Death and Haunting on the Crawford Path

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

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

William Curtis, circa 1870
William Curtis, circa 1870

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Alpha Guide: The Crawford Path

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

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

Quick Facts

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


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

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Turn-By-Turn

The Crawford Path begins across the street from the AMC Highland Center on Route 302. Getting onto Route 302 is easy from both the east, via Route 16, and from the west, via Route 3 (exit 35) and Interstate 93.

Hikers typically park in one of three areas near the Highland Center:

Highland Center: The AMC Highland Center is an ideal jumping-off point for Crawford Path hikers. While parking here is reserved for the Center’s guests, water, restrooms, and a staffed information center are available to all. If you do end up starting here, the trail begins across the street from the facility.

Crawford Depot: A stone’s throw south of the Highland Center is the Crawford Depot. Hikers will find free parking, bathrooms, water, information, and supplies here as well. To access the trail, simply cross Route 302 and walk north for 100 yards to where the Crawford Path heads into the woods.

Crawford Connector Trailhead: On the opposite side of the street just north of the Highland Center is Mount Clinton Road, which has a parking lot for the Crawford Connector Trailhead. The Crawford Connector Trailhead features pit restrooms but no other amenities. Hikers leaving this trailhead will also tack on an additional 0.4 miles of hiking to gain the Crawford Path. Joining the Crawford Path a little bit above its official start, hikers hoping to see the historic plaques, or simply start from the actual beginning, can either walk back along the road or backtrack after the Crawford Connector/Crawford Path junction to the trail’s well-marked start. Note:A daily recreation pass is required to park at this trailhead—they can be purchased with cash at the trailhead. Annual passes ranging from $30 (individual) to $40 (household) are also available online, at the White Mountain National Forest Information Center, and at White Mountain National Forest Offices.

Credit: Chris Shane
Credit: Chris Shane

Heading Up Mount Pierce

The sights and sounds of Route 302 and the bustling of numerous hikers surrounding the trailhead are left behind as soon as you step onto the Crawford Path. Shortly after entering the woods, hikers pass a sign detailing the trail’s status as the oldest continuously maintained hiking trail in the country. A few moments after that, hikers will pass a bronze plaque commemorating the Crawford Path’s status as a National Recreation Trail.

After 0.4 miles, hikers will encounter a short spur trail leading to Gibbs Falls. Dropping 35 feet into a shallow pool below, Gibbs Falls is a quick and scenic diversion for hikers who feel comfortable covering the 8.5 miles and 4,700 feet of elevation gain ahead. Above the Gibbs Falls spur, the trail begins to steepen and increases in ruggedness for 1.1 miles to the Mitzpah Cutoff (44.220695, -71.382462). If you haven’t done so yet, the Cutoff is an ideal place to stop for a quick snack or drink.

From the Mitzpah Cutoff, the Crawford Path continues for 1.2 miles to its intersection with the Webster Cliff Trail just below the summit of Mount Pierce. Watch your footing on this section as it’s often wet and slick. When the trail begins to level out and the trees start to thin, make sure your above-treeline gear (windshirt and, depending on the day, hat and gloves) is readily available—after this section, the trail is predominantly above treeline.

The trees begin to give way to rocky slabs just above the intersection with the Webster Cliff Trail and a short diversion (less than one-tenth of a mile) off the Crawford Path leads to the summit of 4,312-foot Mount Pierce (44.227802, -71.364769). Marked with a large cairn, the summit provides a semi-protected place to enjoy a snack—watch out for the ever-opportunistic gray jays! On the slabs below the summit, hikers are treated to a spectacular view of the Crawford Path as it continues on toward Mount Eisenhower, with Mount Washington (the Crawford Path’s endpoint) looming the distance.

Eisenhower's summit. | Credit: Chris Shane
Eisenhower’s summit. | Credit: Chris Shane

On to Eisenhower 

Backtrack from the summit of Mount Pierce and regain the Crawford Path at its junction with the Webster Cliff Trail. From here, it descends into the col between Mount Pierce and Mount Eisenhower. Primarily staying above treeline with views of Bretton Woods to the west and the pointy peak of Mount Chocorua, among many others, to the south, the Crawford Path then ascends out of the col before connecting with the Eisenhower Loop after 1.2 miles.

