Don’t Be a Fool: 10 Things to Avoid While Spring Backpacking

After a long winter, spring is time to bust out the backpack, hit the trail, and fill up on mountain time. It’s also a particularly tricky time of year for traveling in the mountains—not winter anymore but not summer yet, it’s easy to get fooled by everything from weather to trail conditions to ourselves. Keep reading to ensure a safe and fun first backpacking trip into the mountains this year.

Credit: Tim Peck

Duped into a Big Trip

You were pounding out Northeast classics like the Pemi Loop and Carter Range Traverse in the fall, but tackling a big backpacking trip is no barrel of laughs if you haven’t hiked or donned a heavy pack all winter. Start small, build fitness, and work out the kinks before tackling bigger objectives. Not to mention, if trail conditions are still wintery, you’re going to move slower than you expect.

Whacky Winter Trail Conditions

The joke’s on you if the nice weather in your backyard tricks you into not packing your winter gear. Ice and snow linger at higher elevations much longer than you think—it might not just be Mother Nature pulling your leg if you leave your traction and flotation devices at home.

Credit: Tim Peck

Temperature Tomfoolery

Spring weather is a prankster. It’s often warm and sunny just long enough to have you consider leaving behind layers only to spring unexpected cold, rain, or even snow on you. Have the last laugh by packing a hardshell, rain pants, more layers than you think you’ll need, and accessories like a winter hat and gloves.

Belly Laughs

Whether it’s the extra effort needed to negotiate tricky shoulder-season trails or extra calories to keep you warm, spring backpacking works up an appetite. Fuel your trip with plenty of nutritious and delicious food like this backpacker special to avoid a side-splitting adventure.

Credit: Tim Peck

Tent Trickery

A “three-season” tent implies that it is suitable for use in spring, summer, and fall, but that is not always the case. While a lightweight three-season tent is fine for camping at protected sites and platforms, it’s a joke for the extreme weather found above treeline on early season attempts of the Presidential Traverse—avoid chicanery and don’t test it in the high winds that dominate Northeast ridge lines in the spring. Also, remember to only camp above treeline when there’s two or more feet of snow on the ground.

Sleeping Bag Surprise

Spring and rain go hand in hand, which makes choosing a sleeping bag that can fend off water and insulate when wet extra important. Using a sleeping bag filled with synthetic insulation or hydrophobic down is a favorite trick of seasoned backpackers.

Pad Put On

Shoulder-season backpacking commonly means sleeping on warmth-sapping surfaces and a sleeping pad with the “right” R-value can prevent buffoonery at bedtime. An insulated pad is a popular choice, as is pairing a closed-cell foam pad with an air pad for a silly-comfortable (and warm) combination.

Credit: Tim Peck

Waterproof Wind Up

Wet weather is no laughing matter for spring backpackers, especially when it soaks essential gear. Work a waterproof pack cover, pack liner, or individual dry sacks into your bag of tricks for storing stuff like your sleeping bag, extra layers, and food.

Gear Gag

Gear has a funny sense of humor, especially after a long winter. Before hitting the trail, spend an evening checking that your gear is in order—make sure all your tent’s pieces are in the bag, your sleeping pad holds air, the batteries are charged in your headlamp, and your stove starts. The more kinks you can work out at home, the less kooky things will be in the backcountry.

Have the Last Laugh

Creating a list of everything you need before packing your bag is a good strategy if it’s been a while since you last backpacked—forgetting those little-but-essential items like a lighter for your stove is a sure-fire way to look foolish.

Have any other tips to keep spring weather from making you a laughingstock on your first backpacking trip of the year? If so, we want to hear them! Leave them in the comments below.

Credit: Tim Peck

The Gear You Need for a Shoulder Season Ascent of Mount Liberty

Largely below treeline but with breathtaking summit views—and a convenient location just off I-93—an ascent of Mount Liberty in Franconia Notch is one of the more popular shoulder season hikes in the Whites. Not quite winter and not yet summer, a shoulder season climb presents a handful of challenges to hikers: conditions can change quickly and yesterday’s monorail might be today’s ankle-deep mud. The best way to deal with the variable terrain and ever-changing conditions found on Mount Liberty and ensure yourself a successful summit is with the right gear.

Credit: Tim Peck

Kahtoola MICROSpikes

From the parking lot blacktop to its 4,459-foot summit, snow and ice take a long time to disappear on Mount Liberty. Nail your ascent of this Franconia Notch classic with a pair of Kahtoola MICORspikes—they can mean all the difference between slipping and sliding every step of the way and confidently speeding to the summit ridge with excellent traction on every footfall.

Oboz Sawtooth II Mid B-Dry Waterproof Hiking Boots

An ascent of Mount Liberty starts on Franconia Notch Bike Path, soon connecting with the Liberty Spring Trail, which hikers take to the summit ridge. On the Liberty Spring Trail’s initial low-angle portions, there is often snow and mud as well as several easy stream crossings. Ensure your feet stay dry in these messy shoulder season trail conditions with a good pair of mid-cut, waterproof hiking boots. The Oboz Sawtooth II Mid B-Dry Waterproof Hiking Boots (Men’s/Women’s) feature a B-Dry waterproof membrane for dealing with wet conditions while vents will keep your feet from overheating if you luck into a five-star day.

Credit: Tim Peck

Outdoor Research Performance Trucker Trail-Run Hat & Whiskey Peak Beanie

The gradual nature of the Liberty Springs trail means motivated hikers can move fast for the first few miles, and the OR Performance Trucker Trail-Run Hat is great for keeping the sun and sweat out of your eyes while doing so. Stash a traditional winter hat, like the OR Whiskey Peak Beanie, in your pack to have for warmth during rest breaks as well as for later, above treeline.

EMS Equinox Stretch Gloves & Ascent Summit Mittens

Large temperature fluctuations are a staple of shoulder season, especially when you change elevations. While being barehanded at the base of the mountain may be comfortable on some spring days, you might find yourself wishing for a light pair of gloves—like the EMS Equinox Stretch (Men’s/Women’s)—around the 2.5-mile mark as you pass Liberty Springs Tentsite. The only thing worse than not packing a pair of lightweight gloves like these is forgetting to also carry a warm pair of mittens—such as the EMS Ascent Summit (Men’s/Women’s)—in your pack for when you reach Liberty’s exposed summit.

