Top 5 Beginner Mountaineering Objectives in the Lower 48

How do you climb some of the biggest mountains in the world? Simple, you start on smaller ones.

If you have your eyes set on the likes of Everest, Denali, or even Mont Blanc, there are plenty of breathtaking beginner mountains you can start climbing in the next few months (with proper training and skill acquisition), that will help you prepare for larger summits.

But where do you begin?

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Mountaineering Basics

Mountaineering is a general term that refers to climbing big mountains in snowy and icy conditions. This style requires knowledge of movement on snow and ice, and tends to follow standard routes with less technical climbing, at least for beginners. At high altitudes, weather and environmental conditions are harsher than at lower ranges (for example, 80mph winds, whiteout conditions, and rock fall), which makes this a more challenging endeavor than hiking.

Winter hiking and backpacking are great ways to develop mountaineering techniques at lower elevations with less hazards.

Mountaineers should have experience and the skills related to glacier travel, traveling on a rope team, use of an ice axe for self-arrest and self-belay, crampon technique, anchor building on rock, snow and ice, hazard recognition (crevasses, rockfall, serac fall, etc.), traditional rock climbing, knowledge of climber’s knots, crevasse rescue, route finding, wilderness first aid, and much more. The breadth of skills needs to be paired with requisite gear and knowledge of best practices for equipment usage.

Given the broad and deep skill base, it is prudent to gradually develop your techniques and attempt increasingly more challenging climbs over time. It is much safer to refine your abilities in lower risk environments than to find yourself in a high-exposure situation lacking (or missing) the proper tools and knowledge.

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What Makes a “Beginner” Mountaineering Objective

Beginner mountaineering routes will incorporate fundamental techniques on easier terrain in the spring and summer months. For these objectives, they will take less than a day to summit and stick to Class 3 climbing and below. Generally, they will require snowshoes, crampons and an ice axe, but not roping up.

Seasons and Weather

The spring and summer are high season for mountaineering in the larger mountains in the U.S., including Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, and Mount Hood. These months generally run from April through September. Compared to winter, you have longer days but also a higher risk of sunburn or snow blindness. Some routes are best attempted earlier in the season to avoid rock fall. Winter ascents are a serious advance in difficulty due to harsher and more tempestuous weather conditions.

The climate at higher elevations is much different than the forecast at the base, and weather can change drastically in the mountains. Your best bet is to wait for a good weather window, and to pay attention to the dynamic conditions. As a rule of thumb, storms come from the south in winter and north in summer. Climbers often leave early in the morning (before sunrise) in order to be on the snow and ice before the sun starts to warm things up, increasing chances of rock and icefall.

Adjusting to the Altitude

The body requires time at a higher altitude to adapt to the lower levels of oxygen. A variety of maladies can occur at these heights, including Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), High Altitude Cerebral Edema, and Pulmonary Edema. These can be lethal. Not everybody is adapted for life in the mountains, so you want to progress gradually and pay attention to how you are responding. Generally, teams ascend to higher elevations during the day, then descend for rest at a lower camp, in preparation of a summit push.

Now let’s put it all together and consider some beginner mountaineering routes. Let’s emphasize again, these should only be attempted after proper physical training, skill practice, and preparation.

The Mountaineer's Route is the first large snow gully to the right of the summit pinnacle. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
The Mountaineer’s Route is the first large snow gully to the right of the summit pinnacle. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

High Sierras, California

Mount Shasta’s Clear Creek is the standard route on the southeast face. The route is about 5 miles and 7,600 feet of elevation one way, with some Class 2 climbing through a boulder field. Note that the trail is inaccessible in winter and early spring, though snow will still cover parts of the mountain through the summer.

The Mountaineer’s Route on Mount Whitney is a class 3 route with steep trail, with about 6,000 feet of elevation gain over 5 miles. Fast parties can summit in 10 hours in the summer, and it’s a good test for your route finding skills. Mount Whitney is the high point of the lower 48 states.

Looking up at Mount Adams from a camp on te nearby Mazama Glacier. The South Ridge is to the left. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Looking up at Mount Adams from a camp on te nearby Mazama Glacier. The South Ridge is to the left. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Cascades, Washington and Oregon

South Sister in Oregon via the south side route climbs the third tallest mountain in the state but is class 3 climbing at worst. The path starts from the Green Lakes, and is 12.4 miles round trip, with about 5,000 feet in elevation gain. It also features eight glaciers, so you can practice your snowshoe, ice axe, and crampon technique.

Mount Adams’s South Spur Route route offers an easy and popular snow climb in the eastern Cascade range in Washington. It can be done in 1 or 2 days and is known to be thigh-busting, rising 6,676 feet over 5.7 miles, with a max angle of 30 degrees.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The White Mountains, New Hampshire

Mount Washington via the Lion Head Winter Route is best known for holding some of the worst weather in the world, which may surprise observers who see only the 6288-foot height of the mountain. This particular route is the least technical way to summit in the winter, but still offers a steep, icy ascent and the potential for very high winds at the top.

 

No matter where you are starting from, you can find an appropriate mountain goal to take you to the next level. Remember: Savor the inspiration that comes with big mountain climbing, be realistic in your progression plan, and research and prepare more than you think is necessary. 


The Forest through the Trees: Skiing the GBA’s Glades

If you haven’t skied any of the Granite Backcountry Alliance’s new glades in New Hampshire’s White Mountains yet, you’re missing out. Formed in 2016, the GBA’s mission is to provide low-impact human-powered backcountry skiing opportunities to the public through the creation, improvement, and maintenance of ski glades in New Hampshire and Western Maine. Working in partnerships with public and private landowners, the GBA has so far established five glades, with more on the horizon. Want to sample the GBA’s handiwork? Keep reading for the beta on a few of their most recent projects.

Skiing the trees on Bill Hill. | Credit: Tim Peck
Skiing the trees on Bill Hill. | Credit: Tim Peck

Great Glen North/Bill Hill Glades

Named after a local who “spent some time in them thar hills,” Bill Hill is located on land owned by the Gorham Land Company—who also own the Great Glen Trails, the Mount Washington Auto Road, and the newly opened Glen House Hotel. Categorized by the GBA as a “lunchtime lap” destination, don’t be dissuaded from spending a day sampling the skiing at Bill Hill; The various glades here may be short, but they feature tightly spaced trees in an area that was recently logged and have just the right amount of pitch. On top of that, Bill Hill is north facing so the glades hold snow after a storm.

To access Bill Hill, park in an obvious plowed area on Bellevue Road—just outside of downtown Gorham—and begin skinning on an established snowmobile track to the far end of the airport, which is easily identified by a brick building. Snowmobile traffic here can be heavy at times, especially on the weekends, so keep your guard up, wear bright colors and, if traveling in a group, skin in single file. At the end of the airport, traverse through an open area—that’s also clearly popular with snowmobilers—and loop back along the opposite side of the airstrip for a few hundred yards before entering the woods on the right. If this seems confusing, just picture the approach as a “U.”

