Alpha Guide: Climbing Standard Route on Whitehorse Ledge

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Steeped in history, Standard Route on Whitehorse Ledge is a must-do 1,000-foot route offering exposed slab climbing at a moderate grade.

A route almost as old as technical climbing in the Northeast, Standard Route on Whitehorse Ledge was explored by early climbing luminaries Robert Underhill and Kenneth Henderson back in the 1920s. Today, Standard Route is a must-do for old and new climbers alike—offering over a 1,000 feet of moderate, often runout slab climbing with enough spice to keep veteran climbers on their toes and remind rookies just how full on 5.5 can feel, making it a classic moderate slab climbing route in North Conway, New England’s trad climbing mecca.

Quick Facts

Distance: 9 pitches
Time to Complete: Half day for most.
Difficulty: ★★★ (5.5, Grade II)
Scenery:★★★★


Season: Late-Spring to Early-Fall
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.nps.gov/acad/

Download file: Whitehorse.gpx

Turn-By-Turn

Most climbers approach Whitehorse Ledge from the climbers’ parking lot in a maintenance area just below the White Mountain Hotel. To get there from North Conway, take Route 16 toward the Eastern Slope Inn, turn left onto River Road at the traffic lights just past the inn, and then after about a mile, make another left onto West Side Road. After about another mile, look for a large sign for Hales Location on the right and turn in. Follow that road until the first intersection and turn right. This road will pass a couple of large homes, some of the golf course, and then start bending up toward the hotel. As the road bends uphill to the left, the maintenance area and climbers’ lot are straight ahead.

The climbers’ lot holds about 10 cars, so get there early on busy weekends if you want a spot. Beware that cars parked in the hotel’s regular lot may be towed. Also, there are no facilities in the climbers’ lot, so consider stopping in North Conway beforehand.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Traditional Approach

The approach to Whitehorse Ledge is quick and straightforward. Simply leave the climbers’ lot and walk up the road toward the hotel parking lot. Once you reach the parking lot, look for a well-defined trail leaving from the lot’s right corner. Follow this path for about 5 to 7 minutes to the base of the cliff. As it nears the cliff, the path is a little rocky, so watch your step.

Once you’re at the base of the cliff, picking out Standard Route from the expanse of granite slab before you may seem overwhelming. An easy way to identify Standard Route is to look for the prominent arch rising up the middle of the slab. Trace the arch to the ground—Standard Route’s first pitch starts almost directly below it.

Launch pad with climbers heading up. | Credit: Tim Peck
Launch pad with climbers heading up. | Credit: Tim Peck

Lift Off

Standard Route’s first pitch leaves the ground and heads up and slightly right about 100 feet toward a broad bench that climbers call the Launch Pad. Barely fifth class, some parties just scramble up this pitch then transition to roped climbing on the Launch Pad. However you decide to head up, you’ll eventually want to get situated toward the right side of the Launch Pad for the easiest access to the pitches that follow. There are options for anchors near your feet if you look carefully.

Heading up Pitch 2. | Credit: Tim Peck
Heading up Pitch 2. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Toilet Bowl

Standard Route’s next pitch (5.1R, 110 ft) heads up and slightly right to one of the more humorous features on Whitehorse—the Toilet Bowl. It’s a big hole in the slab with a two-bolt anchor at the top. The pitch is somewhat run-out, although you will pass several flakes that have some options for gear along the way.

Pitch 3. | Credit: Tim Peck
Pitch 3. | Credit: Tim Peck

Crystal Pocket

With your crew converged on the Toilet Bowl, leave the anchor and head up the next pitch. One of the longer pitches on the route (150 feet, 5.2R), it angles slightly left leaving the anchor heading toward two bolts. From the higher bolt, delicately pad a bit more up and left toward a flake at mid-pitch (place some gear here), then blast up the slab toward the Crystal Pocket anchor, a two-tiered ledge covered in crystals with a two-bolt anchor.

On the arch. | Credit: Tim Peck
On the arch. | Credit: Tim Peck

Getting to the Arch

From the Crystal Pocket, your next destination is a thread anchor in Standard Route’s main arch about 100 feet up. To get there, first climb a steeper swell (crux, 5.3), then follow a series of pockets out and right as you angle up to the arch. If you have tricams on your rack, they’ll definitely find homes in these cool-looking pockets.

Once you’re at the thread, either build an anchor or proceed a few feet up and around the corner to a vertical crack that eats mid-sized cams. Neither of these anchors is particularly comfortable, but from the latter anchor, your second will have a better view of the pitch ahead and won’t be hassled at the rap station by a party rappelling off Sliding Board or Wave Length.

Climbing just below Lunch Ledge. | Credit: Tim Peck
Climbing just below Lunch Ledge. | Credit: Tim Peck

Lunch Ledge

Perhaps the most enjoyable section of the climb, the next pitch (5.4, 130 ft) first follows the large arch as it arcs up and right. At a weakness, the pitch then ascends a small break in the slab up featured, vertical terrain to a two-bolt anchor atop Lunch Ledge. This section of hero climbing has great hands and feet and is quite moderate—so long as you climb the easier, left side of the intersecting arch.

Due to its size and location (more than halfway up the climb), Lunch Ledge is the perfect spot to pause, have a snack, and rehydrate. Many parties rappel from here—working down to the ground in five double-rope rappels. If you’re at all wavering about going higher, this is one of the last good spots to rappel from.

Pro Tip: Since rappelling on Whitehorse requires two 60m ropes, plan on climbing as a party of three or carrying a long tag line so that you can get down if you decide to rap.

Underneath the crux. | Credit: Tim Peck
Underneath the crux. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Business

The pitch above Lunch Ledge is the 5.5 crux of Standard Route. Start on the right end of Lunch Ledge and climb up about 20 feet. From here, climbers traverse right to a left-leaning ramp that takes you to the top of the pitch. Start by making a sharp right and padding delicately across a smooth slab protected by a bolt. Next, step slightly down onto a small ledge, clip another bolt, and continue padding right past the infamous “Brown Spot” and toward the ramp. Once on the ramp, continue up for about 40 feet to a right-facing corner. Climb through the corner and then continue up and left for a few additional moves. Build an anchor below the final overlap.

Besides presenting the route’s physical crux, this twisty-turny pitch also presents a rope management challenge. To minimize rope drag, consider placing long slings on your pieces. Another alternative is to do the more direct 5.7 variation.

Climbing on the upper slabs. | Credit: Tim Peck
Climbing on the upper slabs. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Finishing Pitches

From the anchor above the Brown Spot, there are three more pitches to the top of Standard Route. The first pitch (5.2R, 80 ft) follows the overlap left, reaching a featured dike that you’ll ascend briefly to a ledge. Build an anchor here.

The last two pitches (both 5.2R, 150 ft) follow the dike to the top of Whitehorse. These two pitches are split in the middle by another large overlap, which is easily passed on its left end near a small pine tree. Just above the pine tree, look for a small ledge where you can build an anchor.

The final pitch stays in the dike, passing one old bolt before reaching the top of the cliff. Build an anchor on a solid tree and bring the rest of your crew up.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Variations

The Original Route: If the opening pitches above the Toilet Bowl are crowded, an excellent alternative is to start up the pitch and climb to about the half-way point. Once there, move left toward a long ledge leading over to the base of the route’s namesake arch and a two-bolt anchor. From this anchor, climbers ascend the arch for two pitches (both 5.3) rejoining the normal route at the thread anchor atop the Crystal Pocket pitch. Best avoided in wet conditions, this variation is the original Standard Route and a must-do for aficionados of Northeast climbing history.

