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Mt. Washington & Katahdin in summer, trekking poles?

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Mt. Washington & Katahdin in summer, trekking poles?

Postby chocodove » Sat Mar 27, 2010 5:43 pm

For those that have climbed Katahdin or Mt. Washington, how useful are trekking poles? I will be going to Washington in late June and Kathadin in July. I've heard mixed reports via TR's on their usefulness for both, some say they unnecessarily get in the way and are a hindrance while others swear by them. Plan is for Huntington Ravine for the ascent on Washington if the weather allows and Lions Head on the way down. Of course the knife edge on Katahdin if possible.

My girlfriend and I have a lot of experience in the Hudson Highlands and elsewhere and are going to make the jump to bigger objectives, but we've never used poles before. We're both pretty fit with no knee issues and good endurance.

Side note - will we be missing black fly season in NH by going in late June or will it still be a problem?

Thanks in advance.
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Postby Sam Page » Sat Mar 27, 2010 5:57 pm

My advice: do not bring trekking poles on those routes in summer. There is a lot of rock scrambling on those routes, so you will constantly have to figure out what to do with the poles. Also, on the steep, rocky descents, instead of figuring out where to place two things (your feet), you will need to figure out where to place four things (your feet and the tips of two trekking poles).

Incidentally, I lived near the Hudson Highlands from 2004-2009. Breakneck Ridge was my favorite local scramble. If you head straight up Breakneck Ridge, doing the rock scrambling instead of the mellower detours, that will be a good simulation of what you will encounter on Washington and Katahdin. Bring trekking poles up Breakneck Ridge and you will see what a nuisance they are.

Regarding black flies, they could still be active in late June in NH. I have miserable childhood memories of bugs on the Carter/Wildcat ridge early one summer.
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Postby chocodove » Sat Mar 27, 2010 6:05 pm

Incidentally, I lived near the Hudson Highlands from 2004-2009. Breakneck Ridge was my favorite local scramble. If you head straight up Breakneck Ridge, doing the rock scrambling instead of the mellower detours, that will be a good simulation of what you will encounter on Washington and Katahdin. Bring trekking poles up Breakneck Ridge and you will see what a nuisance they are.


Breakneck Ridge is my favorite local hike. We'll be doing it a few more times in preparation for this summer, and I figured the terrain was very similar. Thanks for the feedback.
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Postby Chinigo » Sat Mar 27, 2010 6:53 pm

I hope you have good weather for your planned trips. With respect to trekking poles, I always use them - I have knee issues. You will be able to use them on most of the ascent - I did Huntington Ravine on Labor Day weekend 2008. If I recall correctly, the only place I did not use them was the scramble through the rockfall/boulders and the steep ascent to the top. My poles collapse down to a length where I can attach them to my pack - if they were not collapsible, then I agree they would have been in the way.

At the top, the poles were very helpful to me in resisting the strong winds - there were strong gusts the day I climbed Washington - so you may want to consider that as well.

I swear by poles for the descent. You may not have knee issues now, but I am sure that using poles to help you now will add years of life to your knees. (I descended via Tuckerman Ravine, so I don't know the descent via Lions Head.)

Finally, having done Breakneck Ridge I can say that it will definitely aid you in cardiovascular training! That is one of the places I miss, since I no longer live in that part of NY.
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Postby rasgoat » Sat Mar 27, 2010 6:53 pm

I have the three tier collapseable poles and use them on all of these routes because I love them while hiking. During the scrambling sections, I just fully shorten them and stick them into a small pocket on the outside of my pack & strap the tops to the pack. It really comes down to what you are comfortable with.

As far as mileage is concerned, these routes do have much more moderate grade hiking with many rocks and boulders than scrambling. If you are going light and fast, chances are you won't need them, but if you have heavy packs, they can be a great asset.

I use them regardless because I love the way they keep my arms busy and pumping while hiking, they provide improved balance on extremely rocky terrain as well as the reduced knee impact.
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Postby chocodove » Sat Mar 27, 2010 7:06 pm

Great information here, thank you. If I got poles they would be the collapsible type, so maybe it would be worth it just to try them out. I can always stow them if it gets to be a hassle I suppose. These will all be day hikes, so weight isn't too much of an issue. I'll probably take them up Breakneck Ridge to see what it is like using them and also on the pack.

I've been looking at the BD "Trail" poles. Seem to be all we would need really, nothing fancy.
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Postby Chinigo » Sat Mar 27, 2010 7:10 pm

One more thing that I always like to mention, and apologies if you already know this - but be sure to bring clothing appropriate for cold weather! On that Labor Day it was nice at the bottom but cloudy and about 35 F at the top - and windy - and it's a significant hike from the top of the Huntington Ravine Trail to the summit. (One nice thing about Washington is the "rest stop" at the summit.) You need to bring the extra layers, gloves, and hats with you to make sure you are protected. It can snow in any month, and it seems that someone dies on Washington almost every year - mostly from being unprepared. As I was going down, there were many people ascending in shorts and T-shirts - and I think they had a rude awakening as they hit the clouds.

