Doc Benton and the Haunting of Mount Moosilauke

Mount Moosilauke, a favorite of New England hikers, is no exception to the ghost stories that haunt the White Mountains. The story of the sinister Doctor Thomas Benton is well-known thanks to the enthusiastic raconteurs of Dartmouth College Outing Club, who have been telling this spooky tale to first-year students since the 1920s. Like many of the best campfire tales, the story of Doc Benton has evolved over the years, with each teller adding their own flourish to a tale about a man seeking eternal life. Consequently, while the broad strokes of this legend of terror remain the same, the demonic details attributed to Benton grow in every telling.

The Rise of Thomas Benton

The story begins in Benton, New Hampshire, a village in the shadow of Mount Moosilauke. The only child of a poor family, Benton developed a reputation for his quiet demeanor and extraordinary academic skill at an early age. The village needed a doctor and, recognizing Tom’s aptitude, raised money to send him to medical school in Germany.

At the University of Heidelberg, Tom excelled in the classroom but failed to connect with his German-born peers. His only friend was an eccentric professor, with whom he shared an interest in medicine, science, theology, and, most tellingly, the quest for eternal life. The two spent long nights theorizing and conducting experiments. Shortly before graduation, the professor passed away, leaving Tom his research, a collection of arcane books, and a locked chest, which followed Tom back to Benton when he returned to fulfill his duty as the village doctor.

The Fall of Doctor Thomas Benton

In every rendition of this ghost story, Benton’s downfall begins when he returns to the New Hampshire village of his youth. The details for why vary greatly. In some versions, he becomes distraught soon after arriving, learning that his parents died while he was in Germany. In others, he first establishes a renowned medical practice, marries, and has a child, only to be devastated when his wife and child die from contagious disease.

These details aside, every telling of this legend has Benton responding to the loss by withdrawing from the community and retreating to a small shack on the side of Mount Moosilauke. The only possessions he took with him were the books and small chest left to him by his professor. After moving to the cabin, Doctor Benton returned to town occasionally to resupply, but as time went on, his visits became less frequent. Eventually, younger townspeople knew of Doctor Benton as only the strange person—his appearance having shifted from prosperous young doctor to long-haired, crazed-looking hermit—living in the woods.

The Legend of Doc Benton

Many speculate that Benton resumed his search for eternal life while alone on the mountainside. Furthering suspicions, local livestock started showing up dead, the only sign of injury to the animals a small wound behind their ears. The strange happenings escalated when the dead body of a young man was stolen from the undertaker, only to reappear later with a small wound behind his ear as well.

Villagers began to speculate about what Benton was doing in the woods—some thinking he discovered the secret to eternal life but at the cost of his sanity, others believing he simply went mad with grief following the tragic loss of his family. Many were willing to look past the doctor’s peculiar behavior, until finally things took a turn.

One winter evening in the 1820s, a small girl named Mary did not come inside when called for dinner. When Mary’s mother went to get her, she saw a set of adult footprints in the snow leading out of town toward Mount Moosilauke. She summoned the townspeople and together they followed the trail of footprints to Tunnel Brook Ravine. There they observed a shadowy figure in a dark cloak with a long grey beard, recognized by some as Doctor Benton.

With the snow intensifying, the villagers closed in, pushing the doctor toward the steep-walled canyon. Seemingly trapped, Benton, with Mary under his arm, is said to have climbed one of the near-vertical cliffs boxing him in to elude capture. Atop the cliff, the villagers observed Benton throw Mary to her death, before disappearing forever into the escalating snowstorm. When the townspeople collected Mary’s dead body, they observed the tell-tale wound behind her ear.

The Legend Lives On

Although Doc Benton disappeared that fateful evening, he was not gone for good. In 1860, a missing logger on Mount Moosilauke was found dead, the only observable injury a wound behind his ear. Some 40 years later, a railroad worker in the area was found dead, also with a similar mark behind his ear.

Some say that Benton continued to frequent the area thereafter. Mysteriously creaky floors, open windows, and food disappearing from the cupboards at the Prospect House—a stone structure built on Moosilauke’s summit in 1860—have all been attributed to him. Others claimed to see a dark-cloaked figure fleeing the summit, darting behind the large cairns marking the trail trying to avoid detection.

In the 1970s, a search party was deployed when a solo hiker didn’t return from a trip to the remote Jobildunk Ravine. When the hiker was found, he was covered in bumps and bruises, and in shock, but otherwise uninjured. Once safely away from the mountain, the hiker confessed that a hand pushed him while he was climbing on an exposed ledge.

We can only wonder how many people have caught glimpses of Doc Benton over the years—a hand disappearing behind a tree, the tail of a dark cloak moving behind a cairn, and the glimpse of a long grey beard quickly vanishing into the thick forest—only to write them off as tricks of the imagination. Similarly, our minds wander to the question: Ss it Doctor Benton’s spirit haunting the mountain, or is it in fact the doctor himself, having discovered the secret to everlasting life?


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

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.

