When I first set my mind to climb some of the biggest peaks in the South American Andes and Alaska, I had to begin by setting my sights on attaining the training I needed in my local alpine environment, for me it is the White Mountains of New Hampshire, but for you it could be any local crag, or wilderness area...
Adventure takes on many forms; it is exploring an area that is new to you or traveling through familiar area by a different means. True adventure, by definition, risks failure. It is setting out on your own or with a team of like-minded explorers, or just relying on your own abilities. As with every aspect of life, adventure comes with risk. This risk can be reduced through proper training and wise decisions, but can never be totally eliminated. "Adventures tend to make one late for dinner." Said Bilbo Baggins from the beloved novel; The Hobbit... I have never been on an adventure where I have not asked myself, "what the hell am I doing here?". So why do people embark on these uncertain journeys? What aspect of adventuring is so worth while that we keep heading out into the wilderness in every possible weather pattern?
The urge to seek out and explore comes from deep inside ones self. It is in human nature. It all began in our childhood when every new experience was adventurous; based in the excitement of first leaving the security of our parents homes. Setting off to climb our first tree and then possibly finding ourselves face to face with a strange dog, twice our size. As adults many of us have to rediscover this hidden emotion for it to be appreciated. It may start as a curiosity when you first venture out into the mountains on a hiking trip. Soon it will be a beloved pastime; for some a way of life. The common denominator among adventurers is that in time, they always hunger for more.
Adventure can be found in many places but the most pure form is found in the wilderness. An adventure is also very subjective. What is an adventure to one may be just a challenging hike to another and an epic for survival to yet another. With the recent advances in outdoor clothing and equipment some people argue that all the greatest adventures have been undertaken. We have been to the moon and to the depths of the ocean. Both poles have been visited and even the most remote mountain ranges are accessible with enough time and money. I believe that the one of the greatest adventures for our race is what lies ahead in outer space. However, in an era where our sites are set on Mars and international space stations, we need to remember how vast our oceans and mountainous areas are. Our own personal physical and mental limits are constantly being extended and expanded in more remote locations. Not by governments, but by snow boarders and trekkers, climbers and dog mushers: Adventuring is now recreation and many people are rediscovering their nearest backcountry areas.
New Englander’s need not look far. The White Mountain National Forest is a vast network of wilderness abounding with mountains, many over 4000 feet high. The highest White Mountains of New Hampshire during the late fall, early spring and throughout the winter become true adventures. High up into the Alpine Zone, these mountains can be lonely and desolate places shrouded in clouds and battered by hurricane force winds. So why go there? The beauty of the White Mountains in winter is incomparable to any other New England landmark. Some people attempt to reach the summit, others come to practice their sport. The possibilities for skiing, snow shoeing and ice climbing abound. Many people just get bored during the winter and stop making excuses for not exercising through these months. (Though even bears do not hibernate all winter.) Northeastern winters assure us that just as the sun rises every day, the snow is not far away.
Winter can be hated, tolerated or loved. Adventuring in the winter has makes me look forward to this time of year more than any other season. I believe that just about any sport or activity that can be enjoyed in the summer months can be modified and practiced during the winter.
Adventure is found through the art of camping, hiking and thriving in the backcountry. Winter hiking and camping is not about surviving a night in the frigid outdoors; it is about learning how to live in the function so you are not freezing. With the proper knowledge and the right equipment, the mountains can be obtainable to most everyone. This is where it all begins.
