The 6 Northeast Backpacking Classics that Should be on Your List This Summer

High, alpine summits, pristine waterways, and dense, impenetrable forests—for a region as densely populated as the Northeast, there is plenty of wilderness available to keep even the most avid hiker busy for a while. In the parks, preserves, and forests of New England and New York, it seems the trailheads are endless—and while the day hiking of these places are in their own right spectacular, the real gems are accessed with a couple of days, a solid pack, and a readiness to put in some work. Here are some must-do classic backpacking trips that you should put on your list this summer.

The view from Gothics looking toward the heart of the Great Range. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Great Range Traverse

Often described as one of the Northeast’s tougher routes, with more than 9,000 feet of elevation gain in over 20 miles, the Great Range Traverse in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains is as classic as it gets. Over its course, the Great Range Traverse climbs eight 4,000-plus-foot summits—including Mount Marcy, New York’s highest—and offers unrivaled, wide-open views of the vast High Peaks wilderness. Often attempted as a single day outing, the Great Range Traverse is dotted with campsites and is best approached as a multi-day outing, leaving time to savor the absolutely magnificent setting.

Looking back over the Lakes of the Clouds to Mount Washington. | Credit: John Lepak

Presidential Traverse

It’s hard to imagine a more revered or sought-after northeast backpacking trip than the Presidential Traverse. It’s 21.7 miles (thru-hike-style) follow the high ridge of New Hampshire’s Presidential Range through a sustained and airy alpine zone, summiting eight 4,000-foot mountains—including the inimitable Mount Washington, the Northeast’s highest—in the process. It’s not uncommon to do a Presi Traverse in a day, but the huts of the Randolph Mountain Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club provide plenty of options to stretch the trip or to wait out the range’s notoriously harsh weather, making it ideal as a 2 to 3 day trip.

A Catskills sunset as seen from Orchard Point on the Devil’s Path. | Credit: John Lepak

Devil’s Path

With an ominous moniker and a reputation to match, the Devil’s Path in New York’s Catskill Mountains, is as challenging as it is classic. Despite their relatively low elevation, the Catskills are known to be steep and rocky—in its 25 miles (as a loop), the Devil’s Path gains more than 8,000 feet in elevation. Add to that the absolute dearth of water in high summer, and you’ve got yourself a real task at hand. It’s not all hard times though—plentiful backcountry campsites, stellar views, and a genuine wilderness round this trip out as an definite must-do, again ideal for a weekend or long weekend.

A view deep into the Pemigewasset Wilderness. | Credit: John Lepak

Pemigewasset Loop

Affectionately known as “the Pemi Loop,” this circuit hike traces an incredible 28-mile loop around the western half of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, accessing some of the White Mountains’ highest, most coveted ridgelines, including the soaring, airy Franconia Ridge and the wild, remote Bonds. The gains are stiff but the payoff—at least 10 of the region’s 4,000-foot summits and the views that come along with them—is more than worth the effort. And though it can be done in a day as a burly trail run (not-so-affectionately known as the “Pemi Death March”), the Pemi Loop is best savored, as a 2- to 3-day backpacking trip, taking advantage of the numerous, well-spaced-out campsites and huts to enjoy everything the wilderness has to offer.

Sweeping views from the Monroe Skyline section of the Long Trail. | Credit: John Lepak

Monroe Skyline

Vermont’s Long Trail is doubtless on the bucket list of hikers all over the northeast, but it’s 272 rugged miles—following the high ridge of the Green Mountains from Massachusetts all the way up to the Canadian border—may be a bit ambitious for a long weekend. Fortunately, the best of the LT can be found in the Monroe Skyline, a 47.5 mile (one-way) segment that tops three 4,000-foot peaks and several lower ones that—like the open summit of Burnt Rock Mountain—offer some of Vermont’s finest vistas. Being a long-distance trail, the LT is dotted with well-spaced shelters—perfect for a couple days out in the woods. The route is best done in 4 or 5 days.

Courtesy: Haley Blevins

100 Mile Wilderness

In the Great North Woods of Maine, as the Appalachian Trail nears its northern terminus at Katahdin, there is a 100-mile stretch of trail undisturbed by paved or public roads. The 100 Mile Wilderness is as remote a backpacking experience as there is in New England and, should you find yourself there early or late in the season, may be one of the last places in the northeast to find true solitude in nature. This may be a bit heavy for a few-days’ hiking—despite the low elevation relative to others on this list, the hiking can be rugged and most folks complete this section in 10 days or so. The trail is crossed at points by logging roads, including the Kokadjo-B Pond Road near its midpoint, enabling time-pressed hikers to tackle a “half-a-wilderness.”


The Gear You Need to Climb Mount Marcy in the Winter

For a winter adventure that’s equal parts unforgettable and challenging, it’s hard to beat a winter ascent of Mount Marcy in the Adirondack High Peaks. Checking in at an elevation of 5,344 feet, Mount Marcy is the highest peak in New York and offers commanding views of the surrounding mountains, lakes, and valleys in all directions. With over 3,000 feet of elevation gain and a round-trip distance of nearly 15 miles via the shortest route to the summit, Mount Marcy makes for a long and challenging hike any time of year, but especially in winter when the temperature drops, the wind howls, and the days are short. Along with possessing the necessary fitness and knowledge, having the proper gear is paramount to completing a winter summit bid not only successfully, but also safely. In addition to common essentials such as a winter hat, gloves/mittens, snowshoes, and waterproof (and possibly insulated) hiking boots, the following 10 gear items are critical for any winter climb of Marcy.

Traction: EMS Ice Talons

Proper traction in winter is absolutely essential, and it seems like every winter weekend an unprepared hiker in bare boots (or even tennis shoes) slips and gets hurt in the High Peaks. With the amount of snow and ice varying from week to week in the winter, as well as with elevation, it’s wise to be prepared for hiking in both deep powder and ice-coated rock slabs on any winter ascent of Marcy. Even when the trail leading to the final summit approach is covered in feet of fluffy snow, the exposed, wind-swept rock slabs that comprise the summit dome are often largely devoid of powdery snow and are instead coated in a thick layer of ice. Snowshoes are typically too clunky and don’t offer sufficient traction for such terrain, but this is where traction devices such as the EMS Ice Talons really shine. Lighter and much more user-friendly than classic crampons, the EMS Ice Talons will allow you to confidently and safely navigate the rime ice and crunchy snow that will almost certainly be encountered below Marcy’s summit.

Trekking Poles: Leki Makalu Lite Cor Tec

The use of trekking poles while hiking is largely a personal decision, but they can be especially handy on a winter ascent of Marcy. In addition to alleviating some lower body stress (especially on the knees while descending), trekking poles can provide critical stability on the exposed final summit push where the wind can be so strong it can throw off your balance and sometimes even knock you on your feet. For hiking in powdery snow, be sure to put some wider baskets at the end of the trekking poles. Similar in concept to snowshoes, broader winter baskets give trekking poles better flotation in deep snow.

Snow Goggles

Snow googles will serve two purposes on this hike. For one thing, they’ll keep your eyelids from freezing shut if the summit is windy (which it often is) and snow is blowing in the air. Secondly, most snow goggles also act as sunglasses to protect against snow blindness, which can occur when unprotected eyes are subjected to extended periods of bright sunshine reflecting off of white snow. While you might be able to get away with using typical sunglasses for eye protection on calm days, mountain weather is unpredictable and winds can whip up in an instant, making snow goggles a prudent accessory to toss in your pack for a winter climb of Marcy.

Wicking Base Layer: EMS Lightweight Synthetic Base Layer Tights and Crewneck Long Sleeve Shirt

Sweating too much while hiking in the winter is one sure-fire way to get into a dangerous, hypothermic situation. Dressing in layers is essential for regulating body temperature, and it all starts with the next-to-skin base layer. Choosing a base layer material that’s wicking and quick-drying is key, and the old adage “cotton kills” comes to mind here. Unlike cotton, which takes a long time to dry once it’s wet and will sap your body of heat, it’s best to utilize synthetic materials or merino wool when choosing a base layer. The EMS Lightweight Synthetic Base Layer tights and crewneck long sleeve, for example, are made of moisture-wicking and quick-drying 100% polyester, which will pull perspiration away from the body to better regulate body temperature and prevent a bone-chilling cold to set in, especially while stopping for a break.

More: How to Dress While Snowshoeing

Credit: Joey Priola

Outdoor Research Skyward II Pants and Outdoor Research Interstellar Jacket

Being at the highest elevation in the state comes with some of the harshest weather in the Northeast. For protection against wind, precipitation, and trudging through deep snow, a breathable outer layer that’s wind and water-proof is key. Pants such as the Skyward II, and a jacket such as the Interstellar (both from Outdoor Research) help form a protective barrier between you and the harsh winter elements, especially when in the exposed alpine zone.

Gaiters: Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters

Wet, cold feet are likely the most common complaint among people new to winter hiking. In addition to hiking in sturdy and waterproof boots, gaiters are the best accessory to ensure that feet stay dry and toasty, and are worth their weight in gold on hikes through deep snow. Gaiters effectively cover boot tops and prevent snow from getting in, even when hiking through waist-deep snow. The Outdoor Research Crocodile gaiters are the classic, gold-standard gaiter for winter hiking, and come with a Gore-Tex membrane to ensure that the gaiters don’t wet-out even in slushy conditions.