Tradition or Truth in New Hampshire’s White Mountains

The goal of climbing New Hampshire’s 48 mountains over 4,000 feet in elevation and joining the Four Thousand Footer Club has a 60+ year history dating back to 1957. However, over the past few years, the United States Geographical Survey (USGS) has been re-examining the topography of the White Mountains using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), and has made a shocking discovery: at least one of the 48–Mount Tecumseh, the shortest of the 48 4,000-footers—is actually 8 feet shorter than previously thought, putting this now-3,995 foot peak in jeopardy of being excluded from the AMC’s list of recognized 4,000-footers. And while 8 feet is small potatoes in most contexts, for the list-conscious hikers among us, it’s a huge deal.

But, the potential “losers” list may be broader than just Tecumseh. To date, the USGS hasn’t yet made all of the survey data collected public and the AMC has only evaluated the new information pertaining to 26 of the 48 4,000-footers. Still, with more accurate mapping technology available and more survey data to be reviewed, it’s safe to assume that low-lying 4,000-footers besides Mount Tecumseh could be in jeopardy of losing their status as 4,000-footers. Mount Isolation (4,004 feet) and Mount Waumbek (4,006 feet) are two candidates that come to mind. “The NH45” doesn’t have the same ring.

Of course, during the new survey, some mountains could find themselves picking up elevation. For example, at 3,993 feet, Sandwich Dome is just 7 feet shy of the magical mark under the old standards—is it possible it’s “grown”?

Likewise, some peaks could see their prominence (to qualify as a 4,000-footer, a peak must have a minimum rise of 200 feet from all surrounding peaks) increase, thus making them new additions for the 4,000-footer list. Indeed, according to the new data, Guyot now has sufficient prominence on the side facing South Twin. However, the data from Guyot’s other side has either yet to be released or analyzed. But if substantiated, it would mean that a full Pemi-Loop would net a peak-bagger 13—not 12—4,000-footers in one trip.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

How Will This Affect List-Conscious Hikers?

Revising the list of 4,000-footers in New Hampshire is certain to send shockwaves through the peak-bagging community. For many pursuing the NH48, this will surely alter their plans—possibly adding new peaks to their lists while subtracting others. For those with more committed projects—like gridding—changes to the list could significantly complicate their quests. Meanwhile, for those competing for a fastest known time (FKT) for completing New Hampshire’s 48 4,000-footers, subtracting Tecumseh could save a speed-hiker a couple of hours (including drive time, of course).

The flux in elevations of the New Hampshire 48 thus begs the question: How, if at all, will the AMC adjust the list? Will it just change the list to reflect the mountains’ true elevations? Or will it continue to include some of these now-“lesser” peaks on the list even though they no longer technically qualify? Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time the list keepers in the Northeast have faced the question.

History of AMC Changes

In the past, the AMC has adjusted the list according to a peak’s true elevation. In fact, the story of the New Hampshire 4,000-footers begins with just 46 peaks, ironically mirroring what was thought to be the number of Adirondack peaks over 4,000 feet in elevation. It wasn’t until the USGS published a new South Twin Mountain quadrangle that the New Hampshire 4,000-footers became 48 with the addition of Galehead Mountain in 1975, followed by Bondcliff in 1980. The most recent change came in 1998, when new survey data lead to Wildcat D replacing Wildcat E on the list of 4,000-footers.

Despite these changes, the AMC has not, to our knowledge anyway, ever just subtracted a 4,000-footer from the list. Indeed, even when they swapped the Wildcats, they made clear that ascents under the old standard would still “count.”

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

An Adirondack Tradition

With a tradition dating further back than New Hampshire’s (Robert Marshall, George Marshall, and Herbert Clark first completed the Adirondack 46 in 1925) more than 10,000 hikers have followed in their footsteps since, according to the ADK46ers—the ADK46 list is more steeped in tradition than true elevation, as more recent USGS surveys have shown 4 peaks to fall short of 4,000 feet, while one peak found to meet the essential elevation has been omitted (MacNaughton Mountain). Despite the updated information, the ADK46ers continue using the same list of 46 peaks that was used back in 1925. And, as two Tecumseh traditionalists—to be clear, we’ve hiked the mountain a lot—this could be a great solution in New Hampshire as well.

 

Given all this, what do you think the AMC should do? Would you be excited to see a new list and a new challenge? Or, would you prefer the AMC keep the tradition of the 48 alive? We want to hear! Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.


Gear Guide: What Your Loved One Needs to Rock Climb The Pinnacle

Winters in the Northeast are usually difficult for the climber on your holiday shopping list. With temperatures too cold for cragging and snow often blanketing the best boulders, many get their sending fix from the climbing gym’s warm confines. Although this provides temporary relief, the fluorescent lights, urethane holds, and chalk-filled air are no replacement for the freedom and fresh air found on an iconic alpine route like the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington.

Just the thought of sending the route’s money pitch, the Fairy Tale Traverse, should be enough to get your beloved climber through a winter of dreary days battling the “pink problem” in the gym. However, if this individual needs more than inspiration, consider picking them up a key piece of gear to help make this dream line a reality.

Alpha Guides

1. The Beta

Moderately rated climbing and incredible exposure should be enough to put the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle on every Northeastern climber’s tick list. However, it’s the route’s location on the iconic Mount Washington that makes it a must-do. Considering Mount Washington’s fearful reputation, make sure the climber on your list knows what to expect with goEast’s “Alpha Guide: Climbing the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle”.