The 5.7 Variation: A spicier alternative to the Brown Spot pitch is to take a straighter, more direct route to the anchor. Technically the fourth pitch of Slabs Direct (5.7 PG, 120 ft), this pitch starts the same way as the normal route. It climbs up and right for about 20 feet toward a left-leaning corner then deviates from the normal route—climb the corner then step right onto a slab protected by a bolt. Continue moving up and right toward a ramp. Follow the ramp left to a corner, ascend the corner (pin) and build a belay just below the final overlap, at the same spot where the Brown Spot pitch normally ends. Use long slings to minimize rope drag.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Atop Whitehorse

With the technical climbing behind you and ample places to sit comfortably, the top of Whitehorse Ledge provides a picturesque setting for rehydrating, switching from climbing to approach shoes, packing your rope and rack, and getting ready for the descent. Before leaving, be sure to soak up the fantastic views, with North Conway in the foreground and the White Mountains spilling out north.

Climbing near Lunch Ledge. | Credit: Tim Peck
Climbing near Lunch Ledge. | Credit: Tim Peck

Getting Down

From the top of the climb, start walking climbers’ right toward the saddle between Whitehorse and Cathedral, following a well-trod path ducking in and out of the woods and occasionally onto some low-angle slabs. Shortly after the trail departs from the slabs for a final time, it forks. Head right (going left will bring you to Cathedral), and follow the initially steep, but eventually mellow, trail for 15 to 20 minutes to the base of the slabs.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Tricams are a particularly useful piece of protection on Standard Route, as they slide into pockets that don’t accommodate nuts or cams.
  • A 60-meter rope is the perfect length for Standard Route and you won’t go wrong with a Sterling Nano IX 9.0 mm, but like we said above, if you plan on repelling, you’ll need two.
  • Big enough to carry your climbing kit, layers, food, and water, the Black Diamond Speed 22 is the ideal-sized climbing pack for a trip up Whitehorse.
  • There isn’t much protection from the sun on Whitehorse’s exposed slabs—a sun shirt offers simple, safe protection.
  • A sticky-soled pair of approach shoes are invaluable at Whitehorse—many will scramble up to the Launch Pad (or even the first few pitches) in them while everyone appreciates them on the at-times-steep and scrambly descent.
  • Feel like climbing more? Check out the North Conway Rock Guide for all the information needed to tackle other routes at Whitehorse, along with the area’s other crags.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Slab climbing on wet rock is terrifying. If the rock is wet, it’s raining, or rain is in the forecast, consider a different objective.
  • The routes on the Slabs on Whitehorse (Sea of Holes, Sliding Board, Standard Route, Beginner’s Route, and Cormier-Magness) are extremely popular. Plan on an early start or climbing during the week to avoid crowds and traffic jams.
  • There aren’t a lot of placements on several pitches of Standard Route. A normal rack for the route might be 9 cams (0.3, 0.4, 0.5, 0.75, 1, 2 with doubles of 0.5, 0.75, and 1), a size run of nuts (5-13), a few small tri-cams, and 8 alpine draws.
  • Sending Standard Route is an achievement worth celebrating. Flatbread Company in North Conway is only a few minutes from the cliff and offers the tastiest pizza around.
  • Realized you were missing a key piece of gear on the route? Want to cruise for a deal on a new puffy? Just want to check out the latest and greatest in outdoor gear? Stop into our North Conway store before you head home!
  • If you’re not sure you’re up for leading the route but really want to climb it, the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School will be happy to guide you up it.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Current Conditions

Have you recently climbed Standard Route on Whitehorse? What did you think? Post your experience in the comments for others!


Bikes and Brews: Bear Brook and Concord Craft Brewing

Bear Brook State Park, located in south-central New Hampshire, is a mountain biker’s dream. With trails that offer options for every type of rider, Bear Brook is an easy trip for many in-state and Massachusetts-based mountain bikers, while its campground makes it perfect for those visiting from farther afield. Better yet: Combining a ride here with some post-ride refreshment from Concord Craft Brewing makes for a fantastic day out.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Biking

Originating through the Recreational Designation Area Program—a New Deal project to build public parks near urban areas—Bear Brook is located about 30 minutes from both Concord and Manchester, New Hampshire. The park sports an extensive and diverse trail system, with roughly 10,000 acres and more than 40 miles of trails. It is the largest developed state park in New Hampshire, and there’s no better way to explore it than on a mountain bike.

There are a handful of parking options, but the biker/hiker parking lot or Hayes Field on Podunk Road—both off of NH-28—both provide a central jumping-off point for exploration. Generally, parking in the hiker/biker lot means beginning your ride with a climb, while parking at Hayes Field means ending your ride with one.

There’s a $4 per person fee to enter the park, which you can pay in advance on their website or in person at the “toll booth” on Podunk Road or the ranger station at the entrance to the biker/hiker parking lot. Even if you prepay, it’s a good idea to stop and get a free map—the park is vast, the trail signage could be better, and navigating is tricky at times.

Evidence of a pre-park time is apparent throughout most rides, as the park’s large trail system passes stone walls, long-forgotten foundations, and old cemeteries.

Bear Brook’s trails offer something for everyone, with everything from fast and flowy trails to techy rock gardens to playful side hits. There is also climbing—lots and lots of climbing.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Fast and Flowy: Ending almost in the hiker/biker lot, Big Bear is the crown jewel of Bear Brook’s trail system. It delivers huge smiles as you whip down the smooth trail and hurtle through banked turns—there are even a couple of optional jumps for those looking to clock some air time. Designed for descending, downhillers have the right of way on Big Bear. Across from the hiker/biker lot (after a short climb) is another great option for those with the need for speed: Hemlock offers a swift, bench-cut descent before giving way to fast, fun, rolling terrain.

Tech: One of the awesome things about riding at Bear Brook is that after the steep climbs and robust rock gardens, the best techy trails usually reward bikers with enjoyable, easier riding. Two great options are in close proximity to Hayes Field. Carr Ridge offers rock-strewn, punchy climbs and loose descents that give way to well-manicured and grin-inducing turns. Similarly, Bear Hill delivers climbing, intermittent rock gardens, a skinny elevated log ride (don’t worry, there’s a B-line), and a few fun things to pop off of, all mixed in with pleasurable, easy-rolling singletrack.

Climbing: When thinking about Bear Brook climbing, one trail immediately springs to mind: Alp d’Huez. Named after the iconic Tour de France climb, Alp d’Huez is less centrally located than other classics (it’s close to the toll booth), but offers a nice switchbacking ascent sure to have you breaking a sweat and trying to catch your breath. The Little Bear Trail—which starts near the hiker/biker lot and is the standard way to get to the top of the Big Bear Trail—provides a similar experience but is a little bit shorter and less steep.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Brews

One of the best ways to end a great day of riding at Bear Brook is with a craft beer—and Concord Craft Brewing in downtown Concord, New Hampshire, is the perfect place to kick back with friends, whether on the patio or in their cozy taproom. Just be warned, the brewery only serves cold beer and munchies (think pretzels, peanuts, and chips). Luckily, there are also a bunch of great places to grab a bite within walking distance.

Double IPA: IPAs rule the day at Concord Craft Brewing, and although you may not have claimed a KOM or QOM on your ride, you can still sit down with the Gov’nah. An imperial/double IPA, at 8.6% ABV, the Gov’nah is Concord Craft Brewing’s strongest offering. Fair warning—the more miles you’ve logged, the more powerful this brew seemingly becomes.

New England IPA: If 8.6% ABV feels ambitious, you can seek a safe space—a Safe Space IPA, that is. A classic hazy New England-style IPA checking in at 6% ABV, Safe Space is the ideal treatment for those tired legs, but not so dangerous to affect your odds of riding again tomorrow.