Credit: Joey Priola

Socks: EMS X-Static Sock Liners and Smartwool Women’s PhD Pro Medium Crew Socks

Continuing with the keeping feet warm and dry theme, choosing the right socks can be the difference between a safe and comfortable hike and a painful and dangerous slog. Just as the aforementioned base layers for your upper and lower body help manage sweat and regulate body temperature, use a thin pair of synthetic liner socks like the EMS X-Static Sock Liners help to pull perspiration away from the foot to prevent cold and clammy feet. Following up the liner sock with a mid-weight sock such as the Smartwool PhD Pro adds extra insulation without overheating.

Down Jacket: EMS Men’s Feather Pack Hooded Jacket

As previously mentioned, layering clothing is critical in winter. A warm yet lightweight insulated jacket should always be in your pack in winter, and will come in handy while stopping to take a snack break and for braving the exposed alpine zone on the final approach to Marcy’s summit. Down offers an optimal warmth-to-weight ratio, and modern down jackets such as the EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket now offer water-repellent down which retains its insulation value even in wet conditions.

More: How to Choose the Right Jacket for Winter Adventures

Credit: Joey Priola

Headlamp: Petzl Tikka

Short winter days coupled with a nearly 15 mile round-trip hike means that part of your hike will likely be spent in the dark. Packing a headlamp (and spare batteries) such as the Petzl Tikka will help keep the trail illuminated and you safe when it’s dark out.

Insulated Water Bottle: Camelbak Carry Cap 32 oz Insulated Stainless Steel Bottle

Staying properly hydrated is always important while hiking, but no matter how much water you carry, it won’t do you any good if it’s frozen. Boiling water before the hike and keeping water bottles inside your backpack is typically good enough to keep water from freezing on a day hike, but an insulated water bottle or thermos such as the Camelbak Carry Cap 32 oz Insulated Stainless Steel Bottle will eliminate any doubt that your beverage of choice will be in a liquid state when you need it.


The Best Adirondack Peaks for a Winter Sunset

Encompassing six million acres and possessing a myriad of mountains ranging in size from mile-high Mount Marcy to short and wooded summits, the Adirondacks has a mountain for every schedule and ability. Few outdoor experiences are more memorable or enjoyable than watching the sunset in solitude from a mountain summit, and the experience is made even more memorable with the extra challenges and solitude present in the winter season. With that in mind, here is a collection of Adirondack peaks that are all excellent winter sunset destinations.

Credit: Joey Priola

Phelps Mountain

While not one of the tallest or the highest Adirondack High Peaks, Phelps Mountain is my personal favorite Adirondack peak for watching and photographing a winter sunset. Ringing in at a round-trip distance of 8.8 miles with almost 2,000 feet of elevation gain if departing from the Adirondack Loj (parking fee of $15/day, reduced to $7/day for Adirondack Mountain Club members), Phelps is in that sweet spot of providing enough of a challenge to make you feel like you’ve really accomplished something, while being short enough so that you won’t be hiking back in the dark for hours on end.

After a quick 2 mile jaunt to Marcy Dam and a little over a mile of gradual climbing along Phelps Brook, a classic steep and rugged Adirondack trail diverges from the Van Hoevenberg Trail to climb 1.2 miles to the summit of Phelps. Two characteristics of Phelps make this peak particularly amenable to winter sunsets. First, although the summit offers expansive views, it’s not completely exposed and hardy evergreens provide protection from the wind and make for interesting photo subjects when they’re caked with snow and ice. Second, Phelps offers wide-open views to the west, meaning that you’ll have a clear vantage point of the sun setting over the lofty summits of Mount Colden and Algonquin Peak, with Mount Marcy catching beautiful sidelight. While views from the summit proper are exceptional, ledges a couple hundred yards shy of the summit might provide an even better vantage point to watch the setting sun cast a warm glow on the snowy landscape.

Cascade Mountain

As one of the shortest and easiest of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks to climb, Cascade Mountain is a justly popular peak. While winter crowds are typically less than those found in summer and fall, the small parking lots on Rt. 73 can easily get overwhelmed on weekends. The late start that you’ll get to time it right to catch sunset from the summit typically makes this a moot point, but aim to do this one on a weekday if possible, just in case.

The vast majority of this hike is spent sheltered in the woods, and while the grade never gets too obnoxious, the climbing begins right from the parking lot and doesn’t let up much for the duration of the hike. A junction with the trail to Porter Mountain (another High Peak that’s often combined with a trek up Cascade) is reached at 2.1 miles, and then the final push to the exposed summit begins. Shortly after the trail junction is a good time to bundle up, as the wind is often much stronger on the exposed summit than the sheltered approach trail. Even though it only comes in as the 36th tallest peak in the High Peaks Region, Cascade offers a panoramic view that is likely a top 10 summit view in the Adirondacks.

Credit: Joey Priola

Coney Mountain

With a round-trip distance of only 2.2 miles and an elevation gain of about 550 feet, Coney Mountain is one of the best bang-for-your-buck mountains in all of New York. Located off of Route 30 between Long Lake and Tupper Lake, Coney is a great destination to enjoy your first mountaintop winter sunset. A sheltered trail climbs gradually from the small parking lot through a beautiful forest before reaching the mostly open summit. Part of Tupper Lake can be seen in the distance and nearby Goodman Mountain (which itself is another good sunset hike) adds visual interest to the view. If the sky is clear and weather calm, hanging around after sunset to watch the stars is an incredibly rewarding experience, and the short distance back to the trailhead makes the return hike in the dark a breeze.

Credit: Joey Priola

Mount Marcy

Standing as the highest mountain in New York at an elevation of 5,344 feet, Mount Marcy draws hikers from near and far. There’s just something about being at the highest point in a state that’s alluring, and from the icy winter summit of Marcy, all of the Adirondacks spreads out below your lofty perch. With a round-trip distance of nearly 15 miles coupled with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain, climbing Marcy makes for a long day, and catching the sunset from the summit means that you’ll have several hours of hiking in the dark back to the trailhead to look forward to. For those that have the requisite experience, fitness, and gear, though, it doesn’t get any better than this. After gradually ascending to treeline, the final half-mile push to the summit is on the wide-open and rocky summit block, with no protection from the elements. Once on the summit, a panoramic view of mountains and lakes spreads as far as the eye can see. As the sun sets over the distant horizon, take pride in the fact that no one in the state is higher than you, physically and maybe emotionally too, before readying for the long and dark sojourn home.

Credit: Joey Priola

Algonquin and Wright Peaks

Two of the more popular High Peaks to climb, Algonquin and Wright are neighbors that share the same route for the first 3.4 miles from the Adirondack Loj and are thus often climbed in tandem. Coming in at round-trip distances of 7.6 (with 2,400 feet of elevation gain) and 8.6 (with 2900 feet of elevation gain) miles respectively, Wright and Algonquin are both classic Adirondack climbs that make for excellent sunset destinations. Both of these summits are quite exposed, though, which means expansive views but also little to no protection from the elements. It’s thus best to get some safer sunset summits under your belt before aiming for Wright or Algonquin.

From the Wright-Algonquin trail junction reached 3.4 miles from the Adirondack Loj parking lot, a left turns leads 0.4 miles to the summit of Wright. Views abound in all directions, with Whiteface and the ski jumps of Lake Placid in the distance to the north. The best part of Wright’s vantage point, though, is its proximity to the summit block of Algonquin, which towers above you and the seemingly endless procession of snow-covered evergreens that fill the divide between Wright and Algonquin. If the wind is howling, descending a bit from the summit to treeline provides a more sheltered, and possibly more interesting vantage point from which to watch the sunset over the shoulder of Algonquin and light up the flanks of Wright in brilliantly glowing sunset hues.

If at the aforementioned trail junction you’re feeling up for some added distance and elevation, rather than taking the side trail up to Wright continue on 0.9 miles to the exposed alpine summit of Algonquin. Views from the rocky tundra are unfettered and include Colden with its many slides and Trap Dike. Due to its entirely exposed nature, Algonquin is a peak best saved for a calm day. Spend some time exploring the summit before sunset (while being careful not to trample the rare and delicate alpine plants that make the summit home) and marvel at how the raking winds have sculpted the snow into fanciful shapes. As the second highest peak in the Adirondacks, Algonquin has a “top of the world” feel to it, and lingering on the summit and watching the sunset sky transition from orange to magenta to the deepest blue-black imaginable is an experience that could never be forgotten.

Credit: Joey Priola

It Can't Happen Here: 12 Myths About Northeast Avalanches

Many people believe that avalanches are a problem reserved for skiers and climbers recreating “out west.” However, unstable snowpacks and avy-prone slopes can be found throughout the East Coast’s mountain ranges. Read on for why you should be upping your avalanche awareness this winter.