2. Best Foot Forward

For training for the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, downturned and tight-fitting climbing shoes are a recipe for success in the gym—just not on the route itself. As a tip, read about choosing the right climbing shoes to understand the difference.

Sending an alpine route like this one means spending a lot of time in your shoes, so kicks that prioritize comfort and performance are a must. For a couple of options, Tommy Caldwell put the “TC” in the La Sportiva TC Pros, and used these shoes on his monumental climb of the Dawn Wall. For classic routes, the 5.10 Anasazi MoccAsym has been a staple for two decades.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Protect Their Head

Alpine routes, even ones as well-traveled as the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, have some loose rock. And, considering the climb’s classic nature, odds are the climber on your list won’t be the only party on the route—thus making a helmet mandatory. The Black Diamond Vector delivers an ideal blend of low weight and protection. Of course, if you really love the person on your list, consider trading up to the super-lightweight Black Diamond Vapor. After all, every ounce counts when you’re making the long approach up Huntington Ravine and the equally long descent down the Lion Head.

4. Weight Weenie

Unless your climber takes the “Euro Approach” (i.e., drives up the Auto Road), rock climbing only accounts for a third of the time climbers spend on this trip. The rest involves hiking up to and down from the climb, carrying a pack filled with layers, climbing gear, and food. In our Alpha Guide, we suggest bringing eight to 10 alpine draws on the trip, which you can help lighten up with ultra-light Black Diamond runners and super-light Camp Photons.

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

5. Pro Passive Protection

Modern climbers love cams for their ease of use. However, that comes at a cost—with that being weight. So, consider snagging the climber on your list some of Black Diamond’s Ultralight Cams (.5, .75, #1, #2, #3), which are considerably lighter than other modern options.

As another easy way to lighten your favorite climber’s load, supplement their rack with passive protection. Camp Tricams (.25, .5, 1.0, 1.5) are a lightweight and simple way to leave a few cams behind in the car. Stoppers also help keep pack weight down. As one example, this Black Diamond Stopper Set covers all of the sizes recommended in the Alpha Guide.

6. Wind Break

The exposed nature of the Pinnacle itself—along with the considerable amount of time climbers will spend hiking above treeline while crossing the Alpine Garden and descending the Lion Head—subjects them to the full force of Mount Washington’s record-setting winds. A quality wind shirt, such as the Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoodie (men’s/women’s), is tough enough to fight off these extreme gusts and stand up to the route’s coarse granite.

7. Fancy Pants

The normal monthly average temperature on Mount Washington’s summit never exceeds 50 degrees. In fact, the record-high summit temperature is just 72 degrees. Because of this, a good pair of tough, wicking climbing pants is recommended. We love the prAna Men’s Stretch Zion Pant for its mobility and breathability. Our wives, meanwhile, love the Women’s Halle Pant for these reasons. Plus, their roll-up leg snaps are great for both warm approaches low on the mountain and cooler temps up high. As an added bonus, these pants are perfect for winter training sessions in the gym.

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

8. Hit the Bottle

It’s quite a trick to fit essentials like a rope, climbing gear, climbing shoes, a helmet, and multiple layers into a pack that is also comfortable to climb with. For this reason, we love HydraPak’s Stash Water Bottles. Providing the same capacity as a traditional Nalgene, these bottles collapse when empty, freeing up pack space. Even better, the Stash Bottle is significantly lighter than its hard-plastic competitors.

9. Celebrate the Send

Climbing an iconic route like the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle is worthy of celebration. As well, Pinkham Notch—the jumping-off point for the Pinnacle—is one of the Northeast’s great outdoor hubs. Once back in the parking lot, the climber on your list is sure to appreciate putting a cold one in the Yeti Rambler Colster to toast their ascent. The Rambler Colster is perfect for keeping drinks discrete and cold while you’re savoring success and watching other climbers and hikers amble into the parking lot from Mount Washington.

10. Send Them to School

If a trip up a dreamy line like the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle is something that the climber on your list would love to do but it seems a little over their head, consider contacting the EMS Climbing School. As the oldest climbing school on the East Coast, EMS has been guiding climbs and teaching skills for the past 50 years and offers everything from privately guided climbs to classes—such as learning to lead—that will give the climber in your life the skills they need to go at it alone.

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

Gift Guide: What Your Loved One Needs to Hike Mount Monadnock

Every year in stores, everyone fights over and goes crazy trying to get that one popular present. Luckily, while the hordes seek out the latest gizmos and must-have toys, you can help the person on your list reach the summit of one of the world’s most popular mountains: New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock.

Mount Monadnock’s fairly close to major metropolitan areas—it’s just a two-hour drive from Boston and less than five hours from New York—and also offers year-round accessibility. These factors have made it the world’s second-most popular mountain—it draws more than 100,000 hikers per year, just behind Japan’s Mount Fuji, which saw more than 240,000 hikers in 2016. With a trek roughly four miles out-and-back along the iconic White Dot and White Cross trails, most hikers can easily summit this peak. Thus, a few key pieces of gear go a long way.

Alpha Guides

1.The Beta

Provide the inspiration to tackle this bucket list-worthy hike and summit one of the world’s most popular mountains with goEast’s “Alpha Guide: Hiking Mount Monadnock’s White Dot and White Cross Trails.”