Session IPA: If you’re planning to spend as much time on the patio as you did on the trails—or feel like you deserve a beer for each trip you took down Big Bear—consider a Finding NEIPA, a delicious low-alcohol (4.2%) brew that won’t leave you feeling like you went over the handlebars the next morning.

Sour Slushie: For non-beer lovers and those super-hot days, you can’t go wrong with a Sour Slushie. A delightful treat that will have you yearning for your youth, but happy to be over 21, Concord Craft mixes its Berliner Weisse Kettle Sour in a slushie machine for a truly unique treat.

If you’re staying at the campground or heading south to get home, there’s still a great way to sample some of the brewery’s choice beverages. Concord Craft beers abound at grocery and convenience stores near Bear Brook. Be an après-hero and grab a four-pack (or two) for your crew for some post-ride refreshment.

Have you visited Bear Brook or Concord Craft Brewing? If so, we want to hear about your favorite trails and what ales you in the comments below!

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

A Beginners Guide to Hiking in the White Mountains

At almost 800,000 acres in size, containing approximately 1,200 miles of hiking trails, and topping out at 6,288 feet—higher than anywhere else in the Northeast—the White Mountain National Forest offers nearly limitless possibilities for human-powered exploration. Hiking options in the White Mountains expand with the inclusion of adjacent state parks like Franconia Notch and Crawford Notch (which includes the nation’s oldest continuously maintained hiking trail—the Crawford Path).

The proximity of the White Mountains to many of the Northeast’s biggest cities makes them an attractive option for the region’s hikers, but one barrier remains for some who want to explore this dreamy destination: where to start?

On top of Mount Eisenhower in the Presidential Range. | Credit: Tim Peck
On top of Mount Eisenhower in the Presidential Range. | Credit: Tim Peck

Start Small to Go Big 

Epic hikes like the Presidential Traverse, Pemi Loop, and Franconia Ridge are at the top of seemingly every hiker’s White Mountain bucket list, but they aren’t the best trips for hiking novices. Start small, build fitness, get familiar with the weather and terrain of the Whites, and start figuring out what gear works for you.

Some great 1-3 hour hikes for getting your feet wet include:

For a little more of a challenge, consider these moderate hikes:

  • Middle and North Sugarloaf
  • Welch-Dickey
  • Mount Willard
  • Hedgehog Mountain
  • Mount Pemigewasset

Ready to start ticking off 4,000 footers? Here are a few of the easier ones:

  • Mount Hale via Hale Brook
  • Mount Tecumseh via Tecumseh Trail
  • Mount Waumbek via Starr King Trail
  • Mount Pierce via the Crawford Path
  • Cannon Mountain via High Cannon
Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Carry Essential Items 

The “10 essentials” serve as a basic guideline of what you should carry in the event of an emergency or an unexpected night outside. The concept originated in climbing classes taught by the Mountaineers—an outdoor recreation organization founded in the Pacific Northwest—in the 1930s. However, it wasn’t until 1974 that the 10 essentials actually made it to print, when the long-standing tome of American climbing, Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills included the list in its third edition.

In the near-century since their development, the 10 essentials have evolved to encompass modern technology but still fulfill their original intention. The 10 essentials are:

  • Navigation: Study your route before you leave home, then bring a map and compass, GPS, or a smartphone with a navigation app like Gaia.
  • Headlamp: Hikers are encouraged to carry a headlamp with extra batteries, but we live by the maxim that the best place to keep extra batteries for your headlamp is in another headlamp—after all, a powerful headlamp like the Black Diamond Spot only weighs three ounces.
  • Sun protection: Sunglasses for your eyes and sun-protective clothes and sunscreen for everything else.
  • First aid: Check out the goEast article How to Restock Your First-Aid Kit for ideas on what to carry.
  • Repair kit: A small knife or multi-tool and some duct tape for making trailside repairs like fixing a broken zipper or tapping the sole of a shoe back on.
  • Fire: Waterproof matches and a firestarter.
  • Shelter: A lightweight bivy to hunker down in the event of an unexpected overnight or while awaiting rescue.
  • Extra food: Our article Staying Fueled Up on Long Hikes outlines some basic nutritional principles for powering your adventure—as a rule of thumb, bring more than you need.
  • Extra water: Water is heavy, but tablets or a lightweight mini-filter offer safe, easy ways to stay hydrated in an emergency.
  • Extra layers: Everyone has different needs—some people run warm, some cold—but bring more layers than you think you need. Get an idea of what your hiking kit should look like in our article Top to Bottom: Gear to Hike the NH 48.
Crossing the Alpine Garden below Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck
Crossing the Alpine Garden below Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck

Mountain Weather 

The weather in town is often a lot different from what you’ll find in the mountains. Strong, chilly winds are commonplace on hikes above treeline, as are intense sun and even the odd out-of-season snow. Rather than trusting the weather app on your phone, check out the higher summits forecast from the Mount Washington Observatory for a clear idea of what’s happening weather-wise in the Whites.

Trail Conditions 

Weather isn’t the only difference between town and the mountains. For example, snow can linger in the woods for weeks after it has melted from sidewalks and backyards. Another thing to keep in mind before hitting the trail is water crossings, as spring snowmelt and heavy rains can turn small streams into raging rivers. The website NewEnglandTrailConditions.com is a handy resource for learning what conditions to expect on your hike.

Lake of the Clouds hut, below Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck
Lake of the Clouds hut, below Mount Washington. | Credit: Tim Peck

Find Some Friends

Joining a more experienced partner or two for your first few outings is a sure way to get all the benefits of the Whites without any of the stress. An experienced friend can provide critical beta—like directions to the trailhead or which way to turn at the unsigned trail junction—while also offering feedback on questions you have about appropriate gear and your fitness level.

Stay Safe

A good reason to hike within your abilities, carry the 10 essentials, and know what you’re getting yourself into is that the State of New Hampshire has recently started charging people for rescues if they’ve demonstrated negligent behavior. To insure yourself against a bill for a rescue, and to support NH Fish and Game search and rescue efforts, consider purchasing a Hike Safe Card for $25 a person or $35 for a family. Don’t think you’ll need a rescue? The NH Fish and Game on average participate in 190 search and rescue missions per year.

Have any tips for new hikers? If so, leave them in the comments below.


Are the Green Woodlands New England’s New Mountain Bike Hot Spot?

More and more mountain bike trails are springing up around New England every season. In most cases, these trail systems start with a few miles and grow slowly over the years; Rarely does a full-blown trail system spring up overnight. One place breaking the mold and blowing up the mileage is Green Woodlands in Dorchester, New Hampshire, which has opened up 70 miles of mountain bike trails—35 miles of which are machine built—in just a few years.

Green Woodlands’ mountain bike trails come thanks to the Green Woodlands Foundation, a private (multi-generational family) operating foundation that has 23,000 acres of land in the New Hampshire towns of Lyme, Dorchester, Orford, and Wentworth. The foundation’s focus is wildlife management, environmental research and education, historical preservation, and activities that get people outside, such as cross-country skiing and mountain biking.

The area has one of the easiest trail systems to navigate in the Northeast. In addition to having printed maps and brochures in most parking lots and maps at prominent trail junctions, there’s also a digital map on the Trailforks app and a free, downloadable geo-referenced PDF that is compatible with apps like Avenza. Be sure to arrive prepared—Green Woodlands’s goal was to create a backcountry “wilderness” mountain bike experience, which is what you get (to say cell-phone service is spotty is an understatement). There’s also no end-of-day trail sweep, so ride with a buddy.