Shortly after entering the woods, skiers will come across a mountain bike trail sign reading “For Pete’s Sake.” Follow that trail momentarily before breaking left onto an old logging road that leads to steeper terrain, eventually gaining a ridge and the top of the gladed skiing—if you’re not skiing in the middle of a storm, there is a good chance someone has done the hard work and put in a skin track to follow. From the top of the ridge, there are multiple glades to drop into and enjoy the 600-foot descent through the trees to the old logging road you entered on. From here, either head back up for another run or retrace your steps to the car.

Looking down on the Crescent Glades. | Credit: Tim Peck
Looking down on the Crescent Glades. | Credit: Tim Peck

Crescent Ridge Glade

Another great glade is just up the road in the Randolph Community Forest. Offering something for everyone, Crescent Ridge Glade features five distinct ski corridors—described by the GBA as “low-density vertical lines that are approximately 35-50 feet in width”—that all funnel skiers into a large hardwood glade and, eventually, back to the trail they entered on. From here, skiers can easily head up for another lap (or three) before returning the way they came to their car. Offering a wide variety of terrain in a relatively condensed area, the initial pitch of Crescent Ridge’s runs vary between 30 and 35 degrees, before mellowing to 20 to 25 degrees, eventually giving way to 10- and 15-degree terrain on the ski out.

Crescent Ridge skiers start the day at a plowed parking lot located at the end of Randolph Hill Road, right off of U.S. Highway 2 in Randolph. From the parking lot, skin past the kiosk on a wide track for a few minutes before entering the woods on the Carlton Notch Trail. Following the GBA’s blue blazes, skiers will skin through gently rolling terrain, through a large open field with amazing views of the Northern Presidentials (just turn around), and past the bottom of the large hardwood glade. It’s here that the skintrack steepens for the final push to the ridge and entry points to the ski corridors, which are numbered 1 through 5.

Skiers should plan on it taking between an hour and an hour and a half to make the little-under-two-mile, 1,000-foot climb from the parking lot to the ridge and expect it to take 20 to 30 minutes to transition and make the 600-foot climb needed to lap the trees. Getting back to the parking lot is easy and fast (provided the water crossings are filled in)—simply ski back the way you came in.

Skiing Maple Villa with Mount Washington in the distance through the trees. | Credit: Tim Peck
Skiing Maple Villa with Mount Washington in the distance through the trees. | Credit: Tim Peck

Maple Villa

Maple Villa Glade is the largest, longest, and most popular glade on this list. Skiing at Maple Villa—which is named for a hotel at the end of the original ski trail—has a long history, beginning in 1933 with the Civilian Conservation Corps cutting the “Maple Villa” ski trail. Shortly thereafter, Maple Villa became the Intervale Ski Area, which operated for approximately the next 40 years. Following the closing of Intervale Ski Area in the mid-1970s, the Maple Villa area was home to the Eastern Mountain Sports (cross-country) Ski Touring Center. Skiers today will discover everything from tightly spaced trees to resort-esque runs varying in length from 800 to 1,700 feet.

One of the factors for Maple Villa’s popularity (in addition to its expansive terrain) is its proximity to North Conway. The parking lot for Maple Villa is found on 70 East Branch Road in Intervale and is just minutes from North Conway. Leaving the parking lot, skiers follow blue blazes along the original Maple Villa Ski Trail as it slowly gains elevation along the two(ish)-mile skin that climbs approximately 1,700 feet. A number of descent options are obvious from the top of the glade—all of which offer a mostly moderate pitch and terrain alternating between closely spaced trees to more widely spaced runs. Keep your eyes peeled as Mount Washington can be spied through the trees on the descent.

The upper half of Maple Villa is meant to be lapped, and the area’s primary runs all deposit skiers to the same place—allowing them to follow the skin track back up roughly 800 feet of elevation, or providing them with a gentle ski out the way they came, along the old Maple Villa Ski Trail. Skiers can expect it to take an hour to an hour and a half to go from the parking lot to the top of the gladed terrain and between 30 and 45 minutes to skin a lap.

 

Whether it’s establishing larger areas like Maple Villa or maintaining smaller “lunch lap” locations like Bill Hill, the Granite Backcountry Alliance has put a lot of time, work, and money into these projects. If you explore these glades, please be courteous of the area and respectful of the rules, especially where to park if a lot is full. If you’d like to support the GBA, consider donating, becoming a member, attending one of their events (like the upcoming Wild Corn on April 4th), or taking part in one of their workdays.


6 Skills to Know Before Climbing Mount Washington This Winter

Hiking Mount Washington is a feat in the warmer months, but a winter summit exposes you to extremely volatile and ferocious weather conditions on the tallest mountain in the Northeast, which means there are specific skills that you’ll want to know for this climb that may not have been as important on other winter excursions.

READ MORE: Mount Washington via the Lion Head Winter Route

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Check the conditions ahead of time

Mount Washington holds records for the most extreme weather in the world. Between frigid temperatures (year round!), regular hurricane force winds, and lots of snow, you’re going to want to know what you’re getting into ahead of time. Be sure to read the Mount Washington Observatory’s Higher Summit’s Forecast before you start climbing. The risk of frostbite and hypothermia is real, and if the wind is over 50 mph, the summit temperature near zero, or heavy snow is expected it may require you to postpone your climb. In whiteout conditions, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the amazing summit views anyway.

Avalanches are not something we often expect to need to be prepared for while hiking in the East. However, these are a real danger on Mount Washington, so check the Avalanche Forecast before you head out.

READ MORE: Safe To Climb, Reading Weather Reports for Mount Washington

Courtesy: Mount Washington Observatory
Courtesy: Mount Washington Observatory

2. Be prepared for wind to avoid frostbite

Frostbite becomes a real danger when temperatures and wind are as wild as they are on Mount Washington. Be sure to bring a balaclava and ski goggles to cover any skin from being exposed to these harsh elements. Be sure to test out the equipment before you actually leave for your hike.

3. Know how to walk in crampons

Crampons are important on Mount Washington’s icy summit but walking in them is quite different than walking in winter boots and MICROspikes.

READ MORE: How to Choose Crampons

Each foot has to be lifted horizontally off the ground and stomped into the ground in the same manner, with knees flexed and shoulder width apart. This is known as the French (or flat foot) technique, and is best for flat ground or minimal incline.  It is very easy to rip a pair of hiking pants or tripping over yourself, so be aware of your footing!

Once your trail becomes a bit steeper and you are unable to keep your feet flat on the slope, the technique that is required is known as “front point.” As you face directly into the mountain, kick the toe of your boot straight into the slope. Take very small steps, and remember that you are only using the front spikes of your crampons rather than the entire foot. This technique can be extremely tiring, so a hybrid technique may help on certain slopes.

Practice this on snow beforehand: High on Mount Washington is not the place to attempt mastering walking in crampons.

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4. Learn how to self-arrest

Attempting to summit Mount Washington in the winter is definitely more of a mountaineering feat than your average winter hike. One skill to practice and be comfortable with is using your ice axe to self-arrest and stop a slide on snow.