Peakbaggers will want to take the 0.8-mile trek from the Crawford Path onto the Mount Eisenhower Loop Trail to tick the summit of 4,760-foot Mount Eisenhower. Marked by a giant cairn, the bald summit of Mount Eisenhower (44.240688, -71.350342) is easily recognizable and treats hikers to a stunning 360-degree views. Make sure to admire the section of the Crawford Path you’ve just traveled and scope out the section that lies ahead—namely Mount Monroe and Mount Washington. On pleasant days, the summit of Mount Eisenhower is also a fantastic place to stop for a quick break.

The Crawford Path affords a more direct route than the Eisenhower Loop Trail. Traversing the east side of Mount Eisenhower, it shaves off 0.3 miles and some elevation from the Eisenhower Loop and is a great alternative in bad weather. It’s also perfect for hikers trying to capture the historic feel of the Crawford Path. Even if you’re planning on summiting Eisenhower, it’s worth following the Crawford Path a football field or so past the junction with the Eisenhower Loop Trail for a fantastic view of the trail ahead and the Presidential Range-Dry River Wilderness below. Much less traveled than Eisenhower’s summit, but with views that are almost as good, this might be the place for you if you’re looking for a momentary reprieve from the peakbagging masses. If you do pause here, try to pick out the summits of Mounts Davis and Isolation one ridgeline over to the east.

Monroe's summit, Lakes of the Clouds, and Mount Washington. | Credit: Chris Shane
Monroe’s summit, Lakes of the Clouds, and Mount Washington. | Credit: Chris Shane
Looking down on Lakes of the Clouds from Monroe. | Credit: Chris Shane
Looking down on Lakes of the Clouds from Monroe. | Credit: Chris Shane

Moving along to Monroe

Leaving from the Crawford Path’s northern junction with the Eisenhower Loop Trail, hikers will follow the path as it moves across the col between Mount Eisenhower and the prominent summit of Mount Monroe. Largely above treeline, hikers can take in a picturesque view of the Crawford Path as it winds toward Mount Monroe with the massive Mount Washington in the background. Just to the west is Mount Franklin—despite rising to 5,001 feet, Mount Franklin doesn’t count as a New Hampshire 4,000-footer due to its lack of prominence.

After 1.2 miles, hikers must again decide between staying on the Crawford Path proper or taking an alternate route to the summit of a 4,000-footer. The 0.7-mile Monroe Loop Trail brings hikers to the summit of one of the White Mountains’ prettier peaks, 5,372-foot Mount Monroe (44.255089, -71.321373). Here, hikers are treated to a stellar view of the AMC Lakes of the Clouds Hut to the north in the foreground with the Rockpile filling the background.

Below and to the east, the Crawford Path rolls toward the hut, delivering the same distance as the Monroe Loop Trail but on a packed dirt path and without the elevation gain. This portion of the Path follows the rim of Oakes Gulf, offering spectacular views of Oakes Gulf’s headwall, as the Presidential Range-Dry River Wilderness spills out below.

Lakes of the Clouds Hut with Monroe behind. | Credit: Chris Shane
Lakes of the Clouds Hut with Monroe behind. | Credit: Chris Shane

Lakes of the Clouds 

From the junction of the Crawford Path with the Monroe Loop Trail, hikers will travel a short way downhill to the Lakes of the Clouds Hut (44.258831, -71.318817). Taking its name from the two small alpine lakes sitting beside the hut on the col between Mount Monroe and Mount Washington, Lakes of the Clouds is the AMC’s largest hut. Always a welcome sight, the hut provides a sweet reprieve from the above-treeline elements—whether it’s shade on a sunny day, warmth on a cold day, or simply a break from the seemingly ever-present wind on the exposed ridgeline.

The hut also provides an ideal opportunity to refuel. An indoor faucet is available for hikers to refill their bottles or hydration bladders, and if you were smart enough to pack your wallet, coffee, lemonade, soup, and baked goods are available for purchase. If the full Crawford Path in a day feels ambitious, lodging is also available at Lakes of the Clouds from the end of May to the middle of September. As an added bonus, visitors staying overnight at the hut are served a full breakfast and dinner. If you’re planning on turning your Crawford Path trip into a multi-day adventure, this is the only place on the path that hikers can stay without running afoul of National Forest rules and regulations—other overnight alternatives require a substantial detour off the Crawford Path and are likely to add considerable elevation.

