Many hikes are so popular they are part of a standard White Mountain repertoire, like Mount Willard or Mount Chocorua. Others are much less talked about yet can be very rewarding, like a winter hike up to the base of Huntington Ravine.
It is fun to write about that hike this week, and to suggest it as an alternative to a traditional winter summit, yet with a unique and spectacular view. With plenty of snow and mild days, this is the best time to do it.
One could say that the craggy view from the base of Huntington Ravine reveals the essence of Mount Washington.
I was heading north for a hike on a sunny and frigid morning this week, and changed my itinerary in mid-flight. I called my usual spotter again, the Conway artist Bob Gordon, and told him I had changed my mind. I wasn't going to climb Middle Sister on Mount Chocorua. Instead I was going to hike up to the base of Huntington Ravine.
I was recovering from a mildly pulled muscle, and wanted a hike that was solidly packed down most of the way, so that I wouldn't be lurching in deep snow. This time of year, a Forest service snow ranger takes a snowmobile to the base of Huntington Ravine almost daily to check avalanche conditions.
Last Updated on Friday, 07 March 2014 04:40
By Ed Parsons
Last Saturday, I took a hike up to Lion Head on Mount Washington. It was busy up there, being a beautiful day on the weekend between vacation weeks. A new carpet of snow had turned the peak white. The Forest Service snow cat had packed down the Tuck Trail and by the weekend the winter Lion Head Trail was sufficiently packed down to allow for a fairly unimpeded passage.
Usually, I get an early start on such a hike and meet many hikers on the way down. This time I didn't start up the trail till 9:30 a.m., so I got to experience climbing up with many others.
The temps were mild that day, even up in the 40's in the valley. The lower mountain was also mild, but from Lion Head up to the summit the winds increased during the day due to a tightening pressure gradient, topping out at over 80 mph.
I enjoyed a conversation on the way up the Tuck Trail with a guy who was waiting for his kids who were skiing a half day at Wildcat. He had just joined a ski club on Hurricane Mountain Road and he and his wife had to cook for almost 60 people that night as part of their joining.
I headed off on the Huntington Ravine Fire Road towards the winter Lion Head Trail, and passed a half dozen hikers circled around their guide before they headed up the trail. I turned upward and appreciated the packed down trail, paused to put on crampons and finally reached the steep section, where a couple dozen hikers were bottlenecked and waiting for those in front to move upward.
A dozen years or so ago, I first noticed a fixed rope on the short lower part of the steep section. That had been an adjustment because it felt like something had been violated about the nature of the winter Lion Head Trail, located in the protected Cutler River Drainage. It was one thing for a hiker or guide to use a short-rope technique to help less experienced people up that section, but quite another to fix a permanent rope there.
This Saturday there were two fixed ropes there, extending the roped section. With the number of hikers and their obviously varied experience, it seemed to make a little more sense this time.
The slowest group kindly let me pass, and I continued upward, enjoying everyone I encountered. Although I do enjoy the solitude of hiking alone, one of my favorite things about winter hiking in the Whites is encounters with others. Humor flows easily. There is an almost palatable relief to be in a place where the struggle is with yourself in getting up the mountain, rather than the struggles in daily life.
The trees became slowly shorter as I climbed and continued to meet people. At timberline a dozen younger students were donning their outer garments in preparation for the wind above.
It was good to see a profusion of guided groups up there that day. Like taking a ski lesson or two that can change your whole approach to skiing, a group hiring a guide to climb Mount Washington in the winter-- a place that is regularly used to train for higher mountains around the world-- can help them achieve a higher proficiency and safely consciousness in the mountains that can last the rest of their lives.
There was no wind to speak of at timberline, so I put off getting bundled up, and kept going. But it shortly arrived and dramatically increased, and I paused to put on outer garments and outer mitts. Many people passed me on their way down, having turned around at Lion Head. It was a wise decision. A few had decided to leave their group and head back down while others continued toward the summit. Although this is sometimes understandable, it is not the best of decisions. It can be the first of a series of mistakes that can lead to a serious mishap or getting lost or both. The priority should be a group staying together, not a few reaching the summit.
The closer I got to the top of Lion Head, the more people I encountered on the narrow trail. I walked up into the strong buffeting wind on top of Lion Head, and felt ok about turning back. On the way down to timberline I snapped a few pictures of the beautiful scene that was always changing and never tiring, and of the bright colorful hikers that sharply contrasted the whiteness.
Descending the steepening trail below timberline, I encountered a long line of people still heading upward. Most would likely turn back at Lion Head in the face of the wind, but some would continue. Some would think that after all their effort of preparation and driving the long distance to the mountain, they had to continue towards the summit long after the 1 o'clock turn around time that is recommended and practiced by guides.
It is safe to say that there are more winter hikers on the mountain than ever before. In the mid-1990's, after the publication of such books as John Krakauer's "Into Thin Air" about the 1996 Everest debacle, winter climbing increased and has continued to increase, as such movies as "North Face" turn young people on to the excitement and perils of winter mountaineering. Mount Washington itself has cast a spell over those who want to climb a "less difficult" peak, yet one with a serious reputation.
