Trail, the Crawford Ridgepole Trail, the Mount Percival Trail, and the Morse Trail. Hikers will find them well marked and easy to follow, with signs at all main junctions. Because the trail descending Mount Percival is more gentle in nature, summiting Mount Morgan first is preferred. Be warned that this hike, like its neighbor, is incredibly popular. If you get to the trailhead late, you might find yourself parking on the street and not in the lot. On a positive note, there are plenty of views to go around!

The slabs on Welch. | Credit: Tim Peck
The slabs on Welch. | Credit: Tim Peck

Welch-Dickey Loop Trail

If you’re looking for something a little more difficult, consider the Welch-Dickey Loop. What attracts many is its big-mountain feel jam-packed into just a few miles. With jaw-dropping views, semi-exposed ledges, massive stone slabs, and above-treeline hiking, Welch-Dickey seems like a hike found in New Hampshire’s “big” mountains.

However, with Welch Mountain standing at just 2,605 feet and Dickey Mountain peaking at 2,743 feet, even those of us with sea legs can summit both. Although it’s far from New Hampshire’s most challenging, be warned that it can feel longer and harder than its 4.5-mile length. As well, expect to climb over 1,600 feet and through terrain that can be challenging for non-hikers. Also, because of the hike’s slabby nature, it can be difficult when wet.

Located off Route 93’s exit 28, the Welch-Dickey Loop sits at the Lakes Region’s northern corner. Navigation is relatively easy, as yellow blazes and cairns clearly mark the trail. Most prefer to go counter-clockwise and summit Welch Mountain first, before heading to Dickey Mountain’s summit. Expect to pay a $3 per-day fee to park at the trailhead, or splurge and buy a White Mountain National Forest season pass for $20.

Mount Chocorua. | Credit: Doug Martland
Mount Chocorua. | Credit: Doug Martland

Mount Chocorua

The pinnacle of Lakes Region hiking, Mount Chocorua is one of the Whites’ most recognizable mountains. While just 3,478 feet, its rocky, treeless summit leads many to believe it’s much greater in stature than it is. As such, Mount Chocorua is as challenging, if not more so, than many of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers. When you consider the exposed ledges, steep slabs, and above-treeline weather, hikers should plan for a full day.

The most popular and direct route up, Piper Trail starts off Route 16 in Albany, N.H., behind Davies General Store. At 4.5 miles (nine miles round trip) and gaining roughly 2,700 feet, the Piper Trail presents a challenge even for seasoned hikers. And, with very steep sections, open ledges, and cliffside scrambling, this trail is perfect for those who like a charge of adrenaline.

For a different route up, continue approximately one mile past the Piper Trailhead on Route 16 to the White Ledge Campground and the Carter Ledge Trail. With nearly the same mileage and vertical gain, the Carter Ledge Trail gives you an option to beat the crowds. However, while this makes the route slightly harder to follow, you intermittently get fantastic views of the summit along Carter Ledge.

 

If you’re heading to the Lakes Region, or are looking for a reason to go, check out some of these fantastic hikes for their impressive views and challenging terrain. And, of course, we want to hear about your experience. In the comments, tell us which Lakes Region hikes you love or just about the great day you had here!

 


Top to Bottom: Gear to Hike the NH 48

Looking back on some of our early hikes together in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the first thing that sticks out is how much time we spent agonizing over the “right” gear to bring. Always packing at the last minute, we both had many late nights where we considered what to bring and what to leave behind. Indeed, questions like what layers we would need and how much emergency gear is too much kept us up way past our earlier bedtime and often resulted in packs that were bigger and heavier than they should have been.

These days, with many 4,000-footers under our belts, our process is much more dialed. Our packs, as a result, are a lot lighter and smaller. So, what’s our ideal kit for summer hiking in the White Mountains?

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Upper Body Layers

A long-sleeve, hooded sun shirt, like the Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody, is the staple of our kit. It’s no warmer than wearing a short-sleeve T-shirt, with the added benefit of keeping the sun off your arms and head. The long sleeves and hood also serve a second purpose during bug season.

Then, for layering over the sun shirt, we pack three additional layers: a windshirt, a lightweight rain shell, and a puffy.

