Alpha Guide: Franconia Ridge in Winter

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

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

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

 

Quick Facts

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


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Turn-By-Turn

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

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Time to split

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Following Falling Waters

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

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

Shining Rock

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Little Haystack

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Lincoln

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Lafayette

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The High Point

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Descent

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

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

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Old Bridle Path

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

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

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


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

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

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


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

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

Current Conditions

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

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!


ALPHA GUIDE: The Pemigewasset Loop

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

One of the Northeast’s great backpacking adventures proves that good things don’t come easy.

The Pemi Loop represents the ultimate goal for many New Hampshire peak baggers. It traverses the ridgelines of three different ranges—Franconia, Twin, and Bond—in one epic loop around the western half of the 45,000-acre Pemigewasset Wilderness. With its eight summits and the potential to tick four more via minor detours, the possibility of summiting a quarter of the 48 4,000-footers, all while spending a significant chunk of time in New Hampshire’s largest wilderness area, is a thrilling prospect. More significantly, with huge views, amazing above-treeline stretches, and the reputation for being one of the country’s hardest hikes, the Pemi Loop is a feather in the hiker’s cap and one of New Hampshire’s best, hands down.

 

Quick Facts

Distance: 28-mile loop
Time to complete: 2 to 3 days
Difficulty: ★★★★☆
Scenery: ★★★★★


Season: May through October
Fees/Permits: $3/day for parking at the Lincoln Woods Trailhead
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/whitemountain

Download

Turn-By-Turn

If you’re coming from Interstate 93, getting to the Lincoln Woods Trailhead is easy. Take exit 32 and follow Route 112, better known as the Kancamagus Highway. After driving through the town of Lincoln and past Loon Mountain, look for the trailhead on your left.

If you’re coming from the North Conway side of the Whites, follow Route 16 to Route 112 (Kancamagus Highway) up and over Kancamagus Pass and past “the hairpin turn” at the Hancock Overlook Parking Area, and the trail will be on your right side.

Credit: Tim Peck
Low on the Osseo Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

The First Climb

Leave the parking lot on the Lincoln Woods Trail, and cross the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River on a suspension bridge. At the end of the bridge, the trail turns right, following an abandoned railroad bed for 1.4 miles to the Osseo Trail (44.082691, -71.581635). At the junction, turn left on the Osseo Trail, and follow the yellow rectangular blazes toward Mount Flume, the route’s first 4,000-footer.

At 4.1 miles long, the Osseo Trail gains elevation moderately for the first few miles before steepening, leading to a series of ladders, and eventually putting you on the Franconia Ridge Trail for a final, short burst to the summit (44.108826, -71.628052). In total, you’ll ascend 3,100 feet on this climb, a significant chunk of the Pemi’s 10,000 feet of overall elevation gain.

Summiting Mount Flume. | Credit: Tim Peck
Summiting Mount Flume. | Credit: Tim Peck

On the Ridge

Before dropping back below treeline on the Franconia Ridge Trail, take a moment on Mt. Flume’s rocky summit to enjoy the view. The Kinsmans, Lincoln, and Interstate 93 are to the south and west. Owl’s Head, the Pemi Wilderness, and the Bonds are to the east. Then, the next step on your itinerary—Franconia Ridge—is to the north. Try not to feel overwhelmed, and just follow the yellow blazes as you start making your way along the 1.5 miles to Mount Liberty’s summit.

The descent off Mt. Flume and across to Mt. Liberty is pretty relaxed. As you near the latter’s summit, you’ll encounter a few moves that require some minor scrambling. While they might briefly slow you down, they also mean you’re getting close to the second 4,000-footer of the day.

Mt. Liberty’s stunning open summit (44.115730, -71.642097) is among the Whites’ best. However, while it’s tempting to linger here to take in the views of Loon Mountain, Cannon, and the Bonds, you still have a long way to go.

Franconia Ridge. | Credit: Tim Peck
Franconia Ridge. | Credit: Tim Peck

Above the Treeline

Next up on the Franconia Ridge Trail are the 1.8 miles to Little Haystack Mountain. To get there, the route drops back below treeline and joins up with the Appalachian Trail at the juncture of the Franconia Ridge and Liberty Springs Trails. Follow the AT’s white dashes as it traverses, culminating in a short, steep climb to the open summit.

