Alpha Guide: Day Hiking Mount Washington

 

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

The region’s tallest peak, Mount Washington is a prize of the Northeast and one that can be climbed over and over by numerous different routes. 

A long and notable history, the distinction of being New Hampshire’s tallest peak, and a reputation for being the “home of the world’s worst weather” are just a few reasons Mount Washington tops many peakbaggers’ lists. And, with routes varying from serene to scary, there are plenty of different paths to the peak.

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Turn-By-Turn

Most Mount Washington day hikes start on either the east or west side. For starting on the east side with the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, Lion Head, or Boott Spur, hikers should park at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Pinkham Notch Visitor Center in Gorham, just north of Jackson on Route 16. It’s about a 25-minute drive from North Conway to Gorham.

For a west side hike, such as the Ammonoosuc Ravine and Jewell Trails, hikers should park at the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trailhead. From Route 302, turn onto Base Road at the intersection of Bretton Woods and Fabyan’s Restaurant. The parking lot is on the right, several miles down the road. Confused? Just follow the signs for the Mount Washington Cog Railway.

Pro Tip: Get an early start. On most weekends, the lots at Pinkham Notch and the Ammonoosuc Trailhead fill up quickly. For Pinkham, there’s overflow parking just south of the Visitor Center and additional parking on the street.

The summit from the top of Tuckerman Ravine. | Credit: Tim Peck
The summit from the top of Tuckerman Ravine. | Credit: Tim Peck

East Side Trails

Tuckerman Ravine Trail

Quick Facts

Distance: 8.2 miles, round trip.
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty:★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May through October.
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/whitemountain/recarea?recid=78538

Of all the routes to the summit, an ascent via the 4.1-mile, one-way Tuckerman Ravine Trail is perhaps the most sought after, as it climbs directly up the notorious glacial cirque and backcountry ski destination. Because snow and ice may cover the terrain from late fall to early summer—making it more of a mountaineering route than a hike—and due to its popularity, this trail may be busy when in prime condition.

Starting just behind the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, the Tuckerman Ravine Trail begins rather benignly. The wide-yet-rocky trail gradually works its way up the roughly 2.5 miles to Hermit Lake and the base of Tuckerman Ravine. As a note, this section may be particularly busy, as Hermit Lake is a popular destination itself. Above Hermit Lake, the trail climbs a series of narrow, steep, and often slippery switchbacks that deliver hikers to the top of the ravine.

From here, the tops of the summit buildings come into view, and it may seem like the difficulty is over. However, you still have a long way to go. Arguably, the final mile of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail is its most challenging, as it involves as much rock-hopping as it does hiking. As you near the top, the sounds of the Auto Road get increasingly louder, and eventually, the trail runs into the road. Here, hikers tackle the ascent’s final challenge: a steep staircase that deposits you near the summit sign. Because of the trail’s steep and slippery nature, hikers should descend via the Lion Head Trail.

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

Lion Head Trail

Quick Facts

Distance: 8.4 miles, round trip.
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty:★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May through October.
Fees/Permits: None

The Lion Head Trail is a popular alternative to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. The trip offers hikers less exposure, gives you a bird’s-eye view of the ravine, and gets you to the peak when the Tuckerman Ravine Trail’s conditions aren’t ideal. The trip up actually follows the Tuckerman Ravine Trail for large portions; however, it veers off to skirt the ravine’s northern edge, rather than ascend directly up it. Commonly thought to be one of the “easier” routes to the summit, the Lion Head gains roughly 4,200 feet of elevation along its 4.2 miles, and is challenging for even seasoned hikers.

Before leaving home, make sure you know which version of the Lion Head Trail—Summer or Winter—is open by checking the Mount Washington Avalanche Center’s trail information. While both leave from the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, the Winter route branches off shortly before Hermit Lake, and the Summer route starts at Hermit Lake. The latter is less steep and a bit quicker than the former. However, it also crosses an avalanche path, and is only open when there is no possibility of the snow sliding. Want to learn more about the Lion Head in winter? Check out this goEast article about it.