Credit: Chris Shane
Credit: Chris Shane

Up the Rockpile

The hike from the Lakes of the Clouds to the summit of Mount Washington delivers the most challenging and exposed section of the Crawford Path. Steep and rocky and covering a little over a mile, it’s here that hikers get a true taste of the rugged northern Presidentials. If the hike up doesn’t take your breath away, the view from here will. To the south, the Lakes of the Clouds Hut is picturesquely nestled between its namesake lakes while Mount Washinton’s summit cone stands starkly above to the north. On all sides are mountains and forests—take some time to pick out the peaks of the region’s other classic hikes, like Franconia Ridge and the Pemi Loop in the distance to the west.

The section of trail between the hut and Mount Washington has regular cairns to aid hikers in bad weather and low visibility. Pay attention to them, as the weather on the Rockpile can change in a heartbeat. Focus as well on the trail’s direction, as many other trails intersect this segment of the Crawford Path. Fortunately, the junctions with the Tuckerman Crossover, the Davis Path, the Westside Trail, and the Gulfside Trail are all well signed.

Nearing the summit, the quiet found along much of the Crawford Path begins to dissipate. The whistle of the Cog Railroad, the sound of cars motoring up the auto road, and the summit crowds—in conjunction with the numerous summit buildings—conspire to offer a picture of civilization on the summit of New England’s tallest mountain (44.270584, -71.303551). Fight through the crowds and take a photo at the summit sign.

While it’s easy to disparage the infrastructure on Mount Washington’s summit, hikers will find restrooms, a place to refill their water bottles, and a cafeteria here. If a piece of pizza or an ice-cold soda sounds appealing, remember your wallet. A cold drink or warm bite to eat has saved more than one Mount Washington trip. Even if you don’t plan on stopping, a few bucks tucked into your first-aid kit might be a welcome sight if the weather hasn’t cooperated or the day is taking longer than planned.

Credit: Chris Shane
Credit: Chris Shane

Choose Your Finish

Dead-ending on the summit of Mount Washington, Crawford Path hikers have a wide variety of options for descending the mountain. The Gulfside Trail to the Jewell Trail is the most obvious descent route, but hikers will do everything from backtracking to the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail to hiking down the Lions Head to continuing north and completing a south-to-north Presidential Traverse. Check out our Alpha Guide: Day Hiking Mount Washington for a detailed description of Mount Washington’s major routes.

Looking to hike the Crawford Path, but not sure your body can handle the rigors of 8.5 miles and 4,700 feet of elevation? Consider taking a ride up the Mount Washington Auto Road or the Mount Washington Cog Railway (which is celebrating its 150th year of operation this year), then hiking the Crawford Path in reverse, from Washington to Crawford Notch. Although it’s the same distance, the elevation gain is comparatively modest.


"STOP. The area ahead has the worse weather in America. Many have died there from exposure, even in the summer. Turn back now if the weather is bad." | Credit: Chris Shane
“STOP. The area ahead has the worse weather in America. Many have died there from exposure, even in the summer. Turn back now if the weather is bad.” | Credit: Chris Shane

The Kit

  • A pair of trail runners like the Salomon Sense Ride 2 (men’s/women’s) is an ideal choice for speeding across the relatively gentle above-treeline terrain between Mount Pierce and Mount Washington but burly enough to handle the rugged rocks of the Presidentials.
  • The Black Diamond Speed 22 is lightweight, trail-tested, and just the right size pack for carrying trip essentials.
  • Cash is king for snacks at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut, a soda in the snack bar at Mount Washington’s summit, or springing for a ticket on the Cog Railway. Keep your outdoor cred high and packweight down with the Flowfold Minimalist Card Holder Wallet.
  • The Black Diamond Distance Wind Shell (men’s/women’s) provides protection from the ever-present winds found above treeline and takes up virtually no space in your pack. (FYI—for 62 years, Mount Washington held the world record for the second fastest wind gust ever recorded: 231 mph!)
  • Conditions along the Crawford Path can be cool even in the dead of summer. A super lightweight puffy like the Arc’teryx Atom SL Hoodie (men’s/women’s) is a great choice for warm weather missions while the Arc’teryx Atom LT (men’s/women’s) is a reliable choice in colder conditions.
  • With the hut and summit of Mount Washington providing places to refill water bottles, hikers can cut down on the amount of water weight they carry. A standard 32 oz. Nalgene bottle or a 48 oz. Nalgene Silo water bottle are inexpensive, lightweight, and easy to refill on the fly.