Credit: Tim Peck

Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles

Above the Liberty Springs Tentsite, the trail begins to climb consistently. Depending on the snow conditions, this section of trail features a handful of balance-testing challenges for both ascending and descending hikers. A pair of trekking poles like the Black Diamond Trail is handy to have along to provide additional stability over the slippery rocks, ice, and deep snow you’re likely to encounter.

Two Puffy Jackets

Franconia Notch is often a wind tunnel and can feel significantly colder than the thermometer says it is. This is especially true on the summit ridge, where the Liberty Springs Trail ends and hikers follow the Franconia Ridge Trail south for 0.3 miles to Liberty’s summit. An active insulator like the EMS Vortex Jacket (Men’s/Women’s) is the perfect layer to wear while ascending the summit ridge and the EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket (Men’s/Women’s) is a lightweight, packable jacket to throw on for staying warm enough to soak up the 360° summit views of Loon Mountain, Cannon, Lafayette, and the Bonds once you reach the summit proper.

A Buff pairs well with a Thunderhead jacket.

Buffs

Just below Liberty’s summit, there’s a short treeless section that hikers must traverse to the top. Often windy, a Buff makes a great face covering here, protecting your face from Franconia Notch’s chilling winds. (Also, in late spring, Buffs treated with Insect Shield are a nice way to fend of the black flies frequently found around the Pemigewasset River that runs near the beginning of the trail while the UV+ versions provide extra sun protection on those sunny spring days and from reflected sunlight from the snow.)

HydroFlask 20 oz. Insulated Food Jar

Speaking of summits, don’t forget your celebratory summit snack. Warm soup or cold ice cream in a HydroFlask 20 oz. insulated food jar is a great calorie boost. Packing some extra calories and a treat is a good call if you decide to go for a doubleheader—Mount Flume, another 4,000-footer, is just a little over a mile farther south on the Franconia Ridge Trail. Comparatively less traveled and not always broken in, make sure to leave enough time for the out-and-back if you decide to bag it.

EMS Thunderhead Jacket

It sometimes can seem like Franconia Notch has its own weather and the sun that was shining when you left the trailhead may become ominous clouds by the time you reach the summit a few hours later. The EMS Thunderhead Jacket (Men’s/Women’s) can protect you in the event of unexpected precipitation higher up the mountain.

Mount Liberty is one of the best shoulder-season hikes in New Hampshire and a popular place for hikers to find their legs after a long winter. Having the “right” gear along with the 10 essentials can set a positive tone to carry you through the season while showing up unprepared can suck stoke faster than a socked-in summit. Is there another piece of gear that’s a must-have for Liberty? Tell us in the comments.

Credit: Tim Peck

Doggie Decorum: Trail Etiquette for Hiking with Your Dog

In recent years, there has been a big increase in traffic on the trails of the Northeast. But it’s not just extra boots on the ground—it’s paws too, as more and more dog owners are venturing into the mountains with their four-legged friends. Adventuring with your canine can add enjoyment to an outing, but it also adds responsibility: you’re accountable for your pup’s actions as well as your own. While there is no Emily Post’s Etiquette for hiking with your pooch, following a few rules can help keep you (and them) out of the dog house.

Credit: Tim Peck

Dog-to-Human Ratio

The key to hiking with a dog is for the person to maintain control—and the lower the dog-to-human ratio, the less likely a person is to get overwhelmed. Because it’s simply easier to manage one dog instead of multiple dogs, a one-to-one ratio is recommended.

More: Shop Dog Gear

Know Where You Can Hike

Dogs are largely welcome on the trails of the Northeast, but there are some places where you will have to leave your four-legged hiking pal at home. For example, dogs are not allowed on Mount Monadnock, in Baxter State Park, or in many wildlife refuges. However, Acadia is one of the country’s most dog-friendly National Parks, with pooches allowed on all but a few “ladder” trails. So before you go, do a little research and if dogs are not allowed at a particular destination, find another place to hike.

Credit: Tim Peck

To Leash or Not to Leash?

Keeping a dog leashed or letting them roam free is one of the most contentious aspects of hiking with a dog—dog owners must balance their desire for their four-legged friend to have the same freedom they enjoy while not infringing on the experience of others. The rules of an area are a good starting point on whether or not you should leash your pooch. For example, in the White Mountain National Forest, dogs may hike off-leash but owners must carry one and use it at developed areas, like in parking lots and campsites.

While an area’s regulations provide a good framework for making a decision about leashes, just because dogs are allowed to hike off-leash doesn’t necessarily mean that your four-legged friend should have free reign. For example, in the White Mountain National Forest dogs must “be under verbal or physical restraint at all times.” That means when you issue a command, your dog responds the first time it’s given—if you have to repeatedly call your dog to “come,” it’s a request, not an order. Along the same lines, a dog hiking off-leash should always stay in sight of its owner; You’re not in control of your dog if you can’t see what they’re doing.

Equally important, whatever the rules permit, keep in mind that you’ll likely want to keep your pooch on a leash in environmentally sensitive areas like alpine zones as well as in areas where there are real objective hazards.

Is My Dog Able to Hike Off-Leash?

A lot of hikers love letting their dogs hike off-leash, but it’s not for everyone or every dog. In addition to exceptional obedience, an off-leash dog must be well socialized to both humans and other dogs and able to pass within close proximity of them without incident. They also must have a low prey drive and not take off after that squirrel or chipmunk you come across on the trail (nor chase after snacks from another hiker’s pack).

If you can’t decide between leash or no leash, consider that there are a lot of variables outside your control when hiking with your dog and even more when you allow them to hike off-leash. Pay attention to both the season (hunting season, for example, might not be the best time to let your furry friend have the run of the woods) and the surrounding wildlife that might see your pal as a midday snack. Finally, if your off-leash pooch really bolts, it could be a lot of work to find them again, and will most likely ruin your day.