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1. Myth: Avalanches Only Happen in the Presidentials

In 2018, Aaron Rice (the skier who famously climbed and skied 2.5 million vertical feet in 2016), triggered an avalanche in Vermont’s Smugglers’ Notch. Just days later, six soldiers in the Vermont National Guard were caught in a slide. In February of that same year, a skier was buried up to their waist in an avalanche on Wright Peak in the Adirondacks. Stories abound about recreationalists getting caught in avalanches in the Northeast, inside and out of the Whites. Here’s one about Trap Dike. And here’s another tidbit about two other avalanches in the ’Daks in February 2019. Just because you’re not in Tuckerman Ravine doesn’t mean you should let your guard down.

2. Myth: East Coast Avalanches Aren’t Fatal

The East Coast makes up only a small percentage of the fatalities caused by avalanches nationwide. With that said, even one death is too many. The past decade has seen two avalanche-caused fatalities in the East: one was a skier descending Raymond Cataract and the other was a climber in Pinnacle Gully. The right terrain (which the East has plenty of), plus the right snow conditions (which we also get), mixed with a lack of education and bad luck can definitely be fatal.

3. Myth: Eastern Avalanches are Only Deadly to Those Out Alone 

Although only solo travelers have been the victims of deadly avalanches on the East Coast in recent years, groups have not escaped fatalities resulting from avalanches. In 1996, two skiers were killed by an avalanche in Mount Washington’s Gulf of Slides. In 2000, one skier was killed and three others buried by an avalanche on Wright Peak in the Adirondacks. Groups are no less likely to cause avalanches, but if the members of a group are well-trained, they have the ability to rescue a buried friend. Soloists have no such luxury.

Credit: Jamie Walter
Credit: Jamie Walter

4. Myth: I’m With A Guide, It’s All Good 

According to the Utah Avalanche Center, avalanche professionals are far less likely to perish in an avalanche when compared to other users—less than 1 percent of all avalanche fatalities involve avalanche professionals. Having said that, a popular saying is that the avalanche does not know you are an expert! Last year, two AIARE certified Level 3s and one AIARE certified Pro 1 were caught in a slide in Oakes Gulf. Everyone makes mistakes and must practice the same good decision making.

5. Myth: I’m Experienced, I’ve Planned Well, I’m Safe

John Steinbeck said, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” This is especially true with avalanches on the East Coast. You can take all the AIARE classes, read the avalanche reports, and have years of experience in avalanche terrain and still get caught just like the Ski The East team did on a trip to the Chic-Chocs. Vigilance is equally important at all experience levels.

6. Myth: Accidents Only Catch Unlucky Skiers and Climbers 

There are a lot of things in life outside of our control, but more often than not getting caught in an avalanche isn’t the result of bad luck. More than 90 percent of avalanche accidents are triggered either by the victim or someone in the victim’s party, and most could have been avoided by better decision making.

7. Myth: The East’s Comparatively Minute Snowpack Makes Avalanches Less Deadly

The East Coast may not have the dense snowpack of the west, but we do have an abundance of trees and rocks. While asphyxia is the primary cause of death of avalanche victims, trauma accounts for about a quarter of avalanche fatalities.

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8. Myth: Mount Washington Is Home to the Only Avalanche Center East of the Rockies

The Mount Washington Avalanche Center is the only US avalanche center east of the Rockies, but it’s not the only avalanche center in the Northeast. As anyone who’s visited the powder playground above the US border knows, Avalanche Quebec provides forecasts for the Chic-Chocs and has the distinction of being the only avalanche center east of the Rockies in Canada. But as we’ve seen, just because someplace like the Adirondacks or Green Mountains doesn’t have an avalanche center, doesn’t mean they are immune to avalanches. It just means you’re going to need to use your own judgement.

9. Myth: “Everything Will Be Fine, We’re On An Established Hiking Trail” 

Trails that seem simple in the summer, can be more complicated in the winter. Even if they don’t cross an avalanche path directly, they may sit below one, or travel in a gully or other terrain trap. Some trails, like the route up Lion Head on Mount Washington, transition to a winter route when the summer route is deemed to be too risky. But if you’re traveling the summer route before the switch is made, make good decisions.

That being said, as one university outing group recently found out the hard way, it’s easy to get off trail in the winter and stumble into avalanche terrain, even on the Lion Head Winter Route. Their adventures are touched on toward the end of these reports (1, 2) from the MWAC.

10. Myth: Avalanches Strike Without Warning 

The vast majority of avalanches provide warning signs well before they slide—cracks forming around your foot or ski as you move through the snow, a “whumping” sound coming from the snowpack, and signs of recent avvy activity all are indicators of avalanche potential (though you may only have seconds warning in some cases). So, too, are recent snowfall and visible plumes of blowing snow (which is a sign that the areas where the snow stops are loading up). Learn to recognize the signs by taking an American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) class.

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11. Myth: Packing an Avalanche Beacon, Probe, and Shovel Makes You Safe

Avalanche tools such as a beacon, probe, and shovel go a long way toward increasing your safety in avalanche terrain; however, a tool is only as good as the person wielding it. Studies show that 93% of avalanche victims are recovered alive if they are dug out within the first 15 minutes of burial, but the likelihood of survival diminishes significantly after that. The safest bet is to avoid getting buried, but practicing and familiarizing yourself with your beacon, probe, and shovel can mean the difference between life and death. Again, taking an AIARE class includes education for using these tools.

12. Myth: Ice Climbers are Safe if They’re Not Climbing in the Ravines

Popular ice climbing destinations like Shoestring Gully, Willeys Slide, and Mount Willard’s South Face have all avalanched in the past. So have some of the longer gullies on Mount Webster. Looking for an example? Check out S. Peter Lewis’ and Dave Horowitz’s recounting of one such avalanche on Mount Willard’s Cinema Gully in their classic Selected Climbs in the Northeast. Fortunately for them, everything turned out okay.

 

Hopefully that busts a few East Coast myths for you. When you’re out in the field this winter, keep an eye out for red flags like recent snowfall, signs of snowpack instability (whumping, collapsing, and shooting cracks), rapid warming, wind loading, and signs of recent avalanches. And take an AIARE class from EMS Schools to get you up to speed on safe decision making in avalanche terrain. You may not have realized how much we have in the East.


Northeast Mountaineering Climbs for All Abilities

Each year, the onset of winter transforms the mountains of the northeast. With the shorter days and plummeting temperatures comes a brand new world of icy, wind-scoured summits and long, snowy approaches. The hiking trails and climbing routes of New York and New England, easily accessed in summer, become entirely different challenges, rife with logistical considerations and objective hazards. Meanwhile, terrain that is beyond reach in the summer opens up—the gullies fill with snow, the waterfalls freeze, and beautiful, blue ribbons of ice adorn the cracks and corners of cliff faces from the Catskills to Québec. Come wintertime, the mountains of the Northeast are a playground for those bold enough to brave the cold.

For the vertically-inclined, it’s winter that makes the Northeast an excellent, low-elevation training ground—what the high peaks of the Adirondacks and the Whites may lack in height, they more than make up for in heinous weather, high-quality routes, and a long history of daring ascents. This is the place to be for mountaineers of all abilities—from those who are just starting out, to more experienced alpinists seeking grander objectives, to the west or overseas.

Should you be among those looking to test their mettle in the east, the following five mountains—and these all-time classic routes—will most certainly oblige.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Easy Snow: Franconia Ridge

High and exposed, the Franconia Ridge—including two summits above 5,000 feet—stands at an important place in the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Its western slopes plummet into Franconia Notch, a hub of hiking and climbing in all seasons, while to the east, its flanks drop into the Pemigewasset Wilderness accounting for a sizable chunk of the Pemigewasset Loop, a top-notch classic backpacking trip. By many accounts, Franconia Ridge is the finest high route in the Whites.

While it doesn’t have as many noteworthy technical routes as, say, Cannon Cliff, its neighbor across the notch, it does have a few worthwhile moderate endeavours like Lincoln’s Throat (WI3) and Shining Rock (WI2). It’s Franconia Ridge’s merits as a winter hiking destination, however, that make it an ideal introduction to traveling the mountains of the Northeast in winter. A hike linking the Falling Waters, Franconia Ridge, and Old Bridle Path trails makes for a long, fun day in the mountains. As the trail breaks the treeline and gains the ridge, the exposure and weather combine to create an excellent, non-technical environment to try out some of the tools and techniques required of a true mountaineering objective.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

WI2/Easy Snow: Mount Colden’s Trap Dike 

At 4,714 feet, Mount Colden is the eleventh highest peak in the Adirondacks, a bonafide 46’er, and may appear as a somewhat diminutive selection for a catalogue of classic, Northeastern mountaineering routes. But for one striking feature, however, does Colden draw attention year round: the Trap Dike, a heavy cleft in its northwestern face.

In summer, the Trap Dike is one of the Adirondacks’ main attractions, bringing hikers from far and wide to its base at Avalanche Lake. The lengthy approach is made worth it by the steep, class 4 climbing, and the thrilling exposure of the upper slabs. At times, even in the best conditions, climbing Colden via the Trap Dike can feel like splitting the difference between a hike and a climb.