On a typical weekend day, the crowds can be intense on top of Little Haystack Mountain (44.140476, -71.645905). So, instead, consider stopping on a rocky outcropping a little south of the actual summit before the juncture of the Franconia Ridge and Falling Waters Trails to take in the view, get a snack, and avoid the masses.

The Franconia Ridge Trail’s 1.7-mile stretch from Little Haystack’s summit to Mt. Lafayette’s is among the White Mountains’ most iconic. It is entirely above treeline, with views in every direction. In two pushes, you’ll cross Mt. Lincoln (44.148682, -71.644707) and Mt. Lafayette (44.160717, -71.644470), the third and fourth 4,000-footers of the day.

Much like Little Haystack’s, Mount Lafayette’s summit is often crowded on a nice weekend day, with hikers doing the Franconia Ridge loop. Since you’ll be heading in a different direction from most after Lafayette, however, follow the Garfield Ridge Trail for a few minutes to find equally great views, without all the crowds. On a clear day, the view to the west, with Garfield in the foreground, followed by the Twins and the Bonds, and then the Presidentials in the distance, is fantastic.

The Garfield Ridge Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Garfield Ridge Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Crux

Although the beginning of the Garfield Ridge Trail closely resembles the Franconia Ridge Trail’s best stretches, this 3.7-mile section is the crux of the Pemi Loop’s first half. Dropping sharply before steeply climbing back up towards Mt. Garfield’s summit, the trail is rough, and the elevation change is dramatic. Moreover, at this point, the miles are starting to add up—more than 13 so far—and you might be running low on water. Garfield Pond (44.187107, -71.619034), on your left just before the trail starts heading up again on the final climb to Garfield’s summit, is the first on-route location since leaving Lincoln Woods to refill bottles.

Once you’ve made it to Mount Garfield (44.187298, -71.610764), pause on the open, rocky summit to savor your fifth 4,000-footer of the day in the company of great views in every direction. Look right to admire your traverse across the entire Franconia Ridge. Then, look left to see how much farther you’ve left to go, with the Twins and Bonds before you. Turn around to admire the Pemi’s far edges and, on a clear day, to see all the way to Stowe, Vermont.

Garfield Leanto. | Credit: Tim Peck
Garfield Lean-to. | Credit: Tim Peck

Call it a Night

From Garfield’s summit, continue following the Garfield Ridge Trail downhill for a short distance to the spur trail for the Garfield Shelter—a three-sided wooden lean-to—and tent site (44.190086, -71.607002) at mile 14.3. For backpackers planning on doing the Pemi Loop over three days, this is the logical place to spend the first night ($10 per person a night). The area is managed by the Appalachian Mountain Club, and space is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. However, it tends to fill up on prime hiking weekends.

Even if you’re not staying at the Garfield Shelter, consider filling your water bottles at the spring located at the spur trail’s junction. It is one of the easiest and best water sources on the whole Pemi Loop.

If you’re planning on completing the loop in just two days, we recommend pushing on toward Galehead Hut (44.187927, -71.568810), which is just under three more rugged miles from Garfield’s summit. Also managed by the AMC, this hut is a great option if you’re looking to go light. Although the hut is a more expensive overnight option, during prime hiking season, it comes with a multi-course dinner the night you arrive and a hearty breakfast the next morning. The food is top-notch. ($113 per night; make reservations in advance). It also has the only real bathroom you’ll see on the trip.

If camping is your preference, the route to Galehead Hut also has a handful of places that meet the White Mountains’ rules and restrictions to pitch a tent (no camping within a quarter mile of any trailhead, hut, or shelter). Don’t camp directly on the trail!

Galehead Hut from an overlook above it. | Credit: Tim Peck
Galehead Hut from an overlook above it. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Halfway Point

Regardless of where you end up staying, Galehead Hut is the trip’s halfway point and near Galehead’s summit. To get there from the hut, follow the Galehead Spur Trail 0.4 miles. The round trip is quite moderate, especially compared to what you’ve been doing. While the summit (44.185150, -71.573586) is surrounded by trees and has no views, near the top, a great overlook offers a spectacular view of the Pemi Wilderness, the Bonds, and Galehead Hut at South Twin’s western base.

