Alpha Guide: The Carter Range Traverse

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

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

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

Quick Facts

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


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

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

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Turn-By-Turn

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

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

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

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

Moriah

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

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

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

Moriah to Imp Shelter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up North Carter

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

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

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

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

Ridge Running the Carters

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

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

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

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

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

Carter Dome and the Mount Hight Detour

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

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

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

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

Carter Notch

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

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

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

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

Up Wildcat Ridge

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

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

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

Across the Ridge

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

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

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

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

Down to Pinkham

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

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

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


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

The Kit

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

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

Keys to the Trip

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

Current Conditions

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


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Alpha Guide: The Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

The Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle offers moderate climbing in an incredible setting on one of the Northeast’s most iconic mountains.

Break away from hopeful summiteers on the Lion Head and Tuckerman Ravine Trails and head to Huntington Ravine and the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle to find relative seclusion on one of the region’s busiest mountains. This must-do moderate alpine climb on Mount Washington, New England’s tallest and most infamous mountain, racks up the fun while delivering incredible exposure, an unprecedented view of Huntington Ravine, and one of the best pitches you’ll find anywhere, the Fairy Tale Traverse.

Quick Facts

Distance: Roughly 6 miles, loop up the Pinnacle and down the Lion Head.
Time to Complete: Full day
Difficulty: ★★★★ (5.7, Grade III)
Scenery: ★★★★★


Season: Late-May to October
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/whitemountain 

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Turn-By-Turn

Most climbers approach Huntington Ravine from the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center in Gorham, about a 30-minute drive from North Conway. Getting to Pinkham Notch from North Conway is very straightforward: Simply follow Route 16 North. Roughly 12 miles past the Glen intersection, the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center is on the left.

Directions are just as easy for climbers coming from the north. From Gorham, just follow Route 16 South for approximately 12 miles, and the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center will be on the right. Ample parking is available in the main lot. However, it’s common for the main parking lot to be full on busy weekends; in this case, use the overflow lot on Route 16, just south of the Visitor Center.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Approach

The approach to the Pinnacle takes two to 2.5 hours for most climbers. It begins on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail (TRT), which starts in back of the Visitor Center. This segment of the TRT is a rocky dirt road that consistently heads uphill. Follow it for about 1.7 miles, until it intersects with the Huntington Ravine Fire Road.

At the junction (44.263844, -71.277946), turn right onto the Huntington Ravine Fire Road, and follow it for about a mile, until it intersects with the Huntington Ravine Trail (HRT) (44.267830, -71.277084). The fire road is wide and flat and ideal for making good time.

Once on the HRT, follow it uphill into Huntington Ravine. The trail starts off quite mellow, but turns to boulder hopping and then talus slogging as climbers get farther into the ravine. Pinnacle Buttress is the prominent ridge on the climber’s left (south) side, and as the ravine’s most striking feature, it is hard to miss. Keep hiking up the HRT, until a well-worn climber’s path branches off left. Follow it across a stream coming down Pinnacle Gully and to the left-facing gully that marks the start of the climb. There’s a nice spot to gear up at the climb’s base (44.274509, -71.288536); just be conscious of rock fall.

For a faster approach, drive up the Mount Washington Auto Road to the seven-mile mark and then hike down the Huntington Ravine Trail, until it intersects with the climber’s path. The descent takes hikers across the Alpine Garden and then down into Huntington Ravine. Once in the ravine, the HRT is steep and exposed, so exercise caution, especially if the rock is wet. This approach isn’t for everybody, but it only takes about 40 minutes, and for an additional advantage at the end of the climb, your car is right nearby.

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

The Opening Pitches

Most climbers break the route’s first 300 feet into two 150-foot pitches. Marking the start of the climb, the first begins by climbing the bottom of the prominent left-facing gully (5.easy) to a ledge, and then continues up and right over a slab and a right-facing corner. The final corner is the pitch’s crux (5.5), but it is well-protected and easy to read. There’s a nice, albeit mildly exposed, ledge to belay on atop the corner.

The second pitch follows a well-worn footpath around bushes and over a couple of slabby sections toward an obvious alcove below another right-facing corner. The climbing itself is generally quite easy (5.2), with the crux being a step out of a runnel and onto a slab. At the alcove, there are ample gear options on climber’s right for building a belay anchor.

Pro Tip: Since getting off the Pinnacle in a storm can be an ordeal and will require leaving gear, it’s a good idea to plan on re-confirming the weather as you enter the ravine and again before you start climbing. And, while going up may not be the best option, if you’re caught in bad weather mid-climb, there are easier variations on climber’s left.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Business

The third pitch leaves the alcove and climbs the right-facing corner. Although not apparent at first glance, the corner protects well enough, with a pin in the middle and options for gear both above (medium cam) and below (small nut). The mantle onto the ledge atop the corner is the crux of the climb (5.7).

The third pitch continues above the ledge, and it is easy to get off route here. The most obvious route climbs directly up, eventually reaching an overhang with several fixed pins. But, that’s the 5.8 variation. If you do it, some thoughtful climbing takes you straight up through two pins. Then, step out left for a couple of strenuous and exposed moves protected by two more pins. Above the overhang, easy terrain heads up and right toward the Pinnacle’s final pitches. Belay here.

Remaining on the traditional route (and thus keeping the grade at 5.7) requires splitting the third pitch in two. Once atop the initial corner, head left to another corner and then climb back right up a ramp to a belay. From the belay, leave the ledge, and head down and left on a ramp until you’re under a chimney. Climb up through the chimney and to another belay ledge near the Pinnacle’s final pitches.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Interlude

Whichever variation you choose, the two routes rejoin in the easy terrain just below the Pinnacle’s last pitches. Most climbers do a very easy and short fourth pitch to get to the bottom of a large, bushy area.

Pitch 5 heads through the alpine scrub and toward a small rock step. If you’re heading for the Fairy Tale Traverse—and you should be, unless the weather is starting to turn—climb the step’s right side (5.6), hugging the edge of the arete. Continue along the edge of the arete for about 100 feet, until you reach a ledge and block near the start of the traverse. Belay here.

Since the climbing along the arete is awkward and has considerable exposure, it may feel like you’re off route. You’re not, however. If you’re at all uncertain, there are a couple of pins just left of the arete that serve as signposts.