The basic skills needed to live in the wilderness are hiking, camping, first aid and common sense. Once you feel confident being in the backcountry, you then need to learn how to apply these same skills in winter. Hiking turns into snow shoeing or backcountry skiing. Camping takes on a whole new importance. You will bring a lot less of luxury items to reduce weight as the code of the alpine climber dictates; light is right. At the same time you will need to bring a lot more necessary items in order to survive. (See the recommended mountaineering inventory.) Prior to my taking up climbing my only experience with living outdoors was with the United States Marine Corp. In the Marines we never carried anything in our backpacks that would make our lives more comfortable, no extra food or sleeping pads. So I equated the wilderness with suffering and war. A good friend of mine set me straight. What surprised me most is that I am never as cold as I expect to be. If properly dressed in layers and constantly moving along the trail, the real danger comes from getting too warm and soaking your clothes with sweat. Some of the high tech sleeping bags, tents and stoves on the market today can make you feel very comfortable, even in the most extreme conditions. I learned to love the sound of hurricane force wind breaking across my dome tent. It always lulls me to sleep. Nothing beats settling down after a long journey alone with your thoughts or with some close friends and having a cup of hot cocoa. Safe in your tent while nature releases the full furry of a storm against the thin walls that stand between your life and the extreme hardship faced by the animals wandering the mountainside. It makes you feel very mortal. When you return on Monday morning to your job, you will notice when your co-workers complain about trivial things. Now you have extended your comfort zone. The important things in life will be made clear to you and small problems will seem insignificant in comparison to the emotions that you experience in the wilderness. Your appreciation for life will be taken to a higher level.
First aid is best learned from taking a course. Several places offer a Wilderness First Aid certification. Colleges have Emergency Medical Technician and First Responder courses. Just knowing the basics will give you some confidence. Since you are always responsible for your own health and safety, it is important to be prepared for anything. As long as you possess common sense than you will be fairly safe. A good rule of thumb to go by is to trust your instincts. Whenever you feel like you should back down and go home, do so.
Once you get proficient in these winter skills than you are ready for your first adventure. The recipe I use to plan an adventure is simple. First decide upon your activity and your means of travel; ice climbing, snowshoeing, skiing, kayaking or any means of getting from point A to point B. I usually choose an athletic pursuit. My feeling is this; I try to recruit as many of my muscle fibers as possible during my adventures while I still can. I have my later years to take advantage of the wonderful thrills found in riding motorcycles, wave runners and snowmobiles. But it is and always will be a personal preference.
Know your abilities and plan your trip accordingly. Research your location and plan the logistics. How long will you have before you need to get back home. Do you want to go on a day trip or go camping for several weeks? Logistics include, gathering your inventory, preparing and servicing your equipment, rationing food, consulting a map and any guidebooks. I always copy any applicable pages from guidebooks instead of taking the whole book. Traveling light is key to a good time. I then put my maps and copied pages of my guidebook in a waterproof map case or zip lock freezer baggy. Often my first trip to an area is more of a reconnaissance, hiking and snowshoeing with compass and map. We locate the cliffs and the rivers that are prime for climbing and kayaking. Many areas are famous for there activities and they are often the best training grounds, but I find my favorite places are those that are off the beaten path. The trails the guidebooks only make a brief reference to. In these places, on a typical winter weekend, it is not uncommon to find yourself with your own private mountain to climb.
The last step for planning an adventure is to check the weather, pack accordingly and go for it! When learning a new method of travel such as climbing ice or winter kayaking it is advisable to seek out professional training or go on a guided adventure your first couple of times out. It is a great way of experiencing the outdoors without having to get outfitted right at the start. I have climbed on high altitude ice in the Andes of South America but I would gladly hire a guide or hook up with an instructor when it comes to going down into a deep vertical cave or Hangliding off a cliff. If you get really good at one activity, you can trade your knowledge with someone else who instructs in another activity so you both get lessons for free. When seeking instruction find a qualified service such as the ones recommended in the back of this guide. Read everything you can about the subject that you are interested in before you take a lesson. With a basic understanding of the fundamentals you can get more for your money from the instructor. Courses are wonderful and can save you months of trial and error but can be expensive. Having some previous knowledge about the new sport will help you to know what questions to ask. I have used instructional guides to shorten the learning curve of an activity that I wanted to be good at. At any rate guided trips are a good introduction to a wilderness activity but often take the adventure out of it. The outcome is less uncertain and you are generally not making all your own decisions. Once you have learned to be self sufficient, in the wilderness you usually prefer it that way.