Hold the ice axe at the head with the pick of the axe pointing backwards. If you do slip and start to slide, bring the ice axe across your chest diagonally at shoulder level with one hand on the top of the axe with the pick now facing out, and the other hand on the shaft. Keep your arms tucked into your sides and a very firm grip on the axe. Once in this position, place as much pressure as you can on the pick of the axe to stop your slide. Arch your back, keep your knees wide, try to keep your stomach off the snow, and continue to put pressure on the pick until you slow and stop.

Take a mountaineering course from Eastern Mountain Sports Schools to get proper instruction on self-arrest, and practice is regularly before climbing Mount Washington via a snowy route like Tuckerman Ravine.

5. Stay hydrated

We have all been there: Several hours into your winter hike, starting to get parched and you reach for your water only to find that the top has been frozen. Being stuck on Mount. Washington without water is less than ideal. To prevent this from happening, fill your water bottle with boiling hot water and bury it deep in your backpack with your insulating layers, or use an insulated water bottle or Nalgene Thermos. You will probably need 2 to 3 liters of water for your hike up Mount Washington.

Credit: Andrew Drummond
Credit: Andrew Drummond

6. Don’t go at it alone

Usually hiking alone isn’t a problem, but the tough terrain on Mount Washington may make you think otherwise. If you have never hiked mountains in the Presidential Range in winter, it may be recommended to try these before you try Mount Washington. Even if you do feel you are experienced enough, the terrain is tough, cairns are often nearly impossible to find, whiteout conditions are common, and ferocious winds can make hiking alone extremely dangerous. Going with a group of similarly-experienced winter hikers, may make the dangers more manageable and enjoyable!

Do you have any other tips for climbing Mount Washington in the winter? Leave them in the comments!


3 Beginner-Friendly Ice Climbs in Crawford Notch

There’s no denying the great ice climbing found in the Northeast. The entire region is home to fantastic flows, even in the most unexpected places. However, one ice climbing destination stands out among the rest: Crawford Notch. With numerous test-piece climbs at Frankenstein Cliffs, a multitude of multi-pitch routes on Mount Willard, and the uber-classic Shoestring Gully on Mount Webster, it’s no wonder why this winter wonderland attracts ice aficionados from across the country. However, it’s not just ice climbing experts flocking to Crawford Notch—the area is also home to some of the best moderate ice climbs in the Northeast. Below are a few great destinations for newer ice climbers looking to gain experience on ice in Crawford Notch.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Willey’s Slide

With an easy approach and an abundance of low-angle ice (between four and six pitches of ice graded no harder than WI2), it’s no wonder why so many Northeast ice climbers have kicked their first steps on Willey’s Slide.

Willey’s Slide is the large slab on the side of Mount Willey. It is easily spotted above the aptly named Willey House while driving Route 302 as it winds through Crawford Notch, allowing climbers to get a sense of ice conditions before making the 15-minute approach. Parking for the slide is in the plowed pull-off just after the Willey House if coming from Conway (or before it, if heading south from the Highland Center). Leaving the parking lot, climbers will typically find a well-traveled path leading up the hill and eventually crossing the railroad tracks before depositing them at the base of the climb. Don’t over-layer in the parking lot or you’ll be roasting by the time you reach the slide.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Willey’s Slide is great for newer ice climbers as it offers numerous opportunities to increase or decrease the difficulty of the climbing. Climbers looking to challenge themselves will find the steepest climbing in the center of the slab, while the slab’s sides offer lower-angle, less-challenging climbing. Even better, climbers tackling the climber’s left side of the route can bail into the woods and onto the descent trail at almost any point if the climbing becomes uncomfortable. Speaking of the descent, there’s no need to rappel or make tricky v-threads to descend the climb; at the top, climbers can simply follow a normally well-packed trail through the woods to the base.

Two warnings about climbing at Willey’s Slide: First, it can get busy, as it is a popular destination for many of the area’s climbing schools, our EMS Climbing School included. Second, the slide has avalanched, so use caution after any heavy snow.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Silver Cascade

A short drive north on Route 302 is Silver Cascade, a gold-star route for those with aspirations of climbing the Northeast’s classic gullies. And, unlike Willey’s Slide, encountering hordes of fellow ice climbers here is a rarity.

Much like Willey’s Slide, Silver Cascade is easily viewable from the road making conditions easy to ascertain. In fact, the route begins at the intersection of the cascade and Route 302. Parking for the route is located at the top of the notch in a small lot just before the AMC’s Highland Center (if coming from North Conway). There’s also a lot directly across from Silver Cascade for summer tourists, but it is not always plowed and folks regularly get stuck.

Once on the route, ice climbers are treated to a wide variety of ice and conditions as they ascend the climb’s four to five pitches. Silver Cascade offers an ample amount of low-angle terrain with the most challenging sections rated no harder than an intermediate-ice-climber-friendly WI2+. After the initial steep, almost all the most challenging sections of Silver Cascade can be avoided, if less-experienced climbers don’t feel up to the challenge. Also, if anchors prove challenging, the climbing is taking longer than expected, or climbers feel like they are in over their head, bailing off the route is as easy as moving into the woods on climber’s right. After four to five pitches, the ice peters out and most climbers descend via a well-trod trail through the woods on the climber’s right side of the climb—once again negating the need to rappel.

One trick to having the best experience on Silver Cascade is to climb it before the snow begins stacking up or in low snow years—climbing Silver Cascade when there is lots of snow is still possible, it’s just more steep snow climbing and a little less fun.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Flume Cascade

Sharing the same parking lot as Silver Cascade is another moderately-graded frozen flow that is sure to please: Flume Cascade.

Similar in character to its neighbor, Flume Cascade delivers a wide variety of climbing, with steep curtains of ice, graded up to WI2+/WI3, interspersed with long sections of snow. Continuing for four to five pitches, the varied terrain on Flume Cascade (very easy initially, followed by several bulgy sections) makes for an engaging outing and is great training for tackling longer, more challenging adventures in Crawford Notch. Like the aforementioned climbs, the most challenging sections of Flume Cascade can be avoided by taking less-steep variations, and the woods on climber’s right (also the descent trail) provide a reliable bail-out option for almost the entire climb—although, you’ll want to try to make it to the top, as Flume Cascade concludes in a very cool cave-like feature.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Although Silver and Flume Cascade are rarely super busy, the variety of climbing options allow ample opportunity for more experienced climbers to pass novice parties—a luxury not found on all of Crawford Notch’s classic ice climbs. Additionally, the proximity of Flume Cascade to Silver Cascade along with the easy walk-offs for both climbs mean that many climbers can tick both routes—and between eight and ten pitches of climbing—in a day.

One word of caution for both Silver and Flume Cascades: these are active streams that are often running during even the coldest spells. Their volume tends to increase significantly (and quickly) if it rains, so be sure to head for the woods if liquid starts falling from the sky.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Do you have a favorite ice climb in Crawford Notch? Whether it’s a super-steep single-pitch line or a more moderate multi-pitch route, we want to hear about it—so tell us about it in the comments below.