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

The Money Pitch

As you belay atop Pitch 5, glance around the block. You’ll see a horizontal crack cutting straight across a smooth granite face. A little below, the face drops away, and Pinnacle Gully opens up. The upcoming pitch, known as the Fairy Tale Traverse, is fantastic. The climbing is excellent, the setting is one of the best in the East, and the exposure is tremendous. Once you start traversing, be sure to savor the moment; climbing doesn’t get much better than this.

From the belay, step down below the crack, and begin traversing, using the crack for your hands and friendly edges for your feet. Traverse the crack (5.5, ample protection) across the face, and then, follow it up for about 20 feet to a large platform. Belay here or top out first by climbing a small 25-foot step up to the blocky terrain atop the Pinnacle.

The final pitch before the top of the Pinnacle. | Credit: Tim Peck
The final pitch before the top of the Pinnacle. | Credit: Tim Peck

On Top of the Pinnacle

With the technical climbing behind you and ample places to sit comfortably, the top of the Pinnacle provides a perfect setting for switching from climbing to approach shoes, stashing the rope and rack, and getting ready to make your way back to Pinkham Notch. Before leaving, take a moment to soak up the fantastic view, with the Wildcats and Carters stretched out before you and Henderson Ridge to your left.

Pro Tip: Have a windshirt and puffy coat somewhere easily accessible in preparation for the unknown weather ahead.

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

Crossing the Alpine Garden

From the top of the Pinnacle, climbers should continue moving up the mountain, following a well-traveled footpath through the delicate alpine grasses. Eventually, the footpath gives way to a steep section of rocks and boulders that leads to the Alpine Garden Trail (44.273743, -71.292091). While it can be tempting to forge ahead toward Mount Washington’s summit or Pinkham Notch, the boulder field offers a great view of the top of the Pinnacle, and puts the route’s exposure into stark relief. Give the route one last glance before you continue on.

Located on the unprotected flanks of Mount Washington, the Alpine Garden Trail will likely have conditions different from what you experienced in Huntington Ravine. If you stashed a windshirt or puffy at the top of your pack, you’ll likely be reaching for it here. To head down via the traditional descent, follow the Alpine Garden Trail (AGT) south for a little over a half-mile to its connection with the Lion Head Trail (44.265045, -71.295601).

If you’re intent on continuing up to the summit (or if you took the Auto Road approach), turn right on the AGT and aim directly for the humongous cairn atop the intersection of the AGT and the HRT. From there, head uphill on the HRT for 0.3 miles, until it intersects with the Mount Washington Auto Road at the junction with the Nelson Crag Trail. Follow the Nelson Crag Trail 0.8 miles to the top, or if you parked at the junction, hop into your car and drive down.

Pro Tip: If you’re making a summit attempt, use good judgment, and consider the weather, time of day, and your own energy reserves before heading up. While it’s only a mile, the steep and rugged nature of the climb— combined with the weight of a rope and rack—can make it a long, slow slog.

Descending Lion Head with Tuckerman's Ravine in the background. | Credit: Tim Peck
Descending Lion Head with Tuckerman Ravine in the background. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Normal Descent

Assuming you take the normal descent route, the Lion Head Trail (LHT) below the Alpine Garden isn’t made any easier by your climbing gear’s additional weight. Hugging the outside of Tuckerman Ravine, the LHT offers a rocky, steep, and direct path to treeline. If the weather cooperates, the Lion Head proper (44.264.042, -71.291275) is a great place to stop, admire the view, and give weary legs a rest.

After dipping below treeline, the Lion Head Trail’s steep and rocky nature changes. Specifically, this section features some short up-and-down areas, slabs, and tree roots. Pay careful attention when navigating, as it is frequently wet. Finally, 1.1 miles after joining the LHT from the Alpine Garden, the trail connects with the Tuckerman Ravine Trail just below HoJos.

Back on the trail where the day began, the Tuckerman Ravine Trail leads climbers down the final 2.3 miles to Pinkham Notch while losing 1,800 feet in elevation. Don’t let the width deceive you, however. The trail is very rugged and presents more of a challenge than most will want at this point in the day. On a positive note, it allows you to walk side-by-side with your climbing partner, and offers an opportunity to relive the day’s best pitches, which always seems to make the descent go by faster.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • The average high temperature on Mount Washington’s summit in July is 53°F. Because of this, it’s smart to always pack a puffy coat, like the lightweight, packable, and hooded Arc’teryx Atom SL (men’s/women’s).
  • A trip up the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle involves a lot of hiking through rough terrain with a heavy pack, which is made easier with the use of a trekking pole. Black Diamond’s Distance FLZ Trekking Poles (men’s/women’s) offer the support needed for the hike in and out of Huntington Ravine, and can easily be stashed up and stowed away in your pack while you’re climbing.
  • Hauling climbing gear into Huntington Ravine is no easy task. Luckily, you can lighten your load with Black Diamond’s new Ultralight Cams (.5, .75, #1, #2, #3).
  • A lightweight rope is another easy way to keep pack weight down. The Sterling Nano IX 9.0 mm is a great choice for those heading into alpine terrain. First climbed in 1928, the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle has no monster pitches, and 60 meters is more than enough rope.
  • The Black Diamond Speed 22 is the perfect pack for a trip up the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, big enough to handle a rope, rack, and multiple layers, plus food and water, and also compresses well and fits great while you’re climbing.

On the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck
On the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. | Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Mount Washington has rightfully earned the reputation as “home of the world’s worst weather.” So, consult Mount Washington’s forecast before leaving, and if the weather isn’t in your favor, consider another objective.
  • The Northeast Ridge is a classic route on one of the Northeast’s most popular mountains. Consider getting there early or climbing during the week to avoid the crowds.
  • This route has no bolted anchors. So, if you’re planning on three-piece anchors at every belay, plan your rack accordingly. A normal rack for the route might be 10 cams (0.3, 0.4, 0.5, 0.75, 1, 2, 3, with doubles of 0.5, 0.75, and 1), a size run of nuts (5-13), a couple of small tricams, and eight to 10 alpine draws. Climbers comfortable at the grade might bring a little less, while leaders near their limit might want to bring a little more.
  • A big day on the Rockpile deserves a big meal. Margarita Grill is located right near the intersection of Routes 302 and 16, and serves drool-worthy nachos and gigantic burritos.
  • If you’re not sure you’re up for leading the route but really want to climb it, the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School will be happy to guide you up it.

Current Conditions

Have you recently climbed the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle? What did you think? Post your experience in the comments for others!


Why Should I Hike New Hampshire's "52 With A View"?