In winter, the combination of weather, shorter days, and frigid temperatures take hold, and the water that flows in the dike freezes, introducing in turn a new feature to negotiate: waterfall ice. The Trap Dike (WI2, Easy Snow) opens with two pitches of ice climbing, interspersed with some easy snow, before the route opens onto the exposed upper slabs. While not steep, the slabs are extremely exposed, and be downright terrifying in thin conditions. Easier options for descent abound, though none are short—a frozen Mount Colden is a day-long affair, at least, and a stout challenge for newer mountaineers.

WI2/Easy Snow: The North Face of Gothics

The Great Range, in the heart of the Adirondacks, is one of the most spectacular places in the Northeast. Rugged, remote, and wild, a full traverse covering its eight high peaks—over 20-plus miles—is an all-timer, and arguably one of the hardest hiking objectives in New York State.

At its midpoint, miles from the nearest road, rises Gothics, a steep, dramatic mountain recognizable from afar by its steep, bare north face. Though it’s summit only measures 4,734 feet above sea level, Gothics punches above its weight—even the normal hiking routes are aided by fixed cables on the slabby upper reaches. From any direction, at any time of year, Gothics is a tall task.

Come winter, the North Face (WI2, East Snow) route up Gothics is one of the Adirondack’s premier mountaineering challenges—when it’s in. More often than not though, the season conspires to create sub-optimal conditions, ranging from verglass to bare rock, that can seriously have you questioning the validity of its WI2 grade.

When it’s right though the North Face is a thrilling, exposed climb up a sheer 1200-foot wall. The wide flow offers numerous lines of ascent, with varied difficulty and opportunity to place protection, so experience reading ice and snow is critical. Between that, the scenery, and the approach—a true haul—Gothics’ North Face is a legitimate, must-do objective.

Courtesy: Ryan Wichelns
Courtesy: Ryan Wichelns

WI3: Pinnacle Gully

Simply put, Mount Washington is the centerpiece of mountaineering in the Northeast, a hulking mass around which all other objectives in the region orbit. At 6,288 feet, it rises, literally, above everything around it for a thousand miles, and its remarkable features—from the deep ravines and soaring buttresses of its eastern slopes to its rugged summit cone—are host to some of the most spectacular hiking, climbing, and skiing to be found anywhere.

However, it’s Mount Washington’s “character and hostility,” as legendary climber and author Fred Beckey once put it, for which the mountain is probably best known. The unique topography of the White Mountains, and Mount Washington’s location at the confluence of two, ever-churning weather patterns can result in some famously horrendous conditions. Dangerously cold temperatures, heavy snow and high wind—with gusts reaching hurricane-force—are a regular occurrence in winter. As a direct impact, Mount Washington and the rest of the Presidential Range have a very low treeline (around 4,500 feet) and a ton of exposed, alpine terrain, over which many outstanding winter climbs can be found. One line up “the rockpile” stands out, however, making “best-of” lists left and right: it’s the über-classic ice climb, Pinnacle Gully (WI3).

Ice begins to form early in the north-facing gap between Pinnacle and Central Buttresses in Huntington Ravine. The flow it creates—three pitches of incredible, aesthetic, ice climbing over 600 feet—is about as good as it gets. At WI3 the grade is relatively moderate, making Pinnacle Gully an accessible and popular route in an alpine environment that is unique in this part of the country.

A day on Mount Washington should never be taken lightly, though—the weather is always a factor and even on a bluebird day, high traffic can mean a shower of falling ice. Bring a helmet and enjoy the best of what the northeast has to offer.

WI4: The Cilley-Barber Route on Katahdin

Rising some 4,288 feet from the forest floor, unchallenged, the Katahdin massif dominates the landscape of Baxter State Park, its bulk of rock and ice without rival against the backdrop of Maine’s Great North Woods. Katahdin is wild, remote, and unforgiving at any time of year but it is doubly so in winter, when an ascent by any means is a serious challenge—one that is perhaps unequaled in New England, including Mount Washington.

Already removed from the population hubs of the Northeast, Katahdin becomes significantly more remote come winter, when the seasonal closures of Baxter State Park’s access roads makes for a rigorous, committing, 16-mile approach. Further complicating matters—and adding to that expedition-like vibe—access to Baxter State Park is subject to strict regulations, and winter climbers must apply for permits. Factor in the extreme cold and harsh weather that you’re bound to encounter at some point on a trip to Katahdin, and you have a real-deal, multi-day, winter adventure. It’s fitting then, that its name comes from the Penobscot word for “the greatest mountain.”

The steep headwall of Katahdin’s South Basin, scarred over with dramatic, icy gullies, is the frozen jewel in the crown of New England mountaineering. Classic, technical climbs, have been put up here in all seasons since the early twentieth century. The routes are long and committing and objective hazards—like avalanches and icefall—are very real dangers, and moving fast is absolutely critical. This is as alpine as it gets in the Northeast.

Among these coveted lines is the Cilley–Barber (WI4), a dramatic, ice-and-snow-packed cleft in headwall that soars some 2,000 feet from the bottom of the cirque to the top of the Knife Edge arête. It is a long, sustained, and difficult ice climb—one that is often recognized as one of the best of its kind in the east. The approach, permitting, and weather may lend themselves to the feeling of an expedition, but they also thin the crowds out a bit, and cultivate a wild feel—one unique to the Northeast, that should have a place on everyone’s tick list.


Alpha Guide: Hiking Hurricane Mountain

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

With a breathtaking trail and 360-degree views from the summit, this fire tower hike and sub-4,000-footer can rival any other peak in the Adirondacks.

With a moderately short hiking distance and elevation gain, and a trail that traverses various diverse ecosystems, you’ll be in awe nearly every step of the way up Hurricane Mountain’s southern access trail. While the summit itself only offers roughly a 180-degree view, a quick climb up the steps into the cab of the firetower will reward you with an unparalleled 360-degree view of the surrounding Keene Valley area, the nearby Adirondack High Peaks, the countless other mountains and valleys in the vicinity.

*NOTICE: Currently, it is considered mud season in the Adirondack park and the DEC is asking people to refrain from hiking anything above 2,500 feet in elevation. This mud season typically comes around in mid to late April, and can last a few weeks or more as the snow begins to melt and rainfall mixes with the soil, creating muddy conditions. If you do choose to hike during mud season, it is important to remember that it is better for the trail to walk directly through the mud, rather than around it to avoid trail widening and furthering human impact on the wilderness.

Quick Facts

Distance: 6.2 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half day
Difficulty: ★★★
Scenery: ★★★★★


Season: Year-round*
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://on.ny.gov/2ZSMwKs 

Download file: Hurricane_Mountain.gpx

Turn-By-Turn

Take Route 73 north (from I87) or south (from Lake Placid) into Keene and then head east on Route 9N at a fork with views of the MacIntyre Range. Stay in 9N for 3.5 miles looking for a pullout (44.21141, -73.72289) on the left (north) side of the road.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The Journey Begins

The red-blazed trail starts off with a steady, gentle climb from the trailhead towards the mountains. There isn’t a whole lot to see for the first half mile or so, but after .4 miles and 300 feet of elevation gain, you’ll find yourself looking south from the first viewpoint of the day (44.213516, -73.718133), with unobstructed views of Knob Lock, Green, and Tripod Mountains. Once you snap a few photos, you’ll move forward on the wooded trail, fairly straightforward for another half-mile and 100 feet of elevation gain. At this point, you’ll find yourself on the outskirts of the marshy area that the Spruce Hill Brook runs into, and you will have various planks and floating log bridges to cross.

The First View of the Fire Tower

Once you leave the marshy area, the true climbing of the hike begins. While traditional open viewpoints are mostly missing from this section of trail, be prepared to find yourself in awe of its wooded beauty. Although this is a mostly wooded section of trail, the variety of trees you’ll pass create a sort of natural rainbow; From the white bark of the birch trees to the dark gray, mossy bark of the elm tree and the multicolored hues of leaves, both alive and dead, mix together beautifully with a blue sky to create a peaceful scene. All at once, after climbing a total of 1700’ feet near mile 2.5, you’ll find yourself temporarily breaking out of the treeline, with an unexpected view of the 46ers Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge to the south (44.234019, -73.716460), and catching your first glimpse of the actual fire tower on the summit to the northeast.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The Final Push to the Fire Tower

After the brief glimpse you get of the tower, you will reenter the woods for approximately 0.4 miles, at which point you will reach the junction (44.235908, -73.713253) between the Hurricane Mountain Trail you have been on for nearly 2.9 miles, and the North Hurricane Trail which comes from the Crow Clearing/Nun-Da-Ga-O Ridge Trailhead on O’Toole Road in Keene. Now you’re in the home stretch, with just a tenth of a mile to go before you break the treeline and can begin taking in unobstructed views. Be wary and cautious, for Hurricane often has strong winds that embody its name. Once you’re all geared up, take those final steps and reach the summit (44.235327, -73.710605) after 3.1 miles and 2,000 feet of climbing. Make sure to head up and into the fire tower itself for an incredible 360-degree view of the Adirondacks, with High Peaks, lakes, and wild forests all available with just a turn of your head.

When you’re done, retrace your steps back down to the trailhead.


Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The Kit

  • Make sure to have Microspikes or even crampons for this peak, even into the later spring months, as the weather in the Adirondacks in unpredictable and there will often still be snow and ice on trails and summits well into May.
  • There are many sources of water and mud along this trail, including floating log bridges in the marshy area of Spruce Hill Brook (which can often be underwater), so having a reliable pair of waterproof boots or shoes will make the difference in keeping you comfortable.
  • This mountain is great at any time of day, but we highly recommend making a trip up for both sunrise and sunset, for which carrying a good headlamp will be important. That being said, make sure you have a headlamp and extra batteries even if your plan isn’t to stay the night—you never know.
  • No matter what time of year you find yourself hiking Hurricane, the chance of rain and wind are always there, so you’ll want to make sure you’re protected from the elements with a good rain shell!
  • A small blanket or chair, like the Helinox Chair One, is a perfect thing to carry on a hike up Hurricane. If the weather is nice on the summit, you’ll want to sit and stay awhile. The openness of the summit, combined with the essentially flat summit rocks makes this a perfect mountaintop to hang out on, taking in the beauty of the surrounding landscape while you soak up the sun’s rays.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Keys to the Trip

  • Arrive early, as allotted parking spaces tend to fill up quick, and parking alongside the road can be dangerous to yourself and others. If you arrive late and parking is filled up, you can try to head to the Crow Clearing trailhead located on O’Toole Road in Keene, and hike Hurricane that way. Otherwise, you may have to settle for another small mountain nearby!
  • Since Hurricane isn’t an all-day trek, it’s a great idea to add in another nearby mountain or two to extend your hiking day. Some shorter hikes nearby that offer excellent views are Baxter Mountain (whose trailhead is located on the same stretch of Route 9N), and Big Crow Mountain (whose trailhead is located on O’Toole Road in Keene).
  • Bring friends and dogs to share in the beauty of this amazing hike! With a short, moderate distance and elevation gain, beginner and experienced hikers (and your four-legged friends) will have a great time on this trek. If you do bring along a hiking pup, make sure to be prepared with bags, a leash (and often a harness), as well as water and food to keep them as happy as you are!
  • Be sure to fuel up before and/or after your hike! Local hotspots (depending on your direction of travel) include the Stewart’s in Keene, and Noonmark Diner in Keene Valley. If you’re heading even further north, consider Big Slide Brewery and The ‘dack Shack for a delicious lunch or dinner!

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Current Conditions

Have you been up Hurricane Mountain recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


Alpha Guide: Great Range Traverse

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

With eight high peaks and 10 summits overall, breathtaking views, and rugged mountain trails, the Great Range Traverse is one of the toughest, yet most rewarding hikes in the Northeast.

The Great Range Traverse (or GRT) is undoubtedly part of the conversation around the toughest (and most rewarding) hikes in the Northeast. With a substantial hiking distance, a very solid elevation gain of over 9,000 feet, and covering miles of trail that take you through a variety of landscapes, this line along one of the ‘Daks most picturesque and rugged ranges is a life list item equal to the Presidential Traverse or Katahdin’s Knife Edge. Only one summit that you’ll cover doesn’t offer a view, and when you bag eight 4,000-footers and a shorter mountain with gorgeous viewpoints for most of the hike, you’ll quickly and easily lose yourself further into nature with every step. From dirt and roots to wet rocks, ladders, and cable routes, this hike truly has it all.

Quick Facts

Distance: 21.3 miles, point-to-point thru-hike
Time to Complete: 1-3 days
Difficulty: ★★★★★
Scenery:★★★★★


Season: Year-round (Snow November through May)
Fees/Permits: $10 shuttle from the Marcy Field Parking Lot
Contact: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/5265.html

Download file: Great_Range_Traverse.gpx

Turn-By-Turn

Start from the Roostercomb Trailhead (44.185454, -73.786723), on route 73 in Keene Valley. From Exit 30 on the Northway, you will head west on 73 for approximately 10 miles, and the parking lot will be on your left. Arrive early, as parking spaces tend to fill up quick, and parking alongside the road can be dangerous to yourself and others and result in a ticket. Also, arriving early is important because this hike will most likely take at least 12 hours to complete. The earlier you start, the earlier you will finish!

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Starting off climbing.

Even the beginning section of the GRT isn’t all that easy, with a very steady elevation gain (1,750 feet in total) from the parking lot to the summit of the Roostercomb. You’ll begin on the Roostercomb Trail, a nice trail that skirts the edge of a small, picturesque pond before you begin to climb. Around 1.9 miles in, you will reach a junction with the Flume Brook and Hedgehog Trails. To reach the summit, you’ll take a right at this junction and continue the last 0.3 miles along the Roostercomb Trail. This is a short and step climb at first, before leveling out and rewarding you with one or two fairly good viewpoints until you reach the fairly open and exposed summit at 2.2 miles (44.172718, -73.811523). The view here is a great start to the day, showing you multiple High peaks, including Giant of the Valley, Big Slide, and the beginnings of the Great Range with Lower and Upper Wolfjaw. 

After the fantastic views on Roostercomb, it’s time to continue on your way. You’ll descend that final stretch of the Roostercomb Trail, and after 0.3 miles, you’ll reach the Hedgehog/Flume Brook Trails junction again. This time, you will turn right and begin heading up the Hedgehog Trail. Similar to the Roostercomb trail, there are essentially no lookouts or viewpoints, even as you approach the summit at mile 3.6 (44.159313, -73.810786) This mountain is the only one you’ll reach all day that has no view. 

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The first High Peaks.

After taking a brief rest on the summit of Hedgehog, it’s time to head over to your first official High Peak of the day. After about 0.4 miles along the Hedgehog trail heading towards LWJ, you’ll find yourself at an intersection with the W.A. White trail. You’ll continue ahead, but the W.A. White trail takes over for the Hedgehog Trail as you move towards Lower Wolfjaw. After another 1.1 miles or so, you’ll find an unobstructed lookout, giving you an great view of Lower Wolfjaw. A few moments later, and you’ll find yourself on your first 4,000 footer of the day, Lower Wolfjaw at mile 5.2(44.148090, -73.833092). 

After taking in the scenery, it’s time to head over to Lower Wolfjaw’s big brother, Upper Wolfjaw. You’ll begin with a short but steep descent along the W.A. White trail to the Wedge Brook Trail junction. You’ll continue with some small descents and ascents for a few minutes until you reach another junction, this time with the Wolf Jaws Notch Cutoff Trail. At this point, the W.A. White Trail turns into the Range Trail, as you’re now on the Great Range and not leaving it any time soon! Soon after leaving this junction, you’ll begin a fairly steep climb up to the northeastern shoulder of Upper Wolfjaw. After this, the trail becomes less severe, but still has moderate gain as you come closer to your second 46er of the day. Finally, you’ll reach another junction. To your right you’ll see a (very) short spur trail to the summit (44.140386, -73.845249) at mile 6.3, which offers great, underrated views, including some of your next two high peaks. This is a good spot to drop your pack, eat some food, and let your legs dangle for a bit as you take in the scenery, since you’ve now covered over half of your elevation gain for the day! 

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The easiest peak of the day.

After a breather on UWJ, it’s time for your shortest section of the day, continuing along the Range Trail over to Armstrong. Although this is overall a fairly easy section of trail, there are a few spots that involve ladders, steep rockfaces, and roots that require your full attention when climbing. While there are not many viewpoints along this section, the trail itself offers some gorgeous sections of blowdown, serene woods, and a peaceful setting. After barely a half of a mile (at mile 7.0), you’ll step out onto a large ledge (44.134526, -73.849768), looking west towards Big Slide, Phelps, Tabletop, and more. 

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

A top view.

Begin to descend from Armstrong and head towards Gothics. The Range Trail between Armstrong and Gothics has some moderate descent, and moderate elevation gain, but in no time at all you’ll find yourself in a col between the two, in an area that is filled with blowdown, and gives a good view looking back towards Armstrong. You’ll continue along through this col and begin the short ascent to the summit, which offers multiple viewpoints along the way. After playing hide and seek with the treeline a few times, you’ll break out one final time and find yourself on the summit (44.127805, -73.857417) at mile 7.8. Often chosen as the best view out of all High Peaks, Gothics offers incredible 360-degree views that allow you to look back at where you’ve come from, ahead to where you’re going, and everywhere in between. This is a good spot to take a long break, as you’ve completed roughly two thirds of your elevation gain for the day, halfway through the high peaks of the hike, and you’ve got the biggest mountains coming up next!

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Down the cables.

After a lunch break on Gothics, it’s time to keep pressing onwards. In what some may argue is either the most or least fun part of the day, as you continue towards Saddleback from Gothics, you’ll soon find yourself at the top of the Gothics cable route. This section of exposed rock face is very steep, so years ago metal bolts were installed, with a rubber-coated steel cable running through the bolts to allow hikers something to hold on to while they are ascending/descending this tricky section of trail. There are incredible views for a good portion of this trail, so although it is important to keep your eyes on the ground to pick your steps carefully, it is also advisable to take a break here and there and enjoy the scenery.