I am sure it must be similar on Katahdin (a little less altitude but further north).

It seemed to me from your post that you have been hiking at lower altitudes local to where you live and now you are going for mountains. They are lots of fun and I hope you have a great time. Whenever I can get to NH I try to climb a new 4,000+ ft peak - I have done a few of them. I would also recommend getting up the Adirondacks (Mt Marcy is the HP of NY) and to Mt Mansfield (HP of VT). Those also have excellent hike/climbs.

Also, the AMC has good maps for the White Mountains and I know there is also a Maine Mountain Guide from them too.
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Postby chocodove » Sat Mar 27, 2010 7:28 pm

It seemed to me from your post that you have been hiking at lower altitudes local to where you live and now you are going for mountains. They are lots of fun and I hope you have a great time. Whenever I can get to NH I try to climb a new 4,000+ ft peak - I have done a few of them. I would also recommend getting up the Adirondacks (Mt Marcy is the HP of NY) and to Mt Mansfield (HP of VT). Those also have excellent hike/climbs.


This is very true. We just started getting serious last summer and have spent the past year getting everything together that we need for bigger objectives, which includes appropriate gear. Researching and getting gear has been part of the fun. We'll definitely be prepared.

The goal is to hike these two this summer (along with Franconia Ridge while we are in NH), followed by an EMS class for winter skills and then winter ascent of Washington, and then maybe a real backpacking trip to the ADK high peaks next year. After that, who knows! I am really, really looking forward to all of these.

I have the AMC White Mountain Guide and also a set of the maps to go along with it. I'll be getting the Baxter State Park book and map set shortly.
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Postby cbcbd » Sat Mar 27, 2010 8:16 pm

If you have them I would bring them. There is plenty of non-scrambling terrain (most of it is trails) on both and the poles are very useful for going easy on the knees on the ways down.

And like it's been mentioned, you can always stow them away, strap them to your pack, etc.

Enjoy the knife edge - a truly unique feature in the NE!
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Postby rasgoat » Sat Mar 27, 2010 8:52 pm

The BD Trail is perfect, thier clamp-lock mechanisms are the best around and all that fancy shock absorber crap is just that.

Whan the poles are stowed on the pack, they are totally unnoticable unless you are totally bushwacking in thick-low brush.
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Postby jvarholak » Sat Mar 27, 2010 9:22 pm

When not needed I collapse my pole (I usually only bring one) and without removing my pack just slip it horizontally between pack and small of my back above the hip belt.... can be done easily on the fly and haven't lost one yet. (do the same with ice ax during alpine)
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Postby AlexeyD » Sun Mar 28, 2010 3:14 am

I would say if you normally hike with poles, might as well bring them. While they will be more of a nuisance than assistance from the beginning of the boulder field on the floor of Huntington Ravine up to the Alpine Garden, if your main reason for using them is to save your knees on the descent, this doesn't matter since you won't be going down this way (you'll see what I mean when you get there). Once on the Alpine Garden you can resume using poles for much of the rest of the hike. As for the way down, the summer Lions Head trail, unlike its much steeper winter variant, is mostly a walking route except one or two sections of brief scrambling.

Personally, I use poles only when balance/stability is an issue, such as on snow, with a heavy pack, or when I anticipate lots of stream crossings. I tend not to take them on one-day summer outings, especially on the steeper White Mountain trails that involve substantial scrambling (Madison Gulf, King Ravine, North Tripyramid and the like), but it's ultimately a matter of personal preference.
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Postby jniehof » Mon Mar 29, 2010 3:22 pm

Were I doing either of those trips, I'd bring poles (stowed for much of the ascent): the descents can be real kneebangers. Poles can take a little getting used to so if you decide to bring 'em, get some practice in first.

If you're planning on going up Huntington, I presume you're both comfortable with some exposed scrambling. Have fun!
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Postby John Duffield » Mon Mar 29, 2010 3:32 pm

When you do Katahdin,for a little extra pizzazz, try taking the cathedral Trail going down. Trekking poles will be of next to zero use on that section of the descent. What will be of use, is a pair of crappy shorts on the outside of everything else since you'll be butt sliding down some rocks.

That said, you should have day bags that accomodate ice axes and trekking poles for ascents of either except perhaps July/August. In a pinch, trekking poles can help in an absence of ice axe situation.
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Postby chocodove » Tue Mar 30, 2010 12:16 am

If you're planning on going up Huntington, I presume you're both comfortable with some exposed scrambling. Have fun!


Yes! And very excited about it.
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