Above treeline, the Lion Head Trail affords an incredible view of Tuckerman Ravine from its granite ledges—if the weather allows, that is. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, and especially if it’s windy, be careful. A good gust could blow an unsuspecting person into the ravine. Yes, the trail is that close to the ravine’s rim! The Lion Head Trail rejoins the Tuckerman Ravine Trail at a well-marked junction for the final 0.4 miles to Washington’s summit.

Looking down on the Boot Spur. | Credit: Tim Peck
Looking down on the Boott Spur. | Credit: Tim Peck

Boott Spur Trail

Quick Facts

Distance: 10.8 miles, round trip.
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty:★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May through October.
Fees/Permits: None

Looking for a little bit longer and less crowded hike up Washington’s east side? Check out the Boott Spur Trail, which climbs the ridge forming the southern side of Tuckerman Ravine. Once above treeline, hikers get spectacular views of Hermit Lake, Tuckerman Ravine, and, in the distance, Mount Washington’s summit cone as they ascend the steps of the Boott Spur, a 5,500-foot sub-peak of Mount Washington.

To access the Boott Spur Trail, hikers begin at Pinkham Notch and hike an easy 0.4 miles on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. The Boott Spur Trail begins at a signed junction where the Tuckerman Ravine Trail makes a sharp right turn and begins climbing uphill. Hikers will quickly cross the John Sherburne Ski Trail and then climb forested terrain up the ridgeline. Above treeline, the trail summits Boott Spur and then traverses along the edge of Tuckerman Ravine, until it joins the Davis Path. From there, there’s approximately two miles of rock-hopping to the summit. Overall, climbing Washington via this route is 5.4 miles, with an elevation gain of 4,654 feet. And, since so much is above treeline, make sure to save it for a nice day.

The Pinnacle and the Huntington Ravine Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Pinnacle and the Huntington Ravine Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

Huntington Ravine Trail

Quick Facts

Distance: 4.5 miles, one way.
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty:★★★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May through October.
Fees/Permits: None

One of the White Mountains’ hardest and most dangerous trails, the Huntington Ravine Trail should only be attempted by experienced hikers who are comfortable with exposure. To get there, follow the Tuckerman Ravine Trail 1.3 miles to the junction with the Huntington Ravine Trail and then follow the trail 2.1 miles as it climbs 2,450 feet to the Alpine Garden. The trail initially climbs through forested terrain, before it reaches a junction with the Huntington Ravine Fire Road. It then enters Huntington Ravine, gradually transitioning from a trail to rock-hopping through the bottom of a huge open boulder field called “The Fan.” Navigating up, over, and around these boulders is fun and challenging.

After working through The Fan, continue on the Huntington Ravine Trail as it ascends steeply toward the top of the ravine. Some portions of the upper section require scrambling and rock climbing-like moves to ascend. These sequences have serious exposure and may be difficult to reverse if you get stuck or the weather deteriorates, so only attempt this route on nice days when the trail is dry. On a clear day, though, this section offers a fantastic perspective of the Huntington Ravine.

At 2.1 miles, the Huntington Ravine Trail exits the ravine and intersects with the Alpine Garden Trail. Hikers heading for the summit should continue on this moderate section for 0.3 miles until it ends at the Mount Washington Auto Road and the junction with the Nelson Crag Trail. From there, it’s 0.8 miles of rock-hopping on the Nelson Crag Trail to the summit.

Pro Tip: The Huntington Ravine Trail is hard enough to ascend. Don’t use it as your descent route.

Lake of the Clouds and Mount Madison from Washington's summit cone. | Credit: Tim Peck
Lakes of the Clouds and Mount Monroe from Washington’s summit cone. | Credit: Tim Peck

West Side Trails

Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail

Quick Facts

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


Season: May through October.
Fees/Permits: Ammonoosuc Ravine Trailhead is $5 a day

The Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail (“The Ammo”) is the quickest route up to the Lakes of the Clouds Hut (3.1 miles) and a beautiful way to start a hike to the summit of Mount Washington (4.5 miles). The trail follows a crystal-clear stream up the ravine, eventually climbing steeply as it passes several waterfalls. A little way before Lakes of the Clouds, the trail pokes above treeline, crossing a series of open ledges to the hut. These ledges offer hikers fantastic views of Washington’s summit cone and back west, and are a great place to catch your breath.