Credit: Chris Shane
Credit: Chris Shane

Keys to the Trip

  • A large portion of the Crawford Path is above treeline, making it a hike to avoid in bad weather. Before you head up, check the Mount Washington Observtory’s forecast.
  • Speaking of bad weather, limited visibility is not uncommon in the above-treeline sections, particularly between Lakes of the Clouds and Mount Washington’s summit. Follow the cairns carefully and when in doubt turn around; the mountain will be there tomorrow.
  • The Crawford Path intersects with numerous trails which can make navigating confusing. This is especially true in bad weather. Stay on course with a waterproof map of the White Mountains.
  • If you descended the Jewell Trail or Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, cool off in the Ammonoosuc River at one of the numerous swimming holes lining Base Station Rd.
  • Grab a beer and a burger at Rek-Lis Brewing Company in Bethlehem—you’ve earned it!
  • Wondering what to pack for a day on the Crawford Path? Check out our blog Top to Bottom: Gear to hike the NH 48

Current Conditions

Have you hiked the Crawford Path, or even a piece of it, recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!

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Faces of the Crawford Path

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In 200 years, the Crawford Path has seen a lot of footsteps, but today, its tradition is as strong as ever. Everyone from Appalachian Trail hikers in the last few weeks of their trek, to weekenders and trail runners traversing the Presidential Range, to day hikers, to those who drove to the top of Mount Washington and are taking a hike into the tundra calls the Crawford Path home. We sent photographer Chris Shane hiking the length of the Crawford Path this summer to get a taste of who is adding their footsteps on top of 200 years of history, and why.

 

Do you have your own story of connection to the Crawford Path and the trails in the Whites? Share it on Instagram (wear your EMSxWMTX shirt for bonus points) with a picture from your hikes and the hashtags #goeast and #HikeItHelpIt for a chance to be featured on here and on EMS’s social media.

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Combine and Conquer: The White Mountain Trail Collective

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The forested trail on the Crawford Path echoed with the shattering of rocks, lively conversation, and heavy breathing. The oldest continuously used hiking trail in the country was undergoing a long-needed facelift in preparation of turning 200 this year. Volunteers and professional crew members from organizations such as the Randolph Mountain Club, the National Forest Service and the Appalachian Mountain Club were working side-by-side clearing water bars, repairing rock steps and cleaning debris from the path. Cooperation like this is a common sight these days, but none of this would have been possible a few years ago. 

They were gathered there by the White Mountain Trail Collective, a two-year-old nonprofit that coordinates resources, training and large scale projects in the White Mountains. The group has participation from 16 clubs and crews which traditionally haven’t worked together on larger or longer-term endeavors.

Coordination is important these days because the trails are experiencing historic levels of usage, without the concomitant upkeep to properly maintain them. There are over 1,400 miles of non-motorized trails in the White Mountains which are frequented by 6 million people each year. 

A majority of the work falls on the shoulders of volunteer groups who maintain “their” regional areas. These self-organized and self-funded trail clubs have been in operation since before the the White Mountain National Forest existed, and established many of the paths used today. The regional clubs are having a hard time keeping up, and the National Forest Service doesn’t have the budget or capacity to cover all the work that needs to be done.

Courtesy: Joe Klementovich/WMTC
Courtesy: Joe Klementovich/WMTC

“Our own crew is getting smaller and older,” says Ken Smith, President of the Chocorua Mountain Club, one of these local groups. “We’re only able to complete Level 1 maintenance once per year but heavy use and huge rainfall can wash away a day’s work in a matter of minutes.” 

Stewardship projects are broken into three levels: Level 1, like Smith mentions, consists of light maintenance like clearing brush, cutting back foliage, and digging out water bars (the rocky troughs you see in a path, which acts like a gutter to funnel water to the side of the trail). This generally doesn’t involve hard labor. 

Level 2 is heavier work where actual repairs need to be made, like cleaning bogged ditches, or installing drainage. Level 3 are issues beyond repair. This is about re-building, such as pulling out dilapidated stair steps and building new ones. This involves quarrying rocks, splitting them, and moving them up and down the trail.