Credit: Tim Peck

Who Has the Right of Way?

When hiking with your dog, you forfeit the right of way and should yield to other hikers. When approaching another person or party, step aside and have your dog heel out of “sniffing” range. Keep in mind that not everyone loves dogs or wants to get sniffed, licked, or jumped on.

Communicate

The key to having a happy experience with your pup is communication, both with your dog and with others. Your dog should know what is expected of them and follow basic commands like “Come,” “Leave it,” “No,” “Sit,” and “Stay.”

Similarly, communicate about the needs of your dog to other hikers. If your dog is uncomfortable around strangers, make clear to them that “my dog isn’t friendly.” This might not tell the whole story—your dog might just be excitable or nervous—but it sends a clear message for people to keep their distance and is a good step toward ensuring a positive interaction for you, your pup, and others.

Likewise, it’s up to you to monitor your dog’s interaction with other hikers. And let’s face it—not every dog’s behavior is perfect on every outing. Whether it’s aggressively barking, growling, charging, or, in some cases, chasing, if your dog offends other hikers or interferes with their hiking experience, get immediate control of your pet and then apologize. Half-hearted statements like “he’s usually a good boy,” are excuses, not apologies, and can jeopardize access for all the well-behaved pooches out there.

Credit: Tim Peck

Leave No Trace

We should all aspire to minimize our impact on the places we recreate and should hold our pets to the same standard. When hiking with dogs, this means picking up their poop. Dog waste contains pathogens that contaminate drinking water and nutrients that promote algae blooms and reduce oxygen for creatures living in lakes and rivers. Carry poop bags and use them. If you find the odor unpleasant, consider double bagging or retire an old dry bag or Nalgene bottle to dedicated defecation duty.

And just because your dog does its business in the first half-mile of trail, that’s not an excuse to bag it and pick it up on the way back out. You’re definitely going to forget. Either bag it and walk it back to your car, or carry it for your entire hike. Don’t leave doggy bags along the trail.

 

Hiking with your dog is a great exercise, an awesome way to bond with your furry pal, and a lot of fun. Following some simple petiquette will generally help to avoid any issues with other trail users, reduce your impact on the environment, and ensure everyone has a pawsitive experience.


Opinion: When the Parking Lot is Filled, Find Somewhere Else to Play

Everybody has their “signature spot” in the White Mountains—the place they return to again and again for their dose of the great outdoors. You’ve seen it change and transform from season to season and year to year. And if you’ve been to that spot on a recent weekend or holiday, you’ve likely noticed something else: a lot more people. The Whites have gotten pretty crowded over the last few years, especially recently, as users discovering the outdoors in the wake of the pandemic are (understandably) flocking to these same destinations for the same reasons as us. Sure, New Hampshire’s motto is “live free or die,” but crowds are stressing these precious resources more than ever. It’s time to do something about it.

Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit. Overflowing parking lots and cars parked along the side of the road are as common as black flies in spring and bad weather on Mount Washington. Being unable to find parking should be a sign to all of us: It might be the morning to try out something different. It’s also up to land managers to enforce parking restrictions to help control the crowds. Keeping our wilderness pristine could start with all of us recognizing that a packed parking lot means there are already too many people on the trail.

It has been the practice at Katahdin for years—Limiting the number of day hikers on the mountain is done not through a permit system, but by requiring hikers to make a reservation to park.

The idea of limiting access to popular hikes through parking is not a new solution. It has been the practice at Katahdin for years—Limiting the number of day hikers on the mountain is done not through a permit system, but by requiring hikers to make a reservation to park. But a permit system, like the one mountaineers are required to use to “reduce crowding and protect natural features” before summiting peaks like Mount St. Helens is another option. From May 15 to October 31, just 110 climbers are allowed on the mountain per day.

The recent enforcement of prohibitions on highway parking in Franconia Notch proves that parking restrictions have merit. Now, if you’re hoping to hike Franconia Ridge but the roughly 200 spaces between the north side and south side of Route 93 parking lots are full, you’ll either need to use the recently implemented shuttle or consider “bagging” these classics from a different access point.

Credit: Tim Peck

Of course, the Franconia Notch shuttle service presents its own set of issues. On one hand, the shuttle has put an end to cars parking—and people walking—along Route 93, which is a major traffic safety improvement. And it may, in theory, encourage some hikers to go elsewhere, without fully mandating it. But in reality, the shuttle has done little to reduce the steady stream of hikers going up and down super popular trails like Falling Waters, the Old Bridle Path, and Hi-Cannon.

That brings us to the heart of the overcrowding problem: our own routines. In the end, it may be up to us. Every weekend, thousands flock to the Whites for day hikes and bigger weekend-long outings. Undoubtedly, recreationists are a huge economic boon for the region, and we have no quarrel with their general presence. But when recreationists arrive at the same trailhead at the same time with the same objective, our presence leaves a mark. Crowding at trailheads stresses surrounding neighborhoods, while too-many hikers on the trails themselves result in overuse, path widening, and stress on the wildlife that call these areas home 24/7. And as places like Katahdin and Mount St. Helens have shown us, if we don’t start taking personal responsibility for how busy these places are and do our part to mitigate the crowds on our own, someone else just might—and we might not like their solution.

And as places like Katahdin and Mount St. Helens have shown us, if we don’t start taking personal responsibility for how busy these places are and do our part to mitigate the crowds on our own, someone else just might—and we might not like their solution.

Wondering how you can play your part? Well, Mike De Socio offered one option in his recent goEast piece, “Why I Hike on Weekdays.” But even if you primarily recreate on weekends, there are still things you can do. For instance, consider starting your activity at off-hours, i.e., earlier or later in the day or even recreating at night. Another way to mitigate the crowds is to visit some of the Whites’ less-traveled regions—for example, these three White Mountain 4,000 footers everyone avoids.

We hate crowds as much as anyone, but looking at bumper-to-bumper trail traffic means that we’re a part of the crowds we despise. If we all don’t start finding new places in the Whites to play, we might find ourselves shut out altogether.