Just how big of a draw are New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers? As one clear indication, look no further than the parking situation in Franconia Notch. Drive through the Notch on almost any weekend, and you’ll notice the vast number of cars parked along the highway. This isn’t unique to Franconia Notch, however. Trailheads for popular 4,000-footers are routinely teaming with list-obsessed hikers, ourselves included.

Yet, unbeknownst to many, there’s another excellent New Hampshire hiking list—the “52 With a View” (52 WaV). Broad geographic diversity, options for every ability level, and some of the state’s most scenic views make it a must-do. Here’s why you should check them out on your next hike.

Mount Avalon. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Avalon. | Credit: Tim Peck

History of the 52 WaV

In 1990, a group called the Over the Hill Hikers started the 52-With-a-View Club as a way to draw attention to New Hampshire’s mountains that don’t reach the magical 4,000-foot mark. Ranging from just over 2,500 feet in elevation to just under 4,000 feet, every one on the 52 WaV list delivers a stunning view, either on the way to or from the summit. As well, encouraging hikers to explore these under-4,000 footers reduces the pressure on some of New Hampshire’s most important natural resources.

Picture-Perfect Peaks

There is something to appreciate on every summit, whether it’s a feeling of accomplishment or a prime perspective. While all of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers deliver a physical test, many come up short when it comes to views. Owl’s Head, Waumbek, Galehead, Hale, and Field all jump to mind, while Tecumseh, South Hancock, and Passaconaway offer limited views at best. Unlike these mountains, every one on the 52 WaV list delivers an amazing view. And, depending upon which peak you visit, the sights may be far superior to what you’ll see from some 4,000-footers.

Geographic Diversity

While New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers are all located in the same part of the state, the 52 WaV list offers greater geographical diversity. Firstly, this helps get you away from the crowds bagging 4,000-footers. Secondly, it’s an excuse to explore other parts of New Hampshire. And, depending upon where you’re coming from, you may even spend less time in the car.

In Southern New Hampshire, Mount Monadnock and Mount Kearsarge stand out. Mount Shaw and Mount Roberts are Lakes Region highlights. In Western New Hampshire, Mount Cardigan and Mount Cube are fantastic hikes. Northern New Hampshire is home to Eagle Crag, Mount Hayes, and Mount Success—which, by its name alone, you should save for last. And, around the Conway area are the Moats, Mount Chocorua, and the other Mount Kearsarge, also known as Kearsarge North.

Middle Sugarloaf. | Credit: Doug Martland
Middle Sugarloaf. | Credit: Doug Martland

Varying Difficulties

Even the easiest-to-summit 4,000-footers require hiking a fair amount of mileage and entail considerable elevation gain. Although the 52 WaV list has some challenging hikes—for example, Sandwich Mountain (sometimes called Sandwich Dome) is as hard as, if not harder than, many 4,000-footers—many are great for first-time hikers or for bringing the family along. Hikes like Mount Willard, Mount Pemigewasset, the Sugarloafs, Hedgehog, and Welch-Dickey let you explore the Whites without the elevation gain, challenging terrain, and time commitment.

Forecasting Fun

Lower elevations and shorter mileage make the 52 WaV peaks a good backup whenever bad weather and high winds are buffeting the higher summits. Likewise, many of these shorter peaks are great starter trips for those new to winter hiking.

Monadnock's Ridge. | Credit: Tim Peck
Monadnock’s Ridge. | Credit: Tim Peck

Add On

Depending on how much you’ve accomplished in the Whites, the 52 With a View can be everything from a great starting point to something entirely new. For those who have already completed the New Hampshire 4,000-footers and are looking for something different, this list is an awesome alternative. Even if you’re working on the NH48, a handful of the 52 WaV can easily be tied into bigger trips. For instance, include Avalon on a hike across Willey, Field, and Tom, and the majority who summit Mount Waumbek first cross over the top of Starr King.

Type-A Fun on the B List

For super-ambitious, Type-A personalities, many of the 52 WaV can be hiked in the same day, thanks to their shorter mileage. And, Redliners will need to cross many of these peaks, as the trails leading to them are in the AMC’s White Mountain Guide.


The List

# Mountain Elevation in feet
1 Sandwich Mountain 3960
2 Mount Webster 3910
3 Mount Starr King 3907
4 The Horn 3905
5 Shelburne Moriah Mountain 3735
6 Sugarloaf Mountain 3700
7 North Baldface 3600
8 Mount Success 3565
9 South Baldface 3560
10 Mount Chocorua 3480
11 Stairs Mountain 3468
12 Jennings Peak 3440
13 Mount Avalon 3440
14 Percy Peaks, North Peak 3420
15 Mount Resolution 3415
16 Magalloway Mountain 3383
17 Mount Tremont 3371
18 Three Sisters 3354
19 Kearsarge North (Chatham, NH) 3268
20 Mount Martha (Cherry Mtn / Owl’s Head) 3248
21 Smarts Mountain 3238
22 West Royce Mountain 3200
23 Mount Paugus 3198
24 North Moat Mountain 3196
25 Imp Face 3165
26 Mount Monadnock 3165
27 Mount Cardigan 3155
28 Mount Crawford 3119
29 North Doublehead 3053
30 Mount Parker 3004
31 Mount Shaw 2990
32 Eastman Mountain 2939
33 Kearsarge Mountain (Warner, NH) 2937
34 Mount Hibbard 2920
35 Mount Cube 2909
36 Stinson Mountain 2900
37 Mount Willard 2865
38 Black Mountain (Benton, NH) 2830
39 Eagle Crag / Mount Meader 2782
40 South Moat Mountain 2760
41 Black Mountain, Middle Peak 2757
42 Dickey Mountain / Welch Mountain 2734 / 2605
43 Iorn Mountain 2726
44 Potash Mountain 2680
45 Blueberry Mountain 2662
46 Mount Israel 2620
47 Square Ledge 2600
48 Mount Roberts 2582
49 Mount Pemigewasset 2557
50 Mount Hayes 2555
51 Middle Sugarloaf 2539
52 Hedgehog Mountain 2532

If you have a favorite on the 52 With a View list, we want to hear about it. Leave a comment telling us which one you love and why somebody should visit it!


9 Unbeatable Speed Records in the Northeast

By now, you’ve probably heard the news. On June 4th, Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell broke the speed record on The Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Then, the very next day, the duo returned and broke their day-old record, taking their time under the two-hour mark (1:58:07).