The spur trail to North Twin. | Credit: Tim Peck
The spur trail to North Twin. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Twinway

From Galehead Hut, follow the Twinway 0.8 miles to South Twin’s summit (44.187832, -71.554558), the loop’s seventh 4,000-footer. Don’t be lulled by the short mileage, however. This is the loop’s hardest ascent, and is slow-going, thanks to the elevation gain (1,200 feet) and the trail’s roughness. After a day of being above treeline, you’re about to hit some wooded summits. So, take a moment to enjoy the view from South Twin before pushing on.

If you’re doing the “full” Pemi, leave your pack just off South Twin’s summit, and take the North Twin Spur Trail, a 2.6-mile round-trip hike with 750 feet of elevation gain to the summit of North Twin (44.202591, -71.557816), your eighth 4,000-footer. The traverse to North Twin is fairly moderate, with a couple of rocky steps on the final climb. Once you get there, take a picture at the summit cairn, appreciate the lack of view, and backtrack to South Twin.

Once back on South Twin, follow the Twinway roughly two miles to the trail junction near Mount Guyot (44.168594, -71.535614). Still feeling ambitious? If so, drop your pack, and continue along the Twinway for 1.3 relatively easy miles (2.6 round trip) to Zealand Mountain’s summit and “bag” the journey’s ninth 4,000-footer. Just don’t go to Zealand expecting a sight, as it’s in contention for some of the Whites’ most uneventful summit views.

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

The Bonds

If Zealand isn’t in the cards for you, take the Bondcliff Trail at the Guyot junction. From the junction, the trail is briefly above treeline, with fantastic views east into the Pemi, before dropping you at the spur trail for the Guyot Campsite (44.161049, -71.537468).

Guyot Campsite has a shelter, six four-person tent platforms, and a composting toilet. At 0.2 miles from the trailhead, Guyot is the logical second night for backpackers hiking the Pemi Loop as a three-day trip ($10 per person a night, first-come, first-served). Its spring, which is a little ways down the spur trail, is also a reliable place to find water.

From the Guyot Campsite junction, continue on the Bondcliff Trail a short way to the West Bond Spur Trail (44.158905, -71.537270). This is the “must-do” of the optional summits, and perhaps the hike’s best, because you really feel like you’re in the middle of the 45,000-acre Pemi Wilderness. So, drop your pack and make this one-mile round-trip side hike. Ascending a mere 350 feet, West Bond (44.154804, -71.543610) gets you the tenth 4,000-footer of the Pemi Loop. From the summit, you can’t see a road or any signs of civilization, no matter which direction you look.

Climbing near Guyot. | Credit: Tim Peck
Climbing near Guyot. | Credit: Tim Peck

Back on the Bondcliff Trail, follow it uphill, mainly through the trees, for 0.5 miles before poking above treeline on Mount Bond’s summit (44.152889, -71.531250), the trip’s eleventh 4,000-footer. From Bond’s summit, you get a great view of what lies ahead, as the Bondcliff Trail winds towards the sheer walls of Bondcliff.

Bondcliff

Before leaving Mount Bond’s summit, get a hat, gloves, and windshirt ready. While the 1.2 miles between Mount Bond and Bondcliff are quite scenic (and among the Whites’ most beautiful), they are also either at or above treeline, leaving you exposed to wind and weather. Feeling warm and comfortable will allow you to enjoy the excellent views from the Bondcliff Trail as you approach the loop’s final summit, Bondcliff. No matter if you’re starting to get anxious for the hike to be over, or you don’t want the fun to stop, the numerous false summits on the way to the top can play mind games with even the most resilient of hikers.

On Bondcliff (44.140419, -71.541260), savor the loop’s last summit—number 12—and one of the 48 4,000-footers’ most unique. Aptly named, Bondcliff features sheer cliffs, which make for incredible photos. From the summit, look back, and think about how far you have come, as the entirety of your trip is visible, from Flume to Bond.

Descending the Bondcliff Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
Descending the Bondcliff Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

Homestretch

You would think that, with the last summit out of the way, the rest would be easy, but sadly, it isn’t so. From Bondcliff, you’ve got a lengthy 6.2-mile trek along the Bondcliff Trail back to the Lincoln Woods Trail. There is usually water to be found in the streams along your descent, and if you find yourself running low, it might be a good time to fill up. While the rest is either downhill or on flat ground, it takes a deceptively long time.

The end of the Bondcliff Trail brings you to the Lincoln Woods Trail, the same route on which you started. From here, it’s 2.9 miles along an abandoned railroad. While your legs will enjoy the flat ground, the old ties can interrupt your stride enough to make this last bit harder than it need be. After 2.9 miles on the Lincoln Woods Trail, look for the suspension bridge where this crazy journey began.