2. Block The Wind

Don’t allow the sheer number of would-be summiters and comparatively low elevation (3,166 feet) belie Mount Monadnock’s seriousness. Rather, its prominence is greater than many of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers. For this purpose, a rain jacket is nice, but a high-quality, lightweight shell, like the Black Diamond StormLine Stretch (men’s/women’s), is a more-than-welcome addition to any hiker’s kit. Through the holiday season and beyond, it helps the wearer stay warm and dry on Monadnock’s treeless upper slopes.

Credit: Tim Peck

Credit: Tim Peck

3. Get a Grip

Solitude on the mountain is hard to find on busy weekends, but quiet moments can be found, especially during the winter. For such journeys, traction devices like the Kahtoola MICROSpikes are vital for navigating the packed snow found at low elevations and the icy stretches on the mountain’s upper third.

4. No Shade

As you travel up the White Dot and down the White Cross trails, you’ll find a substantial portion of your hike is above treeline. As such, a good pair of polarized sunglasses is needed to protect your beloved hiker’s eyes from the sun and wind they will surely encounter. We love the Julbo Renegade for their ability to transition from Monadnock’s summit to the patio at Harlow’s in Peterborough.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. Protect Yourself

No matter the season, sustained time above treeline also means extended exposure to the sun. For these conditions, a UPF-rated wicking shirt, like the Black Diamond Alpenglow Sun Hoody (men’s/women’s), helps protect the hiker on your list from the sun’s harsh rays. As a bonus, the Alpenglow’s hood is great for fending off the fierce winds common above treeline.

6. Puffer Jacket

“Monadnock” is an old Abenaki word that loosely translates to “mountain standing alone.” And, with its presence rising above flat fields and woodlands at its base, it’s easy to see how the mountain received its name. Because of the mountain’s prominence, the summit is often cold and windy, even in the summer months. However, no matter the time of year, the hiker on your list will appreciate a lightweight, packable puffy, like the EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket (men’s/women’s). It’s sure to keep them cozy.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

7. Accessorize

Because of the potential for cool weather on Monadnock’s summit, a lightweight winter hat, like the Smartwool NTS 250 Cuffed Beanie, and gloves, such as the EMS Power Stretch (men’s/women’s), are welcome additions to any hiker’s pack, no matter the season.

8. Get Transcendental

Two authors, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, spent significant amounts of time in the region. As such, both have recognized “seats” on the mountain. To encourage the hiker on your list to make the short diversion to “Emerson’s Seat” and “Thoreau’s Seat,” put them in a Transcendental mood with a copy of either author’s work. Or, print out a copy of Thoreau’s The Mountains in the Horizon—which opens with verses in praise of Monadnock—for them to read when they get to these special places. And, since Thoreau definitely would have embraced selfies, hook the hiker on your list up with a dry bag, like the Big Agnes Tech, to keep their smartphones and cameras dry in the event of inclement weather.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

9. Stay Hydrated

Whether you’re struggling up a steep incline, kicking back behind a summit windbreak, or staring out at the landscape from “Thoreau’s Seat,” it’s easy to get distracted and forget to drink enough. For this reason, hydration packs, with the hose right in front of you at all times, are perfect for this trip. Even if the person on your list already has one, they most likely are ready for a new bladder, like the Camelbak Crux 2L Reservoir.

10. It’s a Picnic

Jaffrey, New Hampshire—the gateway town to Mount Monadnock—is a far cry from a typical mountain town. As such, it’s a challenge to find a nearby place for a post-hike beer or meal. Instead, bring the après scene to the hiker on your list: Hook them up with a Mountainsmith Deluxe Cooler Cube, a Yeti Rambler Colster, and a Helinox Chair One.


Alpha Guide: Skiing in Tuckerman Ravine

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Who says the East doesn’t have bigtime, open backcountry skiing? A classic not just among Northeast skiers, Tuckerman Ravine is a serious challenge for all skiers and boarders.

“Skiing Tucks” is a rite of passage for almost every East Coast skier. The glacial cirque offers some of the best terrain east of the Mississippi, with high alpine conditions, steep chutes, and cozy gullies. The birthplace of “extreme” skiing in the 1930s and ’40s, it’s now the East’s most well-known and highly traveled backcountry skiing destination. Amongst its beautiful, rugged, and powerful terrain, its rich community, and addicting atmosphere, Tucks keeps the locals and the travelers alike coming back year after year.

The trip is easily done in a day, but staying multiple days allows for more skiing, earlier starts, and bigger weather windows.

Quick Facts

Distance: 2.9 miles to Tuckerman Ravine Floor, one way.
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty:★★★★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: December through April; best February and later.
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/whitemountain/recarea?recid=78538 

Download file: Tuckerman_Ravine_2.gpx

Turn-By-Turn

Parking and trailhead access to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail are at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Pinkham Notch Visitor Center located on Route 16 between Gotham and Jackson. Weekend parking fills up quickly, but an overflow lot is located just south of the Visitor Center. Stop in the Visitor Center for last-minute supplies, trail conditions, and weather information before starting your ski up the trail.