Credit: Tim Peck

A Women's Work: Pioneering Climber Miriam Underhill

Miriam O’Brien Underhill led a life of firsts. One of the Northeast’s most prominent early alpinists, she popularized the idea of “manless” climbing and, in the 1920s and 1930s, made the first all-female ascents of the Aiguille du Peigne, the Grépon, and the Matterhorn. She was also the first woman to summit all of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers and was a charter member (along with her husband Robert) of the White Mountains Winter Four Thousand Footer Club, completing the endeavor in a single season. One of the U.S.’s first great alpinists, Underhill helped pave the way for generations of Northeast climbers.

Miriam Underhill

Cordée en Féminine

Already an accomplished climber and mountaineer, Underhill (then O’Brien) broke a major barrier for women in 1927 when she and her partner Winifred Marples climbed the iconic Aiguille du Peigne in Chamonix alone and unsupported. Just three days later, she and Alice Damesme made the first women-only traverse of the Grépon, which at the time was considered one of the toughest climbs in the Alps.

Despite being one of the greatest U.S. climbers, there was not always contemporary adulation for Underhill. For instance, after the first female ascent of the Grépon, famed alpinist Étienne Bruhl remarked, “The Grépon has disappeared. Now that it has been done by two women alone, no self-respecting man can undertake it. A pity, too, because it used to be a very good climb.” Others treated the ascent as an anomaly, with The Alpine Journal—the annual publication by the Alpine Club of London—noting, “Few ladies, even in these days are even capable of mountaineering unaccompanied.”

Nevertheless, Underhill quite enjoyed that style of climbing. As she described in her memoir Give Me the Hills:

“The one who goes up first on the rope has even more fun, as he solves the immediate problems of technique, tactics and strategy as they occur. And if he is, as he usually is, the leader, the one who carries the responsibility for the expedition, he tastes the supreme joy…The exercise of proper judgment is of more consequence than in most sports, for mountaineering (like lion-hunting or white-water canoeing!) is a game with real and sometimes drastic penalty for failure…I saw no reason, why women, ipso facto, should be incapable of leading a good climb.”

In the following years, Underhill continued to make manless climbing a reality. In 1932, she teamed up with Damesme once again to make the first all-female ascent of the Matterhorn. All told, she made nine climbs cordée en féminine between 1929 and 1932. In 1934, the National Geographic Society published an article she wrote encapsulating her all-female ascent titled “Manless Alpine Climbing: The First Woman to Scale the Grépon, the Matterhorn and Other Famous Peaks Without Masculine Support.”

Underhill’s Northeast Training Ground

Underhill’s European success had its origins in years she spent romping in the Whites, exploring Mount Washington’s ravines and rock climbing in New England’s then-fledgling climbing areas. Miriam, along with a group of notable climbers from the era, would visit crags that remain popular today such as Crow Hill, the Quincy Quarries, and Pawtuckaway. Among those notable climbers was her younger brother Lincoln, an accomplished climber in his own right and whose first ascents include both Cannon and the Eaglet, routes he put up with Robert Underhill—Miriam’s future husband.

Miriam and Robert Underhill climbing in the White Mountains in the 1960s. | AMC Library and Archives

The Northeast’s Power Couple

Marriage put an end to Miriam’s women-only climbing, but not her passion for the mountains. She stated in her memoir, “Manless climbing [was] fun for a while, but this other arrangement is better!” While happy to share a rope with her husband, she wasn’t about to forgo the sharp end and the couple shared leads on climbs across the country for the next few decades. Additionally, they continued to share a love of the White Mountains.

In 1960, the couple, then with two adult sons, put another indelible mark on the region, becoming the third and fourth members of the White Mountains 4,000-footer club when they summited all 46 peaks. (Today there are 48 4,000-footers, but South Twin was not added until 1975, and Bondcliff was added in 1980.) The Underhills’ accomplishment is especially impressive considering mountains like Cabot, Waumbek, Tom, Zealand, Owl’s Head, West Bond, and the Hancocks were all without maintained trails at the time.

That same year, the Underhills established the Winter 4,000-Footer Club, completing their effort on Mount Jefferson in below-zero temperatures with winds howling at speeds more than 70 mph. At the time of their accomplishment, Miriam was 62 and Robert 71. Their rules for the Winter 4,000-Footers Club were simple: Climbs had to occur during calendar winter (“‘Snow on the ground’ and other namby-pamby criteria definitely did not count.”)

Underhill’s contribution to the region extended well beyond physical activities. Miriam edited Appalachia—the AMC’s journal—in the 1950s and 1960s, a position once held by her husband, who edited Appalachia from 1928 to 1934. Miriam’s photos also grace the AMC’s book Mountain Flowers of New England.

Miriam Underhill, left, at the Mizpah Springs Hut in 1965.

Underhill’s Legacy 

The Underhills’ legacy extends well beyond New England; the couple took climbing trips to Wyoming’s Tetons and Wind River Range (where you’ll find Miriam’s Peak and Bob’s Towers standing next to each other); Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains; and Montana’s Swan, Mission, and Beartooth ranges. Along with trips to Europe, Miriam climbed the Matterhorn for the third time in 1952.

Today, the Robert and Miriam Underhill Award is given annually by the American Alpine Club to “a person who, in the opinion of the selection committee, has demonstrated the highest level of skill in the mountaineering arts and who, through the application of this skill, courage, and perseverance, has achieved outstanding success in the various fields of mountaineering endeavor.”


Ski Area Profile: Ragged Mountain, NH

New Hampshire’s reputation for skiing is growing—North Conway was recently named “Best Ski Town in North America” by USA Today. The ski areas in the Mount Washington Valley may steal the spotlight, but there are plenty of other great, lesser-known places to schuss in the Granite State. Lacking the size and the notoriety of the state’s big-name resorts, these smaller ski areas are unrivaled when it comes to stoke and community. One such gem is Danbury’s Ragged Mountain.

Whether it’s the terrain, welcoming atmosphere, proximity to southern New England, affordability, or epic views, there are a lot of reasons to love Ragged Mountain.