The only charge for riding Green Woodlands is a smile, which isn’t hard to produce after a day riding their trails. It’s worth noting that the new nature of the trails and the fact that they’re machine built makes them particularly sensitive—avoid riding them in the rain and when they’re muddy to ensure they remain rideable and open. If the weather is questionable, check their Facebook page for conditions and updates. The mountain bike season at Green Woodlands runs from June 1st to November 5th.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Smooth and Clean 

What differentiates the Green Woodlands trails from the rake-and-ride trails that dominate other New England destinations is that they are primarily machine built. This means that the trails are smoother with fewer rocks, roots, and natural obstacles in them. It also makes these trails accessible to a wider range of riders—beginners will love the relative lack of obstacles and that the most challenging sections almost always have b-line or are easily rolled. Alternatively, more seasoned riders will find plenty of berms on trails such as Cellar Hole, tables on trails like Moose Tracks, and side hits including those on Brook Trail to play on.

While the trails themselves are very beginner-friendly, most will want to make sure they’re feeling pretty fit when visiting Green Woodlands, as there’s a significant lack of flat and rolling terrain; long climbs are rewarded with long descents and vice versa. However, thanks to an abundance of parking lots on North Dorchester Road, shuttling is a straightforward (and popular) activity, provided you have two cars.

Upper Norris. | Credit: TIm Peck
Upper Norris. | Credit: TIm Peck

The Must-Rides 

All the trails at Green Woodlands are worth exploring, but the Norris Trail should be on every Northeast mountain biker’s must-ride list. Accessed by a long, gradual climb up the Quimby Bike Trail—or a more direct grind up the double track of the Six Mile Trail—the Norris Trail is worth the effort. Delivering three-ish miles of pure downhill bliss, the Norris Trails descends approximately 1,000 feet, making it one of the longest continuous descents you’ll find in New England.

It’s not merely the length of the Norris Trail that makes it a must ride, it’s the quality. The trail begins with a sneaky (and uncharacteristic for Green Woodlands) steep, rocky chute before giving way to smooth, swoopy machine-built berms, boostable tables, and the odd side hit that will quickly have you forgetting about the searing in your lungs and wondering if it’s normal to smile so big.

Brook-trail

Beyond the Favorites 

Ledges was the first mountain bike-specific trail built at Green Woodlands—before biking, the area was known for its extensive network of XC ski trails. Different in character from many of the network’s other trails, Ledges starts with a climb up smooth singletrack which leads to some uncharacteristically techy granite ledges (hence the name) and eventually leading to a swoopy, machine-made descent.

Riders looking for a tamer trail will want to seek out the Brook Trail. Ebbing and flowing between short climbs and gradual descents, the wide, smooth singletrack culminates in a series of grin-inducing berms. Notable for the numerous giant stone cairns guarding the sides of the trail, the Brook Trail is great for beginners looking to gain confidence as well as seasoned riders wanting a fun, fast, trail that requires some pedaling.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Fine Print

At the moment, Green Woodlands is only open to residents of New Hampshire and Vermont, but the trails were built to draw visitors to this off-the-beaten-path part of the state. While you wait for Green Woodlands to expand their opening, spend some time riding hills to ensure maximum mileage when you visit and follow their Facebook account for updates.

Have you visited Green Woodlands? If so, let us know if you have any tips for first-time riders in the comments below. And, if you just visited Green Woodlands for the first time, let us know what you think!


Alpha Guide: Hiking Mount Moosilauke

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

The treeless summit of New Hampshire’s tenth tallest mountain and westernmost 4,000-footer is a stunning and worth prize for peakbaggers.

Taking its name from the Abenaki language, Mount Moosilauke translates to “bald place.” No doubt named after its stunning, treeless, wind-swept summit cone, Moosilauke is a day hiker’s delight, offering a wide variety of trails that will challenge all types of hikers. No matter what direction you summit from, the reward is a stunning 360-degree view—so long as the weather is good.

 

Download file: Moosilauke.gpx

Turn-By-Turn

Most of the day hikes on Mount Moosilauke leave from four trailheads: the Carriage Road Trailhead, the Ravine Lodge Trailhead, the Glencliff Trailhead, and Beaver Brook Trailhead.

The Carriage Road and Ravine Lodge trailheads are both located off NH Route 118, while the Beaver Brook Trailhead is on NH Route 112. All three are within 15-20 minutes of both Lincoln and Woodstock, New Hampshire.

Getting to the Glencliff Trailhead is a bit more complicated. First, get to NH Route 25 (which runs north-south west of Moosilauke), then turn onto Sanatorium Road. The trailhead is about a mile up the road on the right. A field and a White Mountain National Forest sign are two indicators that you’ve found the right parking lot.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Gorge Brook Trail

Distance: 7.4 miles, 2,450 feet, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half-day
Difficulty:★★
Scenery:★★★★★


Season: Late-spring through early-fall.
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://outdoors.dartmouth.edu/services/ravine_lodge/directions.html

The shortest and most popular way to Moosilauke’s summit, the Gorge Brook Trail begins near Dartmouth College’s Ravine Lodge on Ravine Lodge Road. After crossing a brook on a hikers’ bridge, the trail turns left, then at a well-marked junction, starts climbing alongside Gorge Brook, crisscrossing the brook on a few occasions.

After about 1.5 miles, the trail diverges from the brook near a memorial for Ross McKenny, the Dartmouth Outing Club’s Woodcraft Advisor, and builder of the Ravine Lodge. From here, the trail begins to climb gradually up Moosilauke’s flank through beautiful forest, eventually passing a series of overlooks—one toward the Sandwich Range and then others with fantastic views of Lincoln, Franconia Ridge, and the Kancamagus Highway. Nearer the summit, the trail steeply ascends a series of switchbacks, eventually reaching an open area with excellent views. From here, the trail briefly drops back below tree line before beelining up the summit cone. A short-but-steep, open, and often windy hike across the alpine zone gets you up to the 360-degree views on Moosilauke’s rocky summit. Once you arrive, plop yourself behind one of the many windbreaks, grab a snack, enjoy the views, and relish the 3.7 miles and 2,400 feet of elevation gain that you’ve achieved.

To return to the base, either retrace your steps or, on nicer days, make a fantastic loop by descending via the Carriage Road to the Snapper Trail and back to Ravine Lodge Road. If you do the loop, tag Moosilauke’s South Peak on the way. It’s one of the best sub-peaks in the Whites!

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Beaver Brook Trail

Distance: 7.6 miles, 3,100 feet, one way, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Full-day
Difficulty:★★★★
Scenery:★★★★★


Season: Late-spring through early-fall.
Fees/Permits: White Mountain National Forest Recreation Pass ($5/day or $30/annual)
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/whitemountain/recarea/?recid=74571

The Beaver Brook Trail is the steepest and most challenging trail to Moosilauke’s summit, and is also part of the iconic Appalachian Trail. Ascending 2,700 feet from Beaver Brook Trailhead to Mossilauke’s summit, the trail gains 3,100 cumulative feet in elevation—accounting for the trail’s various ups and downs—over just 3.8 miles.

Leaving the Beaver Brook Trailhead, the trail starts gently, weaving over roots and boulders, and crossing a few bridges before gaining the Beaver Brook Cascades. From here, the trail hugs the Beaver Brook Cascades for the next mile and delivers some of the steepest hiking in the Whites—hiking that is made even more challenging because it is often wet and slippery thanks to mist from the nearby falls. Many of the steepest sections feature wooden steps and iron rungs to aid in the ascent.

After about 1.5 miles on the Beaver Brook Trail, it intersects with a short spur trail leading to the Beaver Brook Shelter which marks the end of the steepest climbing. After another half-mile of hiking, the trail meets with the Asquam Ridge Trail; Bear right and continue on the Beaver Brook Trail for another 1.5 miles, passing under the summit of 4,529-foot Mount Blue (a non-counting New Hampshire 4,000-footer). From here, the trail converges with the Benton Trail for the final half-mile push across the alpine zone and past large cairns to the summit.