DJI_0015
Credit: Andrew Drummond

The Approach

Follow the Tuckerman Ravine Trail from Pinkham Notch Visitor Center for 2.4 miles to the Caretaker Cabin at Hermit Lake Shelters (44.13269° N 74.85318° W). From the Visitor Center, the trail switchbacks before straightening out for a sustained climb to the intersection with the Huntington Ravine Trail. From there, you’ll pass the Harvard Cabin Fire Road junction before climbing to the Hermit Lake Shelters, where you’ll finally gain stunning views of the ravine. Chat with a Ranger or stop into the Caretaker Cabin for up-to-date weather, snow, and safety information before heading up into the ravine. From the Caretaker Cabin, continue up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail for just over a half-mile to reach the ravine’s floor.

While skiers can hike or skin to the floor, once you choose your runs for the day, climbing on foot is necessary to get to the top of the steep slopes. It is strongly recommended to climb up what you intend to ski down to get an accurate view of the conditions and terrain. Remember that the runs are always changing due to the amount of snow and how the snow fills into each run.

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Credit: Andrew Drummond

After Your Ski

The fastest and most enjoyable way down is the Sherburne Ski Trail, which is accessible from the Caretaker Cabin at Hermit Lake. This trail is roughly three miles long, would equate to a “Blue Square” in difficulty at your local ski resort, and, at the end, drops you off at the south side of the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center parking lot. The “Sherbie” is also a great objective when avalanche danger is high for the day, or if you just want to go for a quick ski tour. As spring progresses, however, Sherburne’s skiable area decreases. So, keep an eye out for a cross-cut back to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail when the coverage gets thin.

If you are looking to spend the night, check out the AMC Hermit Lake Shelters for a winter camping experience and quick access to the ravine; Harvard Cabin for a cozy, rustic night halfway up the trail; or Joe Dodge Lodge next to the trailhead for a bunk, a shower, and a meal.


The Runs

Courtesy: Colin Boyd
Courtesy: Colin Boyd

Hillman’s Highway

Aspect: East-Northeast
Steepest Slope Angle: 40 degrees
Vertical Distance: 1200 feet

Hillman’s is slightly removed from the main “bowl” and is located under the Boott Spur Buttresses. Get a great view of the run from Hermit Lake Shelters’ visitor deck. Easy access is found by heading up the Sherburne Ski Trail from the Caretaker Cabin. Points of reference on Hillman’s include “the dog leg,” the skiers’ left-hand curve near the bottom; the top of “the Christmas Tree,” an area of vegetation to the climber’s right of the slide path that, when filled with snow, looks like a Christmas tree from a distance; and the fork near the top of the run, where skiers have a choice of two different variations.

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Credit: Jamie Walter

Left Gully

Aspect: East-Northeast
Steepest Slope Angle: 45 degrees
Vertical Distance: 850 feet

The ravine’s left-most prominent run is Left Gully. In the ravine, this run is often the first and last to be skied over the course of the season, as its northeast orientation helps the slope hold snow a bit longer due to decreased sun exposure. The top offers two general entrances to get into the run. When climbing up the gully, look to the right for a steeper entrance, or continue straight up for a slightly more mellow one. About halfway down, the run narrows a bit before making a left turn to drop you back into the bowl.

Credit: Andrew Drummond
Credit: Andrew Drummond

Chute

Aspect: East
Steepest Slope Angle: 50 degrees
Vertical Distance: 750 feet

Chute is easily identified by the hour glass-shaped choke point near the center. The steep entry funnels skiers through this 30-foot-wide point into open skiing and lower slope angles below. Use caution when climbing through the choke point, as skiers (and their sluff) may be descending. A great spot for a rest on the way up or down, a natural bench is under the rock buttress to the climber’s left of the choke point. It’s ideal for taking a minute to decide whether to keep going, to have a snack, or to take in the great views across the ravine.

Credit: Jamie Walter
Credit: Jamie Walter

The Lip

Aspect: Southeast
Steepest Slope Angle: 45 degrees
Vertical Distance: 750 feet

The Lip is located on the climber’s right-hand side of the headwall, where a gap in the steep wall of rock and ice lets skiers sneak through and make big, open turns into the bowl. When skiing into The Lip, trend to the left to avoid going over the icefall area. The Lip becomes progressively steeper as you ski into it; this decreases the visibility of the run below you, until you reach the steepest pitch. As such, find visual landmarks as you climb up, and use them as a route-finding tool on the way down. All eyes are on you when you’re skiing The Lip, so make it count!

Credit: Andrew Drummond
Credit: Andrew Drummond

Sluice

Aspect: South-Southeast
Steepest Slope Angle: 50 degrees
Vertical Distance: 700 feet

Sluice is found between The Lip and Right Gully. Its entrance is steep and has a tricky double fall-line, when the obvious ski run dictates one direction of travel, but gravity wants to take you in another. A good reference point for this climb is Sluice Ice, a cliff that holds vertical ice a few hundred feet up from Lunch Rocks. Use caution with your route-finding in the spring, as ice begins to shed as the temperatures rise. Skiers finish the run by skiing to the left side of Lunch Rocks.