Although the Northeast isn’t known for its speed climbing, it is home to numerous speed records involving the region’s mountainous terrain. With the Guinness Book on our minds, here’s a snapshot of some of the Northeast’s most-coveted FKTs (fastest-known times).

Editor’s Note: Records are current as of July 22, 2018.

Peakbaggers

NH48

For many New England hikers, summiting all of New Hampshire’s 48 mountains over 4,000-feet tall is the culmination of a lifetime goal. For others, like Andrew Thompson, owner of the fastest-known time on the NH48, it’s a good long weekend. It took him just three days, 14 hours, and 59 minutes—an incredibly fast time to cover the roughly 200 miles and 66,000 feet of vertical gain!

Adirondacks

The ADK46ers list shows that over 10,000 people have summited the region’s 46 High Peaks. In fact, the first known record dates back to the 1920s. That being said, none have done it faster than Jan Wellford. In June 2008, he picked them off in a staggeringly speedy time of three days, 17 hours, and 14 minutes.

Catskills

Although the Catskills might not have as many peaks over 4,000 feet, achieving the fastest-known time for summiting its high peaks—35 summits over 3,500 feet in elevation—is uniquely challenging. Unlike with the NH48 and ADK46, this sought-after FKT takes a single route through the Catskills, with no car shuttling between trailheads. Approximately 140 miles long, with around 38,500 feet of vertical ascent, the route covers roughly 80 miles of trail, 40 miles of bushwhacking, and 20 miles of pavement-pounding. Amazingly, in May 2018, Mike Siudy blazed it all in a breathtakingly breakneck time of two days, nine hours, and 16 minutes.

Classic Routes

Long Trail

For most backpackers, a trip along Vermont’s Long Trail is a three- to four-week endeavor. For fastest-known time-holder Jonathan Basham, it’s a good way to spend a week off, as it leaves a few days free to explore Burlington or take the Ben & Jerry’s Factory tour. Basham covered the 273 miles from the Canadian border to Massachusetts in an astoundingly fast four days, 12 hours, and 46 minutes in September 2009.

Presidential Traverse

A hike across the White Mountains’ Presidential Range, the iconic Presidential Traverse is a bucket-list trip for many Northeastern hikers. For others, like FKT holder Ben Thompson, this classic route is something to do before lunch. Ben blazed across the Presidential Traverse’s 18-plus miles and almost 9,000 feet of vertical gain in four hours, 14 minutes, and 59 seconds.

Yesterday I took the day off work to witness something incredible. Ben Thompson set a new Fastest Known Time on the Pemi Loop in an absurd 6:06:53. Here’s a picture of him cresting Mt. Truman with Lafayette in the background. … I hung out on the ridge to witness the attempt and was absolutely astonished at his speed and fluidity as he descended Lafayette, four hours in and just after a huge climb, he absolutely flew by. Congratulations Ben, what an effort! … (The Pemi is a 30 mile loop with roughly 10,000 feet of vert over technical mountain terrain, For context, I’m not in horrible shape and it recently took me a little over 12 hours) … #pemiloop #fkt #fastestknowntime #franconianotch #franconiaridge #mtlafayette #nh #inov8 #ultimatedirection

A post shared by Rob Blakemore (@rjayblake) on

Pemi Loop

The Whites are also home to another highly coveted route, the Pemigewasset Loop, or simply the Pemi Loop—one of the region’s most popular backpacking trips. The record holders have finished in time to make happy hour at the Woodstock Inn, Station & Brewery. FKT competitors can choose to do the route—more than 30 miles and over 9,000 feet of elevation gain—in either direction. This is one of the most competitive records in the White Mountains, and impressively, Presidential Traverse record holder Ben Thompson also owns this one. He completed it with a zippy time of six hours, six minutes, and 53 seconds in September 2017.

THE TRAIL: The Appalachian Trail covers 2,189 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt Katahdin in Maine. The total elevation gain over that stretch is ~464,000 ft, or the equivalent of 16 Mt Everests. It passes through 14 states and is constantly marked with white blazes that you see in the picture. The trail itself is overseen by the @appalachiantrail @nationalparkservice and @u.s.forestservice, and regionally maintained by thousands of volunteers and local hiking clubs. I found the trail quite quirky, flat farmlands in one section, boulder climbs in another. You’ll meet some amazing people and see all different kinds of small town America. Our nations past is intertwined in historic sections in Maryland and West Virginia. Maine, New Hampshire and Vermud will kick your butt but astound you with views. My perception of states like Georgia and New Jersey are forever changed – surprising me with their beauty and ruggedness. 2-3 million people each year hike some part of the trail, hopefully you will be one of those people 😁

A post shared by Joe McConaughy (@thestring.bean) on

Appalachian Trail

Perhaps the most competitive speed record is the iconic Appalachian Trail (AT), the renowned footpath that starts at Springer Mountain in Georgia and ends at Maine’s Mount Katahdin. In recent years, some of the world’s most well-known ultra runners—such as seven-time Western States winner Scott Jurek and five-time Hardrock winner Karl Meltzer—have held the FKT on this roughly 2,200-mile trail. Currently, though, Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy holds the record. Self-supported, he cruised its full length in just 45 days, 12 hours, and 15 minutes.

Pacific Crest Trail

Coincidentally, McConaughy also holds the FKT on the Pacific Crest Trail—the AT’s West Coast cousin. However, his bicoastal record might not last long. Currently, Cincinnati teacher Harvey Lewis is putting in a strong effort to beat Stringbean’s AT time.

Shortish and Sweet

Just outside Boston, the Blue Hills’ Skyline Trail is a worthy goal for time-crunched runners and hikers. Roughly 15 miles out and back with over 3,500 feet of elevation gain, its challenges are on par with the region’s larger ranges. Fastest-known time-holder Ben Nephew—a Top 5 holder on many of the region’s other classic routes—rapidly dispatched this one in two hours, 25 minutes, and 44 seconds—fast enough to do it before work.

Another awesome out-and-back goes up and over Cadillac Mountain’s iconic North Ridge and South Ridge Trails. This 12-mile trip climbs almost 3,000 vertical feet along Maine’s rocky shoreline and affords incredible ocean views. Fastest-known time holder Tony Dalisio completed the route in one hour, 48 minutes, and 44 seconds. He partially attributes his tremendously fast time to doing the trip in April, thus avoiding tourists, the route’s biggest obstacle.