An ascent of Mount Moosilauke via the Beaver Brook Trail is most commonly an out-and-back affair. Use caution on the return trip, though—descending steep terrain on tired legs can be a recipe for disaster.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Carriage Road

Distance: 10.2, 3,100 feet, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half-day
Difficulty:★★★
Scenery:★★★★★


Season: Late-spring through early-fall.
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/whitemountain/recarea/?recid=74571

Constructed in the 1800s, the Carriage Road was built as a means to get visitors to a hotel (the Prospect House, later known as the Tip Top House) that once stood on top of Mount Moosilauke. The Carriage Road is the longest and gentlest of the popular hiking routes to the mountain’s summit—it’s approximately 5 miles long and climbs 3,000 feet.

Hikers begin their journey on the Carriage Road at a small gravel lot on Breezy Point Road that’s notable for the numerous hotels that have stood there, including the Merrill Mountain Home, the Breezy Point House, and the Moosilauke Inn. Although none of the buildings remain today, curious hikers can find remnants of these old buildings with a little searching.

An ascent of the Carriage Road begins benignly. Over the first 1.25 miles, the trail slowly weaves through a low-elevation forest passing pines and birches and gradually picking up elevation then passing over the Baker River before intersecting with the Snapper Trail. Continuing on the Carriage Road, hikers will begin to notice the birches give way to smaller pines with occasional views to their right and at their back. Not long after meeting the Snapper Trail, the trail starts to steepen as it climbs 1.25 miles to its junction with the Glencliff Trail and a short (0.1 mile) spur trail leading to the 4,523-foot South Peak.

From here, it’s just under a mile to the summit with each step bringing you further into the alpine zone, and exposed to the elements, as the krumholz gives way to bare rock before ending at Moosilauke’s bright orange summit sign. Along the way, there are plenty of views, especially west toward Vermont’s Green Mountains—try to pick out Camel’s Hump and Mount Mansfield on the western horizon. It’s common for Carriage Road hikers to return the way the came, enjoying the width and gentle grade of the trail on the descent.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Glencliff Trail

Distance: 7.8 miles, 3,300 feet, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half-day
Difficulty:★★★
Scenery:★★★★★


Season: Late-spring through early-fall.
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/whitemountain/recarea/?recid=74571

Just 4 miles long and gaining roughly 3,300 feet in elevation to Moosilauke’s summit, the Glencliff Trail is a fantastic way to explore the southwest side of Moosilauke. Beginning at a trailhead on Sanatorium Road, the trail is quite moderate for the first mile—starting through grassy fields before gradually ascending through forested terrain of yellow birches and hemlocks.

Thereafter, the trail begins to climb more steeply, while also becoming more rocky and rugged, as it approaches the ridge just below Moosilauke’s South Peak. Atop the ridge (around the 3-mile mark), the trail passes a short spur trail for South Peak—be sure to check it out if you have time—and then joins the Carriage Road almost immediately. From the junction with the Carriage Road, it is another mile up to the summit.

Ascending Moosilauke via the Glencliff Trail is typically done as an out-and-back. Because Glencliff is part of the Appalachian Trail, hikers may well spot some thru-hikers as they head north toward Maine’s Mt. Katahdin or southbound toward Georgia’s Springer Mountain.


Moose from South Peak. | Credit: Tim Peck
Moose from South Peak. | Credit: Tim Peck

Trails Less Traveled

If you’re looking for a bit more solitude on your hike up Moosilauke, consider one of these less-traveled trails.

Asquam Ridge Trail: Those looking for a longer hike from the Ravine Lodge Trailhead should check out the Asquam Ridge Trail. Running 5.8 miles to Moosilauke’s summit, the trail makes a gradual ascent up the northeastern side of the mountain. One highlight of the trail is that just before it connects with the Beaver Brook Trail (at mile 3.9), it passes near the summit of Mount Jim, which at 4,172 feet tall is one of the several non-counting 4,000-footers that surround Mount Moosilauke. Look for a short spur trail to check out Jim’s summit.

Benton Trail: Thanks to the out-of-the-way location of the Benton Trailhead—and some rerouting in the wake of Hurricane Irene—the Benton Tail sees much less traffic compared to Moosilauke’s more popular routes, despite being one of the easiest ways to the mountain’s summit. The 3.6-mile trail follows the route of an old bridle path, accounting for its modest terrain and moderate footing. Hikers on the Benton Trail are also afforded fantastic views of the Kinsmans and Little Tunnel Brook Ravine, before connecting with the Beaver Brook Trail/Appalachian Trail. From here, the trail continues for a half-mile through the alpine zone, guided by impressive cairns, to Moosilauke’s rocky summit.

Snapper Trail: The 1.1-mile long Snapper Trail is a popular connector for hikers looking to make a loop hike out of the Gorge Brook Trail and the Carriage Road. The most popular of these loops is to ascend Moosilauke via the Gorge Brook Trail and descend via Carriage Road, breaking off on to the Snapper Trail and reconnecting with the Gorge Brook Trail a little more than a half-mile before the Ravine Lodge.

Looking for another great way to explore Mount Moosilauke? Skinning up the Carriage Road to Moosilauke’s summit and descending on skis is a classic New Hampshire ski tour. Check it out after the next big winter storm.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit 

  • Whether it’s spare layers or fuel for your Moosilauke adventure, carry it in comfort (and style) with an Osprey Talon/Tempest daypack.
  • Sitting alone on the edge of the Whites and exposed to the full force of the elements, Mount Moosilauke’s summit is notoriously windy. The Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody (men’s/women’s) offers lightweight and packable protection.
  • Similarly, a puffy coat is often welcome on Moosilauke’s summit even during the dog days of summer. The Outdoor Research Ascendant (men’s/women’s) uses a breathable insulation that is perfect for days when you’re trying to stay warm on your scramble back down to treeline.
  • Here are 10 great reasons to use trekking poles—and Black Diamond’s Trail Trekking Poles (men’s/women’s) offer the perfect blend of performance and durability.
  • Stoke will only power you so far up the mountain. When it starts to wane, refuel with a Honey Stinger Cracker N’ Nut Butter Snack Bar (the peanut butter and milk chocolate ones are our favorite).

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • The Last Chair in Plymouth is a great place to stop for a pizza and pint if you’ve been hiking the Glencliff Trail, Carriage Road, or Gorge Brook. Beaver Brook Trail hikers can grab a burger and beer at J.L. Sullivans in Thornton.
  • You don’t need to be a Dartmouth student to take advantage of the school’s Ravine Lodge—it’s open to everyone and offers easy access to the Gorge Brook Trail.
  • Spend a night on the mountain at the Beaver Brook Shelter, located right off the Beaver Brook Trail. The shelter sleeps eight, and features one of the better privies in the Whites.
  • With so many trails criss-crossing Moosilauke’s flanks, make sure you stay on course with map like this waterproof map of the White Mountains.
  • Hunt for history and hike to the site of a 1942 plane crash below the Asquam Ridge Trail.

A Ride Fit For a President: Grant's Trip up Mount Washington

“Man looks so small against the universe,” remarked President Ulysses S. Grant as he stood atop Mount Washington in August 1869. He’d just ascended the mountain’s west side via the Cog Railway, and then strolled about the summit, smoking a cigar. Dressed in suits, top hats, and dresses, his party posed for a summit photo—the only inkling of the approaching fall chill was the blankets wrapped around the women’s shoulders. Skinning away from the Marshfield Base Station early on this mid-winter morning, it sure is a lot colder, but President Grant’s 150-year-old remark still rings true: This mountain puts things in perspective. And we have a long way to go.