It can not be overstated enough that you must always take full responsibility for yourself in the backcountry. To many people head out into the mountains believing that if they get in trouble a rescue team is not far away. I do not like to even consider rescue an option. While there is a system in place staffed by hard working and dedicated volunteers, it is very expensive to initiate a rescue and can negatively affect wilderness policy. Take the attitude that you will extricate an injured teammate yourself. Know land navigation skills and wilderness first aid. If you are injured and are alone, plan on getting yourself out. Embark on an adventure that is within your abilities and do not be afraid to back down. The greatest climbers in the world will tell you that they have bailed off as many mountains as they have climbed. Adventure climbing may not always get you to the top and often takes a round about way of trying, but will be twice as satisfying when you do finally reach a summit.
A big problem seen time and time again is when people underestimate the severity of the White Mountains when they are in winter conditions; (which can mean anytime in the fall, winter or spring.) In these conditions the White Mountains are the ultimate New England training ground for expeditions to the high and remote mountains of the world. In my travels I have yet to encounter weather as bad as my first solo attempt on Mount Washington in a January storm. At times I was forced to clutched to the backside of small boulders on the alpine garden to prevent from being blown clear into Tuckerman’s Ravine. I fought for several hours in vain to reach the summit. It was like trying to row against a current that was pushing me out to sea. I retreated. I justified the failure as successful training. But part of me felt defeated. Later I learned that the average wind speed recorded was 155 MPH and with blinding snow the visibility was near zero.
Mount Washington has laid claim to the title of having the highest wind speed recorded in history. 231 miles per hour on April 12, 1934.This weather comes swooping down from the Arctic Circle and Mount Washington at 6288 feet altitude is the first major vertical rise to break its force. In contrast, the Rocky Mountains of Colorado reach heights of over 14000 feet. Some are covered with small glaciers; year round ice fields that contain breaks called crevasses. Mountaineers rope up to prevent falling into these dark icy holes that are often hidden by fresh snow. Many of the summer hiking trails can be extremely avalanche prone in winter, due to the angle of the slopes. The reduced oxygen content in the air at 14,000 feet can make you tire much faster than at sea level. The Rocky Mountains are extreme and beautiful mountains. However the average elevation gained from the base of the mountain trailhead to the summit is approximately 3000-4000 feet. In some cases you are already at an elevation at the start of your climb that is equal to the summit of many smaller mountains in New Hampshire! In Colorado at 3000 feet elevation you might find an ice cream shop or hot tub at your local ski resort. In the White Mountains of New Hampshire 3000 feet of altitude in winter means you are deep into the wilderness.
In the W.M.N.F. 48 mountains reach 4000 feet and 10 are over 5000 feet. Mount Washington being the largest. Most of these mountains have an elevation gain of 3000-4000 feet from base to summit. The tree line is at approximately 4000 feet and the Alpine Zone; the part of the mountain that is above tree line is fully exposed to the extreme weather of a New England winter. Between Winter Solstice, December 20th and the Vernal Equinox, March 20th these mountains take on the same high alpine characteristics of a mountain range over twice its size.
The White Mountains of New Hampshire are a much older range of mountains than the Rocky Mountains or even the European Alps. This is why they are less jagged and more rounded appearing. This offers a more forgiving hike to many of its summits. Technical alpine climbing must be actively searched for as many such routes do exist. Some believe that many centuries ago the Presidential Range in the White Mountains where over 20,000 feet high. Although many routes are less technical and the altitude not as extreme as other mountain ranges in America, no less experience or caution should be considered when planning a winter ascent of any White Mountain peak. They have proven again and again that during the winter conditions the White’s of New Hampshire are powerful mountains.