It only makes sense that the second-most hiked mountain in the world—Mount Monadnock—would have some seriously fast ascents. What is shocking is how long the speed record up the mountain’s most popular trail—White Dot—has stood. Since 2001, Elijah Barrett has held the fastest-known time, having made it to the summit in 24 minutes and 44 seconds.

Of course, we’ve listed just some of the better-known objectives and their record-setting times. To learn more about the records in your region, the Fastest Known Time website is a great resource. And, if you’re planning on doing one of these routes this summer, we want to hear about it—even if it isn’t record setting. So, tell us about your trip in the comments.


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.


Alpha Guide: Mount Monadnock's White Dot & White Cross Trails

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

No American mountain has been climbed by more people than this southern New Hampshire classic, and for good reason. 

Mount Monadnock has many distinctions. It’s the second-most climbed mountain in the world, it’s one of only 13 mountains on the list of National Natural Landmarks, and its summit is the only place where it’s possible to see all six New England states at once. On this miraculous mountain, the most popular route is the four-mile loop via the White Dot and White Cross trails. This absolute classic is a must-do trip for every New Englander.

Quick Facts

Distance: 4 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half day for most
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: Year-round. Best from May through October
Fees/Permits: $5/person, and $2 for children ages 6-12. Children 5 and under are free.
Contact: https://www.nhstateparks.org/visit/state-parks/monadnock-state-park.aspx

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Turn-By-Turn

People coming to Mount Monadnock from the Boston area will want to follow Route 2 West to its connection with Route 140 North (exit 24B). After roughly nine miles, Route 140 becomes MA 12 North. Continue on MA 12 until its intersection with US 202, and then, follow US 202 over the Massachusetts-New Hampshire state line through the town of Rindge and eventually into the quaint town center of Jaffrey. In Jaffrey center, take a left onto Route 124 West. Follow 124 West for about two miles, before taking a right onto Dublin Road. From here, simply follow the signs to the parking lot.

People coming to Monadnock by way of Interstates 93 or 95 can simply exit onto US 101 West and take it to US 202 West, and then, use the directions from above. The only difference will be taking a right turn onto Route 124 West instead of a left.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Into the Woods

Hiking Mount Monadnock via the White Dot and White Cross trails is quite straightforward. Leave the parking lot in the direction of the Park Store, and continue past the store toward the restrooms. If nature calls, it’s worth taking the opportunity to go here, as the trail can be busy, and privacy may be hard to come by from here on out. Just past the restroom is the well-marked trailhead (42.845619, -72.088699).

The trail starts off wide, allowing enough room for hiking shoulder to shoulder. And, on busy weekends, it gives hikers the chance to disperse before the terrain gets more technical. Although this section is neither wide nor steep, the trail is littered with chunky rocks and roots, so watch your step.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Choices

After roughly a half-mile, hikers will come to the intersection of the White Dot and White Cross trails (42.851715, -72.091652). Although hikers may do the hike in either direction, the preferred and most common way is to hike up the White Dot Trail and descend via the White Cross Trail, as White Dot’s steep, slabby terrain is easier to negotiate going uphill.

To continue on the White Dot Trail, just follow the painted white dots straight ahead. Soon, the trail begins to steepen, and the day’s first challenge, a series of steep, slick ledges, comes into view. Finding traction here requires careful footwork, however. Over the years, many people have climbed this exact route, leaving the stone polished and smooth in places. Concerned about the slabs? Take an extra moment to evaluate where you are going, and often, an easy path will present itself.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

A short while later, you’ll come across the Cascade Link junction (42.853878, -72.092758). Stay straight. From here, the trail weaves through the forest and scrambles up short sections of steep rock slabs. As the slabs open up, make sure to turn around and take in the view. Here, the Wapack Range is quite prominent.

As you get above treeline, the trail stops ascending and begins corkscrewing around the mountain, and you’ll wonder if you’re staring at the summit. You’re not. It’s a false summit, and you’ve still got a little farther to go. Here, you’ll encounter a series of open ledges, which can be a great place to have a snack if your group is so inclined.

After this, there’s some more slab climbing, until you come to a large sign that marks the intersection of the White Dot and White Cross Trails (42.859726, -72.104698). You’re not done yet, so continue upward.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Final Push

After the junction, the trail steepens, and you’ll be traveling entirely on rock up to the summit. At this point, you’ve surpassed the trail’s most difficult sections, but don’t let your guard down when the summit comes in sight. You’ve still got to get through a few spots requiring fancy footwork. On windy days, it is also a good idea to layer up for this section.

As you work upward, the trail remains well-marked and easy to follow. It does, however, bear sharply right at one point. Fortunately, there’s a large sign (42.860313, -72.107361) there that’s pretty hard to miss.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit

Sine it’s the tallest peak for miles and unprotected, the winds often rip across Monadnock’s summit (42.861385, -72.108063). Luckily, natural windbreaks abound, offering great places to take a break, pull on a puffy, and have a snack. Once refreshed, stand up and take in the fantastic 360-degree view. In the distance to the north, look for the White Mountains. Much closer to the east is the Wapack Range. To the south, you can see Mount Wachusett. And, Vermont’s ski mountains are visible to the west. While you’re admiring the view, try to identify landmarks in all six New England states.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Return

From the summit, retrace your steps on the White Dot Trail. Below the summit proper, you’ll encounter a few smooth, slabby sections, so watch your footing.

As you descend, look for the sign that indicates the White Dot Trail will take a sharp turn. This time, however, you’ll be turning left. Soon thereafter, you’ll be at the well-marked junction for the White Dot and White Cross Trails (42.859726, -72.104698). Since the footing on the latter is a little easier and the incline more moderate, start following the white crosses down. Before you do so, though, make sure to look back uphill to get one last look at the summit.