President Grant (center left, holding his hat) atop Mount Washington. | Courtesy: New England Historical Society
President Grant (center left, holding his hat) atop Mount Washington. | Courtesy: New England Historical Society

The Cog Railway, which we’ve come to skin and ski today, was the brainchild of New Hampshire native, Slyvester Marsh, who’d made a fortune in Chicago’s meat-packing industry before returning to his home state. After struggling to hike up Mount Washington, Marsh was inspired to build an easier way up the peak. His idea, however, was mocked, with one legislator responding to Marsh’s request for a charter to build the railway with a suggestion that the Legislature instead authorize him to build a railway to the moon. The comment has dogged the Cog for a century and a half; You’ll still hear people call it the “railway to the moon” today.

From the Marshfield Base Station, the Cog, known in Grant’s time as the Sky Railway, ascends up the mountain between Burt and Ammonoosuc Ravines before making a gradual right turn toward the summit. President Grant ascended its 3,600 feet in elevation and roughly three miles in distance in the front of the passenger car. We don’t have that luxury—trains don’t typically run in the winter—and we’re relegated to skinning up the mountain on the open slopes on either side of the track.

His idea, however, was mocked, with one legislator responding to Marsh’s request for a charter to build the railway with a suggestion that the Legislature instead authorize him to build a railway to the moon.

Courtesy: The Mount Washington Cog Railway
Courtesy: The Mount Washington Cog Railway

The average grade is 25 percent and drops of perspiration start to appear on our caps shortly into our climb, despite the single-digit temperatures. Still, the first 1,000 feet of elevation go quickly and in no time we’re cruising by Waumbek Tank, a water tank where Grant’s train probably paused to take on more water and coal for the steam-powered engines.

At the time of Grant’s 1869 ascent, the Cog was the world’s first cog-driven railway, employing engines with cog wheels that mesh with a toothed rail in the center of the track for propulsion up and down the steep grade. The track we’re skinning next to this morning is thus the world’s oldest cog railway—running through 28 presidencies since Grant’s.

Near treeline, our skin track shifts out and left of the track as we approach Jacob’s Ladder. A marvel of engineering both in Grant’s era and now, the tracks at Jacob’s Ladder lay at a puckering 37.4 degrees and balance on trestles 30 feet in the air. On his ascent, Grant, sitting at the front of the train, would have been 14 feet higher than those in the rear of the coach. For us, the slope in the vicinity of the Ladder is the crux of the ascent, our skins searching for purchase we climb the steeps near the tracks.

Courtesy: The Mount Washington Cog Railway
Courtesy: The Mount Washington Cog Railway

Once above treeline, we continue along the Cog as it bends right, slowing down to take in the view. To the north and south, not much has changed since Grant’s time, with the rugged northern Presidentials running on our left and their gentler southern brethren to our right. Behind us today stands the Mount Washington Hotel—which wouldn’t be built for another 30 years after Grant’s visit—and Bretton Woods, which followed Grant by about a century. Grant would certainly have seen signs of civilization, however; logging and railroads were extremely active in the area and hiking in the Whites, especially on the Crawford Path, was rising in popularity.

On his ascent, Grant, sitting at the front of the train, would have been 14 feet higher than those in the rear of the coach.

Arriving on Mount Washington’s summit, we seek refuge from the wind behind the Sherman Adams Visitor Center and quickly dig out puffy coats, mittens, and balaclavas. Grant’s visit to Mount Washington’s summit predates the Sherman Adams building by about 110 years, but the Summit House hotel would have stood nearby. Our arrival on the peak is not met with the same fanfare as Grant’s. A cannon announced the President’s arrival on the summit and the railway’s founder, Marsh, was there to shake Grant’s hand. Between the cold and the wind, none of the few hardy souls milling about the summit this morning venture over to greet us as we transition for our ski down the mountain.

While Grant was our inspiration to come up the Cog this morning, we’re taking our descent cues from the railway’s early employees. They would descend the Cog on a slide board made of metal and wood. Called a “devil’s shingle,” the board fit into the tracks and riders descended toboggan-like using friction-inducing brake handles to control their speed. With the thin, windblown, and rocky snowpack up high, we won’t match the 60 mph speeds achieved on the contraptions, let alone the 2 minute and 45 second record-fast slide. But it does leave us wondering if this was what P.T. Barnum, another early passenger on the Cog Railway, was referring to when he described the railroad as the “second greatest show on earth.”

Courtesy: The Mount Washington Cog Railway
Courtesy: The Mount Washington Cog Railway

As we ski away from the summit and begin sliding downhill, we can only wonder what Grant thought during his descent. Maybe he was thinking back to earlier stops on his trip to New England—Newport, Rhode Island; Boston, Massachusetts; and Manchester and Concord, New Hampshire—or his night before at the Crawford House. Maybe he was thinking ahead to the tour’s next destinations—Littleton, New Hampshire, then off to Saratoga Springs, New York. Or maybe he was doing just what we’re doing now: taking in the serene beauty of the landscape as he cruised down Mount Washington.


How the Nansen Ski Club Brought Bigtime Skiing to New Hampshire

New Hampshire has long been at the forefront of skiing in the US. The state is home to the country’s first organized downhill ski race (on Mount Moosilauke), its first gondola (at Wildcat), and a staggering number of trails cut by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that have become legendary resorts like Cannon, Wildcat, and Waterville. Hidden deep in the New Hampshire’s northernmost county, Coos, far above the state’s popular ski resorts, and lost among the numerous historical firsts is the state’s oldest and longest-running contribution to the sport of skiing: the Nansen Ski Club.

Founded in Berlin, New Hampshire, in either 1872 or 1882 (sources differ on the date of the club’s origin), the Nansen Ski Club was one of the earliest ski clubs in the US and is the country’s oldest continually operating ski club. While the club’s original purpose was to facilitate enjoyment of the sport—through trail maintenance and the construction of a warming hut—little did they know their efforts would lead to Berlin becoming the cradle of ski jumping in the US, put the small city on the minds of Olympic hopefuls, and still be attracting nordic skiers nearly 150 years later.

New-England-Skiiing
Fridtjof Nansen visits Berlin to meet Nansen Ski Club Members. | Courtesy: New England Historical Society

The Ski Klubben Club

Scandinavian immigrants brought skiing to Berlin, NH, and founded the Nansen Ski Club shortly thereafter. Arriving in Berlin in the 1840s and 1850s to help build the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad, the immigrants settled in the area (in part due to its hospitable winter climate), finding more permanent work in logging and the city’s mills. By the early 1870s, 30 families had established themselves in Berlin’s Norway Village, an area of four streets—Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. Much like the Nansen Ski Club, those streets are still around today.

During this period, the group founded the Ski Klubben in the upstairs hall of the old Berlin Mills Company Store. The club’s original intent was to foster the sport of nordic skiing and maintain a sense of pride in their home countries. Initially, membership was restricted to male residents of Norway Village, but soon after expanded to “allow any young man of good character.” The membership expansion is one of many changes over the years, most notably the club’s name. It evolved from the Ski Klubben to the Berlin Mills Ski Club to the Fridtjof Nansen Ski Club, before finally settling on the Nansen Ski Club.

The club’s namesake was Dr. Fridtjof Nansen, a famous Norwegian explorer who used cross-country skis to become the first person to traverse the Greenland Icecap. A hero to the club’s early members, Nansen would later be awarded a Nobel Prize for his aid to displaced victims of World War I. Nansen would also go onto visit his namesake club in 1929; when he arrived in Berlin, the whole city welcomed him with a parade.