Video: Sasha DiGiulian Goes Ice Climbing in New Hampshire

What happens when a pro rock climber gets a taste of Northeast ice?


Gear Guide: What Your Loved One Needs to Rock Climb The Pinnacle

Winters in the Northeast are usually difficult for the climber on your holiday shopping list. With temperatures too cold for cragging and snow often blanketing the best boulders, many get their sending fix from the climbing gym’s warm confines. Although this provides temporary relief, the fluorescent lights, urethane holds, and chalk-filled air are no replacement for the freedom and fresh air found on an iconic alpine route like the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington.

Just the thought of sending the route’s money pitch, the Fairy Tale Traverse, should be enough to get your beloved climber through a winter of dreary days battling the “pink problem” in the gym. However, if this individual needs more than inspiration, consider picking them up a key piece of gear to help make this dream line a reality.

Alpha Guides

1. The Beta

Moderately rated climbing and incredible exposure should be enough to put the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle on every Northeastern climber’s tick list. However, it’s the route’s location on the iconic Mount Washington that makes it a must-do. Considering Mount Washington’s fearful reputation, make sure the climber on your list knows what to expect with goEast’s “Alpha Guide: Climbing the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle”.

2. Best Foot Forward

For training for the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, downturned and tight-fitting climbing shoes are a recipe for success in the gym—just not on the route itself. As a tip, read about choosing the right climbing shoes to understand the difference.

Sending an alpine route like this one means spending a lot of time in your shoes, so kicks that prioritize comfort and performance are a must. For a couple of options, Tommy Caldwell put the “TC” in the La Sportiva TC Pros, and used these shoes on his monumental climb of the Dawn Wall. For classic routes, the 5.10 Anasazi MoccAsym has been a staple for two decades.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Protect Their Head

Alpine routes, even ones as well-traveled as the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, have some loose rock. And, considering the climb’s classic nature, odds are the climber on your list won’t be the only party on the route—thus making a helmet mandatory. The Black Diamond Vector delivers an ideal blend of low weight and protection. Of course, if you really love the person on your list, consider trading up to the super-lightweight Black Diamond Vapor. After all, every ounce counts when you’re making the long approach up Huntington Ravine and the equally long descent down the Lion Head.

4. Weight Weenie

Unless your climber takes the “Euro Approach” (i.e., drives up the Auto Road), rock climbing only accounts for a third of the time climbers spend on this trip. The rest involves hiking up to and down from the climb, carrying a pack filled with layers, climbing gear, and food. In our Alpha Guide, we suggest bringing eight to 10 alpine draws on the trip, which you can help lighten up with ultra-light Black Diamond runners and super-light Camp Photons.

On top of the first pitch. | Credit: Tim Peck
On top of the first pitch. | Credit: Tim Peck

5. Pro Passive Protection

Modern climbers love cams for their ease of use. However, that comes at a cost—with that being weight. So, consider snagging the climber on your list some of Black Diamond’s Ultralight Cams (.5, .75, #1, #2, #3), which are considerably lighter than other modern options.

As another easy way to lighten your favorite climber’s load, supplement their rack with passive protection. Camp Tricams (.25, .5, 1.0, 1.5) are a lightweight and simple way to leave a few cams behind in the car. Stoppers also help keep pack weight down. As one example, this Black Diamond Stopper Set covers all of the sizes recommended in the Alpha Guide.

6. Wind Break

The exposed nature of the Pinnacle itself—along with the considerable amount of time climbers will spend hiking above treeline while crossing the Alpine Garden and descending the Lion Head—subjects them to the full force of Mount Washington’s record-setting winds. A quality wind shirt, such as the Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoodie (men’s/women’s), is tough enough to fight off these extreme gusts and stand up to the route’s coarse granite.

7. Fancy Pants

The normal monthly average temperature on Mount Washington’s summit never exceeds 50 degrees. In fact, the record-high summit temperature is just 72 degrees. Because of this, a good pair of tough, wicking climbing pants is recommended. We love the prAna Men’s Stretch Zion Pant for its mobility and breathability. Our wives, meanwhile, love the Women’s Halle Pant for these reasons. Plus, their roll-up leg snaps are great for both warm approaches low on the mountain and cooler temps up high. As an added bonus, these pants are perfect for winter training sessions in the gym.

The Fairytale Traverse. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Fairy Tale Traverse. | Credit: Tim Peck

8. Hit the Bottle

It’s quite a trick to fit essentials like a rope, climbing gear, climbing shoes, a helmet, and multiple layers into a pack that is also comfortable to climb with. For this reason, we love HydraPak’s Stash Water Bottles. Providing the same capacity as a traditional Nalgene, these bottles collapse when empty, freeing up pack space. Even better, the Stash Bottle is significantly lighter than its hard-plastic competitors.

9. Celebrate the Send

Climbing an iconic route like the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle is worthy of celebration. As well, Pinkham Notch—the jumping-off point for the Pinnacle—is one of the Northeast’s great outdoor hubs. Once back in the parking lot, the climber on your list is sure to appreciate putting a cold one in the Yeti Rambler Colster to toast their ascent. The Rambler Colster is perfect for keeping drinks discrete and cold while you’re savoring success and watching other climbers and hikers amble into the parking lot from Mount Washington.

10. Send Them to School

If a trip up a dreamy line like the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle is something that the climber on your list would love to do but it seems a little over their head, consider contacting the EMS Climbing School. As the oldest climbing school on the East Coast, EMS has been guiding climbs and teaching skills for the past 50 years and offers everything from privately guided climbs to classes—such as learning to lead—that will give the climber in your life the skills they need to go at it alone.

Crossing the Alpine Garden. | Credit: Tim Peck
Crossing the Alpine Garden. | Credit: Tim Peck

7 Reasons to Give the Gift of Adventure This Holiday Season

‘Tis the season to give what matters most: time spent together on a unique adventure! It is so easy to get caught up in the materialistic view of the holidays, so this year, break the mold. From the moment I can remember, my family has spent the holiday season together, valuing gifts of time and love more than anything. Every year, specifically, we give each other a “gift certificate” for an adventure. From hiking a new peak to visiting a new state to cracking the code of a mystery room, our gifts are full of challenges and, in turn, become wonderful memories.

Here are seven reasons you should incorporate the “gift of adventure” into your holiday shopping list:

1. It is actually a gift that both the receiver and the giver want

There are only so many pairs of socks, base layers, headlamps, and pocket knives that your adventuring friend or family member needs. Instead of adding more weight to their backpack or taking up space in the closet, give them something they really want. How often do you and your friend verbalize that you “need to spend more time together” or you “can’t wait to see each other”? Gifting an adventure to go on together, like a day trip to your local ski mountain, promises that you will spend some time seeing each other. Plus, it’s fun for both of you!

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2. It promotes less stress and more positive feelings

We all know that stress increases dramatically over the holidays. Although practicing yoga and spending time appreciating Mother Nature are great ways to reduce it, so is gifting your time to someone you love. When we are busy giving more to work and additional obligations, it is easy to sacrifice quality time with others.

