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!


10 Ways To Ease the Stress on Busy Trails

In recent months, more and more people have been turning to the outdoors for fun. While it’s great to see so many people hiking and trail running, it’s also stretching resources and threatening delicate landscapes across the Northeast, especially at popular destinations like the White Mountains and Adirondacks. Luckily, there are steps you can take to minimize your impact on these well-loved places. Here are 10 great ways to ease the stress on busy trails.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Choose Less-Popular Objectives

The summits of New Hampshire’s 48 4,000-footers and the Adirondacks’ 46 High Peaks will always draw a crowd. However, lesser-known summits like those on the 52 With a View deliver spectacular scenery, often without the crowds and elevation gain. If you just have to bag a 4,000-footer, try tagging one that most people avoid or one that doesn’t count toward the NH48.

2. Pick Less-Popular Routes 

Trails like Franconia Ridge and the Crawford Path are always popular destinations, but there are plenty of excellent trails that the masses overlook—many of which take you to the same coveted summit. Get off the beaten path and take the trail less-traveled to popular summits, or open your mind to a new type of adventure with a trip like Guy’s Slide.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Travel Farther  

There’s a reason some mountains are busier than others—it often has to due to their proximity to people and ease of summiting. Selecting destinations that are off the beaten path—whether it’s a parking lot or summit—is a great way to find some peace and quiet in the mountains.

4. Plan for Flexibility 

It’s tough to tell how busy the trails are from your home—after all, you’re a hiker, not a mind reader—so always have a Plan B in place. The great thing about places like the White Mountains is the abundance of trails and peaks close together, which allows you to consider multiple trips from the same general area so you can quickly pivot in the event of an unexpectedly busy trail.

5. Pass Responsibly 

The current climate is a delicate balance between the long-term health of the trails and the health of their users. Staying six feet apart isn’t easy on busy, narrow trails, but stepping off of them disrupts ecosystems and can lead to widening and erosion—especially in above-treeline alpine zones. Keep your eyes peeled for other users, both ahead of and behind you, and try to step aside when the trail widens, or onto rocks or more durable surfaces. If you need to step aside, simply step off and wait rather than hiking outside the boundary of the trail and potentially widening it.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

6. Let The Trails Dry 

Normally, a rainy-day hike is one of the greta joys of the late summer, but with more people getting out, it might be best for the trails to dry out and full recover before being pounded by boots. Wait a day or two after it rains to avoid creating deep footprints, ruts, or doing other damage to water-compromised trails. Look for more durable trails—either paved or rocky—for your wet-weather adventures.

7. Practice Responsible Behaviors 

With so many hikers and trail runners in the mountains, it’s more important than ever to practice responsible behaviors in the mountains—both to reduce your impact and to serve as a role model for newer hikers. Understand and follow seven principles of Leave No Trace:

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimize campfire impacts
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of other visitors
Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

8. Clean Up After Others

There are a lot of new hikers hitting the trails these days and they’re not all familiar with practices like Leave No Trace. While we can’t all become rangers, we can help minimize the impact of other hikers by picking up some of the trash that’s becoming an increasingly common sight on the trail. Pack a ziplock bag and collect wrappers, gel packets, and bottle caps that you come across. Picking up someone else’s trash with your hands sound gross? Try tucking a few rubber gloves in the hip pocket of your pack.

9. Bathroom Basics 

Hikers in the Whites have long benefited from the presence of the AMC’s huts for everything from refilling water bottles to a quick snack. The huts are also a convenient place to go to the bathroom. While they are closed, it’s always better to pack a wag bag and carry your waste out—the less we leave behind the better, especially as more and more people start digging cathodes. If that’s not an option, carry a toilet kit (trowel, TP, used TP bag, and hand sanitizer), make sure to “go” at least 200 feet from the trail and 200 feet from a water source, dig a hole at least six inches deep to go in, and cover the hole when you’re done.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

10. Give Back 

Many outdoor organizations are under-staffed and under-funded—leaving them stretched thin. From gifting your time by volunteering to work on a trail crew to making a monetary donation, every little bit helps. Additionally, while you’re out on the trails, be conscious of the little things you can do to help out, like removing downed branches that are blocking the path, keeping drainage ditches free of debris, and sticking to the main trail instead of the numerous side paths that have developed over the last several months.

With so many people discovering (or rediscovering) the outdoors, it’s an extremely exciting time for activities like hiking and trail running. By taking a few simple steps, we can help preserve these important spaces for the future.


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.


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.


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

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

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1. Myth: Avalanches Only Happen in the Presidentials

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

2. Myth: East Coast Avalanches Aren’t Fatal

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

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

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

Credit: Jamie Walter
Credit: Jamie Walter

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

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

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

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

6. Myth: Accidents Only Catch Unlucky Skiers and Climbers 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Myth: Avalanches Strike Without Warning 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


Northeast Mountaineering Climbs for All Abilities

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

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

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

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Easy Snow: Franconia Ridge

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

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

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

WI2/Easy Snow: Mount Colden’s Trap Dike 

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

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

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

WI2/Easy Snow: The North Face of Gothics

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

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

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

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

Courtesy: Ryan Wichelns
Courtesy: Ryan Wichelns

WI3: Pinnacle Gully

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

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

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

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

WI4: The Cilley-Barber Route on Katahdin

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

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

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

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


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.