10
Courtesy: Coos Historical Society

The Building of “Big Nansen”

In addition to the nordic focus, club members have been building jumps in Norway Village since the club’s inception. An early jump (built in 1906) was in Paine’s Meadow, where Berlin’s Eleventh Street runs today. Jumps like this one were made by building a chute into the hill and it’s said that the Nansens attained speeds of up to 60 miles per hour before they launched into the air. In 1921, the Nansens constructed their first proper ski jump—it was 65 feet high and featured a 170-foot runout. Just six years later, in 1927, the jump was enlarged.  

In the 1930s, Nansen members constructed a world-class ski jump just north of Berlin in the small town of Milan. Using the legendary ski jumps of Europe as a model, the Nansens, along with the City of Berlin and the National Youth Administration (a New Deal program providing work and education for Americans aged 16 to 25), built the highest ski jump in the US. Fondly called “Big Nansen,” the jump towered 171 feet above the ground with a descent angle of roughly 37.5 degrees and a 312-foot runout.

For approximately 50 years, Big Nansen was the foremost ski jump in the country. Shortly after its completion in 1938, the first Olympic trials were held there, with 25,000 spectators—more than double the Berlin’s current population—watching jumpers launch off Big Nansen. The jump went on to host the United States Ski Jumping National Championships in 1940, 1957, 1965, and 1972.

A host of factors led to the decline of Big Nansen—an accident in the 1970s that paralyzed a skier put a dark veil over the jump, while the volunteers responsible for the events aged. Additionally, professional skiers were seeking more modern jumps. In 1985, the last skier flew from Big Nansen and the jump officially closed in 1988, falling into disrepair thereafter. Big Nansen has since been designated a National Historic Site and efforts to restore it, revitalize youth ski jumping in the area, and host competitions are underway. These initiatives got a big boost when Olympian (and Red Bull athlete) Sarah Hendrickson flew from Big Nansen.

The ski jump today. | Courtesy: MrBerlin NH
The ski jump today. | Courtesy: MrBerlin NH

Ski it for Yourself

Part of New Hampshire’s State Parks, you can visit the jump today. As work continues, the Nansens’ Nordic heritage is still going strong, with over 300km of groomed cross-country ski trails in Milan. The foundational Nansen trails were built by John Morton, a two-time Olympian cross-country biathlon skier and professional trail designer.

The Nansen trail system accommodates skiers of all abilities and allows animals (provided they’re leashed and under control). The trails are groomed by volunteers and a warming hut is available to members anytime (non-members are welcome to visit the hut when a volunteer hut host is onsite—which includes most winter weekends).

The Nansen cross-country ski trails are located a short drive from Gorham and about 30 minutes north of Pinkham Notch on Route 16. Club members have access to the club’s “Ski & Snowshoe Equipment Locker” which includes the free use of skis, poles, boots, and snowshoes. If you don’t have your own gear and you’re traveling from the south, there are numerous places to rent Nordic gear on the way, including Eastern Mountain Sports’ North Conway store. Go visit!


Three Beginner-Friendly New Hampshire Ice Climbing Destinations

If you haven’t busted your ice tools out yet or you’re a beginner just looking to enter the sport, now is the time to do it. But before you head out, consider exploring one of these three awesome New Hampshire locations as the perfect spot to get in the…swing of things.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Kinsman Notch

Blending a mix of beginner-friendly ice with steep columns and big bulges in a fun, craggy setting, Kinsman Notch is a destination where you can find something for everybody, no matter who’s in your crew. Located just outside Woodstock on Route 112, getting to the ice at Kinsman requires a short-but-steep, 15-20 minute walk uphill on an easy-to-follow path. You’ll know you’re at the ice when you see a short, steep pillar straight ahead and the approach trail begins to level out as it bends left.

Kinsman’s first crag contains two fun climbs: Pot O’ Gold (the WI4 pillar) and Killarney (an easier route up the ramp to the right). Whether you’re leading or top-roping—walk around right for good trees above to build anchors—these climbs are well worth doing.

Just a little ways left of Pot O’Gold are several other popular flows. The first is Shamrock—a long, wide flow that ranges from WI3 to WI4 depending on the conditions and the precise path you take. The next flow is Hanging By The Moment, two steep columns on either side of a large rock; these are among the hardest climbs in the area. The final flow in this area is Leprechaun’s Lament. It has three distinct parts with the left-most flow (WI2+) being the easiest, the middle curtain going at WI3, and the right-most ramp falling in between the two in terms of difficulty. All three climbs allow access to the top ledge, which climbers can use to set up anchors above the WI3 curtain as well as some of the more challenging routes on climber’s right.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

If all these climbs are occupied, climbers can follow the typically beat-in path further left for about 200 yards. Soon you’ll see the Beast (WI4+) and the Ramp Route (WI3-4), two multi-pitch routes with steep first pitches followed by some mellower sections above. If climbing columns is your thing, don’t miss the Beast!

If the multi-pitch routes are already taken as well—which is possible because Kinsman is a popular weekend destination—there’s an additional wide flow another 50 yards left of the Beast. Known as Blarney Stone, this is a great place to get some sticks in while the parties ahead of you get pumped out.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Champney Falls

Champney Falls is an excellent location for beginner and intermediate climbers looking to challenge themselves on steeper ice. Located about 30 minutes outside of North Conway Village, climbers will find parking at the aptly named (and well-signed) Champney Falls Trailhead. From the trailhead, follow the normally well-packed Champney Falls Trail as it climbs gradually for roughly 1.5 miles and take the obvious spur into the gorge. Inside the gorge, there’s a small cave which is perfect for stashing gear in—opposite the cave is a wall of ice ranging between 25 and 40 feet.

There are two options for setting up top ropes at Champney Falls. For those uncomfortable leading, it’s possible to scramble through the woods to the top of the cliff. This is a popular destination and you’re likely to have a packed-snow path to follow. If not, a rusty wire fence leads to the top, providing a guide to the clifftop. The other option is to lead the ramp in the back of the gorge—depending on the season, this ramp can range from running water to  snow to a big fat flow. Either way, pack a reasonably long static line for building anchors; the sturdiest trees are quite far back from the edge.

The routes at Champney are all fairly vertical. With the exception of the snow ramp/ice flow, the routes in the back of the canyon are the longest and steepest (WI5). As the routes move toward the front of the gorge, they lessen in both height and difficulty with a normally yellow-ish ice section in the middle going at WI4 and giving way to shorter and bulgier ice in the WI3 range. Some short-ish mixed lines that are fun to play on also form at the mouth of the canyon from time to time. Champney Falls is a popular destination and can accommodate only a few parties, so if you’re heading there on a weekend in prime ice season, you’ll want to get an early start.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The North End of Cathedral

There’s good reason the North End of Cathedral is one of the busiest single-pitch ice crags in New Hampshire—the approach is only about five minutes. Located on Cathedral Ledge Road just after the winter gate, the North End is the most accessible ice in the North Conway area. It sports several large flows offering everything from mellow slabs to steep ice.

The three most popular flows at the North End are Thresher, the North End Slab, and the North End Pillars. In good conditions, the latter two are wide flows that can accommodate multiple parties at once.

Of the three flows, the easiest is the North End Slab (WI2). It is also the longest climb in the North End, climbing a moderately angled ramp that is fantastic for first timers. For climbers planning on top roping the route, be aware that a 60m rope will be too short; climbers can instead build an anchor partway up the climb and top rope from there.

Thresher Slab | Credit: Tim Peck
Thresher Slab | Credit: Tim Peck

The North End Pillars (WI3-4) are located just to the right of North End Slab. A very wide flow, there’s often room for multiple parties on these easily accessible steep columns and they are a great place to practice climbing vertical ice. Climbers interested in top roping can access the good tree anchors at the top via an approach trail on climber’s right.