The Reggae Glades. | Credit: Tim Peck

Why Skiers Love Ragged: The Terrain

Ragged isn’t a “big” mountain, but it isn’t small either and it has plenty of terrain for every type of skier on its two peaks, Ragged Mountain and Spear Mountain. Ragged’s 57 trails are spread evenly across skill levels and its 1,250 feet of vertical is just enough that even seasoned skiers “feel the burn” toward the end of a run.

Beginner trails like Blueberry Patch, Lower Easy Winder, and Cardigan are mellow, wide, and always well-groomed, making them the perfect place for newer skiers and riders to build the confidence needed to tackle more challenging terrain. Intermediate runs like Exhibition and Flying Yankee are favorites of both seasoned and less-experienced skiers alike, thanks to their initial steep pitch and mellow runouts. Those looking for the steep stuff will love expert runs such as Sweepstakes and Showboat.

For a moderately sized mountain, Ragged is big on glades—it has 17. Skiers new to playing in the woods will love the widely spaced Reggae Glades and the lower-angle trees of Moose Alley. Options abound for skiers all about getting feisty in the forest—favorites include Rags to Riches and Pel’s Pass, both of which take advantage of the gladed terrain between the two peaks. There’s even a handful of double-black-diamond glades like Not Too Shabby, which delivers plenty of pitch and face-smackingly tight trees.

The Summit Six Express. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Welcoming Atmosphere

Ragged Mountain is easy to navigate—its trails are well marked and all of them lead to a shared base area that allows easy access to both peaks. This lets families or groups of disparate abilities break up to ski different trails and explore different terrain, then easily regroup between runs or at pre-arranged intervals. There is rarely a long wait for either of the mountain’s two primary lifts—the Summit Six and Spear Mountain Express—and both lifts provide a speedy ride to the top.

In non-COVID times, Ragged’s base lodge is a hub of activity. The lower level of the Elmwood Lodge (or Red Barn) is home to the Harvest Café and has an abundance of room for families to spread out. On the second level, visitors will find the Stone Hearth Bar and more open space for getting ready for, or kicking back after, a long day on the slopes. (If you do visit the bar, don’t forget to grab an aptly named Rags To Riches IPA.) Skiers looking for something more substantial than a hot chocolate from the café or a pint from the pub can find sit-down dining in the Birches Mountain Restaurant.

For those interested in chilling outside, there are a number of picnic tables and Adirondack chairs scattered across a stone patio in front of the Elmwood Lodge along with a fire pit for warming up frozen digits. With the current restrictions in the lodge due to COVID-19, Ragged has had a robust parking lot scene this year, with set-ups ranging from simple camp chairs and coolers to more involved arrangements with grills, portable heaters, and awnings.

Blueberry Patch. | Credit: Tim Peck

Proximity to Southern New England

Ragged is a pretty easy day trip from southern New England, especially when compared to ski destinations like North Conway. It is about an hour from New Hampshire’s two largest cities (Manchester and Nashua) and a little under two hours from Boston, which makes it a reasonable day trip for many. Good thing, too—there are limited lodging and food options near the mountain. Tilton (a little over 30 minutes away) is the closest town to offer a variety of hotel and dining options. Many love stopping at the Tilt’n Diner on the way home.

Although Ragged isn’t that far from southern New England, it does have a bit of a “can’t get there from here” vibe, as there are a bunch of ways to get to the mountain, but none of them are particularly direct. It is near both I-93 and I-89, but plan on driving between 20 and 30 minutes on backroads no matter which way you come.

Mount Cardigan from the Reggae Glades. | Credit: Tim Peck

It’s Affordable

Another perk of avoiding New Hampshire’s bigger-name mountains is avoiding their big-ticket prices. Ragged Mountain’s “Mission Affordable” season pass is one of the best deals going—it’s under $500 if you buy it early enough. If you’re interested in visiting Ragged this winter, find yourself a season ticket holder; They get four buddy tickets with their season pass, which are valid for a $49 lift ticket with no blackout dates.

Going deep on Flying Yankee. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Views

The views are big at this mid-sized mountain. From the summit of Ragged Mountain, visitors are treated to a fantastic perspective of the White Mountains, including the peaks of Franconia Ridge, the Bonds, and the often snow-capped Presidentials. From the top of Spear Mountain, skiers are treated to an excellent perspective of Mount Cardigan.

If you want the terrain and soul of one of New Hampshire’s big-name ski resorts, but are looking to get off the beaten path, put Ragged Mountain on your must-visit list this winter.


Joshua Huntington: A Winter on Mount Washington

To stand on Mount Washington’s summit in winter is to know the sheer cruelty of nature. The frozen landscape, biting cold, and ferocious wind all serve as a reminder that this is not a place for habitation. Yet, in the winter of 1870 and 1871, an expedition party of six—led by geologists Charles Hitchcock (New Hampshire’s state geologist) and Joshua Huntington (Huntington Ravine’s namesake)—spent the season here. In the process, they established the first high-mountain weather observatory in the United States and laid the groundwork for the Mount Washington Observatory. This winter marks the 150th anniversary of their feat.

A Scientific Quest

According to the book, The Worst Weather on Earth: A History of the Mount Washington Observatory, “Hitchcock’s effort to establish a year-round, mountaintop meteorological observatory was the first sustained scientific operation of its type in the world.” However, the idea wasn’t entirely new; In 1853, one of the builders of the Mount Washington Carriage Road urged Congress to construct a full-time observatory on the summit of the mountain to monitor Washington’s unique weather conditions.

As far back as 1856, Huntington, then a college student, was contemplating spending a winter on Mount Washington, going so far as to write a letter to the Smithsonian in search of funds for an expedition. Hitchcock soon learned of Huntington’s plans, beginning a decade of correspondence between the two men as they looked to turn the dream into a reality.

But anyone who has stood on the summit of the Rockpile during the winter understands the audacity of Hitchcock’s and Huntington’s aspiration. This was especially true in 1870—at that point, the summit’s hotels, open since the 1850s, closed every winter because the weather conditions made supplying food and materials too challenging. Moreover, by 1870 there had been just two recorded successful winter ascents of the mountain and “failure was universally predicted” of the expedition. As Hitchcock later remarked in Mount Washington in Winter, Or The Experiences of a Scientific Expedition, “fear of accident has prevented most people from attempting to climb Mount Washington in winter.”