Taking time for social interactions creates positive experiences and supportive relationships, both of which we can lean on when times get tough. As an added bonus, you get to avoid the stress that comes with the crazy traffic and crowds at the shopping mall, and spend all that extra time outside. As one alternative, plan an outing to Jackson, NH, where you can take your loved one on a holiday sleigh ride!

3. It can be easier on the budget

The largest part of your gift—your time—is truly free. So, the cost to give an adventure can be as little as the gas it takes you to get somewhere. Do you have a family member or friend that enjoys hiking? Why not gift a winter hike? As a family, we would often give a small item that could be used on the trip, such as winter gaiters or gloves with liners, and attach a “coupon” for a hike we planned for the receiver. It was always cheap on the wallet, but wealthy in spirit and family time. For ideas on how to outfit your hiker and what to bring along on a winter trek, check out our Alpha Gift Guides.

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4. It will last

Electronics: You buy it, and within six months, it’s outdated and a better model is available. By giving the gift of adventure and time spent together, however, you are choosing something that will never go out of style. Think about a moment you completely enjoyed with friends or family. What is your favorite part about that memory? Why did it make a lasting impression? Giving “time” is a concrete expression of love that people can measure.

5. It could save your loved one’s life, or at least teach them a new skill

When my husband and I decided to take our skis off the groomers and into the backcountry, we fell in love with the combination of hiking and skiing. We also considered the additional risks of skiing in areas where patrollers were unavailable and conditions were not always ideal. Instead of just “sending it,” we opted to learn about these conditions from an expert. For Christmas, we gifted each other an AIARE 1 Avalanche Safety Course and now have the skills to safely ski along backcountry trails.

If you have an adventurer in your life who is excited to try something new or ready to take their activities to the next level, consider gifting them a course like the ones offered through the EMS Schools. Awesome courses include rock climbing, ice climbing, backcountry skiing, first responder training, paddling, and so much more. Extra bonus: Take it with them, so you can adventure together!

6. It is important for your health and your family’s

Some of my most favorite memories involve adventuring with my family, from hiking the Presidential Range in the White Mountains to cross-country skiing at Bretton Woods. While I cannot tell you what material gift I received for my 12th birthday, I can tell you the finest details of the three-day Kennebec River white water rafting trip my parents took us on for my sister’s 16th birthday.

Research has proven that shared experiences, especially those involving nature, promote healthy psychological development in children and adolescents. Youth who spend large amounts of time with family have a stronger sense of identity, higher academic success, and lower violence rates, just to name a few upsides. As one option, give the gift of a family adventure this holiday season, like a weekend trip to Nestlenook Farm in Jackson, NH, for ice skating, frozen waterfall hiking, snowshoeing, and so much more.

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7. It will not end up in the storage unit, donation bins, or the trash

Do you know that the average American family spends $1,700 on clothes annually while giving or throwing away over 200 pounds of clothing per year? And, that there are five times more storage units than Starbucks in the United States? An adventure, on the other hand, can never be thrown away, donated, or placed in storage. It’s eco-, budget-, and spirit-friendly.

Do you give the gift of adventure? Tell us about it in the comments!


Gift Guide: What Your Loved One Needs to Hike Mount Monadnock

Every year in stores, everyone fights over and goes crazy trying to get that one popular present. Luckily, while the hordes seek out the latest gizmos and must-have toys, you can help the person on your list reach the summit of one of the world’s most popular mountains: New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock.

Mount Monadnock’s fairly close to major metropolitan areas—it’s just a two-hour drive from Boston and less than five hours from New York—and also offers year-round accessibility. These factors have made it the world’s second-most popular mountain—it draws more than 100,000 hikers per year, just behind Japan’s Mount Fuji, which saw more than 240,000 hikers in 2016. With a trek roughly four miles out-and-back along the iconic White Dot and White Cross trails, most hikers can easily summit this peak. Thus, a few key pieces of gear go a long way.

Alpha Guides

1.The Beta

Provide the inspiration to tackle this bucket list-worthy hike and summit one of the world’s most popular mountains with goEast’s “Alpha Guide: Hiking Mount Monadnock’s White Dot and White Cross Trails.”

2. Block The Wind

Don’t allow the sheer number of would-be summiters and comparatively low elevation (3,166 feet) belie Mount Monadnock’s seriousness. Rather, its prominence is greater than many of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers. For this purpose, a rain jacket is nice, but a high-quality, lightweight shell, like the Black Diamond StormLine Stretch (men’s/women’s), is a more-than-welcome addition to any hiker’s kit. Through the holiday season and beyond, it helps the wearer stay warm and dry on Monadnock’s treeless upper slopes.

Credit: Tim Peck

Credit: Tim Peck

3. Get a Grip

Solitude on the mountain is hard to find on busy weekends, but quiet moments can be found, especially during the winter. For such journeys, traction devices like the Kahtoola MICROSpikes are vital for navigating the packed snow found at low elevations and the icy stretches on the mountain’s upper third.

4. No Shade

As you travel up the White Dot and down the White Cross trails, you’ll find a substantial portion of your hike is above treeline. As such, a good pair of polarized sunglasses is needed to protect your beloved hiker’s eyes from the sun and wind they will surely encounter. We love the Julbo Renegade for their ability to transition from Monadnock’s summit to the patio at Harlow’s in Peterborough.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. Protect Yourself

No matter the season, sustained time above treeline also means extended exposure to the sun. For these conditions, a UPF-rated wicking shirt, like the Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody (men’s/women’s), helps protect the hiker on your list from the sun’s harsh rays. As a bonus, the Alpenglow’s hood is great for fending off the fierce winds common above treeline.

6. Puffer Jacket

“Monadnock” is an old Abenaki word that loosely translates to “mountain standing alone.” And, with its presence rising above flat fields and woodlands at its base, it’s easy to see how the mountain received its name. Because of the mountain’s prominence, the summit is often cold and windy, even in the summer months. However, no matter the time of year, the hiker on your list will appreciate a lightweight, packable puffy, like the EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket (men’s/women’s). It’s sure to keep them cozy.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

7. Accessorize

Because of the potential for cool weather on Monadnock’s summit, a lightweight winter hat, like the Smartwool NTS 250 Cuffed Beanie, and gloves, such as the EMS Power Stretch (men’s/women’s), are welcome additions to any hiker’s pack, no matter the season.

8. Get Transcendental

Two authors, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, spent significant amounts of time in the region. As such, both have recognized “seats” on the mountain. To encourage the hiker on your list to make the short diversion to “Emerson’s Seat” and “Thoreau’s Seat,” put them in a Transcendental mood with a copy of either author’s work. Or, print out a copy of Thoreau’s The Mountains in the Horizon—which opens with verses in praise of Monadnock—for them to read when they get to these special places. And, since Thoreau definitely would have embraced selfies, hook the hiker on your list up with a dry bag, like the Big Agnes Tech, to keep their smartphones and cameras dry in the event of inclement weather.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

9. Stay Hydrated

Whether you’re struggling up a steep incline, kicking back behind a summit windbreak, or staring out at the landscape from “Thoreau’s Seat,” it’s easy to get distracted and forget to drink enough. For this reason, hydration packs, with the hose right in front of you at all times, are perfect for this trip. Even if the person on your list already has one, they most likely are ready for a new bladder, like the Camelbak Crux 2L Reservoir.