Level 2 and 3 projects are needed for long-term stewardship and are the least likely to get done because regional clubs don’t have the manpower or resources. These projects require a larger budget for materials, specialized tools, a dedicated crew for weeks or months (not days), and specific expertise to complete the work. Without a dedicated workforce, maintaining existing trail conditions is difficult, while improving the paths for the long-haul is nearly impossible. That’s where the WMTC decided to pool resources to help. 

“Our goal is to think 5 to 10 to 20 years out about how trail maintenance is going to get done.”

The organizing capacity of the WMTC offers the first opportunity for long-term planning to take place in the White Mountains. 

“Our goal is to think 5 to 10 to 20 years out about how trail maintenance is going to get done,” said Melanie Luce, the group’s executive director. The WMTC focuses on the large-scale challenges that need a long-term strategic plan, serving as the organizing force to build the plan and utilize smaller groups where they’re most useful. By uniting these groups around a single shared project, the WMTC allows them to divide and conquer. 

The WMTC also makes it easier for donations and fundraising to go directly towards trail maintenance. “Like most established trail maintaining clubs, our biggest challenge is always how to find funding for our pro crew each season,” said Bob Drescher, the Trails Co-chair of the Randolph Mountain Club. “Without grants, it would be nearly impossible. But instead of competing with other clubs for the same funding, the idea of combining our efforts [through the WMTC] to secure larger amounts seemed worth a try.” 

As if that weren’t enough, the WMTS also puts together specialized trainings for local trail crews, such as stone work and alpine rigging, maintain a tool cache for participating organizations to use, and organize additional volunteers to bring even more hands to projects.  

The Collective kicked off with a two year project on the Crawford Path in 2018, thanks in part to a grant, the help of the US Forest Service, and participation from many of the local trail clubs. The first project—now wrapping up its second year—was a success, and has grown to involve over 200 volunteers on the project. For 2020, the group plans to move into the Mount Washington Valley. 

“Instead of competing with other clubs for the same funding, the idea of combining our efforts to secure larger amounts seemed worth a try.” 

After each project is complete, on-going maintenance of the trails remains in the hands of the volunteer trail crews, often comprised of members who are aging out. To help develop the next generation of stewards, the WMTC partnered with Plymouth State University to help connect students to the local trails.

“With PSU this year, we helped start a conservation corp,” said Luce. “Students are being paid this summer, with funding that we raised, to learn how to do trail maintenance, so that they can come back next year to help do the work.”

This is a long-term commitment that needs leadership dedicated to the cause. Luckily, Luce is up for the challenge. “It’s not really a job for me. It’s a passion,” she says.

Thanks to the coordinated effort of the local trail crews, the Forest Service, and the WMTC, the trails of the White Mountains may very well celebrate centennials for years to come.

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The Old Route: Hiking For History on the Crawford Path

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Editor’s note: The alpine along the Presidential Range is extremely fragile and off-trail travel can do irreparable harm to the delicate plant life. For that reason, goEast does not recommend hikers venture off-trail along the Crawford Path and specific details about the exact location of the former trail have been removed from this article. The authors took specific steps to ensure they made no impact on the environment. 

From the comfort of our home computers, it didn’t seem that daunting. Finding the remnants of a 100-year-old abandoned shelter along the original route of the Crawford Path, somewhere between Mount Monroe and the summit of Mount Washington couldn’t be that hard. After all, traces of the original route are discernible on Google Earth. We just needed to hike to the general vicinity, find the trail, and then follow it along until we (hopefully) stumble upon the shelter. Easy! But having spent our adult lives hiking in the region, we should have known that the White Mountains wouldn’t give up their secrets so easily.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Winding its way across the southern Presidentials toward Mount Washington’s summit, the Crawford Path has captured the hearts of hikers for centuries. Built by Abel and Ethan Crawford in 1819, the trail marked the birthplace of wilderness activity in the White Mountains. It’s opening, as Christopher Johnson writes in This Grand & Magnificent Place: The Wilderness Heritage of the White Mountains, coincided with a burgeoning outdoor movement, where “Americans were beginning to view the mountain wilderness as worthy of exploration for personal, aesthetic, and scientific reasons.”