Telegraphing from the Top

While many doubted the expedition’s chances of success, it did pique the interest of the United States Signal Service, a precursor to the National Weather Service. To support the expedition, the Signal Service sent Hitchcock and Huntington instruments, three miles of insulated telegraph wire to run from the summit to the Cog Railway’s base station, and an experienced telegrapher and meteorologist named Sergeant Theodore Smith. With the support of the Signal Service, the expedition now had the means to send weather reports from the summit of the mountain down to the railroad’s base station. But they also needed a place to stay.

Originally, Hitchcock and Huntington had hoped to reside in Tip Top House, a hotel built on Washington’s summit in 1853. However, their request was denied on multiple occasions. Instead, they ended up in the summit depot of the fledgling Mount Washington Railway Company, which had just opened the Cog Railway one year before. In October 1870, some of the party, with the assistance of a local carpenter spent “several days…upon the summit in preparing the building for occupation,” partitioning a room, setting up a stove to heat it, and laying double-floors to insulate it. The room was about 20 feet long, 11 feet wide, and eight feet high, with “[e]very inch of space…utilized” once the party arrived.

“An Excitement Found Nowhere Else”

Rounding out the six-member expedition party were observer S.A. Nelson and photographers A.F. Clough and Howard Kimball. Due to the parties’ various responsibilities, they all arrived on the mountain at different times. Huntington was the first—on November 12, 1870, he ascended to the summit and, the next day, recorded the expedition’s first weather observations. He remained there alone until November 30th, when Clough and Kimball arrived with two visitors. Smith arrived on December 4th. Hitchcock arrived on December 21st, the first day of winter.

Day-to-day life on the mountain offered “an excitement found nowhere else.” The party regularly observed “gorgeous” sunrises and “glorious” sunsets, “throwing a flood of light across a sea of clouds.” They also observed all the weather phenomena and fury the mountain had to offer, diligently recording their observations in their journals, then telegraphing them to the “lower regions.”

As noted in the book, Mount Washington: A Handbook for Travelers, “Full reports of the weather encountered were telegraphed daily, and the public interest in the enterprise was wide-spread and keen.” One notable measurement occurred on February 5, 1871, when they recorded a lowest temperature of minus 59°F. Using a hand-held anemometer, the peak wind gust they recorded that winter was 105 mph.

When not observing, the party spent time exploring the mountain, repairing their quarters, taking and developing photographs to give “those who cannot visit such places a chance to see the wonders and beauties,” receiving visitors, and mending the telegraph wire, a process that required traveling down the Cog to find the break, repairing the break, and then devising new ways to protect the wire from the elements. Some members also regularly returned to the valley floor for days at a time. Only Huntington, Nelson, and Smith spent every night that winter on the mountain.

After full days on the mountain, the group gathered around a stove which was “prized very highly on account of its marvelous heating properties.” There, they recorded their observations and wrote in their journals, the latter of which provide incredible insight into what life was like for the men.

Working in shifts over the course of the winter, their observations continued until May 12, 1871, when they departed the mountain.

The Aftermath

The Signal Service continued conducting weather observations atop Mount Washington until 1892, making the summit station the first of its kind in the world. Forty years later, another audacious group—led by Charles Brooks, a professor of Meteorology at Harvard, and Joe Dodge, the legendary AMC high hut manager—would carry on the early work of the Signal Services and resume recording the weather at the top of New England, laying the foundation for the Mount Washington Observatory as we know it today.

Four men manned the next-generation mountaintop weather station—Bob Monahan, Sal Pagliuca, Alex McKenzie, and Joe Dodge—working without pay or time off, but not without reward. Just two years later, on April 12, 1934, the Observatory recorded the world’s fastest surface wind speed ever observed by man: 231 mph. It would be almost a half century until that wind speed was even close to being attained again on Mount Washington—the second-fastest wind record at the observatory was 182 mph in 1980.

Today

The Mountain Washington Observatory is now one of the several permanently staffed mountaintop weather stations in the world and its forecasts are critical to outdoor endeavors across the region. It even hosts visitors—in non-COVID times, the EMS Climbing School leads overnights at the MWOBS—providing a glimpse into what life was like at the top of New England for the six men who spent the winter of 1870-1871 there.


Why You Should Always Pack a Car Kit

Everyone loves to talk about gear—we can fill a long ski tour simply discussing what the right ski width for an East Coast ski is or preaching the benefits of wearing bright clothing. Over the years, however, the gear that has proven the most valuable has also been the least flashy: our “car kit.”

Credit: Doug Martland

What is a Car Kit?

“Car kit” is the name we’ve given to a handful of essential gear that we keep in our cars when traveling to the mountains. Our car kit includes a variety of items ranging from backup gear to first-aid equipment to rescue kits and have proven to help save everything from days to lives in the mountains and roads. Much like backcountry ski packs and climbing racks, the car kit has evolved over time, with items added and subtracted as experience and knowledge are gained.

Originally, our car kits were self-contained in a few small plastic containers, but they have spread through our vehicles over time. For example, the spare headlamp and sunglasses that are key components of the car kit have proven better-suited to living in the glove compartment.

Credit: Doug Martland

So, what’s inside?

The foundation of any quality car kit is built on having backups to essential gear, just in case that absent-minded person in your party shows up without it. A key to the car kit is that it’s all spare gear you’re not dependent on, that way it’s there when you need it. A few items that form the foundation of our car kit are:

  • Headlamp
  • Sunglasses
  • Socks
  • Mittens
  • Winter hat
  • Multiclava
  • Puffy (An old one kept compressed doesn’t take up much space. Yes, keeping a puffy compressed is bad for it, but we’re sure the person who forgot theirs won’t complain.)
  • Multitool (Preferably one with pliers.)
  • Hex wrench
  • Food (A few energy bars and a couple of gels are great for spring, summer, and fall. For winter, add something less likely to freeze, like trail mix.)