10. It’s a Picnic

Jaffrey, New Hampshire—the gateway town to Mount Monadnock—is a far cry from a typical mountain town. As such, it’s a challenge to find a nearby place for a post-hike beer or meal. Instead, bring the après scene to the hiker on your list: Hook them up with a Mountainsmith Deluxe Cooler Cube, a Yeti Rambler Colster, and a Helinox Chair One.


Gift Guide: What Your Loved One Needs to Hike Mount Washington in Winter

If you’re looking for the perfect gift for an adventurous friend or family member on your list this holiday, but nothing you’ve seen in the stores speaks to you, consider pivoting away from the “Christmas list” and help them tick something off their bucket list instead.

A winter ascent of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington via the Lion Head Winter Route is a must-do trip for any hiker or aspiring mountaineer. When it comes to the Northeast’s tallest mountain—and the most prominent peak east of the Mississippi—reaching Mount Washington’s summit is an achievement in any season. But, it’s the mountain’s reputation for having “the world’s worst weather,” which is even more notorious in winter, that puts the Lion Head Winter Route on so many people’s life lists and makes it fairly demanding in the gear department. So, to jump-start your loved one on the path to a worthy adventure, supply them with some of the items on this list.

Alpha Guides

1. The Beta

While you can’t give the person on your list the perfect conditions or strong hiking legs, you can give the gift of inspiration with goEast’s “Alpha Guide: Mount Washington via the Lion Head Winter Route.”

2. The Right Amount of Traction

A climb up the Lion Head Winter Route begins benignly enough on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. Trees protect it from the weather, and it’s wide enough for hiking shoulder to shoulder, and starting from just behind the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, climbers simply follow the trail to the cutoff for the Lion Head Winter Route. Depending on the winter, this portion may present anything from ice-covered rocks to well-packed snow. Either way, Kahtoola MICROSpikes are safer than booting up the trail without traction devices and allow for faster movement than hiking in crampons.

3. Tackle the Steeps

Next up is one of the Lion Head Winter Route’s cruxes: a steep, semi-technical, 100-foot-long rocky section. After that, it’s a steep climb toward treeline and the Lion Head proper. Equipment like the Black Diamond Sabretooth Crampon and Raven Ice Axe are essential from this steep portion to the summit.

4. Keep the Inside Warm

Many parties pause just below the crux to don their gear and replenish fluids from the first hour-plus of hiking. If the person on your list has a thermos, like the Hydro Flask 32 oz. Wide Mouth, it’s a great opportunity to have something warm to drink, and battle another of the route’s challenges—staying warm. It’s amazing what a difference a sip of hot cocoa or tea can make for keeping the body warm and spirits high.

5. Remember Their Digits

With average winter temperatures below freezing at Pinkham Notch and in the single digits on Mount Washington’s summit, preparation for the cold is key. An insulated glove, like the Black Diamond Dirt Bag, is fantastic for this section. Yaktrax Hand Warmers are another welcome sight in any mountaineer’s stocking, as they’re excellent for warming frozen fingers when tucked into gloves or mittens. Or, a hiker can throw them into a pocket near their body to warm up their core.

Credit: Chris Bennett
Credit: Chris Bennett

6. Brave the Wind

Above the Lion Head proper, hikers encounter another difficulty. The rest of the route is above treeline, thus extending exposure to the full fury of the weather, especially the wind. In fact, the second-highest wind speed ever, 231 mph, was recorded on Mount Washington.

To anticipate these conditions, the climber on your list will want a warm winter hat, like Smartwool’s The Lid, weatherproof gloves, such as the EMS Summit (men’s/women’s), and a neck gaiter (our favorite is the Smartwool Neck Gaiter). They will also want to carry goggles (ideally two pairs, in case one set freezes), a balaclava, like the Black Diamond BD Balaclava, and heavyweight mittens, such as the Black Diamond Mercury (men’s/women’s), in the event of extreme weather.

7. The Right Amount of Insulation

A good puffy coat is mandatory for climbing Mount Washington in the winter. We, in fact, like to carry two. A puffy with active insulation, such as the Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody (men’s/women’s), is perfect for staying warm while you’re moving up the mountain on the coldest winter days. As well, a traditional puffy, like the Black Diamond Cold Forge Jacket (men’s/women’s), is great when you’re taking breaks, standing on the summit, or in case of an emergency.

8. Stay Safe

So that a dream trip doesn’t turn into a nightmare, consider getting the person on your list a GPS watch, like the Suunto Ambit3, which allows hikers to retrace a route backwards or input a route to follow. In addition, an emergency bivy, like the Adventure Medical Kit SOL Escape Bivy, can be the difference between coming home with a great story and being another statistic that proves Mount Washington’s deadly reputation. 28 people have succumbed to hypothermia on the mountain since records started being kept in 1849.

Credit: Tim Peck

9. Pack It All Up

As we’ve already mentioned, a trip up the Lion Head Winter Route requires a lot of gear. Just to name a few essentials, you’ll need crampons and an ice axe for the steep and icy terrain, a multitude of layers, goggles, puffies, and a camera for that mantle-worthy summit shot. So, help the person on your list transport everything in comfort, all without being weighed down, with a high-quality mountaineering pack, like the Black Diamond Speed 40. Designed for carrying crampons and ice axes, it also has enough interior volume to ensure no critical gear gets left behind.

10. Get Help

If you think the person on your list has the desire to climb Mount Washington in winter, but not the necessary skills to get up and back safely, consider sending them with the EMS Climbing School, the oldest climbing school in the East. EMS runs guided trips up the Lion Head throughout the season and also provides a handful of two-day trips involving an overnight at the Mount Washington Observatory.


Alpha Guide: The Carter Range Traverse

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Challenging terrain, breathtaking views, and the summits of six New Hampshire 4,000-footers combine to make the Carter Range Traverse one of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains.

Rugged but weather-protected terrain, fantastic views of Mount Washington and the northern Presidentials, a multiplicity of camping options, all without the crowds of some of New Hampshire’s better-known overnights, and foliage that’s among the best in the Whites make this a must-do fall point-to-point backpacking trip. And, for those who want to go luxurious and light, there’s even an Appalachian Mountain Club hut that’s right in the middle of the traverse.

Many hikers begin the Carter Range Traverse at the Carter-Moriah Trailhead on Bangor Street in Gorham. They then head south on the Carter-Moriah, Wildcat Ridge, and Lost Pond Trails for 17-plus miles, crossing six 4,000-footers before ending at Pinkham Notch on Route 16.

Quick Facts

Distance: 17 miles, thru-hike.*
Time to Complete: 2 to 3 days
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★


Season: Late-May to early November (Late September to early October for the best foliage)
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/whitemountain 

*The AMC Guidebook lists this hike ar roughly 20 miles, but our GPX and other independent sources have tracked it as less.