At the hut, refill your water bottles, grab a snack (the hut crew’s baked goods are delicious), and enjoy the views. When you’ve recovered, take the Crawford Path 1.4 miles up Washington’s summit cone. This portion is above treeline and open to the elements, so before you head up, reassess the weather and layer up. If the weather is deteriorating or you’re just too tired, the summit of Mount Monroe is a relatively easy, 0.3-mile side hike in the opposite direction. The views are almost as good, and it’s a lot less crowded.

Pro Tip: With replenishment opportunities at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut and again on the summit proper, this is the route for hikers looking to carry a lighter pack.

Descenting the Gulfside Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
Descending the Gulfside Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

Jewell Trail

Quick Facts

Distance: 10.2 miles, round trip.
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty:★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: May through October.
Fees/Permits: Ammonoosuc Ravine Trailhead is $5 a day

Another popular west-side route to Washington’s summit is the Jewell Trail to the Gulfside Trail. Although it’s a tad longer than the route via the Ammonoosuc Ravine (5.1 miles one way versus 4.5 miles) and has a little more climbing (4,000 feet of elevation gain versus 3,800 feet), overall it is a slightly easier route, as the Jewell Trail is neither as difficult nor as steep.

The Jewell Trail begins at a trailhead directly across the road from the Ammonoosuc Ravine parking lot and climbs gradually on moderate terrain (at least by Mount Washington standards) up an unnamed ridge on Mount Clay. Near treeline, the views dramatically improve, and the trail gets a little rockier as it nears the intersection with the Gulfside Trail at 5,400 feet.

From the junction, hikers have another 1.4 miles on the Gulfside Trail to Washington’s summit. After skirting Mount Clay, the Gulfside Trail hugs the upper rim of the Great Gulf, a massive east-facing glacial cirque framed by the summits of Washington, Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison. Since it holds the Great Gulf Wilderness, New Hampshire’s smallest and oldest wilderness area, hikers should definitely stop to check it out.

The Gulfside Trail with the Northern Presidentials. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Gulfside Trail with the Northern Presidentials. | Credit: Tim Peck

Longer Options

If a simple ascent of Mount Washington isn’t challenging enough, you have numerous popular ways to incorporate summiting Mount Washington into larger hiking objectives. The most notable is the Presidential Traverse, the White Mountains’ classic point-to-point hike.

Of course, if a full Presidential Traverse seems too daunting, half Presidential Traverses are also popular. Typically, half Presidential Traverses start from the north (at Mount Madison) or the south (at Mount Jackson or Pierce), and hikers will work their way across the range, which culminates in an ascent of Mount Washington.

Another longer, more off-the-beaten path way is via the complete Davis Path. Originally built in 1845 as a bridle path, the Davis Path fell into neglect and disrepair before being re-opened as a footpath in 1910. Today, the Davis Path takes hikers roughly 14 miles over Mount Isolation, crossing over Boott Spur, and eventually joining the Crawford Path beneath Mount Washington’s summit.


Washington and Lake of the Clouds from Mount Monroe. | Credit: Tim Peck
Washington and Lakes of the Clouds from Mount Monroe. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • It’s not uncommon for an ascent of Mount Washington to take longer than anticipated. So, bring a headlamp to avoid having to make a death-defying descent in the dark. We like the Black Diamond ReVolt.
  • Spending time on Mount Washington involves a lot of above-treeline hiking, which often leaves you exposed to the sun. The Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody (men’s/women’s) is an easy way to avoid getting sunburned on your trip.
  • Mount Washington has a well-deserved reputation for being “home to the world’s worst weather.” Prepare for the worst by bringing a lightweight insulated coat, like the EMS Feather Pack Down Jacket (men’s/women’s).
  • The record high temperature on Mount Washington’s summit is 72 degrees. Be prepared for a chilly summit by bringing a winter hat (we like the Smartwool NTS 250 Cuffed Beanie) and gloves (like the Black Diamond Midweight Windbloc Fleece), even on summer ascents.
  • A cold Coke and a slice of pizza from the summit’s cafeteria have saved more than one trip for us, so don’t forget to bring your wallet with cash. Keep your outdoor cred and distinguish yourself from those who drove up or took the train with The North Face Base Camp Wallet.
  • All of the trails on Mount Washington are rugged. Because of this, we always pack trekking poles, like the Black Diamond Distance FLZ (men’s/women’s), for added stability and to reduce the wear and tear on our joints.