It’s also not a bad idea to adjust your car kit seasonally or add a couple of sport-specific items. For example, carrying a backup set of MICROspikes if you’re a winter hiker, an extra set of goggles if you’re a skier, or a helmet if you’re a biker. Also, add items like hand warmers in the colder months and sunscreen in the summer.

Supplemental First-Aid Kit

Not everybody carries a large, comprehensive first-aid kit into the woods and the car is the perfect place to stash everything you need to complement the contents of the kit in your pack. A car kit is especially useful when recreating close to your car (think sport climbing on the Parking Lot Wall at Rumney or running laps in some Granite Backcountry Alliance glades), and when you’re deeper in the backcountry—where it can take a search and rescue group significantly longer than you think to organize and arrive at a scene of an accident or medical emergency—the car kit may prove a vital supplement. If manpower allows, someone can run back to the car and retrieve the kit to further the process of self-rescue.

Having a supplemental first aid kit in the car is also great for situations where your primary kit accidentally gets left at home or you don’t have your primary kit with you—think witnessing a car accident while commuting to work.

Some key items for the supplemental first-aid kit include:

  • Bleeding control (A tourniquet, pressure bandages, gauze pads, roller gauze, tape, extra medical gloves, and a boo-boo kit.)
  • Airway management (A light CPR mask and, if you have the training and knowledge, oral and nasal airways.)
  • Exposure management (An extra puffy, a sleeping bag, and/or a chemical warming blanket like a Ready Heat II—think a blanket made of chemical hand warmers—are great ways to supplement your efforts to keep an injured party warm.)
  • Some basic medications like Advil and antihistamines
  • A battery pack for your phone (Getting a call out from the backcountry can be taxing on your phone’s battery, but a portable battery like this one from Goal Zero can help ensure you don’t run out of juice.)

Also keep in mind that you might be evacuating the injured party, especially if help is many hours away. If you’re not already carrying a ski sled (winter), guide tarp, or foldable rescue litter as part of your primary kit, stash one in the car.

Credit: Doug Martland

Car Gear

Because the trailheads and parking lots we frequent are anywhere from an hour to a few hours from our homes, a tow truck, or cell service, the last bit of our car kit is directly related to our cars. A fair amount of this kit is winter-specific, as the odds of getting stuck or having a car not start are higher at this time of year. Our car gear includes:

  • Jumper cables to greatly increase the odds of getting a jumpstart
  • Kitty litter or a bag of sand (Vital for gaining traction in icy parking lots)
  • Compact shovel (An old avy shovel is ideal for digging a car out of a snowbank or after a storm)
  • Candle lantern (This can help save the batteries of your headlamp if you need to overnight in your car.)
  • Sleeping bag (That sleeping bag mentioned above serves double duty here, but hopefully you’ll never have to spend a night in your car)

Final Thought

Keep in mind that your car kit should evolve. History has a way of repeating itself, so take the lessons learned on those bad and disappointing days and prepare for them in the future.


How to Choose The Right Jacket for Winter Adventures

Whether it’s to keep us dry, help us stay warm, fend off the wind, or shed snow, we ask a lot of our jackets—this is why so many hikers, climbers, and skiers are obsessed with them. On any given trip, our hiking packs likely contain three to four coats, which allows us to adjust for the ever-changing weather found in the mountains. There’s a difference between pulling a coat from your pack and grabbing the “right” coat from your pack, especially when Mother Nature rears her ugly head. Here’s how to dial your outer layer setup this winter.

Insulation

Down puffies like EMS’s Feather Pack and synthetic puffies such as the EMS Primapack offer exceptional warmth for their (very light) weight, making them incredibly versatile jackets to have in your quiver. The EMS Feather Pack and Primapack are favorites for cold-weather activities like winter hiking, backcountry skiing and snowboarding, ice climbing, and mountaineering. Since these jackets take up minimal space in your pack and provide exceptional warmth, they’re common additions to three-season hiking packs for chilly summits or to use in the event of an emergency. Walk any city street and you’ll notice that puffies like the Feather Pack and Primapack are extremely popular for everyday wear as well.

A word of caution: the thin nylon face fabric used on many lightweight puffies—including the Feather Pack and Primapack—can rip when exposed to sharp stuff like ice tools, ski edges, and tough branches. Consequently, they’re best worn under a hardshell or softshell during tear-prone activities such as tree skiing or when used near the sharp picks and points of ice tools and crampons.

Down Insulation: The Feather Pack

The Feather Pack’s down insulation provides unrivaled warmth-to-weight—down is, pound for pound, the world’s best insulator. The Feather Pack, and jackets like it, are popular with a broad spectrum of users who covet their superior warmth, minimal weight, and small size when packed. However, down is susceptible to moisture (like snow and rain), and while some jackets, like the Feather Pack, are made with hydrophobic down to improve water resistance, there are better options for wet-weather activities.

Best Use: Insulating jacket on cold, dry days when aerobic output is low and weight and space are at a premium.  

Synthetic Insulation: The Prima Pack

Synthetic puffies like the EMS Primapack offer many of the same advantages as those of down puffies, namely, they’re light, packable, and warm. Synthetic insulation generally outperforms down in wet weather—it provides insulation even when wet and dries more quickly than its down counterparts. As a result, synthetic-insulation jackets, such as the EMS Primapack, are popular with those living in wet climates or participating in activities where moisture is inevitable. The downside of synthetic insulation is that it does not pack up quite as small as comparable down jackets.

Best Use: Daily driver on cold days and for outings where warmth is critical and the conditions are likely to be wet. 

Active Insulation: The Vortex

Active insulation, like that used in the EMS Vortex, is a must-have for on-the-move athletes in cold-weather—think heading uphill while backcountry skiing, cross-country skiing, and fast-paced hikes. Active insulation is designed to breathe during high-exertion activities and move moisture from the inside to the outside, making it an awesome part of any layering system. Active insulation pieces like the Vortex work great on their own, but what allows the insulation to breathe also allows the wind to penetrate through it. Consequently, they’re best paired with an outer layer, such as under a hardshell or softshell, in windy conditions.

Best Use: Higher-output aerobic activity in cold weather like hiking, climbing, or backcountry skiing. 