After taking yourself roughly 0.6 miles from the summit of Gothics, you will find yourself at a junction with the Orebed Brook Trail, in the col between Gothics and Saddleback. After continuing straight ahead at this junction, you’ll start climbing towards your next High Peak. This is a shorter, and fairly steep section of trail that offers limited views until you reach the summit. Around a mile of hiking from Gothics, you’ll break out from the trees and find yourself on a large, wide, exposed area of rock (44.126294, -73.875139) at mile 8.8. The view on Saddleback is fantastic, allowing you to look back at Armstrong and Gothics, as well as look ahead to Basin and Haystack.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The Saddleback Cliffs.

As you leave the summit of Saddleback, you’ll have to navigate the trail carefully, as it follows along a gradual cliff edge for a few minutes. Following the yellow paint blazes on the exposed rock, you will then see that the trail takes a sharp left, heading down the infamous Saddleback cliffs. These cliffs can prove difficult to even the strongest, most experienced hikers, especially when you need to downclimb. It is very important to pick your hand holds and footholds carefully, keeping three points of contact at all times. Once you are at the bottom of the cliffs, you can look back at what you just descended, and feel proud, for it is no easy feat.

You will now have a fairly flat section of trail for a little while before you begin the ascent to Basin. First, you will have a climb up the shoulder of Basin, before you have a relatively level section before the final push to the summit. The trail in these sections is easy to navigate usually fairly dry, and easy on the legs. After the final climb at mile 8.4, you’ll find yourself on an open summit (44.121236, -73.886480), with incredible views of your final two peaks of the day, Haystack and Marcy.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

A worthy subpeak.

After leaving the summit of Basin, you’ll descend along the Range Trail until you find yourself in a col. You’ll have some fairly flat trail for a little while as you navigate the area between Basin and Haystack. At approximately mile 9.5, you will reach a junction with the Haystack Brook Trail (44.115188, -73.896464). This is a very important spot to remember, as it is your only definite water source for the entire trip until you are done with all of the ascent of the hike. Here at the junction, the Haystack Brook runs across the trail, and typically is flowing quite well year-round until it freezes over for the winter months. There is also a designated campsite in this area, if you decide to turn this into a 2 day trip!

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

After using a filter or purifier to replenish your water stores, you will begin heading up the shoulder of Haystack, called Little Haystack. Here you will reach a junction, with the Range Trail continuing to the right, towards Marcy, but before you head that way you have to hit your seventh High Peak of the day. Little Haystack is a fairly big, completely exposed “hill” that you have to cover in order to continue towards the summit of Haystack. Little Haystack is only 0.5 miles from Haystack, but you do have a fair amount of elevation gain during that stretch of trail. From the second you begin climbing Little Haystack, to the moment you reach the summit of Haystack, you will have incredible views all around you. To your right is a breathtaking landscape that consists of Marcy looming over Panther Gorge, and to your left is a staggering panorama of jagged peaks jutting out of the sky, showing you what you’ve had to cover so far in the day to get where you are. Finally at mile 11.2, you will reach the Haystack summit (44.105761, -73.900672), the third highest peak in the state. This is a great spot to kick back and relax for a bit, because the views are just incredible, and you still have a fairly hard section of trail in front of you before you reach your final summit of the day.

The high point.

Your final test of the day also leads you to the highest point in the entire state, Mount Marcy. Descend the 0.5 miles from Haystack to Little Haystack, which tends to go by fairly quickly. Once you go up and over Little Haystack, you’ll find yourself back at the junction with the Range Trail at mile 11.6. This stretch of trail goes between the Haystack Trail and the Phelps Trail, and can be difficult to navigate at times. It is technical, rocky, muddy, and has its fair share of ups and downs, so be careful during this time. After you reach the junction with the Van Hoevenberg Trail at mile 12.7, you’ll start to begin your final ascent towards Mount Marcy. This final half-mile of trail is moderately steep, but mostly exposed, with views to both sides of you as you make your final climb of the day.

Finally, after 13.2 miles and ~9,000’ of elevation gain on the day, you’ll reach your final summit (44.112781, -73.923694). Mount Marcy’s Native American name was Tahawus, meaning “cloud-splitter.” This beauty of a peak certainly lives up to that name, as at any point in the day you may have blue skies down low but find yourself in the clouds on the summit. I highly recommend you take a good, long break here at the summit (weather permitting), as the hardest parts of your day are done. Eat a snack, have some water, and enjoy the views of every other mountain within visible viewing distance.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Down and out.

Now all that’s left to do it hike the last 8.3 miles down and out, to the Garden Trailhead. Leaving the summit, you’ll spend half of a mile on the Van Hoevenberg Trail before reaching the Phelps Trail junction. At this point, you will turn onto your final trail of the day, back onto the Phelps Trail. As stated before, the Phelps trail at this point is narrow, rocky, covered with roots, running water, and is highly technical. You will need to pay attention and plan every step in order to navigate some of the trickier stretches of trail safely. The next few miles will most likely have you cursing under your breath as you inevitably trip, catch your feet on roots, and stumble down the trail, but after roughly 3 miles of this, the trail becomes your best friend. Wide, flat, and well maintained, the remainder of the Phelps Trail is probably the easiest part of your day. With virtually no elevation gain, and a very gradual descent, you will usually find another little bit of energy to help push through to the parking lot. Finally, you will pop back out into the Garden Parking Lot at mile 21.5 (44.188896, -73.816312).

Pro tip: A shuttle runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the spring, summer and fall months (check the Keene Valley website for more information<<Can we include a link? And does this go directly back to Rooster Comb or just to the airfield?))). If the day looks like it might take longer than expected, be prepared for an additional 2-mile road walk to the Roostercomb Trailhead.


Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The Kit

  • Covering 20-plus miles with 9,000 feet or more of elevation is no easy feat, and regardless of how long such a trek can take you, you’ll need to make sure you are hydrated, but the longer day means you might need to carry along a water filter like the MSR Hyperflow to fill up along the way. This small, compact and lightweight filter can filter up to 3 liters of water per minute.
  • As is the case with most trails in the Adirondacks year-round, there are many sections of standing water and mud along this trail, including between summits and descending from Marcy along the Phelps trail (which can often be flowing with water). In order to help conserve the environment and follow LNT practices, it is always best to go through the mud than try to find a drier way around, and waterproof footwear, like the Oboz Sawtooth II Mid hiking boots will definitely be your friend!
  • The top trail runners in the world can do this traverse in just over five hours, but for most people out there, this trip will inevitably include a portion in the dark. As you should do every time you set out on a hike, make sure you have a headlamp like the Black Diamond Spot and extra batteries to make the trip safe!
  • No one ever wants to have to spend an unexpected night in the woods, but especially with bigger, tougher hikes like the GRT, accidents and unfortunate events do occur. If something happens, you need to be able to survive a night in the woods, and an emergency bivy sack like the SOL Thermal Bivy goes a long way towards backcountry survival.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Keys to the Trip

  • This hike will test even the most in-shape hikers, trail runners and backpackers, so it is vitally important to plan and be well prepared before you set out. If backpacking, make sure you have approved tent sites, with backups in case they are taken, chosen and marked on your map before you go. A good option that follows all DEC regulations regarding elevation and location is the Sno-Bird camping spot, located in the col between Basin and Haystack (44.115334, -73.895874).
  • While it is common hiking knowledge to plan ahead for weather and various conditions, another thing to remember is that this hike is limited in comparison in the Northeast. It is a good idea to have hiked all or most of the mountains and trails beforehand to get the best idea of what conditions may be like, and how stringing them all together in one big day can affect you! It is also important to make sure you are physically fit enough to successfully complete such an endeavor, and a good strategy is to build up your mileage and elevations during hikes leading up to the big day!
  • Be sure to fuel up before and/or after your hike! Depending on which direction you are coming from, the Old Mountain Coffee Company in Keene Valley is a great coffee spot, and is right across the road from Noonmark Diner. Other great options for post-hike eats are Big Slide Brewery and Wiseguys in Lake Placid. Of course, Stewart’s in Keene is always a great option both before and after a hike!

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Current Conditions

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


8 Tips for Winter Hikes Above Treeline

While the mountains of the Northeast may not contain the vast alpine climates of the American West or other regions, many peaks of the Adirondacks, Greens, Whites, and Maine do require extensive travel above treeline to reach summit. Hiking above treeline, especially in winter, can be some of the most spectacular and rewarding hiking around, but it doesn’t come without challenged or danger. The unpredictable and harsh weather, inhospitable terrain, and difficulty of getting help all the way up there makes preparation necessary any time you venture into the Alpine, and these tips will start you in the right direction.

TK_EMS-Conway-6494-CH

1. Do the proper planning.

While sound preparation is a must for any safe hiking experience, it becomes even more important when visiting above treeline trails. You should carefully study your route, read trip reports or descriptions of your hike, and take careful note of weather predictions. Higher summit forecasts can be very different than general weather reports, and you should account for being exposed to any wind or precipitation which can often be more intense on exposed summits and ridgelines. As with any hike, be sure to let others know a detailed itinerary and when to expect you in case of emergency.