From the junction, the White Cross Trail meanders below treeline, working through some easy slabby sections and then into the woods. The trail is pleasant and quite moderate as it approaches the White Dot-White Cross junction (42.851715, -72.091652). At the junction, turn right (downhill) onto the White Dot Trail, and you’ll be in the parking lot in no time.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Diversions

Mount Monadnock is forever linked with the great transcendentalist writers and philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Because of this, many spots are marked to note their connection with the mountain. A diversion from the White Cross Trail takes you across the Smith Connector Trail to the Cliff Walk Trail, where you will find “Emerson’s Seat” and “Thoreau’s Seat” at around 2,350 feet. Both “seats” offer fantastic views and perhaps will inspire you as it did them.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Much of the White Cross and White Dot trails are on exposed rock that has been made smooth and slick by the boots of hundreds of thousands of hikers. With traction a necessity, consider a pair of trail runners, like the Brooks Cascadia 12 (Men’s/Women’s), or hiking shoes, such as the Oboz Sawtooth (Men’s/Women’s).
  • These trails can get especially slippery. If you’re unsure of your footwork, don’t want to roll an ankle, or simply hope to stay upright, pack a pair of trekking poles, such as the Black Diamond Trail Back poles (Men’s/Women’s) for added stability and confidence. Need some convincing? We’ve covered all the benefits of trekking poles here.
  • Loosely translated, “monadnock” is an old Abenaki word meaning “mountain standing alone,” and you’ll definitely notice the isolation with the ridgeline winds. Even on nice summer days, bring a windshirt, like the Outdoor Research Ferrosi (Men’s/Women’s), for blocking the breeze.
  • Pick up the Mount Monadnock Trail Map before you go to get psyched, bring it along just in case you make a wrong turn, and consult it after to start planning your next trip. Pumpelly Trail, perhaps?
  • Although Mount Monadnock is near a lot of places to grab a bite to eat or a beer after your hike, it’s not really close to any of them. Instead, pack a picnic in the Mountainsmith Deluxe Cooler Cube, and après at your leisure. Add a lightweight and packable Helinox Camp Chair for a better seat than you’ll find in any restaurant.
  • As you might suspect, the most popular trail on the world’s second-most climbed mountain can be a busy place. Beat the crowds and get an early start by hitting the trail before sunrise with the Black Diamond ReVolt headlamp.

Cairn-with-summit

Tips

  • Before heading up the mountain, stop in the Ranger Station to get the latest on everything from weather to trail conditions.
  • To get excited before your climb, follow the Franklin Pierce University Mount Monadnock webcam.
  • Stay the night at Gilson Pond Campground. With its 35 campsites, plus five remote hike-in sites, why rush home?
  • No dogs are allowed in the park. So, if you were planning on bringing your pooch, you’ll have to make other plans.
  • If you worked up an appetite on the trails, treat yourself to a mountain of ice cream—their portions are best described as “generous”—from Kimball Farm in Jaffrey on your way home.
  • If you’re interested in exploring more of Southwestern New Hampshire, make the short drive to the Peterborough EMS Store and get some local knowledge on Monadnock’s lesser-known trails. Before heading home, stop for a pint at Harlow’s—the unofficial pub of Eastern Mountain Sports.

Current Conditions

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


3 New Hampshire 4,000-Footers That Everyone Avoids

It’s too long, it’s too far out of the way, it’s too flat, and it’s too hard are just a few of the reasons people give when somebody suggests hiking Owl’s Head, Mount Isolation, or Mount Cabot. But, hikers putting off these three New Hampshire 4,000-footers are missing out. Here’s what to tell your friends next time they start making excuses for skipping these hidden gems.

Crossing a stream en route to Isolation. | Credit: Tim Peck
Crossing a stream en route to Isolation. | Credit: Tim Peck

It’s too long!

We get it. Owl’s Head and Isolation are long hikes. Indeed, the normal route on Owl’s Head—the Lincoln Woods Trail to the Franconia Falls Trail to the Lincoln Brook Trail and up Owl’s Head Path—is roughly 18 miles long, while Isolation involves an approximately 14.5-mile round trip via the Rocky Branch Trail, Isolation Trail, and Davis Path.

But, don’t let the length of these hikes deter you. Isolation’s summit rewards hikers with some of the White Mountains’ best views. Seriously, please forgive us for not including Isolation in this piece. Although the same can’t be said for the tree-enclosed summit of Owl’s Head, the hike itself takes you into the middle of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, one of the coolest places in the White Mountains. Moreover, the majority of the terrain isn’t very challenging, so you’ll barely notice the effort—at least until you begin climbing the Owl’s Head slide.

Looking north from near Cabot's summit. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Looking north from near Cabot’s summit. | Credit: Douglas Martland

It’s too far away!

At approximately 10 miles round trip, the hike up and down Cabot seems “too long.” So, expect your buddy instead to claim that it’s too far out of the way—and they’ll have a good point. Cabot is out of the way, with the normal route beginning at the Berlin Fish Hatchery, about 30 minutes north of Berlin. It’s a long way, especially for out-of-staters.

But, here’s the thing. The drive deters everybody else as well, so you won’t encounter the hordes typically on the Whites’ most popular mountains. Also, Cabot is a great hike, weaving through a hardwood forest to a ridgeline with intermittent views of northern New Hampshire’s mountains.

Nearing Owl Head's mediocre summit. | Credit: Tim Peck
Nearing Owl Head’s mediocre summit. | Credit: Tim Peck

But, you only get one summit

Since Cabot, Owl’s Head, and Isolation stand alone, they’re difficult to combine with other peaks. So, we totally get it if your Type-A peakbagging buddy throws some shade on your suggestion to hike one of these summits. But, here’s where you need to remind your buddy to look at a map. The Presidential Traverse, Pemi Loop, and Franconia Ridge aren’t the only routes that link multiple peaks.

Seeing that Cabot is a half-day outing for many, you can easily broaden the loop to add two peaks from the New Hampshire Hundred Highest List: the Bulge and the Horn. Another option is a point-to-point hike traversing Cabot and Waumbek, with a car stashed at the end for a quad-busting, 16-mile day with almost 5,000 feet of climbing. For the even more ambitious, there’s the Kilkenny Ridge Traverse, which extends the Cabot-Waumbek traverse another 11 miles north.

Options abound on Isolation and Owl’s Head, too. One interesting combination and big-mileage day can be found by summiting Isolation and then using the Davis Path to link up with the Southern Presidentials near Lake of the Clouds. After Isolation, much of the hike is above treeline with spectacular views. For Owl’s Head, consider making it part of a Pemi Traverse, beginning at Lincoln Woods, climbing Owl’s Head, and then exiting up and over Garfield.

Get creative, and you’ll discover a bunch of other interesting ways to tick these peaks off with other mountains. And, if all that doesn’t work, remind your buddy that hiking all three is essential to finishing all 48 New Hampshire 4,000-footers and becoming a member of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Four Thousand Footer Club.

Mount Washington from Isolation. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Washington from Isolation. | Credit: Tim Peck

They’re too flat

If you’re like us, when thoughts turn to peakbagging, images of stout climbs and exposed ridges spring to mind—not long grinds along flat trails through the forest, which is something that both Owl’s Head and Isolation have plenty of.