Credit: Andrew Drummond
Credit: Andrew Drummond

Right Gully

Aspect: South
Steepest Slope Angle: 45 degrees
Vertical Distance: 700 feet

The most prominent gully on the south-facing wall is Right Gully. Because of their orientation, this run and Lobster Claw see the most sun in the ravine, so keep this in mind when searching for the perfect soft spring corn. Though it’s a bit shorter than some of the others, the consistent slope angle and half-pipe-like feel make this a favorite. A great place to scope out the line, decide whether to keep climbing, or have a snack is on the natural bench that forms under the climber’s right side of the slight choke point, just under halfway up the run.

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Credit: Andrew Drummond

Lobster Claw

Aspect: South
Steepest Slope Angle: 40 degrees
Vertical Distance: 700 feet

Once you locate Right Gully, look a few hundred feet to the right to find Lobster Claw. This run is under the ravine’s Lion Head area. Slightly narrower than Right Gully, the slope angle is a bit mellower and gets about the same amount of sunlight. Lobster Claw is home to quite a bit of vegetation and can often take longer to fill in enough to be skiable. When the ravine is crowded with skiers, however, Lobster Claw is often a less-crowded option. Use caution exiting the run, because plenty of rocks and trees sit below the main part of the gully.


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The Kit

  • Your avalanche rescue kit and the skills to use it are crucial when you’re traveling into the ravine. A popular combo is the PIEPS DSP Sport beacon, Black Diamond Transfer 3 shovel, and Black Diamond QuickDraw 280 probe.
  • Though they are not a substitute for crampons on steep slopes, Kahtoola MICROspikes are useful on lower-angle trails, or if you have to hike with your ski boots on a slick surface.
  • The slope angles in Tuckerman are steep! Having a small, lightweight ice axe, like the Black Diamond Raven Ultra, and knowing how to use it are extremely valuable tools for steep skiing and can add a bit of extra security.
  • An ultra-portable sunscreen like the Beyond Coastal Natural Lip and Face Sun Protection will help protect your face from burning while skiing in the ravine. Remember that snow is highly reflective and can amplify the effects of your goggle tan to a very unpleasant point.

Credit: Andrew Drummond
Credit: Andrew Drummond

Keys to the Trip

  • Avalanches are real and happen very regularly in the ravine. Check out the Mount Washington Avalanche Center forecast online in the morning, before you head into the ravine, and then, check in with USFS Avalanche Rangers or the AMC Caretaker for up-to-date beta on the best spots of the day.
  • On the way through North Conway, stop by Frontside Grind Coffee Roasters for a hot brew and bagel before you start your climb.
  • For beers and burgers after the trip, check out Moat Mountain Smokehouse & Brewing Co. and Tuckerman Brewing Co.
  • For some early morning pre- or afternoon post-skiing yoga, check out the yoga classes at The Local Grocer. This is a great way to both warm your body up before a big day and recover after by stretching and keeping your body moving before the car ride home.
  • North Conway has many quirky shops that are unique to New Hampshire. Some of my favorites are the candy counter and hot sauce aisle at Zeb’s General Store; Dondero’s Rock Shop, where any geological nerds can find local and global samples of rocks and minerals; and Beef & Ski for truly bangin’ sandwiches.

The Crux: The NE 115's Toughest Winter Climbs

Climbing all of the Northeast’s 115 4,000-footers is a serious challenge on its own, even for the region’s most experienced hikers. But, how can you take it to the extreme? Simple: Do them all in winter. Joining that elite (and very short) list of hardy hikers requires a special skill set, gear closet, and determination that many lack. Depending on the weather, trail conditions, and other factors, any of these peaks can be perilous to climb in winter. So, here are a few of the biggest challenges, and some tips to make it to the top.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Katahdin

Baxter State Park, Maine

Katahdin is a steep granite cirque in Maine’s Baxter State Park that includes a few different summits, the highest of which is Baxter Peak. Tagging Maine’s highest peak in winter means slogging through a grueling two-day, 13-mile approach across the park’s closed access roads (typically with expedition sleds) to Roaring Brook, and then another 3.3 miles uphill to Chimney Pond. Be prepared for consistent sub-zero temperatures and frequent avalanche danger.

To increase your chance of success, plan early to obtain reservations at the bunkhouses in Roaring Brook and Chimney Pond, rather than tenting. Have a strong group, and give yourself enough time in the park to wait for a favorable weather window to attack the summit. Use the Saddle Trail or the more challenging Cathedral Trail to ascend from Chimney Pond. If your endurance and the weather allow you to summit, you will reach one of the East Coast’s most beautiful mountains.

Courtesy: Matt's Hikes
Courtesy: Matt’s Hikes

Mount Redington

Carrabassett Valley, Maine

Home to one of the least-traveled of the Northeast’s unmarked trails, Redington is a difficult enough climb in the summer. While not especially challenging in terms of bushwhacking, reaching the summit involves a few key unmarked turns and forks on old logging roads. In the winter, you should bring a GPS or a friend who has climbed it before.

The closure of Caribou Valley Road to cars in winter means you should either ski to the crossing of the Appalachian Trail or start where the AT meets Route 16. Either way, you will travel the AT to South Crocker Mountain before beginning the 1.2-mile unmarked trek off the AT to Redington’s summit. Read the stretch’s description carefully in the AMC’s Maine Mountain Guide. To make sure you have arrived, look for an old white canister strapped to a tree on the summit.