The Gulfside Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Gulfside Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • It’s easy to get disoriented on Mount Washington, especially above treeline. Get the Waterproof White Mountains Trail Map, study your route beforehand, and then bring it along—just in case.
  • After a big day on the Rockpile, east-side hikers can cool off with a cold pint from one of Barley & Salt’s 32 drafts on tap in North Conway, while west-side hikers can find cold brews at Fabyan’s Restaurant, conveniently located on the way back to Route 302.
  • Or, stop into a local store, and pick up a six pack of Tuckerman Brewing’s aptly named Rockpile IPA to celebrate when you get home.
  • Let your friends and family know about your successful summit by sending a postcard from the post office located on Mount Washington’s summit.
  • If you’re leaving from Pinkham Notch, make sure to sign the climbing register inside the visitor center, just in case something goes wrong.
  • Any trip to Mount Washington is going to be influenced by the weather. Check the Mount Washington Observatory’s Higher Summit Forecast to know what weather to expect, and read up on how to interpret their predictions.

Mount Washington's Summit. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Washington’s Summit. | Credit: Tim Peck

Current Conditions

Have you hiked Mount Washington recently? Which route did you use? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!


The MWOBS Staff's Must-See Mt. Washington Highlights for Seek the Peak

The White Mountains, and Mount Washington in particular, are one of the region’s most densely-packed trail areas. This means you have several options when you head up for Seek the Peak. But, to figure out your route, what’s better than to start with advice from the folks who spend day after day working on the mountains? So, check out the favorite trails and sections from these Mount Washington Observatory employees—the guys who know the region better than anyone.

Credit: Tom Padham
Credit: Tom Padham

Mount Jefferson via Caps Ridge Trail

By Tom Padham, Meteorologist/Education Specialist

While not a hike up Mount Washington, this trail has so much to offer: great views, a relatively short length, and some interesting rock scrambles. The trail starts on Jefferson Notch road at roughly 3,000 feet—the highest of any trailhead in the White Mountains. As such, things open up only a mile or so into the hike, and after a short while, unobstructed views of the Presidential Range and Mount Washington emerge.

The “Caps” section consists of three short rock scrambles. It’s nothing requiring technical gear but enough to offer a great change of pace—and may be the first time you use all four limbs to climb a mountain! Overall, this hike is far shorter than many of the other routes to summit a Presidential Peak, but it still offers some challenges, with nearly 2,700 feet of vertical gain in only 2.4 miles. This is my favorite hike, because it manages to pack so much into just a few short and very beautiful miles!

The view from the Southern Presidentials. | Credit: Sean Greaney
The view from the Southern Presidentials. | Credit: Sean Greaney

Davis Path

By Brian Fitzgerald, Director of Education

Totaling roughly 14 miles from Crawford Notch to the summit of Mount Washington, the Davis Path is one of the oldest and longest approaches to the Northeast’s highest peak. Constructed back in 1845 as a bridle path, this trail is an exhausting ridge hike for an ambitious day-hiker, and a very pleasant multi-day approach for backpackers. Along the way, hikers get stunning views as they summit Mount Crawford, Stairs Mountain, Mount Davis, Mount Isolation, and Mount Washington itself.

The Westside Trail

By Brian Fitzgerald, Director of Education

At over 5,500 feet in elevation and just below the peak of Mount Washington, the Westside Trail is one of the best places to escape the crowds on a pleasant summer day. At 9/10ths of a mile, the trail follows the mountain’s contour, providing excellent views to the west between the Crawford Path and Gulfside Trail. For staff who live and work on the mountain, this is the perfect loop to run when you want to get outside!