2. Practice makes perfect.

Before entering an alpine zone in winter, you should have a chance to test and dial in your gear and technique on lesser objectives and more forgiving trails. A windswept cold summit is not the place to find your water has frozen or your crampons don’t fit your boots. Pick a cold and windy day to try a small hike above treeline where you know you have an easy exit to test out your skill, gear, and resolve.

3. Adjust your risk assessments.

A part of more extreme peak bagging that is often learned through (sometimes negative) experiences is decision making and knowing when it is best to bail on an objective. When deciding to travel above treeline, the risks you are willing to take should be adjusted accordingly. Travelling solo or pressing on despite issues can have much more severe consequences here. Have alternative plans, expect the worst, and be willing to bail if needed rather than risk injury or worse.

TK_EMS-Conway-6432-CH

4. Carry the proper water and food.

Realize that subzero wind chills and exposure to the elements and weather will change the way you eat and drink. You will be uncomfortable or even dangerously cold if trying to fumble with preparing food or melting snow for water. Carry what you need for fluids in insulated containers to prevent freezing—winter alpine regions are no place for hydration packs whose tubes can freeze easily. Carry snacks that won’t freeze in easily accessible pouches or pockets so you can eat on the move without having to access you pack frequently.

5. Dress for the cold.

You will want to be sure to carry and wear the correct clothing. Typical winter layers may also require a heavy down insulating layer and a waterproof/windproof shell depending on conditions. Don’t over layer as you will still generate a great deal of heat even in freezing conditions. However, think about what you would need to stay warm should you become immobile for hours or, at worst, even overnight. Depending on the duration of your time above treeline, the availability of bailout options, and other factors, it may even be wise to carry basic winter shelter such as a bivy or emergency blanket as needed.

6. Wear the right traction.

While most winter hikes will include the need for traction devices such as snowshoes or Microspikes, this becomes even more crucial above treeline. The above treeline areas of the Northeast are often rocky, icy, and/or exposed—you may even require full crampons for safety. It is better to have all these devices than to find yourself sliding into a possible injury along a fully exposed section of trail. Be sure to be properly trained in crampon technique before using this potentially dangerous equipment.

7. Protect your face and eyes.

Blasting winds and ice over long stretches of ridgeline can quickly create uncomfortable or even dangerous frostbite conditions on any exposed skin. Carry and use adequate gear to protect your face. While a simple Buff may suffice for cold windy hikes in the woods, alpine exposure may require a full face mask, as well as goggles or glacier glasses to protect your eyes. It seems simple, but some forget that hiking with no vision can quickly lead to disaster.

8. Navigate carefully.

The regions above treeline in winter look much like the moon. They can be uniform landscapes of rocky white with at best an occasional cairn to mark routes. Besides studying routes ahead of time, it is crucial to take extra steps to ensure proper navigation. Consider carrying a GPS, and always be equipped with a map and compass. As you enter an alpine zone, take careful note of the direction you came from, the direction you are heading, and any notable landmarks or indicators. It is wise to even take a quick bearing on your compass of the exit and/or target routes. It is not uncommon for a clear summit to become a windswept and engulfed in whiteout conditions in just minutes. If you do get caught in extreme weather, don’t panic. Think carefully for a minute of the information you have and make sound decisions to get below treeline rather than rashly scrambling in what might be a dangerous direction.

TK_EMS-Conway-6638-CH


The Top 10 Things to Do Around Whiteface This Winter

Whiteface Mountain, in Upstate New York, has significant history. It is one of the Adirondack region’s 46 High Peaks, home to the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, and features a ski resort with the largest vertical drop in the East. With these factors in mind, Whiteface Mountain has plenty to offer the winter adventurer. But, while the mountain and nearby Lake Placid are well known as skiing and vacation destinations, you have plenty of other options for a winter excursion.

1. Ski or Ride “The Slides”

On the East Coast, The Slides are some of the only true double black diamond trails. These natural landslide routes run adjacent to Whiteface’s main resort trails. However, you will need to hit the mountain during a good weather period, as The Slides are only open a few times a year, based on snow and safety concerns. To go, have a partner, be sure you have the expert skills needed, and realize that these are the real deal. Added to this last point, have your avalanche gear packed and ready to use.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

2. Tour the Highway

The Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway climbs the backside of the mountain. Besides offering vehicle access to the summit in summer, it serves as a wonderful winter touring route for backcountry skiers and snowboarders. This is typically one of the first early-season spots to do some laps. So, slap on the skins and climb the highway for either a mellow trip down the same route, or for access to the slides that bisect the highway for a fast ride down!

3. Enjoy the Après Ski

Recent upgrades and renovations mean that the Whiteface Resort base lodges offer plenty of options to have a few drinks by the fire after you hit the slopes. However, for great drinks, hearty meals, and live entertainment, head just a few miles north on Route 86 to the four corners in Wilmington, where you will find the Pourman’s Tap House. Depending upon when you’re there, stop by for the après ski specials, live music on Saturdays, and weekly wing nights.

Credit: Florin Chelaru
Credit: Florin Chelaru

4. Hike to the Top

Finished with a day on the black diamond runs and looking for more adventure? You can explore the other sides of the mountain by hiking or snowshoeing the marked hiking trails up to the mountain’s summit. To start, you have a choice of options. For one, begin from the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center and travel over Marble Mountain. Or, opt for a longer trek, beginning from Connery Pond and then ascending the mountain’s southwest shoulder. Just be prepared: The summit proper is open and exposed to the High Peaks’ notorious winter weather.

5. Spend a Night Out

If you are looking for a wilderness feel or are on a budget, check out the Wilmington KOA campgrounds, located just a few miles from the mountain and open year-round. The KOA offers everything from simple camping cabins to “rough it” to nice multi-room cabins with kitchens and fireplaces that are great for a group. Additionally, if you are up for a true outdoor experience, get your cold-weather gear dialed and camp in one of the lean-tos that surround the Adirondack Loj, about 15 minutes away.

6. Enjoy the Frozen Waterfalls

Just down the road from Whiteface is High Falls Gorge. At any time during the year, use the groomed trails, bridges, and walkways to view over 700 feet of waterfalls and dazzling displays of ice along the mighty Ausable River. Snowshoeing options exist here, as well.

7. Drink With the Locals

If you are willing to take the 15-minute drive to the sleepy village of Au Sable Forks, pick up some of the best hand-tossed pizza and specialty wings at a local favorite, Lance’s Place. If you are feeling a bit more adventurous, across the street is 20 Main, the area’s longtime backwoods watering hole. Here, you’ll find friendly bearded locals, cheap drinks, and an old-school indoor shuffleboard.

Credit: Chris Waits
Credit: Chris Waits

8. Be an Olympian

If you head just 15 minutes down the road from the mountain, you can make your way to the Olympic Sports Complex. Here, take a ride on a real Olympic Bobsled or Skeleton run. Or, hear the rumble of the sled rocketing down the track with a professional driver.

9. Meet Santa

If you are visiting with children, be sure to visit the North Pole. Who knew that the North Pole was just minutes away on Whiteface Memorial Highway? Home to Santa’s Workshop, the North Pole is a long-operated winter wonderland, where kids and adults alike can enjoy shows, rides, and attractions that center around Santa Claus himself.

10. Come Back in Summer

Many visit Whiteface to explore its wonderful winter history and activities. But, don’t forget about what it offers in summer. You’ll find world-class mountain biking in the resort itself, and the town’s system of trails has expanded greatly in recent years. As well, the Ausable River offers world-class trout fishing, and for taking a dip, you’ll find plenty of great swimming holes, including “Flume,” a local favorite just a few miles down the road.


Lessons on Grace: Lost in the Dix Range

On August 19th at 9:30 a.m., I entered the Dix Range, solo, for an intended 18-mile traverse over its five High Peaks. I was running late. Many attempt the loop hike as a day trip, albeit a long one, so I had intended to start hours earlier than I actually did. Rather than change my plans, I would just have to hike faster. Simple.

My gear consisted of three liters of water in a CamelBak, three apples, two Clif bars, two lighters in a Ziploc bag, a Swiss army penknife on my keys, a great pair of Scarpa boots, and an athletic T-shirt and shorts. En route to the trailhead, I texted my father the GPS coordinates and told him that if he hasn’t heard back from me by 9:00 p.m., I have died and he should search for me there. It was a bad joke that would only get worse.

At this point, I had hiked primarily along the Appalachian Trail’s fully blazed trails, and climbed a half-dozen High Peaks before, all with clearly marked, easy-to-follow paths. I knew that some were marked less clearly, but I didn’t realize this route would be notoriously difficult to follow. The maps I had downloaded from AllTrails made it look like any other trail. At the same time, the GPS coordinates I was using as my starting point weren’t for the main trailhead, either.

Instead, I set out from the Route 73 entrance on an unmaintained herd path. However, High Peaks guidebooks dropped this route decades prior. Cairns placed across the river, sometimes hundreds of feet away and with no clear path of boulders to leapfrog across, indicated river crossings. At junctions, a large broken branch indicated the turn. For someone who frequently gets lost in his own hometown, this was like hiking blindfolded.

I lost a good hour and a half following this vague route and killed a large chunk of my phone’s battery while trying to follow the GPS track before I even touched a summit. Feeling the lost time, I started jogging.