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Turn-By-Turn

Getting to the Carter-Moriah Trailhead is simple. Bangor Street is across from the Androscoggin Valley Country Club on Route 2 in Gorham. From Conway, follow Route 16 North approximately 24 miles to Route 2. Take a right onto Route 2, and look for Bangor Street on your right about a mile down the road. There’s a small hikers’ parking lot a few houses before the end of the street. Park there, and then, walk down to the trailhead (44.3822, -71.1694) at the end of the street.

If you have two cars, leave one at each trailhead. For an alternative, take advantage of the shuttle service provided by the Appalachian Mountain Club. For leaving a car at Pinkham Notch, it’s even easier to find than the Carter-Moriah Trailhead, as it’s right in the middle of Gorham and Conway. If you’re coming from Gorham, just follow Route 16 South for roughly 12 miles, and the building will be on your right. When you’re coming from Conway, Pinkham Notch is roughly 12 miles past the Glen intersection on Route 16 South, and the building will be on your left.

Although there’s limited parking at the Carter-Moriah Trailhead, the Libby Memorial Pool off Route 16 has additional parking. If you end up parking there, it is just a short road walk to the trailhead. As an added bonus, you get to cross a cool hikers-only suspension bridge to get to the trailhead.

Looking northeast from an overlook near Mount Moriah's summit. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Looking northeast from an overlook near Mount Moriah’s summit. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Moriah

On the way to Moriah’s summit, the Carter-Moriah Trail (CMT) gains more than 3,000 feet of elevation over the course of 4.5 miles. The trail itself is easy to follow but relatively nondescript, with the most notable feature being the rock ledge near the summit of Mount Surprise. If you haven’t taken a break yet, this is a good spot, as it is almost halfway to the summit.

After 4.5 miles of uphill terrain, you’ll reach a short spur trail that leads toward Mount Moriah’s summit ledge (44.3403, -71.1315). The views from the summit and surrounding area are among the best in the Whites, with the Northern Presidentials to the west, the Wild River Wilderness and Maine to the east, and portions of the traverse visible to the south.

In the woods near the start of the Carter-Moriah Trail. | Credit: Douglas Martland
In the woods near the start of the Carter-Moriah Trail. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Moriah to Imp Shelter

From Moriah’s summit, head south on the CMT. After a few minutes, you’ll come to a short, exposed downclimb that can be tricky. Be especially careful if you’re carrying a heavy pack. At the junction at the bottom of the downclimb, keep right to stay on the Carter-Moriah Trail. Although the junction is well signed, if you have any doubts from here on out, you’ll be following the Appalachian Trail’s white blazes, so there’s really no excuse for getting lost.

The trail then meanders across ledges and open slab, with great views east into the Wild River Wilderness and Maine’s forests and mountains. Eventually, the trail begins to descend steeply over the open slabs without compromising those views. Along the way, you’ll come across several fantastic overlooks, where you’ll probably find hikers ascending Moriah from the south pausing to catch their breath. Use caution when descending, however, as this section is often icy.

About 1.5 miles from the summit, the trail drops back into the trees, where it begins to flatten out. Almost immediately, you’ll arrive at a well-signed junction with the Moriah Brook Trail, but you’ll want to stay on the CMT. Soon thereafter, the trail crosses a boardwalk through a marsh area before coming to the Stony Brook Trail junction. At the junction, remain on the CMT for 0.75 miles, until you come to a spur trail for the Imp Shelter.

Coming up the Stony Brook Trail and skipping Moriah is an easier way to reach the Imp Shelter. It’s a great option for those starting late in the day on the first day of their trip or for those looking to do a single-day range traverse.

Down a short spur trail, there’s a shelter (44.3291, -71.1502) and five tent platforms (available for $10), with a caretaker present during summer months, as well. Tucked in the shadow of Imp Mountain, this is a great place to spend the night if you’re doing a three-day trip. If you’re doing the traverse in two days, consider pushing on, as you’ve only done one-third of the mileage.

Pro Tip: Since the stream at Imp Shelter is the last reliable water source before Carter Notch, it’s a good idea to refill here.

Looking back on Carter Ridge from Carter Dome. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Looking back on Carter Ridge from Carter Dome. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Up North Carter

If you spent the night at Imp Shelter, the early-morning hike up North Carter on the Carter-Moriah Trail can be a rude awakening. It’s steep and rough, gaining 1,400 feet over the course of roughly two miles. More so, it is probably the traverse’s hardest part, so take your time—there’s a long day ahead.

If you’re looking to catch your breath, a few spots on the way up North Carter have good views north toward Moriah. You might miss them, though, when heading uphill, since you’ll be facing the wrong direction.

About 1.6 miles from the shelter, you’ll stumble onto North Carter’s summit (44.3131, -71.1645). Although it is 4,530 feet in height, the Appalachian Mountain Club doesn’t consider North Carter a 4,000-footer. The col on the ridge from Middle Carter only descends 60 feet (18 m), thus making North Carter a secondary summit of that peak.

Mount Hight and Carter Dome from South Carter. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Mount Hight and Carter Dome from South Carter. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Ridge Running the Carters

Once you’ve climbed to the ridgeline, the CMT mellows considerably along the rolling Carter Ridge. As well, trees shelter the ridgeline, offering great protection from the weather. Occasionally, breaks in the trees offer views both to the east (Maine, the Baldface Range, and the Wild River Wilderness) and to the west (the Northern Presidentials). And, because Carter Ridge isn’t a straight line, a few opportunities offer a glimpse of what lies ahead.

About a mile from North Carter’s summit, the trail surmounts Middle Carter (44.3031, -71.1673). Although you’ll get great views before and after the summit, the summit itself is wooded and nondescript. And, because you’re near a wilderness area, the summit itself isn’t signed. Look, instead, for a cairn.

From Middle Carter, the trail descends gradually to the col between Middle and South Carter. At this point, it climbs gently toward the summit of the latter peak (44.2898, -71.1762). About a half-mile from the col, be on the lookout for a very short spur trail to South Carter’s official summit. Again, there are no signs, but it is pretty hard to miss the small cairn. And, although the summit has no real views, an outlook sits a few steps away on the other side of the trail. Your next objectives—Mount Hight and Carter Dome—dominate the horizon to the south.

To reach them, continue south on the CMT for 0.8 miles as it heads downhill toward Zeta Pass. While it descends quickly at first, it then meanders through the woods and over boardwalks as it nears the pass.

The Northern Presidential Range from Mount Hight. | Credit: Douglas Martland
The Northern Presidential Range from Mount Hight. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Carter Dome and the Mount Hight Detour

From Zeta Pass, the Carter-Moriah and Carter Dome Trails temporarily merge, both headed for Carter Dome’s summit. Soon, however, they split at a junction (44.2789, -71.1737), with the CMT taking a slightly longer route with a detour to the outstanding overlook atop Mount Hight. If time is of the essence and you want to skip Mount Hight, take the Carter Dome Trail (blue blazes) directly to the top of Carter Dome. It saves about 0.2 miles, but you’ll be skipping one of the hike’s key highlights.