Looking North from the Bootspur trail towards Mt. Washington. | Credit: Matthew Charpentier
Looking north from the Boott Spur Trail towards Mt. Washington. | Credit: Matthew Charpentier

Ball Crag via the Nelson Crag Trail

By Ryan Knapp, Meteorologist

After you summit Mount Washington, this can be made into a spur hike or an alternate route down (via the Nelson Crag Trail). While Ball Crag’s technically not a summit and is instead classified as a subsidiary of Mount Washington, the rise in land does come to an elevation of 6,066 feet, based on the Washburn map. From the summit, take a 0.18-mile hike down the Nelson Crag Trail, which will bring you to this rise in land. Here, get sweeping views of Pinkham Notch to the east, the Great Gulf to the west and north, and a unique perspective of Mount Washington to the south.

Boott Spur Trail

By Ryan Knapp, Meteorologist

If you’re looking for a more intimate mountain experience on the east side, away from the crowds on the Tuckerman Ravine/Lion Head Trail, Boott Spur Trail is an excellent choice. This 5.7-mile, one-way trail is a longer route to and from the summit and can be significantly more challenging for hikers. For those willing to put in the time and effort, it provides great views, with plenty of flora and fauna to take in the entire time.
This trail puts hikers above treeline quickly, and for a large portion of the trip, you’ve got those great views. However, you will also be exposed to the elements for significantly longer. So, check the forecast and pack and prepare for any changes in the weather you might experience over the course of a day. And, since this route is longer, it requires more time to ascend and descend.
Mount Washington from Madison. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Washington from Madison. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mt. Madison via the Valley Way Trail

By Taylor Regan, Weather Observer and Research Specialist

Weather and fitness permitting, this route could be the start of a Presidential Traverse or simply a nice and fairly challenging hike on its own. Mount Madison via the Valley Way Trail rises relentlessly from the Appalachia Trailhead, gaining over 4,000 feet of elevation in roughly 3.8 miles while passing close to several detour-worthy cascades and waterfalls. This sustained effort brings you to the outermost edge of the Northern Presidentials, with sweeping views of Mount Washington and the ribbon-like Auto Road tracing its way upward in the foreground. The summit of Madison is easily one of my favorite vista points.

Mount Washington via the Tuckerman Ravine Trail and Lion Head Route

By Taylor Regan, Weather Observer and Research Specialist

The Lion Head summer route begins along the Tuckerman Ravine Trail out of Pinkham Notch. Two of my favorite sections actually bookend this hike. Shortly after leaving the parking lot, take a slight detour to Crystal Cascade: a stunning waterfall with a total drop of 100 feet, split in two by a small pool. Much farther along, once you’ve crested Lion Head, views open up along a relatively flat traverse flanked by the Alpine Garden on your right—check for rare alpine flowers—and Tuckerman Ravine, often with snow and ice remnants along the headwall, on your left. The summit proper is then only a moderate scramble away.


Outings for a Presidents' Day in the Presidentials

Presidents’ Day falls on the third Monday of every February. In the Northeast, New Hampshire’s White Mountains make the perfect place to celebrate the holiday. Home to nine 4,000-footers named after past Presidents, they offer numerous outdoor activities with a historical connection. So, whether you’re looking to ski, climb, or hike, here’s how to have a genuinely Presidential Presidents’ Day.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Forget the White House – Visit the White Room

Presidents’ Day originated in the 1880s to commemmorate George Washington’s birthday. For those looking to slide on snow while also honoring the nation’s first President, the slopes of Mount Washington deliver something for everyone.

The Sherburne Ski Trail, often called “the Sherbie,” links the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center with HoJo’s, the caretaker’s cabin at Hermit Lake. Dating back to the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps, established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of his New Deal Legislation, built the Sherbie just for skiers. Considering the innovations since then, most will find the Sherbie sufficiently broad for turning and never extremely steep. As David Goodman notes in his book AMC Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast, the Sherburne never exceeds 24 degrees and is as much as 60 feet across at its widest point.

Although many advanced skiers view the Sherburne Trail as a quick way to descend from the steeper Tuckerman Ravine, it’s a worthy destination by itself. Because of its moderate pitch and tree-lined location, it’s a great place to head when the weather above treeline is unfavorable, if avalanche danger is high, or to just gain confidence on less-consequential terrain.