While an increasing number of visitors used the trail in those early years, often guided by Ethan Crawford or, later, one of his employees, they’d be shocked by how many hikers have followed in their footsteps now. So far today, we’ve already encountered hundreds of people. And we’ve barely even left the parking lot.

The vast majority of the nation’s oldest continuously maintained hiking trail still follows the original route. It leaves Crawford Depot at the top of Crawford Notch, then climbs gradually up Mount Pierce. Just below Pierce’s summit, the trail turns north, a streak of well-trodden dirt amongst a sea of alpine green as it traverses near the west rim of Oakes Gulf, past Mount Eisenhower and Mount Monroe. Around the seven-mile mark, the trail begins its final ascent, climbing a little over a mile up Mount Washington’s rocky summit cone. The one exception is the section between Mount Monroe and the Westside Trail on Mount Washington—that section of trail was relocated from the long, open ridge and tucked in next to Lakes of the Clouds before climbing up the less-windy underside of the ridge. It’s the original path we’re heading for today.

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Several hours into our hike, we’re standing on Mount Monroe’s summit, our eyes tracing the Crawford Path below us, first as it traverses north along the western rim of Oakes Gulf, then as it descends down toward the relative shelter of the Lakes of the Clouds. Once we spy the Lakes of the Clouds Hut, we visually backtrack, working back up the Crawford Path until it reaches a flat area near the rim of Oakes Gulf. Now oriented, we begin scanning the area to the northeast, where our intuition suggests we’ll see the remnants of the old trail.

One thing we’re looking for is terrain capable of being climbed by a horse. Although the trail’s origins are as a footpath used by Abel and Ethan Crawford to guide tourists to the summit of Mount Washington, in 1840 it was converted to a bridle path by Abel’s grandson (Ethan’s son), Thomas. Shortly thereafter, Abel made the first ascent of Mount Washington by horseback at the age of 74.

Interest in the area continued to grow during the 1850s and 1860s, and the summit of Mount Washington was a happening place, with five bridle paths to the summit along with a carriage road and the Cog Railway (which, coincidentally, happens to be celebrating its 150th anniversary this year). Two hotels also dotted the summit. And although the era of bridle paths was short lived due to a decline in mountain tourism in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, how the public accesses Mount Washington and its surroundings remains a recurrent theme.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

From Mount Monroe, we’d spotted a greenish path winding through the rocks and rubble heading up a gradual incline running across the Camel Trail toward the intersection of the Tuckerman Crossover and the Davis Path. Generally consistent with our Google Earth imagery, it seems like the perfect route for a horse to take up Mount Washington (even though the Crawford Path had largely reverted to a footpath by the 1870s). Thus, our plan is to hike from the hut to the Tuckerman Crossover, then follow that to its intersection with the Davis Path.

As we traverse this web of trails, it is clear that the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and other trail crews have been busy—large, well-maintained cairns mark the current Crawford and Davis Paths. Much of this trail building energy dates to 1876, which Guy and Laura Waterman, the preeminent historians of hiking and climbing in the Northeast, describe in Forest and Cragas “a pivotal year” for hiking in the White Mountains. That year, the AMC was founded, the first hiker-focused guide book was published (A Guide to the White Mountainsby M.F. Sweetser), and the “first sustained period of trail building began in the White Mountains.” Essentially, the trails, as we know them today anyway, date to that period.

Courtesy: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts
Courtesy: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts

Crossing the Tuckerman Crossover, it becomes clear why the AMC, about a century ago, relocated the Crawford Path to the more sheltered terrain by the Lakes of the Clouds Hut. This area is wide open, fully exposed to the wind and weather. Fortunately for us, the weather is clear and pleasant today. But that was hardly the case on June 30, 1900, when William Curtis and Allan Ormsbee, two of the foremost hikers of the era, traversed the same area while hiking up the Crawford Path for an AMC meeting on Mount Washington’s summit. They got caught in a storm and perished. In response to their deaths, in 1901 the AMC constructed the long-since-removed shelter we’re hoping to find the remnants of today.

Near the junction between the Tuckerman Crossover and the Davis Path, we begin rock hopping, heading off trail to a large dirt patch that we’d spied from Mount Monroe and have been keeping an eye on since. It’s the only flat dirt patch in the vicinity and it looks human made. Careful to stay on solid surfaces and avoid the delicate plant life that calls this inhospitable place home, we make our way toward it.