After reconnecting with the Bouquet Forks Trail, I quickly summited Grace and South Dix. I arrived on the summit of my third peak—Macomb—at just shy of 4 p.m. At the summit, I met a quartet of women who were finishing their final peak. They graciously offered their map to cross-reference against my dying phone to figure out my route. The leader recognized the gravity of my situation: “Even if you ran the whole way, you couldn’t finish this five-peak loop before sunset.”

Then, my phone died in my hand. I put it back in my pocket, without saying a word.

The author meeting other hikers on top of tk. | Courtesy: Allison Kozel
The author meeting other hikers on top of Macomb. | Courtesy: Allison Kozel

Racing the Light

The quartet had entered the Dix Range from the Elk Lake Trailhead. At 4 p.m., they had just finished all five of their peaks, doing the loop clockwise and ending on Macomb. In retrospect, I should have abandoned my plan here and exited the wilderness with the group. That would have entailed descending the Macomb Slide with them to their car and bumming a ride back to my VW Beetle at the Route 73 entrance.

That is not what happened. I fully understood it was now impossible to complete the full loop with the dwindling daylight, but I felt I could haul at a clip and retrace my steps back to my car without relying on joining the group of women. I even congratulated myself for the compromise, believing abandoning my plan signaled maturity. Without realizing, I had simply downgraded from the impossible to the extremely difficult, sidestepping a surefire successful exit.

Giving up on completing all five peaks, I started running back down Macomb, retracing my steps over the three peaks I had summited earlier. After returning to Grace, I knew I had minimal light left, but knowing I was off the peaks and in the last several miles back to my car buoyed me forward.

But, the switchbacks on the river, already difficult to follow at a walk, were impossible at a jog. Ducking over and under boulders and waterfalls and navigating a route marked only by cairns, I lost my path, and doubled back. Was that pile of rocks a cairn? Was that branch intentionally broken to indicate direction? I found other herd paths that were not mine. I realized I was losing light fast, and was no longer sure I was even on the right river. Holding my hand to the sun, I had just fingers left of light before the horizon.

Running through my inventory, I realized I had almost no equipment at all: no jacket, tent, blanket, iodine tablets, or anything. My focus shifted immediately from getting out of the woods to surviving them. I decided I needed to get a fire going to keep warm when the temperatures would likely drop into the mid-40s.

There was no time for panic. I found a large downed birch near the bank of the river. It was perpendicular to its course and high enough off the ground to break the wind—perfect for me to lay back against. Then, I scrambled together firewood, until the last ray of light disappeared, and built a small fire in front of my improvised windbreak shelter. From 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., I fed the fire continuously, occasionally awakened by the cold whenever the fire began to ebb. I reached into the dark for my wood pile, fed, and adjusted the fire, before settling again into sleep.

The stars were infinitely clear. Any rustling heard throughout the night never felt threatening. I was never particularly uncomfortable. Though I never forgot the gravity of my situation, the solemnity and clarity of my home for the night filled me with a peace and awe that I have never experienced so intensely before. Though I had little with me, I had just enough for the night.

Credit: Lecco Morris
Credit: Lecco Morris

Searching for a Way Out

When I awakened again at dawn, the embers were down to nearly nothing. And, there was nothing left in my pile of dry wood.

So, I resolved to bushwhack to find my herd path and get out of the woods on my own steam. I began walking up and down one side of the river, spending several hours being torn apart by shrubs and overgrowth. I found dozens of other herd paths, following many of them until their ultimate conclusion: nowhere.

Sometime in the late morning, I realized it would be impossible for me to locate the path without more information, and that I was helplessly lost. While searching, I was wasting energy on a task I realized was fruitless. I cursed my lack of a map. I sat down and took stock.

Panic crept into my mind for a minute or two as I steadied myself on a rock. The sky above started to take the bruised color of filling clouds. Searching any longer for the path would be useless, but I needed to get out of the woods before I had to reckon with a storm.

In the early afternoon, I decided to stay put, hoping for rescue. In the river, a large sandbar mostly made of pebbles stood, flanked by a beaver dam on the downward side. I started making a signal fire from the driftwood. Remembering that birch bark burns oily and black, I leapt from the sandbar and scrambled up a mud wall. In those dozens of trips for birch bark, I cut long strips off a blowdown birch with my minuscule penknife.

I had less than a liter of water by this point, so I couldn’t risk lengthy sun exposure. Instead, if I heard rotors or saw a chopper, I would leap out from the shade to throw more birch onto the fire and would hope they saw the smoke in time.

For about three hours, I hoofed birch bark to the sandbar whenever I heard rotors up close, and threw pounds and armfuls onto the fire, trip after trip. Two or three times, I actually saw a chopper cresting the ridge. Eventually, I realized I needed to wrap my psyche around the idea that I might not be found for days, and thus would need to ration water for an unknown length of time. The deepening bruise in the sky also made me think the coming night would be a wet one. I couldn’t survive an unprotected windy night in the rain at sub-50 degrees, and had to make a lean-to.

By late afternoon, I was far from starving. However, in an effort to prepare myself for being stuck in the woods for an indeterminate length of time, I decided to find something to eat. If it came to killing an animal, I wanted to cross that line earlier rather than later. Although the frog lurking at the river’s muddy bank was too fast for me, I noticed many orange salamanders with black spots (later identified as Eastern red-spotted newts). I am aware that slow-moving, brightly colored animals are commonly toxic. However, in this case, I figured eating a few would be an okay way to test this rule.

I found two, said “I’m so sorry” aloud as I speared them with a stick, and cooked them over the signal fire. Because they were so unbelievably terrible, I presumed they were low-level toxic (I was right). Then, I attempted to figure out how to construct a lean-to.

The author on Macomb. | Courtesy: Allison Kozel
The author on Macomb. | Courtesy: Allison Kozel

A Cloud of Fire

As I schemed how I would build a shelter and what I would use, I heard the sound of a chopper quickly getting closer and closer. Heart pounding, I ran back out to the sandbar, waving my hands and screaming, “HELLO! HELP!” At the very moment the chopper crested the ridge, a voice 30 feet to my left exclaimed, “Philip Morris?”

“Is that a human? Yes! It’s me!”

“Are you injured?”

“No. What’s your name?”

“Pat.”

Out of the shrubs appeared a tall, clean-faced young man—younger than me. He had been in the woods for some time.

10 seconds prior, I was alone, having not seen another human for 24 hours. Now it was me and Pat, on a sandbar. An enormous DEC helicopter kicked up dust and leaves in a cyclone over the water.

Pat leapt over the river to the sandbar and radioed to the chopper, now directly overhead. I had intentionally chosen a sandbar large enough for a chopper to land, but hadn’t anticipated the downdraft over the fire and the embers shooting into the sky. For a moment, it felt like a war rescue operation. Pat and I jumped back to pour countless Nalgenes of stream water onto fire. The chopper came down as a maelstrom of sticks, leaves, and dirt swirled around us.

They strapped me into one of the four seats. Just like that, it was over. The chopper was unbelievably loud, and no one spoke. During the entire flight back to Keene, I didn’t spot a single sign of human habitation in any direction. I had ended up taking a tributary off the main river. My car, meanwhile, still sat several miles away, along another branch. Waves of green rolled in every direction as far as the eye could see.

The author and his rescuers. | Courtesy: Kathleen Morris
The author and his rescuers. | Courtesy: Kathleen Morris

True Professionals

After my parents hugged me, the entire DEC team took turns giving me bear-hugs. My mother, of course, had already promised them that if they found me, I would perform piano pro bono at a DEC event. While I was sure the DEC would ream me out for my lack of knowledge, they were simply glad I came out unscathed.

The DEC team’s professionalism in the High Peaks cannot be overstated. From interviews with my parents, they had built a whole personality profile for me, had dispatched a chopper, and had teams on foot canvassing the area. The officer my parents had spoken to at midnight the prior night stayed on his shift and didn’t leave his post until I was found.

The world is a playground, yes, but comparatively requires a lot more respect and preparation. I have no illusions that a series of thoughtless, compounding errors built on cavalier overconfidence resulted in a huge mobilization of people, grey-hair inducing worry for my family, and a real risk to my life.

I hope that sharing this story makes similarly overconfident folks pause to prepare, and to recognize the humble station that humans occupy in the wilderness. I’ve resolved to never rely on my phone for a map. And, to prepare for only the most ideal outcome, I’ll no longer bring the absolute minimum of gear. To take off into the High Peaks at any point, whether you’re anticipating an overnight or not, it is essential to bring a print map, a good compass, multiple layers (even in summer), iodine tablets, a good knife, and more food than the bare minimum, and to arm myself each and every time with prior research. Physical capacity and good survival instincts are no substitute for preparation.

I survived the night and had a DEC Park Ranger find me. They choppered me out of the High Peaks from a fiery sandbar in the middle of a whitewater stream, framed by one of the Adirondacks’ most remote mountain ranges. While this enduring image humbles me, I’m still thankful for it. The knowledge I gained has put that much more of the wild world within reach.

Credit: Lecco Morris
Credit: Lecco Morris