Adventure packed alpine climbing can be found all over New England: Maine is a vast wilderness waiting to be explored. Mount Katahdin is a mini expedition just to get to during the winter season and offers excellent ice climbing and skiing. Acadia National Park is an amazing seaside location to ocean kayak, ice climb next to the ocean, mountain bike and backcountry ski. New York’s Catskills and Adirondack Mountains offer many more possibilities. The Adirondack’s have more than 40 mountains over 4000 feet altitude and 2 over 5000 feet. Many with remote climbs up old landslide and avalanche scars. There is also great ice climbing right off the road. The Catskills have two mountains over 4000 feet with good hiking and backcountry skiing. The nearby Shawanagunk cliffs that are so much fun to rock climb upon in summer can be a great place to train on in the winter, due to the amount of easy grade multiple pitch climbs found there. Vermont has five mountains over four thousand feet, Great skiing & snow boarding. Limestone caves and ice climbing can also be found. Smugglers Notch is one such multi sport winter location. All of these locations offer great Nordic skiing. Nordic skiing encompasses, Telemark and Alpine touring or Randonee type skiing. New England has many outstanding ski resorts, which are great places to train for those ski or snow boarding adventures. Hiking, snow shoeing and orienteering are always popular outings. White water rafting, canoeing or kayak trips are possible during the early or late winter and for the even more adventurous, Lake Winnipesauke in New Hampshire along with other locations offer ice diving. But my favorite location will always be New Hampshire's White Mountain National Forest: WMNF. All together New England’s mountainous regions have it all and the greatest adventure for you will be what lies ahead...
Treks & Climbs in the White Mountains of New Hampshire
Not all peaks are over 4000 feet, some where chosen for there interesting features and unique opportunities for adventure...
Mt. Adams 5774’
Mt. Madison 5367’
Mt. Jefferson 5712'
Mt. Washington 6288’
Mt. Monroe 5384’
Mt. Eisenhower 4761’
Mt. Pierce 4310’
Mt. Jackson 4052’
Franconia Ridge & the Bondcliff Traverse
Mt. Liberty 4459’
Mt. Flume 4328’
Mt. Lincoln 5089’
Mt. Lafayette 5260’
Mt. Garfield 4500’
Mt. Galehead 4024’
North twin 4761'
South Twin 4902'
North Twin 4761’
Zealand Mt. 4260’
Mt. Guyot 4580’
West Bond 4540'
Owls Head bushwhack 4025’
Mt. Bond 4698’
Mt. Isolation 4005’
Kinsman North Peak 4293’
Kinsman South Peak 4358’
Hancock, South Peak 4274’ Mt. Tripyramid Circuit
North Peak Tripyramid 4140’
Mt. Willey 4302’
Mt. Tom 4047’
Mt. Field 4326’
The Horn 3005’
Mt. Cabot 4170’
North Carter 4530’
Carter Middle 4610’
Carter South 4430’
Mt. Hight 4675 ‘
Carter Dome 4832’
Wildcat Mt. 4422’
Wildcat E Peak 4041’
Wildcat E Peak 4041'
Mt. Moriah 4049’
Mt. Moriah 4049'
Mt. White Face 4010’
Mt. Passaconaway 4060’
Mt. Waumbek 4006’
Mt. Tecumseh 4003’
East Peak of Osceola 4156’
The Horn & Unknown pond
Ice Gulch to Black Crescent Mountain
Percy Peak via Devils Slide
Pinnacle Gully, Mount Washington
Cave Mountain 1460’
Stairs Mt. 3460’
Rogers Ledge 2945’
Waterfalls of New Hampshire
•Lower Ammonoosuc Falls: off Rt. 302 between Twin Mountain and Bretton Woods. Upper Ammonoosuc Falls: beside the road that runs from Rt 302 in Bretton Woods to the Mt. Washington Cog Railway base station.
•Agassiz Basin: beside Rt. 112, east of the Jct of Rts. 112 & 118, North Woodstock.
•Arethusa Falls: take the 1 1/2 mi. path that starts south. of Willey House site on Route 302 in Crawford Notch. Bemis Brook and Coliseum Falls are on the way in to Arethusa.