The trail, however, is for downhill use only. You can access it via the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which also leaves Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. Heading up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, skiers will notice various entry points to the Sherbie on their left. As another popular option, you can cut over below HoJo’s to avoid the trail’s flat upper portion.

Of course, the Sherbie is just one of Mount Washington’s fantastic ski routes. You can find other intermediate backcountry skiing along the Cog Railway, while the Gulf of Slides and the iconic Tuckerman Ravine present more advanced options.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Better than Climbing the Political Ladder  

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

In the 1970s, Congress officially moved Presidents’ Day to the third Monday of February to give federal workers more three-day weekends. But, many believe that the move also broadened the holiday’s scope by additionally commemorating Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 15th). If you fall into this camp, get your presidential celebration started on Mount Lincoln.

While most people get to the summit via Franconia Ridge, ice climbing Lincoln’s Throat is the most direct way up. Viewed from a distance, Lincoln’s Throat is the pronounced gully between Lincoln and Lafayette that tops out on Franconia Ridge just below Lincoln’s summit.

The route also offers a bit of everything (except crowds) for alpine climbers. You’ll hike or bushwack off trail, do steep snow climbing, climb a single moderately rated WI3 ice pitch, and have the opportunity to summit a 4,000-footer. Or, if you choose to descend down the Old Bridle Path, you’ll get in two 4,000-footers.

If Lincoln Throat’s sole ice pitch isn’t fully formed, is rotten, or is over your head, consider alternatives. However, those involve mixed climbing, and not the type you’re thinking of. Instead of rock and ice, you’ll find krumholtz and snow. These might be less treacherous, but they’re also slower and more frustrating.

Consider making this trip early in the season or in low-snow years. But, if you’re going when heavy snow covers the ground, be sure to bring snowshoes, an avalanche kit, and the knowledge of how to navigate avalanche terrain.

Of course, if this President-worthy climb gives you a case of the willies, you can always check out the beginner-friendly Willey’s Slide in Crawford Notch. It’s not on a peak named after a President, but on a clear day, you’ll get a great view of the southern Presidentials.     

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Don’t Settle for Fake Views

Over time, the public consensus about Presidents’ Day has broadened even further. These days, we think of it as a celebration of all past Presidents. Fortunately, the White Mountains include eight more 4,000-foot peaks named after Presidents (Adams, Madison, Jefferson, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, and Garfield) or with a Presidential-sounding name. For the latter, Jackson is actually named after New Hampshire State Geologist Charles Jackson, not the seventh President, Andrew Jackson.

Of these, Mount Pierce—named after the only President born in New Hampshire—and Mount Garfield are both great options for a moderate day hike with fantastic views. For more of a challenge, Mount Adams (named after John Adams) is one of the Northeast 115’s toughest winter climbs. And, if you’re supremely motivated and the weather is good, consider attempting a Presidential Traverse. In one trip, you’ll hopefully bag Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, and Jackson.

Although the President might spend his days in the White House, you can get out of the house, away from the office, and into the fresh air to honor our nation’s past leaders. Let us know how you spent your Presidents’ Day in the comments below.


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

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

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

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

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

[*eyeroll emoji*]

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

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

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

Kate Matrosova
Kate Matrosova

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

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

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

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

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


Go Nocturnal: 6 Tips for Hiking After Dark

By the third quarter of the 2013 Super Bowl, it was completely dark out in the sleepy village of El Chaltén in Patagonia. My buddy and I had been camping two hours away at Laguna Capri and, on a whim, decided to hike down the mountain and into town to catch the first half of the game at a small café. We promised ourselves that, no matter the score, we would leave by halftime and head back up to our tent—where all of our food, gear, clothing, and headlamps were waiting—well before nightfall.

Credit: Lucas Kelly
Credit: Lucas Kelly

But, one round of cervezas inevitably turned into two, and halftime came and went. Before we knew it, we had no choice but to hike back up the steep trail in pitch darkness. It was disorienting and awkward to fumble our way blindly through the woods. We spent much of that evening tripping over roots and rocks, risking sprained ankles and skinned knees as we shivered in the cold, and strained our eyes while looking for our campsite. It was my first after-dark hiking experience, and needless to say, I had gone about it the wrong way. I was simply unprepared.