Of course, if you’re looking for bragging rights, those long, flat sections allow you to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. For example, Owl’s Head is just a few miles shorter than a Presidential Traverse, but can be done in a half-day by a fit hiker. Start early on a summer day, and you can be at an afternoon BBQ later, impressing your friends with the fact that you did an 18-mile hike and summited a 4,000-footer that morning.

Like Owl’s Head, most ascents of Isolation also start on the Rocky Branch Trail, an old logging road. Offering just under four miles of moderately graded terrain, the Rocky Branch Trail connects with the Isolation Trail for another relatively gentle two and a half miles. Unlike Owl’s Head, the terrain is less-conducive to moving fast. However, the climb’s gradualness allows hikers to spend an unusually long amount of time in various zones—you can almost feel the changes as you move up the mountain—and delivers a unique experience not found on many other 4,000-footers.

Franconia Ridge from Owl Head's slide. | Credit: Tim Peck
Franconia Ridge from the Owl Head’s slide. | Credit: Tim Peck

 

They’re just too hard!

Although the common routes to the summits of Owl’s Head, Mount Isolation, and Mount Cabot are far from the Whites’ most challenging, they are not without their difficulties. On Owl’s Head, hikers face a few formidable water crossings that stymie even experienced peakbaggers, and its slide’s reputation for being steep and loose is well deserved.

Likewise, hikers heading to Mount Isolation’s summit will encounter numerous water crossings. If you’re lucky enough to survive them with dry feet, conditions on the Isolation Trail typically vary between wet and muddy. Many hikers are left hoping that summit conditions will allow them to dry their shoes off for a few minutes while they take in the expansive view from the heart of the Dry River Wilderness (ironic, we know).

Finally, although Cabot presents comparatively lesser difficulties, watch for your friends to claim “It’s too hard to do in a day” because the drive is so long. If the drive really is too much to do in a day from where you live, you can turn Cabot into an overnight by staying at Cabot Cabin, 0.4 miles from the summit. And, if glamping is more your style, there’s car camping (free with your White Mountain Pass) right near the Fish Hatchery.

Have you avoided a mountain due to its reputation, only to eventually discover that you loved it? If so, tell us about it in the comments.


Alpha Guide: Mount Washington via the Lion Head Winter Route

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Take on a genuine mountaineering challenge by going for a winter ascent on the Northeast’s tallest peak. 

Mount Washington is the pinnacle of winter mountaineering in the Northeast, and the Lion Head Winter Route is the trail of choice for many looking to summit this iconic mountain. Although this is the least technical way to summit the “Rock Pile,” mountaineers will be challenged by everything from the route’s steep, icy terrain to the mountain’s notorious “worst weather in the world.” Depending on the day, you could find yourself huddling behind one of the summit’s buildings, trying to escape the wind, or proudly posing in front of the summit sign while taking in grand views of the Presidential Range.

Quick Facts

Distance: 8.2 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery:★★★★★


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

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Turn-By-Turn

Parking for the Lion Head Trail is 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 or Gorham.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Gearing Up

The Pinkham Notch Visitor Center (44.257320, -71.253052) is a great place to get ready. The gear room, in the basement, has tables and benches that are perfect for getting organized, tying your boots, and doing those last-minute gear checks. It also has bathrooms and a water fountain, and snacks and meals can be purchased upstairs.

Equally important, the AMC posts the Mount Washington Observatory’s daily Higher Summits Forecast and the Mount Washington Avalanche Center’s daily avalanche forecast on a cork board in the visitor center’s basement. Make sure to read both! And, while you’re there, sign the winter hiker register, too.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Starting Out

To get on the trail, leave the basement, and follow the sidewalk towards the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center’s main entrance. Continue past the entrance and around the back of the building to the large sign marking the beginning of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which you’ll take for the first 1.7 miles and more than 1,000 feet of elevation.

The easy-to-follow Tuckerman Ravine Trail begins as a very rocky dirt road and is wide enough to allow side-by-side hiking. Depending on the weather, trail conditions range from ice-covered rocks to packed snow. In most cases, starting out in MICROspikes is usually a good idea.

From the Visitor Center, the trail is moderate for the first few minutes, and then begins to climb consistently. As it climbs, an occasional path cuts off to the left, heading over to the Sherburne Ski Trail. A bit higher up, there is also a signed cutoff to the right for the Huntington Ravine Trail (44.261887, -71.269882). Hikers should ignore all of these cutoffs.

Trees protect this portion of the trail, keeping the wind and wind chill at bay. And, although the trees also limit the views—especially compared to the awesome ones you’ll get once you’re above treeline—the Tuckerman Ravine Trail does pass a few key scenic spots as it climbs out of the valley. The most notable are the two bridges that cross the Ellis River and the Cutler River and the waterfall—or icicle, in this case—Crystal Cascade. It might be tempting to dig the camera out, but don’t stop. You have a long way to go, and the days are short this time of year.

If the weather permits, you’ll also get a preview of the Lion Head as you move up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, giving you an appreciation for the route’s expansive scale and how much distance you have left to travel.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Cut Off

After about 1.7 miles, the junction with the Huntington Ravine fire road (44.263844, -71.277946) is on the right. The junction is well-marked, with a sign pointing toward the base of the Lion Head Winter Route. The wide, flat fire road makes for easy hiking. Take it a short distance to a junction (44.264603, -71.279106). Look for a rescue cache on the trail’s opposite side for confirmation.

The flat area at the Winter Route’s base is a great spot to grab some food and water and add a layer. Most people, too, put their crampons on here and get their ice axe out.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Rock Step

The steeps on the Lion Head Winter Route come pretty quickly. Climbing along a tree-lined trail, the route gains almost 1,800 feet in elevation.

While most of the climbing is on steep but easy snow, there is a short, 30-foot, rocky section near the beginning that has some exposure. Almost all the guided parties carry a short section of rope to use as a hand line, but it is probably unnecessary if you are comfortable climbing in crampons.

Pro Tip: The Lion Head Winter Route is the Whites’ most popular guided winter route, and there is sometimes a bottleneck at the rock step. So that you can maintain your pace, try to stay ahead of guided groups, if you see them gearing up at the base.