Hardshell: The NimbusFlex

Another key piece of the outerwear puzzle is a hardshell, such as the EMS NimbusFlex Rain Jacket. An outer layer like this has minimal insulating value itself but plays a critical role in your insulating system by keeping the elements (such as rain and snow) off the layers you’re wearing underneath. An added benefit of hardshells is that they do a great job blocking the wind.

Best Use: As an outer layer when it’s wet (resort skiing, ice climbing, hiking during a storm) or very windy (above-treeline travel).

The EMS Clipper

Softshell: The Clipper

Bridging the gap between true insulating layers (like the Feather Pack,  Primapack, and Vortex) and traditional hardshells, a softshell like the EMS Clipper is a great option for active pursuits. Typically worn over a base layer, the Clipper offers wind and water resistance in addition to providing some insulation. Breathable, stretchy, and rugged, you’ll see many folks wearing softshells while climbing, skiing, and hiking.

Best Use: Daily driver for aerobic activities on spring, fall, and mild winter days. 

Three-in-One: The Nor’easter

Where a softshell molds the best features of a hardshell and insulation together, a three-in-one jacket like the EMS Nor’easter zips them together. These jackets feature a burly hardshell with an insulating layer zipped inside, giving you the option to wear just the hardshell over a baselayer on a warm-but-wet day, just the insulation (in the case of the Nor’easter, it’s a fleece) when you need warmth and breathability but no weather protection, or zip them together to make a burly do-it-all coat.

Best Use: Skiing (especially at a resort), cold and/or poor weather aerobic activities in deep winter. 

Putting It All Together

The best jacket choice is often activity-dependent, and finding the right combination of layers for you involves many personal preferences. One common practice in the Northeast for hiking, backcountry skiing, and climbing is a base layer and softshell, with users donning a puffy (rest breaks, exposed ridgelines, and emergencies) and a hardshell (precip and high winds) at appropriate junctions. On colder days, consider swapping the softshell with an active insulator like the Vortex.


Why This Is The Year To Get A Real Backcountry Ski Education

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, skiing is different this winter. Whether you’re one of the many who’s bought a backcountry setup to discover what skiing is like away from the crowds at the resort or an experienced ski tourer who has explored much of what the Northeast has to offer, there’s always something in your skill set that can be improved. Before the winter is over, consider a backcountry-focused lesson with the EMS Climbing School to up your game.

Earning Your Turns

If you’re new to backcountry skiing this winter, getting comfortable with the gear and learning to skin uphill will be the steepest parts of your learning curve. Spending a day with an EMS guide is a sure way to accelerate the learning process.

According to Keith Moon, the Climbing School Manager, an introductory backcountry day focuses on the fundamentals of ski touring: skinning uphill, transitioning from the ascent to the descent, and managing terrain on the descent. Whether you have your own setup or borrow one from the school, at the end of the day you’ll feel much more confident traveling into the backcountry.

After your lesson, put that knowledge into action with a first tour of your own. Mount Cardigan, the Granite Backcountry Alliance glades in and around North Conway, and the Sherburne Trail on Mount Washington all make excellent first tours. Additionally, if the tide’s out in the backcountry, uphilling at the resort is a great way to get some vertical and earn your turns, all while minimizing the objective hazard.

Credit: Chris Bennett

Know Your Avalanche ABCs

Speaking of objective hazards, avalanche training is essential for anybody venturing into terrain where things might slide. One way to do this is to sign up for an AIARE Level 1 avalanche course, which Keith describes as one of the Climbing School’s most popular offerings. The three-day course provides a great foundation for the dos and don’ts of traveling in avalanche terrain, covering topics like tour planning, decision making in the field, rescue techniques, and basic snowpack tests. By the end of the course, students should have the knowledge necessary to have a successful (and, more importantly safe) day skiing something like Tuckerman Ravine.

If you’ve already taken a Level 1 course or can’t swing the whole course right now, spending a session with a guide reviewing avalanche fundamentals is another good option. A day focused on improving your knowledge is perfect for those just getting into avalanche terrain, providing a taste of what a full AIARE course is like while still scoring the backcountry goods.

Meanwhile, for more experienced folks, a day-long outing catered to your skill level is a perfect refresher. For those who are ready, a day spent “mock leading” a guide like Keith around the backcountry is invaluable, especially when they provide feedback about your tour planning, decision making, and backcountry techniques. For small groups with big post-pandemic ski touring plans, this is an ideal shakedown mission.

Credit: Tim Peck

Expand Your Bag of Tricks

There are ample other developmental-focused reasons to consider spending a day (or two) with a guide this winter. Here are three:

  1. Become more efficient on the uphill. Sure, fitness is a big part of uphill efficiency, but if you can’t do a kick turn, don’t know when to deploy your ski crampons, or default to an overly steep skin track, improving your skill level will go a long way toward scoring huge vertical on subsequent tours.
  2. Improve your mountaineering skills essential for bigger objectives. Topics on a day like this include skills such as when and where to transition from skinning to booting, ascending using crampons and an ice axe, using a rope to add a margin of safety, and building basic snow anchors using your touring equipment. More advanced options include training for glacier travel and crevasse rescue. All in all, a day practicing these skills with a professional like Keith is sure to improve your mountain savviness.
  3. Dial your personal ski touring kit. Everybody’s kit can always be improved and spending some one-on-one time with a guide reviewing the contents of your kit is a great way to get a second opinion about what you’ve been toting around the backcountry and ensure that you’re purchasing the best equipment for your individual objectives. An added bonus—you’ll get to see what the professionals are carrying on terrain that you frequent.
Courtesy: Backcountry Access

Ski Some Gnarly Terrain

Assuming the snow gods deliver, the Gulf of Slides, Oakes Gulf, and Raymond’s Cataract offer some of the most spectacular lines in the East. Scoring a descent of one of these prized ski lines is an achievement, and having a trained professional like Keith along to manage the risks and snap some pics ensures that you’ll send safely and in style.

To sign up for a session with the EMS Climbing School this winter, visit www.emsoutdoors.com or call 845–668-2030.