While the contours of the original path are discernible from a distance, they seamlessly blend into the rocky terrain up close. As we get closer to the dirt patch and explore the area, it is challenging to pick out where, exactly, the path went.

Venturing off the trail, we bound between boulders and locate the dirt patch. Protected by higher ground on three sides and surrounded by gentle terrain, the dirt patch seems like a logical place for the shelter to have stood. Hidden from other hikers by our vantage point, we step out of the past to retrieve our iPhones and align our position on Google Earth. The map confirms we’re in the correct vicinity; however, researching the path that evening shows that, while we found the re-routed Crawford Path, we never found some old iron rods that may still remain from the shelter.

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

Eventually, we head south, trying to follow the Crawford Path’s original route toward Mount Monroe. When we reach the Camel Trail, we turn west to regain the Crawford Path near the Lakes of the Clouds Hut. Drawing near the throngs of hikers by the hut and on the Crawford Path, it’s sobering to think that much of this hike was almost a road—the Presidential Skyline Drive. Proposed in the 1930s while the country was in the midst of the Great Depression, the 25-mile scenic drive would have skirted the summits of Pleasant, Franklin, Monroe, Washington, Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison, catering to motorized recreationists instead of human-powered travelers like ourselves. We’re thankful for the foresight that earlier generations had to preserve this wonderful range for us and so many others—a blueprint we hope our generation will follow.

With about a mile left of our ascent, we head up the Crawford Path toward Mount Washington’s summit. Somewhere above the intersection of the Crawford and Davis Paths, we turn around. Much of the Crawford Path is visible from here—the well-packed dirt path running along the spine of the southern Presidentials. The view is amazing, but soon our gaze wanders more toward the east, as we attempt to follow the rolling green that once was the Crawford Path. It’s there again, the faint green stripe running along a gentle depression on Mount Washington’s rugged, rocky southern flank. Now 200 years old (and counting), we’re sure Abel and Ethan Crawford would be proud of the simple pleasures the Crawford Path has provided to generations of hikers.

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Hike It, Help It: Celebrating 200 Years of the Crawford Path

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Believe it or not, hiking for fun hasn’t always been a thing. 

Back 200-plus years ago, people were just a little more concerned with plowing the fields, hunting for food, and fighting for independence. Walking in the woods was something you did every day as a necessity—not so much something you did on your time off. 

Mount Washington changed that. 

When the Crawford family built the first recreational footpath to the top of the region’s highest peak in 1819, it wasn’t supposed to be something radical. It was really just a way to make things a little easier for the tourists who came from the big cities to marvel at the snow capped, rocky peaks, towering over New England. Instead, it ignited the area’s second revolution in less than 50 years. 

Before long, hundreds and then thousands of people were making the 8.5-mile trek along the expansive, tundra-like domes of the Southern Presidentials to the top of Mount Washington. More trails were cut, campsites and huts were built, gear was developed, organizations sprung up, and a sport—at least on this side of the ocean—was born, right in our backyard. 

Credit: Chris Shane
Credit: Chris Shane

This summer, 200 years after the Crawford Path—America’s oldest hiking trail—was built, Eastern Mountain Sports wants to celebrate it. 

That strip of dirt leading up Mount Washington still holds some of the country’s most jaw-dropping scenery, and the past time that grew up because of it is a point of Northeast pride, so help make sure the Crawford Path and trails like it stick around for at least another 200 years.

Shop online (men’s/women’s) or swing through EMS locations in North Conway, Concord, and Nashua and pick up a Techwick t-shirt celebrating the Crawford Path’s 200th Anniversary and 20 percent of that purchase will be donated to the White Mountain Trail Collective, which organizes a medley of professional trail maintenance organizations to update and care for the now two-century-old trails in the Whites, ensuring they all last just as long as the Crawford Path.

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Credit: Chris Shane
Credit: Chris Shane

Plus, wear your t-shirt in the Whites and post a photo to Instagram with the hashtags #goeast and #HikeItHelpIt for a chance to be featured on goEast and EMS’s social media.

That’s it! Take a hike where it all began and discover why, of all places, Mount Washington and the spectacular Southern Presidentials attracted hikers before hiking was even cool. And in the process, help EMS support the trails that will keep us hiking for another 200 years to come. 

See you out there!


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!


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!


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.

Download

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!