•Baker River: northeast of Warren, in view of Rt. 118.
•The Basin: at Franconia Notch off the Franconia Notch Parkway/I-93, north of the Flume.
•Beaver Brook Falls: on Rt. 145 between Colebrook and Stewartstown. Roadside.
•Beaver Brook Cascades: off Rt. 112, past Lost River, going west out of Lincoln. Need USFS parking permit. part of Appalachian Trail.
•Beecher Cascades, Pearl Cascade: Rt. 302 to Crawford Depot, off of Avalon Trail to Cascade and Crawford Brook trails.
•Bridal Veil Falls: follow Coppermine Trail off Rt. 116 near Easton.
•Cascade Brook: Waterville Valley, take Rt. 49 to Snows Mt. Rd.
•Champney Falls: minutes west of Conway off the Kancamagus Highway.
•Coosauk and Hitchcock Falls: Large parking lot off northern End of Dolly Copp Rd., few hundred yards south of US Rt. 2 in Randolph East.
•Crystal Cascade: 3/10 mile trail from AMC's Pinkham Notch Visitor Center off Rt. 16 between Jackson and Gorham.
•Diana's Bath: off West Side Rd., Bartlett.
•Dixville Flume: From junction of U.S. Rt. 3 and Rt. 26 in Colebrook, take 26 East 1.4 miles to Flume Brook Picnic Area.
•Falling Waters Trail: opposite Lafayette Campground in Franconia Notch (5 falls) off the Franconia Notch Parkway/I-93.
•Flume Cascade & Silver Cascade: north of Rt. 302 in Crawford Notch.
•Flume Gorge: beside Rt. 3 in Franconia Notch, 5 mi. N. of Lincoln. (Paid admission)
•Franconia Falls: East on Rt. 112 (Kancamagus Highway) from Lincoln (5.2 miles) at Lincoln-Woods Parking area.
•Georgiana Falls: I-93, exit 33, go North on U.S. Rt. 3, turn left on Hansom Farm Rd. Parking lot at end of rd.
•Gibbs Fall: off U.S. Rt. 302, 0.4 miles from Conway, Mt. Clinton Rd. Need USFS Parking Pass.
•Glen Ellis Falls: Rt. 16 in Pinkham Notch.
•Huntington Cascades: 1.1 miles East of sign "entering Dixville Notch." U.S. Rt. 3 into Cascade Brook Picnic area.
•Jackson Falls: in the center of Jackson Village beside Rt. 16B/Carter Notch Rd.
•Kedron Falls: Rt. 302 at Willey House. Follow picnic tables our back to trail
•Kinsman Falls: Located along Cascade Brook in Franconia Notch
•Lost River: Kinsman Notch, 7 mi. W. of North Woodstock on Rt. 112. (Paid admission)
•Lower Falls: on the Kancamagus Highway near road between Conway and Passaconaway.
•Nancy Cascade: about 1 1/2 mi. in from Rt. 302 south of Crawford Notch.
•Ripley Falls: on Rt. 302, Crawford Notch; take Ethan Pond Trail.
•Rocky Glen Falls: Located along Cascade Brook in Franconia Notch
•Rocky Gorge: further west than Lower Falls on the Kancamagus Highway between Conway and Lincoln.
•Sabbaday Falls: on the Kancamagus Highway, west of Passaconaway Campground.
•Swiftwater: on Rt. 112 just south of the junction of Rts. 112 & 302, near Bath.
•Thompson's Falls & Emerald Pool: 1 1/2 mi. south of AMC's Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, Rt. 16 between Jackson and Gorham.
•Triple Falls: Junction of U.S. Rt. 302 and Rt. 16 in Bartlett. Take 16 North 3.4 miles past Mt. Washington Auto Road, then left on Dolly Copp Rd.
"Common sense is what tells us the Earth is flat and and the Sun goes around it."