Through the years education has played an important role in helping climbers keep themselves safe. Yet much more awareness is needed. There is a lot of wisdom demonstrated almost daily on Mount Washington by climbers who make wise decisions. Yet the small percentage that have a do-or-die attitude, and just as important, a lack of experience about the fundamental "10 Essentials" of hiking (easily found on the worldwide Web) and have limited knowledge about what they are getting into on Mount Washington, is growing. The result is more rescues, which happen at night in dangerous conditions for all concerned. After too many of these rescues, the rescuers drive home afterward thinking "What were those people thinking?"
If you are up in the valley to climb Mount Washington and haven't done it before or feel the need for more input, stop by a climbing store such as International Mountain Equipment, home of the International Mountain Climbing School. As a few questions. Make sure you have the right equipment.
In the morning check out the Mount Washington Observatory Website for the summit conditions, and the Mount Washington Avalanche Center Website. When you arrive at AMC Pinkham Notch Camp (early enough for a safe hike up the mountain), go into the pack-up room in the Trading Post, accessed directly from the parking lot, and check out the walls which have instructional posters about the ten hiking essentials and avalanches. Go upstairs, recheck the summit weather report and sign in as a winter hiker (you also must have someone at home keeping track of you who will call if you don't call them when you get down). Talk to the front desk person about current trail conditions. Last minute items can be purchased there. Dark glasses or goggles are a must this time of year. Don't forget a headlamp and batteries.
Enjoy your adventure on New England's highest peak. And just as important, enjoy the people you meet.
Last Updated on Friday, 28 February 2014 05:39
On a beautiful Thursday morning this week, I took a 4.4 mile walk in the Sandwich Notch area with friend Allan DiBiase, of North Sandwich. It was a delightfully varied snowshoe hike. We followed groomed snowmobile trails and bushwhacked through deep snow in shady hemlock woods, and out onto the solitary Dinsmore Pond. Later after climbing up the snowmobile packed Sandwich Notch Road to Pulpit Rock, we opened the path down along the young Bearcamp River to Beebe Falls, and then took the Bearcamp River Trail to Mead Base, and walked back on the Diamond Ledge Road to our cars.
It was not a hike that I would likely have done alone. I didn't know the area well enough. This, however, is part of Allan DiBiase's home territory.
Allan lives nearby, out at Chick's Corner in North Sandwich. A year round tramper, he loves the winter best and tries to get out most days. His walking territory extends east from his front door past Buzzell Ridge to Barville Pond near Squam Lake, and in the west past Dinsmore Pond and foothills to the peaks, ponds and rivers of the Sandwich Notch area.
I've decided to write a little on his hiking philosophy this week, as I admire those who can find the universe outside their doorstep. His vocations and avocations are closely related. A long time teacher, he more recently taught a graduate course for 12 years at Plymouth
State in the philosophy of education, with an emphasis on John Dewey, who said that "education is life." To prompt his graduate students into examining new life experiences, and to write about them and discuss them, DiBiase took classes out in the wilderness of Sandwich Notch, often bushwhacking to isolated places where new experiences and unexpected adventures awaited.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 02:00
For some people who dabble in winter hiking, climbing a Presidential peak may seem a little too intimidating, so they don't bother. So, what would tip the balance in favor of climbing a peak in the presidential range with a fabulous view? The moderate 3.2 mile hike up the Crawford Path to Mount Pierce on a beautiful day would.
Timberline — where you walk out from the protection of the forest — is only a tenth of a mile from the summit of Mount Pierce, so the time exposed to the full blast of the west wind is kept to a minimum.
From the summit, the view north of the southern presidential range and Mount Washington is fabulous.
Another reason that Pierce is a good first presidential peak, is that the access trail is the Crawford Path, the oldest continuously maintained hiking trail in the country. It is a gently gradual climb, that eases off considerably for the last mile to the top after passing the Mizpah Cut-Off.
Last Updated on Friday, 14 February 2014 04:34
In revisiting moderate hikes that I often repeat, one morning this week I returned to the Kelley Trail. I drove out Route 113A from Tamworth Village and just after the Wonalancet Chapel, turned right into Ferncroft. In the hiker parking lot was one car with Massachusetts plates and an icy windshield, perhaps winter campers.
I headed up the Old Mast Road and bore right on the Kelley Trail. Entering a logging road, the trail bore right down the road for a 10th of a mile. Then at a small sign in a tree on the left, I followed the trail back into the woods with the sound of a nearby stream through the trees.
I followed it up the west side of a steep ravine with the stream gurgling far below. Then it turned way from the stream on gentler terrain, only to return to it at the head of the ravine, and cross to the east side. I was approaching a small box canyon that makes the Kelley Trail unique.
Last Updated on Friday, 07 February 2014 05:05