Trail signs on the top of Mount Adams. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Trail signs on the top of Mount Adams. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Mount Adams

White Mountains, New Hampshire

While Mount Washington is the King of the Presidential Range and home to some of the nation’s worst weather, its neighbor to the north, Mount Adams, is another worthy challenge. And, in winter, climbing the exposed summit requires the same precautions and gear. You will ascend nearly 4,500 feet, with almost 1,000 feet of that above treeline. Climb the steeper Air Line Trail from the AT in order to take in the majestic views of King Ravine. Then, descend using the easier Valley Way Trail.

Courtesy: Wayfarer
Courtesy: Wayfarer

Owl’s Head Mountain

White Mountains, New Hampshire

A trip to this peak involves over 18 miles of travel. This trek may include sometimes-dangerous water crossings, unmarked bushwhack approaches, and a slide climb, so make sure river conditions are good and you’re comfortable on steep and icy terrain. Many prefer to utilize the Black Pond bushwhack route on their approach. Be sure to proceed the additional 0.2 miles north from the old summit clearing to the new summit proper to make it official.

The one saving grace here is the flat and very well maintained (but rather boring) 2.6-mile section of the Lincoln Woods Trail. You’ll pass through when you start and finish your journey from the trailhead at the Lincoln Woods Visitor Information Center. Overall, Owl’s Head has a very remote wilderness feel to it that makes the long day worthwhile.

Courtesy: LakePlacid.com
Courtesy: LakePlacid.com

Allen Mountain

Adirondack Mountains, New York

Allen offers a little bit of everything. There are several river crossings, winding meadows, woods climbing opportunities, and a steep slide climb finale. Due to its roughly 18-mile round-trip distance, it’s sometimes confusing to approach. As well, because of the deep snow often faced on Allen Brook’s final, very steep slabs, this one can be challenging. Luckily, the DEC recently replaced a long-destroyed bridge over the Opalescent River, alleviating a fording concern.

In addition, the state purchased new lands surrounding the peak. So, future hikers should stay tuned to new routes potentially opening up. For now, start at a trailhead located a mile from the end of Upper Works Road, off Tahawus Road. Follow the trail to Flowed Lands via Hanging Spear Falls for just under four miles. Soon, break right onto the unmarked but well-traveled and obvious herd path to the base of the slide and straight up to the summit ridge. Enjoy the beautiful views of Panther Gorge and the High Peaks to the north from a lookout located just beyond the formal summit.

Courtesy: LakePlacid.com
Courtesy: LakePlacid.com

Seward Range

Adirondack Mountains, New York

Any time of the year, the Sewards are a challenging hike, but the closure of Corey’s Road adds 3.5 miles each way. Depending on conditions, consider skiing this long stretch in and out. Added to this are the Western Adirondacks’ deep snows and some sparsely marked trails, and these peaks, as a result, become a major challenge. You should plan an early start, use the Calkins Brook approach, and be sure to research the route.

The Calkins Brook approach will bring you to the ridge near Mount Donaldson. This path allows you to “T” the ridge, tagging Emmons to the right (south), and Seward to the left (north). The range’s isolation and remoteness have a wonderful feel in winter, but their rewards demand a long day of effort. Unless you are exceptionally fit or planning an overnight, avoid the temptation to add nearby Seymour Mountain.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Basin Mountain

Adirondacks, New York

Basin lies deep in the Eastern High Peaks’ Great Range. This means there are only a few ways up, and all involve long approaches and very rugged terrain. In addition, several steep ledges, frozen ladders, and frequent ice bulges make this trek particularly difficult in winter. As with many of these peaks, it’s valuable to carry a general mountaineering ice axe to assist with some tricky sections.

For a greater challenge, consider adding Saddleback Mountain to create a larger loop hike. Or, for the expert HaBaSa route, include Haystack within your itinerary. Be aware, though, that this will add obstacles to an already-difficult trek up Basin Mountain: for instance, Saddleback’s cliffs and Little Haystack’s icy ledges. Typically, an approach starts from the Garden Trailhead, travels past Johns Brook Lodge, and then climbs past Slant Rock, and on up the Great Range Trail. If the skies are clear, some wonderful views of the likely-more-crowded Mount Haystack and Mount Marcy, along with many other High Peaks, are yours for the taking.

 

Do you have another peak that you think is even harder? Let us know in the comments!


The Legend of Mike Matty

There are 157 names on the wall, and we stood there, reading each one in an uneasy silence. This mountain—the one we were currently standing atop—has killed more than its fair share of hikers, climbers, and skiers.

The Sherman Adams Visitor Center’s double doors crashed open, blowing in near-hurricane-force winds and a bone-chilling cold. The man who walked in had a balaclava and ski goggles completely masking his face. The weather had turned overnight from cold-but-manageable to now dangerous, idling at around 25 degrees Fahrenheit, with wind speeds hitting 74 MPH. For a moment, everything seemed to stop, as this mysterious man strolled across the room with the weather appearing to have no effect on him. The rime ice that had been engineered onto the masked man’s shell jacket immediately started melting and dropping off behind him as he made his way to a bench.

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There weren’t any hikers or tourists up here today—the weather had turned them all away. So, I assumed he was with the state park. But, that didn’t make sense. I had become quite familiar with the team in the observatory after spending the night in their quarters, having dinner with them, and chatting it up about the weather, gear, Game of Thrones, and The Pats’ upcoming season. I didn’t recognize this guy, and the dayglow orange shell, trekking poles, and Black Diamond gloves were clearly not state-issued.