The final flow at the North End—Thresher (WI3)—begins a bit left of the North End Slab. It starts with a few sporting moves up a chimney, then ascends a slab and bulges toward the trees. One note of caution—you’ll need more than a single 60m rope to rap back to the ground. Of course, there’s an easy solution, enjoy this stellar route as a party of three.

Now that you have the beta on these three awesome areas, it’s time (if you haven’t already) to bust out the tools and get climbing. Make sure to tell us in the comments how you fared!


Support the Mountains of the Northeast With Your Purchase

At EMS stores this holiday season, customers making a purchase will have the option of donating to one of three outstanding outdoor-focused organizations: the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), and the Mount Washington Observatory (MWOBS). Vital to outdoor recreation in the Northeast, these organizations are making it much easier for all of us to get outside. So while you’re getting a great gift this holiday season, here are some reasons to consider making a small donation to one of these awesome orgs.

76-946-ADK-AMC-MWOBS-Donation-Sign-22x28

Adirondack Mountain Club

The Adirondack Mountain Club has its roots in a store not all that different from EMS, at least at the time. In 1921, the club was conceived in the log cabin atop New York City’s Abercrombie & Fitch to improve the accessibility of remote areas of the Adirondacks through the construction of trails and shelters. From the first 40-person meeting at A&F in 1921 to the 75 (out of 208 certified charter members) attending the formal meeting a year later in 1922, the group has grown significantly. Today, the ADK boasts 28,000 members across its 27 chapters. However, one thing that has remained the same is the group’s mission to maintain trails, construct and maintain campsites, preserve a bureau of information about the Adirondacks, publish maps and guidebooks, and educate the public regarding the conservation of natural resources and prevention of forest fires.

Appalachian Mountain Club

From overnighting at a hut or tent site to maintaining the region’s historic trails to protecting wilderness in New Hampshire, the AMC has been providing assistance to hikers, climbers, and skiers in the White Mountains for generations. Born to encourage adventure and exploration in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the Appalachian Mountain Club predates the formation of the White Mountain National Forest by more than 40 years. Founded in 1876, the AMC is the oldest nonprofit conservation and recreation organization in the US. The AMC has grown up a lot over the last century and a half, swelling to more than a quarter-million members in its 12 chapters between Washington, D.C., and Maine. With age, the AMC’s mission has also morphed; in addition to adventure and exploration, the organization now supports conservation advocacy and research, runs youth programs, maintains 1,800 miles of trails, and provides hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours.

Mount Washington Observatory

Whether you’re a hiker, skier, or climber, the MWOBS’ Higher Summits forecast is a must read before any day in the Whites. Operating on the summit since 1932, MWOBS recorded the world’s fastest surface wind speed ever observed by man: 231 mph. Although the instruments and technology employed by the observatory have changed over the years, the goal remains the same: to observe and maintain a record of weather data, perform weather and climate research, foster public understanding of the mountain and its environment, and provide excellent forecasts for the public recreating in the White Mountains.

 

Edward Abbey famously said, “Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.” So, this holiday season, give a little extra to help preserve the places we all love by supporting these indispensable mountain services.


Ghost Towns of the White Mountains

Did you know that there are ghost towns in the White Mountains? The best known of them is Livermore. Incorporated in 1876, it was a thriving logging town for 50 years before fire, flooding, and deforestation led to the community’s abandonment. Today, exploring the town’s crumbling foundations, stone cellar holes, and still-thriving apple trees is a must-do for any ghost town aficionado or lover of White Mountain history. Easily accessible from Sawyer River Road, mark it as your trick-or-treat destination this Halloween.

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Old Livermore

The history of Livermore is deeply rooted in logging—its establishment shortly followed the founding of the Grafton County Lumber Company and the Sawyer River Railroad by the Saunders family. Bounding Waterville Valley, Lincoln, Bartlett, and Albany, Livermore was geographically huge (75,000 acres), comprised mostly of trees that the lumber company intended to harvest.

The community itself, however, was quite small. At its peak in the late 1800s, Livermore was a thriving logging town with a railroad, sawmill, blacksmith shop, post office, school, and 18 homes—along with the Saunders family’s part-time home, a lavish 26-room mansion. By 1890, the town’s population had swelled to 155 residents; The town even encompassed a separate area called “Little Canada.”

But shortly thereafter, Livermore was on the decline. As was the case with many similar towns, fire and floods eventually sealed Livermore’s fate—the sawmill burned down three times in the town’s short history while torrential rains and flooding in 1927 wiped out sections of the railroad and bridges.

Following the flood, the mill closed, all but 12 acres (which are now privately owned) of land were absorbed into the White Mountain National Forest, and the population declined precipitously. Between 1935 and 1937, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) removed the railroad and buildings, leaving behind just the foundations. In 1951, the state legislature revoked Livermore’s charter, leaving the town to be reclaimed by the forest it once was established to log.

The wall of a pumphouse in Livermore. | Credit: Tim Peck
The wall of a pumphouse in Livermore. | Credit: Tim Peck

Livermore Today

Livermore’s remains are still easily accessed today, just not by railroad. Rather, Livermore is best accessed via Route 302 and Sawyer River Road, just a few miles outside the village of Bartlett. About two miles up Sawyer River Road, just after a modern cabin, is a pull-off. From the pull-off, a short walk downhill toward the Sawyer River leads to the best preserved ruins—most notably the red brick foundation of the powerhouse as well as a broad cement structure that was once the sawmill. On the other side of the road, there are several cellar holes with solid stone foundations which are easily found by looking for the flat spaces on the hillside. A little further up the road is the cement foundation of the community’s school house.

Although this map is not to scale, we found it very helpful as we tramped around the ghost town. Be on the lookout as well for the town’s historic apple trees, which are still—some 100 years later—producing bountiful crops of what are now heirloom apples.

Remnants of a sawmill in Livermore. | Credit: Tim Peck
Remnants of a sawmill in Livermore. | Credit: Tim Peck

Livermore & Mount Carrigain

Much of the land that once produced the raw material for Livermore’s sawmill is also accessible today. Looking at a map of the Grafton County Lumber Company’s holdings, one quickly notices many familiar 4,000-footers—most notably the Bonds, Hancocks, and Twins. However, one mountain feels particularly entertwined with Livermore: Mount Carrigain.

The most obvious reason for the association of Mount Carrigain with Livermore is that the most popular route to the mountain’s summit—Signal Ridge—is accessed via Sawyer River Road. In fact, many unaware hikers have probably driven right past the remnants of Livermore on the way to the mountain, oblivious to the region’s rich history and fascinating historical site. The other reason for the linking of these two entities is that Livermore locals explored Mount Carrigain on early AMC-sponsored trips using the railroad line for access, as written about in an 1879 edition of Appalachia, the AMC’s journal of mountaineering and conservation.

The foundation of Livermore's schoolhouse. | Credit: Tim Peck
The foundation of Livermore’s schoolhouse. | Credit: Tim Peck

Other New Hampshire Ghost Towns

Livermore is the best known of the White Mountain ghost towns, but there are plenty more for the interested hiker. We even discovered what appeared to be a cellar hole on a recent off-trail excursion on the way to Guy’s Slide. If you’re looking to explore other abandoned towns in the area, Passaconway is a great place to start; Russell-Colbath House is conveniently located on the Kancamagus Highway and is now run as a museum by the United States Forest Service. Another interesting site is the remains of Thornton Gore—a town that, during the late 1800s, consisted of 26 homes, a school, a church, and a mill—which is located off of Tripoli Road near Russell Pond Campground (It’s an awesome trip to tack onto a hike of the Osceolas).

Have you visited one of the White Mountains’ ghost towns before? If so, tell us your best tips and must-visit places in the comments below!