The most versatile layer, the windshirt easily handles the Whites’ ever-changing weather. From lightweight, ultra-packable nylon versions like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite to more substantial woven jackets, such as the Outdoor Research Ferossi (also available in women’s sizes), these jackets take up minimal space and are perfect for hiking above treeline or if the temperature drops.

As staying dry is one of hiking’s central tenets, a good waterproof hard shell is vital. However, much like windshirts, shells vary in weight and durability. While an ultra-lightweight option like the Outdoor Research Helium Hybrid might be perfect for when you’re wearing a small pack or the chance of rain is slight, a more robust option made with heavier-duty nylon and high-end waterproofing like the Marmot Minimalist Jacket (also available in women’s sizes) makes more sense if the forecast looks wet.

A lightweight puffy, like the Arc’Terxy Atom SL Hoodie (available in women’s sizes), is the final upper body layer. Whether you’re waiting while your hiking partner gears-up in the parking lot, taking in the White Mountains’ fantastic views, or facing a real emergency, a good puffy can be the difference between feeling cozy and being miserable.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Lower Body Layers

When it comes to pants, we keep it pretty simple. A stretchy soft shell is our general go-to, but the exact weight depends on the forecast temperature. If only one pair is in the budget, check out the Marmot Scree—the perfect blend of comfort and durability. Plus, you can add a base layer underneath to adjust their warmth. With June being a fierce bug month, however, the one thing you won’t find us wearing is shorts.

If the weather looks wet, bring along a pair of rain pants, as well. Although the amount of time carrying rain pants far exceeds the time spent actually wearing them, we are always thankful to have them during a heavy rainstorm. Pick something like the EMS Thunderhead for the right amount of lightweight breathability, at a price that won’t break the bank.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Footwear & Trekking Poles

Picking the right footwear is one of the most complicated decisions for spring and early-summer hiking. On some trips, where encountering snow, deep mud, and wet trails is a real possibility, waterproof hiking boots are mandatory. As the snow melts, water crossings get less spicy, and the trails begin to dry, we transition to waterproof trail runners for their lighter weight and ability to provide some protection in muddy, wet conditions. And, as the trails dry further, you’ll find us wearing regular trail runners for the chance to let our feet breathe.

We also carry trekking poles to reduce the strain on our knees and improve balance. Warm-weather hikers will appreciate a pole with either cork or foam handles, like the Black Diamond Trail Pro, as they help absorb moisture from sweaty hands.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Hats & Gloves

With many of the White Mountains rising above treeline, the weather on your favorite summit can be starkly different from what you found in the parking lot. To prepare, we carry a winter hat, as having one can make the difference between enjoying a summit vista or scrambling back down to the trees.

For the same reasons, we also pack a pair of EMS Power Stretch Gloves. In the early spring, we often supplement them with a warmer set of gloves or mittens.

Finally, for sun and bug protection, the venerable trucker cap is a staple of almost every trip. With their mesh backs, truckers vent well, making them ideal for high-exertion activities.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Emergency Gear

When you pack for a day in the mountains, it’s fun to think about summits and good times. But, you should also take a minute to plan for the worst-case scenario. While packing the layers mentioned above checks off some of your essentials, and our guide helps you out with food and hydration, you still need a few more items.

A headlamp, like the powerful and rechargeable Black Diamond ReVolt, is important, just in case the hike is longer than expected. A lightweight bivy can be a lifesaver if someone gets injured and you need to wait for help. As well, a minimalist first aid kit, supplemented with other first aid supplies, helps address trail injuries. Additionally, fire starters, a water purification device like a Sawyer Mini-Filter or purification tablets, and a map and compass (or another navigational device) are all worth the extra weight.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Packs

Although this may seem like a lot of gear, it all fits neatly into a 20- to 30-liter pack. The Black Diamond Speed Series—especially the Speed 22—delivers the space you need in a lightweight, no-frills package. While it may be tempting to bring a larger bag, remember that you’ll end up filling that extra space, resulting in a heavier load, slower times, and maybe a missed summit.

 

Although not every item listed above is essential to hiking a New Hampshire 4,000-footer, having the right combination of layers, equipment, and emergency gear can make your experience safer and more enjoyable—not to mention more efficient. But, the best advice is to get outside and discover what works for you. If you have a key piece of hiking gear, tell us about it in the comments!