Above the rock step, the route continues up, staying in the trees until it eventually breaks treeline. Around treeline, you’ll find numerous spots along the side of the trail to take a break (44.264332, -71.286575) and enjoy the excellent view of the Wildcat Mountain Ski Area across the notch. Since you’ll be fully exposed to the wind from here on, now is a great time to don your above-treeline gear. On windy days, remember full-face protection, including goggles.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Lion Head

From treeline, the trail continues up over open, rocky terrain towards Lion Head proper (44.264.042, -71.291275). As you climb, you’ll probably feel the wind speed increasing. And, be on the lookout for another steep and exposed section just before the Lion Head. It’s easy, but you don’t want to fall.

As you approach the Lion Head, you should evaluate the weather, the wind, and your group’s motivation. If the wind’s too strong, the weather’s getting worse, or it has taken longer to get here than anticipated, this is a good place to turn around without significant consequence.

Crossing the Alpine Garden

Above the Lion Head, the trail continues along the edge of Tuckerman Ravine, crossing the Alpine Garden. If it is a nice day, enjoy the view of the ravine in all its splendor. But, don’t get sucked too far left, especially if it’s windy. You don’t want to get blown in!

This section is also likely to be one of the hike’s windiest segments. Since the trail here is mostly flat, it’s a great idea to hustle across as quickly as possible. The prevailing wind is west to northwest; so, once you are in the shadow of the summit cone, you’ll likely get a brief reprieve.

After a short time, the trail intersects with the Alpine Garden Trail (44.265045, -71.295603). Some scrub here makes a passable wind break, but you’ll probably want to keep going. From the junction, continue straight on the Lion Head Trail.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Split Rock

The trail begins climbing again after the junction, crossing a couple of open snowfields on the way towards Split Rock (44.265850, -71.301437). Since there are few landmarks here, route finding is critical. Moreover, the consequences of a sliding fall on this section are significant, so make sure to have your crampons on and ice axe ready.

Split Rock is easily identifiable: As the name implies, it’s a large boulder that is split in half. Split Rock is also the last place that offers passable protection from the weather before you reach the summit. Many parties choose to take advantage of the flattish area and windbreak to grab a snack, make a final determination of the weather, and prepare for their summit push before following the trail through the boulder itself. Once you’re ready, the next junction (44.265980, -71.302155) is just a few minutes ahead.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit Cone

The Lion Head Trail traverses west for a short ways before connecting with the Tuckerman Ravine Trail at a large cairn. From here, turn right and follow the cairns uphill on the final 0.4 miles to the top. Frequently, this section provides a respite from the wind. Enjoy the break, as the wind will only increase as you near the top.

The Tuckerman Ravine Trail leads to the first sign of civilization—the Auto Road (44.269550, -71.302048). Shortly thereafter, you’ll pass the tracks for the Cog Railway, before you come to the final small hill leading to the summit (44.270424, -71.303375).

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit Pose

If it is a nice day, spend some time to enjoy the summit view of the Presidentials and the surrounding White Mountains. More likely though, ripping winds and cold temperatures will have you taking shelter by the buildings and putting on an extra layer before you make your way to the summit sign to get the requisite shot.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Getting Back in One Piece

To quote the world-famous mountaineer Ed Viesturs, “The summit is just a halfway point.” Although getting back to Pinkham Notch is as simple as reversing course, you have ample opportunities to get lost or disoriented above treeline, especially when the weather is at its worst. So, take the time at trail junctures to ensure you’re descending in the right direction, and look for memorable landmarks. Most notable are the large cairns marking the Tuckerman-Lion Head junction, Split Rock, the scrub at the Alpine Garden Trail junction, and the flat area on top of the Lion Head. As you make your way towards treeline, look for several sets of reflectors attached to the trees for descending at night or in deteriorating conditions.

The final crux for hikers will be reversing the rock step and the terrain just above it. Once again, many guided parties use a rope here, but those comfortable climbing in crampons should be fine simply downclimbing.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • The Lion Head Winter Route is steep and often icy. Because of this, an ice axe and crampons are essential equipment. The Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe and Contact Crampons are great choices.
  • The combination of high winds, snow, and ice often necessitates the use of goggles, like the Smith I/O 7, to protect your eyes and maintain vision. We suggest bringing a second pair in the event one freezes.
  • Summiting Mount Washington in the winter is a long day even in the best conditions—not to mention, the days are shorter this time of year. A headlamp like the Black Diamond Revolt helps prevent getting caught in the dark and provides peace of mind if you fall behind schedule.
  • It’s easy to get disoriented or lost above treeline on Mount Washington, especially if it’s snowing and the wind is howling. A route plan, pre-set waypoints on a phone-based mapping app like GAIA GPS, and a map and compass as backup are all extremely valuable when you’re trying to stay on course no matter the weather.
  • A heavy puffy coat, like the Black Diamond Stance Parka (Men’s/Women’s), and summit mittens, such as the EMS Summit (Men’s/Women’s), are must-haves for extreme cold. Using chemical hand warmers is also a great way to keep your hands warm.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Mount Washington’s reputation for the “world’s worst weather” is well-deserved, and weather conditions play a huge role in any successful ascent via the Lion Head Winter Route. Before you head out, make sure to read the Mount Washington Observatory’s Higher Summits Forecast. If the conditions don’t look right (for instance, high winds are forecast or the temperatures at higher elevations are just too cold), consider a different trip for the day: A hike up to HoJo’s at the base of Tuckerman Ravine or skiing the Sherburne Trail is a nice alternative that never leaves the protection of the trees.
  • Similarly, if the weather starts to turn during your hike, bailing is a smart decision. After all, the weather rarely gets better the higher you go, and the “Rock Pile” isn’t going anywhere.
  • Before leaving the Visitor Center, take a moment to make sure the Lion Head Winter Route is actually open. Its opening depends on the amount of snow received, and in recent years—like the 2017-2018 winter season—it has not opened until late December.
  • Early starts on Mount Washington are par for the course. The AMC’s Joe Dodge Lodge is a great place to stay if you want to roll right from bed to the trail. Accommodation options include private and bunk rooms, with most options encompassing breakfast and dinner.
  • Not confident doing this journey yourself? Consider a guided ascent of Mount Washington with the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School. EMS guides have climbed the “Rock Pile” hundreds of times each winter, and have the skills and knowledge to get you up and down the mountain safely. And, if you’re looking for more than just the up-and-back, consider combining a guided climb with an overnight at the Mount Washington Observatory.
  • Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co., or simply The Moat, is the place for Conway-area climbers to eat, grab a pint, and brag about everything from their successful summits to just how bad the weather was above treeline.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked the Lion Head Winter Route on Mount Washington recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!