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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!


Death and Haunting on the Crawford Path

June 30, 1900, William Curtis and Allan Ormsbee set off to make the 8.5-mile trip up the Crawford Path—w new but relatively well-established trail—to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) annual meeting being held at the Summit House, a hotel on Mount Washington’s summit. By day’s end, both were dead.

Many ghost stories begin with a true story. This one is no exception.

William Curtis, circa 1870
William Curtis, circa 1870

In a story as old as mountaineering, Curtis and Ormsbee knowingly hiked into a fierce storm. Despite deteriorating weather and a warning about the conditions from two guides descending the Crawford Path, Curtis and Ormsbee continued toward the summit. On Mount Pleasant—known today as Mount Eisenhower—conditions were poor; the men signed the summit register adding “Rain clouds and wind sixty miles—Cold.”

As Curtis and Ormsbee forged ahead into the storm, their absence at the meeting created anxiety among the AMC members on the summit. Vyron and Thaddeus Lowe, two respected guides (and the trailbuilders of Lowe’s Path on Mount Adams), set out in search of the men. Their search was short lived. High winds quickly extinguished the Lowes’ lanterns and a thick coat of ice covered the top of the mountain. Realizing the danger of conducting a search in such conditions, the two retreated to the Summit House.

Meanwhile, as conditions worsened, Curtis and Ormsbee’s strength waned. They sought shelter in the scrub spruce near the edge of Oakes Gulf where the Crawford Path meets the Mount Monroe Summit Loop Trail. The body of William Curtis was found near there the following morning.

At some point, Ormsbee continued on. He made it within sight of the summit buildings on Mount Washington. His body was discovered there the next afternoon.

Many ghost stories begin with a true story. This one is no exception.

The duo’s deaths set off shockwaves in the northeast hiking community, particularly because 63-year-old Curtis was among the most accomplished hikers in the country. Considered “the founder of athletics in America,” he had taken to mountain climbing some 18 years earlier. An account of the tragedy in Above the Clouds—a newspaper published on top of Mount Washington from 1877 to 1908—reported that Curtis regularly “climb[ed] alone in all kinds of weather,” and was “confident…in his strength and skill,” as well as “perfectly fearless.” Ormsbee, by contrast, was a newcomer to New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Just the week before, he made his first hikes in the range, ascending Mount Lafayette, Whiteface, Passaconaway, Tecumseh, and Sandwich Dome.

Courtesy: Appalachian Mountain Club Library and Archives
Courtesy: Appalachian Mountain Club Library and Archives

While their bodies were brought down the mountain on the Cog Railway, local lore hints that the spirits of both men remained on the mountain. In the aftermath of the tragedy, a wooden cross was erected to mark Ormsbee’s final resting place, a bronze plaque commemorating Curtis was placed on a boulder on the saddle beneath Mount Monroe, and a since-removed shelter was placed on the saddle connecting Mount Monroe to Mount Washington.

He was found the next morning huddled in a cupboard under the hut’s kitchen sink, clutching an axe.

The legend about Ormsbee’s cross is that passing hikers critical of Curtis and Ormsbee’s decision to forge ahead into the storm are pushed or knocked over by an unseen force. Not wanting to tempt fate or raise the ire of Ormsbee’s spirit, AMC staff got into the habit of saying, “it could have happened to anyone” when passing the site where Ormsbee perished.

As for the plaque, AMC croomembers at Lake of the Clouds Hut—which eventually replaced the shelter constructed following the tragic hike—found Curtis’s plaque detached from its rock beneath Monroe and sitting on the hut’s threshold. As detailed in the book Haunted Hikes of New Hampshire, author Marianne O’Connor details how the croo repeatedly returned the plaque to the boulder, only to find it again in the hut’s doorway. Eventually, the plaque was bolted to the wall in the hut, hopefully putting an end to this ghostly episode.

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Neither superstitious sayings nor bolted plaques put an end to the ghost stories, however. Guests at AMC’s Lake of the Clouds Hut in the 1930s claimed to see a menacing face peering into the hut’s windows while other visitors felt the sensation of an icy hand gripping their shoulders in the middle of the night. Others reported hearing footsteps come up from the hut’s basement and doors opening and closing, despite the whole hut being in bed. But these are just bumps in the night compared to what one AMC croo member, who was staying there solo, experienced. He was found the next morning huddled in a cupboard under the hut’s kitchen sink, clutching an axe after a terrifying encounter with a ghostly face leering at him from each of the hut’s boarded-up windows.