But, there’s no teacher like experience. I’ve since hiked safely after dark dozens of times, and have come to appreciate how peaceful it can be. No terrain or trail, no matter how many times you’ve hiked it during the day, is the same at night. So, if you can do it right, nocturnal hiking doubles your territory, helps you beat the crowds, and gives you a new appreciation for the still night’s air. To start, here are a few tips to keep in mind the next time you hit the trails after the sun has gone down:

1. Don’t go at it alone

You should always rely on the buddy system when going out into the mountains or woods, as the dark amplifies hiking’s inherent risks. Having another person with you diminishes the likelihood of getting lost, and you’ll also have help if something goes wrong. Plus, who doesn’t want a little companionship and someone to talk with while walking along an empty trail?

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

2. Always have a headlamp

Always—and this doesn’t just apply to nighttime hiking. I’ve found that it’s a good rule of thumb to carry a headlamp, like the Black Diamond Spot, and extra batteries in your pack any time you venture into the wilderness. This way, if you do get caught heading back down the trail after sunset, you’ll be ready. And, if you’re going out at nighttime, the spare batteries can be a lifesaver if your headlamp dies. Also, be sure to practice appropriate headlamp etiquette and tilt your light downward towards the ground, as to not temporarily blind your buddy.

All that being said, check the phase of the moon during your hike. If it’s big and bright enough, and the trail doesn’t have much cover (see: The Presidential Traverse During a Super Moon), you might not need to use your headlamp at all—but bring it anyway, of course.

3. Dress for the elements

The temperature can plummet after dark. A little trick I like to use is to always pack for conditions a little colder than expected. For example, if it’s predicted to be 50 degrees at night, I’ll prepare for it to be 40° or colder. You can always take off layers, but you can’t add what you didn’t bring.

I’ve found it’s better to err on the side of safety and comfort at night—even if it’s at the expense of a few more ounces in your pack. And, since it’s more difficult to keep an eye on the changing weather at nighttime, it’s always a good idea to be ready for rain and to pack accordingly.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

4. Hike a familiar trail

This proved to be our saving grace in El Chaltén. My friend and I had tackled the trail a few times in daylight before we hiked it in the dark, so we (sort of) knew what to expect. Simply put, it’s just a bad idea to be exploring new territory in the woods or mountains without the convenience of daylight. It’s not worth potentially getting lost.

Instead, choose a trail that you’ve done a few times in the daytime. That way, you have a sense of where you’re going and what’s in store. Enjoy how different the experience can be without the presence of the sun and with the trail illuminated by headlamp instead.

5. Hike slowly and carefully

It’s important to remain extra-alert and aware of your surroundings while hiking at nighttime. Branches, thorns, roots, and rocks can hamper your experience and send you falling to the ground. So, move deliberately and keep an eye on the section of trail that’s illuminated right in front of you. This, too, might mean moving a bit slower than you normally would on a day hike. If you encounter wildlife, be mindful, and assuming your bright light has likely startled them, treat the animal with the same respect that you would under any other circumstance.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

6. Think ahead, and bring food, water, and shelter

The same rules of daytime hiking apply after hours. Even though it’ll likely be cooler, it’s still important to stay properly hydrated and fueled. As such, even if you don’t feel thirsty or hungry, make sure you stop to have some water and snacks every so often.

Hiking at night also means you’re likely going to need sleep at some point. To prepare, have a light and a sturdy shelter you can quickly assemble when fatigue starts to set in. Opt for a lightweight tent or, if the weather is favorable and the skies clear, a hammock that you can crash in for the remainder of the night.


Alpha Guide: The Presidential Traverse

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

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

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

 

Quick Facts

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


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

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Turn-By-Turn

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

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

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Climbing up Valley Way

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

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

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

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

The Summits Begin

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

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

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

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

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

Mount Jefferson

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

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

To Clay or Not to Clay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Crawford Path

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

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

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

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

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

Mount Eisenhower

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decision Time

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

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


The Kit

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

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

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

Keys to the Trip

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

Current Conditions

Have you done the entire traverse or even a piece of it recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!