To get to Mount Hight, a subpeak of Carter Dome, simply continue following the AT’s white rectangular blazes. After a few minutes, the trail begins to climb steeply. Although some effort is involved, keep hiking: The alpine zone and 360-degree views of the Presidentials, the sections of the Carter Range you’ve traversed so far, and the Wild River Wilderness are well worth it. When you can peel yourself away from the summit (44.2759, -71.1702), continue along the CMT and AT, until it intersects with the Carter Dome Trail, a short distance below Carter Dome.

Compared to Hight, Carter Dome is unimpressive, with a small open space and some competing summit cairns (44.2674, -71.1792). The summit’s northwestern side also has an overlook toward the Northern Presidentials.

Fall foliage behind Carter Lake. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Fall foliage behind Carter Lake. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Carter Notch

From Carter Dome, the CMT descends into Carter Notch. Here, the trail is steep with several sections where you’ll want to watch your footing. About halfway down the trail is a nice overlook, where you can see the Carter Notch Hut with Wildcat Ridge as a backdrop.

The CMT spills out into Carter Notch at the junction at Carter Lake. If you’re spending the night at the Carter Notch Hut (44.2588, -71.1951) or just looking for snacks and water, follow a short spur trail left, past two small lakes for 0.1 miles. Built in 1914, the hut offers full services during the summer months, as well as self-service during the rest of the year. Those thinking of spending the night in one of the two bunkhouses can make reservations with the AMC.

If you’re continuing on toward Wildcat Ridge, turn right instead, following the trail along the edge of Carter Lake and then up as it begins to climb out of the Notch. Since the trails around Carter Notch are maze-like, pay careful attention, so you don’t get lost and lose any time.

Fall foliage from near the top of Wildcat D. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Fall foliage from near the top of Wildcat D. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Up Wildcat Ridge

Whether you spent the night at the hut or continued to push on, the 0.7-mile climb up Wildcat A is a tough one. The trail travels continuously over rough terrain, gaining elevation with a series of long, traversing switchbacks. Since the best views are behind you, use that as an excuse if you need to take a break.

You’ll know you’re near the summit when the trail briefly levels out. The summit (44.2590, -71.2015) itself is inconspicuous—just a small cairn a few feet off the trail. But, just before, an overlook delivers good views of Carter Dome, the Notch, and the Hut.

Mount Washington with Tuckerman (left) and Huntington (right) Ravines from below Wildcat C. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Mount Washington with Tuckerman (left) and Huntington (right) Ravines from below Wildcat C. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Across the Ridge

Wildcat Ridge rolls along across Wildcat’s five named peaks—A, B, C, D, and E. Although only two count as official 4,000-footers (A and D), you’ll still have to earn each one, as even their short elevation gains seem like real work this late in the traverse.

The most notable of the subpeaks is C, mainly because of the stellar views of Mt. Washington’s Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines on the descent. Be careful, as well, on the descent off C into Wildcat Col; a few of the sections require some easy downclimbing.

The sights and sounds of civilization indicate you’ve climbed out of the col and are nearing the summit overlook atop Wildcat D (44.2493, -71.235). It’s the first summit on the trip that’ll be crowded with non-hikers—Wildcat’s gondola runs near D’s summit on fall weekends—but you can at least appreciate that your climb up was much more challenging. And, if the crowds are minimal or it’s off-hours, the observation platform is a great place to admire Mount Washington.

The trail approaching Carter Dome. | Credit: Douglas Martland
The trail approaching Carter Dome. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Down to Pinkham

From the overlook, the trail meanders over Wildcat E and soon thereafter begins to descend. Easily one of the Whites’ hardest hikes, descending the Wildcat Ridge Trail may be even more demanding than ascending it. Rocky, slabby, and at times extremely steep, the trail even features rock and wooden steps to ease hiking on such vertical terrain. As it plummets down two miles and roughly 2,000 feet of elevation, people who are carrying big packs, have tired legs, or are uncomfortable negotiating exposed terrain should consider taking the shortcut down the Wildcat Mountain Ski Area.

Near the bottom of the Wildcat Ridge Trail, take the Lost Pond Trail for an easy 0.9 miles to Pinkham Notch. Although this route is longer than just finishing out the Wildcat Ridge Trail, it eliminates the need to cross the Ellis River.

As another reason doing the traverse from north to south is advantageous, after passing the final summit, hikers can quickly scamper down the ski slope to the resort’s parking area, instead of continuing on the steep and rugged Wildcat Ridge Trail to the Glen Ellis Falls Trailhead. The preferred hiking trail is the Polecat Trail, a 2.2-mile green circle that gently weaves down the mountain. From Wildcat, hikers can do a quick road march back to Pinkham Notch.


The Wild River Wilderness from Mount Hight. | Credit: Douglas Martland
The Wild River Wilderness from Mount Hight. | Credit: Douglas Martland

The Kit

  • The EMS Refugio 2 Tent is a great choice for those who feel that staying in the hut is too luxurious but aren’t psyched on going super-lightweight. Weighing roughly a pound and a half more than its ultralight sibling, the Velocity 2, the Refugio delivers plenty of space to stretch out and has voluminous vestibules for storing gear.
  • The Sawyer Mini Filter makes access to potable drinking water easy. Simply screw it onto a water bottle or rig it to your hydration bladder. Or, even drink right from the source using the included straw.
  • After a long day on the trail, appetites are high, but the motivation to cook is low. A canister stove like the Jetboil Flash makes preparing dinner as easy as pushing a button.
  • Super small and compact, the Sea to Summit Ultralight Sleeping Pad is perfect for keeping pack size down and doesn’t disappoint when it comes to comfort.
  • The EMS Mountain Light 20 is warm, compressible, and cozy, making it perfect for trips like the Carter Range Traverse. Open the super-versatile bag up for unseasonably warm weather, or wear your jacket to bed and cinch the hood for those cold fall nights.

Foliage from near the top of Wildcat D. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Foliage from near the top of Wildcat D. | Credit: Douglas Martland

Keys to the Trip

  • From mid-September through mid-May, the AMC’s Carter Notch Hut is self-serve. During the self-service season, a bed is provided and so is the use of the hut’s stove, cookware, and utensils. While neither dinner nor breakfast is offered during the self-serve season, you can ditch the weight of a tent and stove. The cost is $45 a night for AMC members and $54 a night for non-members. However, it’s always a good idea to reserve a place in the hut in advance.
  • Although the Carter Wildcat Traverse is pretty straightforward, it’s always smart to carry a map, and the White Mountains Waterproof Trail Map is a good one. In addition to being helpful in the event you get turned around, it’s also perfect for getting stoked before your trip and scheming up the next traverse once you’ve checked the Carter Range Traverse from your list.
  • After a couple long days of GORP, granola, and freeze-dried meals, you deserve something decadent. Treat yourself to an incredible cupcake (or two) from White Mountain Cupcakery.

Current Conditions

Have you recently hiked in the Carters or Wildcats? Have you done the complete traverse? What did you think? Post your experience in the comments!