The Kit

  • A Sawyer Mini Filter is a small investment for having easy access to potable drinking water.
  • If you’re looking to go lightweight and keep your pack as small as possible, the minuscule yet comfortable Sea to Summit Ultralight Sleeping Pad is a must have.
  • The old adage of “light is right” applies particularly to objectives like the Pemi Loop. The simple and cleanly designed Black Diamond Speed 50 has just enough space for everything you need with no room for “extras,” keeping your kit pared down and you moving fast.
  • After a full day on the trail, you’ll be ready to eat anything, but the last thing you’ll want to do is fiddle with a stove. The MSR Reactor is lightweight, packable, virtually unaffected by temperatures, and boils water quickly. And, don’t forget to pack a lighter.
  • A sun shirt like the Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody is a perfect choice for hikes like the Pemi Loop, with extended, sun-exposed sections above the treeline. Quickly becoming a staple of our summer hiking kits, sun shirts provide simple UV protection, reduce the need for sunscreen and bug dope, and help keep you feeling fresh.
  • A UV Buff is another excellent addition to any Pemi Loop gear list. It provides protection from the sun and wind on exposed ridges, and can double as a bandage in an emergency.

On the Bondcliff Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
On the Bondcliff Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • The Pemi Loop is committing and bailing off it can be difficult if you only have one car. From both Garfield and Galehead, it’s possible to drop down to Thirteen Falls in the middle of the Pemi, and hike back to the Lincoln Woods Trail via the Franconia Brook Trail. That trail is another former railroad bed, so it is easygoing for the 10-plus miles back to your car.
  • Although the Pemi Loop is an awesome goal and great accomplishment, you don’t have to do the whole thing in one go. Break it in two by using the Franconia Brook Trail.
  • While it’s tempting to soak in the numerous incredible summit views, those doing the hike in two days will want to keep their breaks short, as the days are long to begin with.
  • You’ll pass numerous streams on the Bondcliff Trail’s final descent and the East Pemigewasset River on the Wilderness Trail. Those ahead of schedule will love the chance to dip their feet in the cool, refreshing water.
  • Although the Wilderness Trail can be the trip’s most tedious part, spend it marveling that it was once part of the White Mountains’ largest logging railroad system.
  • We love Wayne’s Market in Woodstock for post-hike sandwiches. Pro tip: Call your order in at (603) 745-8819 as soon as you get cell service, so it’ll be ready and waiting for you.
  • If you’ve spent a couple of hot days on the trail, Lady’s Bathtub in Lincoln and Crystal Cascade in Woodstock are great places to take a dip.

Current Conditions

Have you done the entire loop 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!

Header photo credit: Jeff Pang


Win a One-Night Stay for 2 to the Mount Washington Observatory!

Spend a night atop the Northeast in the home of the “World’s Worst Weather!”

When it comes to hiking in the Northeast, Mount Washington is a crown jewel. Aside from being just the regional high point, its rugged alpine beauty, a network of multi-sport trails and routes, and its sometimes-ferocious difficulty make it one of the premier adventure destinations anywhere. But, with all the people that travel over the mountain every year, there’s one way very few get to experience the mountain: at night.

In cooperation with the Mount Washington Observatory, which staffs a weather station on the summit 24/7, Eastern Mountain Sports is offering you the chance to spend a night on top with the observers and see Mount Washington like you never have before.

You’ll have the opportunity to see what goes into weather recording and forecasting, which go a long way towards keeping hikers and explorers safe in its notoriously volatile conditions. EMS is a sponsor of the Observatory’s annual Seek The Peak event, which helps raise money for the weather station. Sign up to help out here!

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What you’ll get:

Winners will receive a trip for two to the Mount Washington Observatory, scheduled from Thursday, August 31 through Friday, September 1. In total, this includes:

  • Transportation to the summit of the mountain. (Winners will need to provide their own transportation to the base of the mountain in Jackson, New Hampshire.)
  • Lunch, dinner, and breakfast served at the Observatory.
  • A hike with the Observatory’s staff.
  • A tour of the Observatory’s weather station.
  • Sunrise and sunset viewing from the top of the Northeast.
  • Transportation back to the base of the mountain.

Enter here:

A Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Header image credit: jwardell