Sharon hustled over to him. “Hi…I’m Sharon,” she said in a hesitant tone that I hadn’t heard even a hint of since I’d met her the day before. As a Coast Guard commander prior to becoming the president of the Observatory, doubt wasn’t a part of her make-up. Earlier in the morning, she had been warning us that our descent down the Auto Road would be delayed, as they put chains on the Observatory van’s tires. And, there was absolutely no way she could allow our two store staff members, Amy and Eric, to hike back down the mountain. The sight of this man calmly strolling in from the churning weather threw off her game a bit.

“Are you an Observatory member?” she asked incredulously.

“Yeah, I think my name is up on the wall, over there somewhere,” he said and casually strode over to a different wall made of blue name plates lining the stairs that went down to the museum for the Observatory’s top donors and members. His nonchalant attitude toward it added a new layer of curiosity. I turned and looked in the direction of his outstretched trekking pole. “Mike Matty” read the white lettering on the plate.

IMG_2339“Oh, welcome! I’m the president of the Observatory,” Sharon replied, smoothing her demeanor now that she knew the potential trespasser had literally paid his dues

“We have the folks from EMS with us for an overnight. This is Tom,” she said as she introduced my boss.

“I’m surprised you made the trek, given the weather,” Tom commented, clearly still feeling the shock of this stranger ambling out of the roiling weather as if he were coming back from a walk in the park.

“That’s why I came up,” Mike deadpanned. “So, you work at EMS?” Mike asked Tom, our Vice President of Ecommerce and Marketing. “My nephew loves that store.”

I chuckled to myself, as I made my way over to windows in the rotunda. Outside, the rime ice flowered and grew seemingly out of nowhere, carried by the dense cloud enveloping the summit. I felt like I had woken up on a different planet. Not even 18 hours ago, our ascent up the Auto Road had been sunny, calm, and beautiful.

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“The home of the world’s worst weather” is a catchphrase Mount Washington has certainly earned. The hike up itself isn’t one the most dangerous or difficult. Rather, this 6,288-foot peak’s volatile conditions are the reason for those 157 names posted in the Adams Center.

The gusts whipping up over the western corner of the deck made it feel like you were stuck in the world’s worst washing machine. A 10-minute, 30-foot trek from the door to the corner and back had exhausted me.

Mount Washington is in a unique position. The highest point east of the Mississippi, it sits directly at the epicenter of a topographical funnel that compresses and accelerates the wind to such an extreme that the 231 MPH wind speed recorded at the summit in 1934 still stands today as the fastest-ever observed by man. It’s even said that the sheer force of the wind tore apart the measuring instruments. Only once was this record ever beaten, at an unmanned weather station in Australia in 1996.

“He’s climbed the seven peaks!” I thought I heard Amy squeal behind me to Eric. She excitedly handed her phone over for a picture with Mike. Amy’s sudden exuberance seemed odd, but I was more focused on the portentous conditions threatening to trap us on the summit. As Eric handed the camera back to her, Mike started reassembling his gear for the descent.

I thought about our earlier excursion out on the deck of the observatory. We had to gear up in MICROspikes to gain some semblance of traction, leaning into frigid, hurricane-force winds. The gusts whipping up over the western corner of the deck made it feel like you were stuck in the world’s worst washing machine. A 10-minute, 30-foot trek from the door to the corner and back had exhausted me.

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This guy had hiked all the way up in that, and was about to hike all the way back down, too. I shuddered. Mike adjusted his goggles before punching the exit door depressor. A 15-minute break had been enough to rest, dry off, and get warm before he plunged back into weather that would make the average person cower and yearn for their Uggs and a cozy Duraflame fire.

He was training for bigger things, searching for the conditions to match his more sizable feats, and found them on this windy New Hampshire peak more than 4.5 times smaller than Everest.

Sitting back at my desk on Monday, I couldn’t get the mysterious encounter with Mike out of my head. It was odd. Who was this guy? What did he mean when he said that the weather was the reason he hiked up? So, I did what any red-blooded, digitally inclined American would do.

To my slack-jawed, wide-eyed amazement, the Google results showed that Mike had indeed mastered the seven summits: Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, Mount Vinson in Antarctica, Kosciuszko in Australia, Elbrus in Europe, Denali in North America, Aconcagua in South America, and, the crown jewel of them all, Everest.

To Mike, the conditions on Mount Washington that day, September 1, were ideal. He was training for bigger things, searching for the conditions to match his more sizable feats, and found them on this windy New Hampshire peak more than 4.5 times smaller than Everest. The harsher the conditions were, the better his training.

Or, maybe that’s just how an outdoor masochist gets some exercise. Who knows.

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Alpha Guide: Franconia Ridge in Winter

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

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

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

 

Quick Facts

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


Download file: Franconia_Ridge.gpx

Turn-By-Turn

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

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Time to split

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Following Falling Waters

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

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

Shining Rock

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Little Haystack

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Lincoln

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Mount Lafayette

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The High Point

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Descent

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

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

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Old Bridle Path

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

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

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


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

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

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


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

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

Current Conditions

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck