Lion Head Winter Route

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 44.27060°N / 71.3047°W
Additional Information Route Type: Snow Climb
Additional Information Time Required: Less than two hours
Additional Information Difficulty: MI I, II
Sign the Climber's Log


Start from Pinkham Notch on Route 16/White Mountain Highway...look for the big brown building with 300 cars in the parking lot. Start out on the Tuckerman Ravine trail, which is wide enough to fit a snow cat....follow the trail up for a little over a mile and a half, until you reach the Huntington Ravine Fire Road (NOT the Huntington Ravine Trail, which is only 1.3 miles from the Tuckerman trailhead), another very wide trail that branches off on your right hand side as you go around a left turn in the trail. There should also be an orange Lion Head Winter Route sign at this trailhead. Follow this trail up a few hundred yards until you see an avalanche cache on your right hand side. Right across from the cache is the start of the Lion Head Winter Route.


Route Description

The trail starts out somewhat flat and winds through the careful to stay on the trail, otherwise you'll find yourself postholing to your knees or waist. It then begins to ascend slightly after around 100 yards, and then begins the to gain steepness. The entire Winter Route itself is only around a half mile in length, and ascends around 1,000 vertical feet. The middle section is the steepest; on the second of the two steep sections, you can follow the wall straight up, making for a good 60-70 degree snow/mixed climb (depending on the snow conditions).

The ledge at the top is a little narrow though, and you'll have to go across it on your hands and knees because of your pack. If you're wearing a large or heavy pack, I wouldn't do that section....the alternative is to follow the trail to the right at the base of this section. There are a few snow/rock/exposed tree root scrambles which make it kinda fun, and having ice tools versus just a mountaineering axe makes it a lot easier (and a lot more fun). The upper section is not quite as steep, and generally the snow is quite a bit softer and more powdery, due to blowing snow and such.

Once you begin noticing the trees getting shorter and the wind picking up, this is where you should begin putting on more layers/wind shell, etc. Another couple hundred yards up, you'll be above treeline and the conditions can immediately worsen, and trying to change around there can really suck. The Lion Head Winter Route trail ends at the trail for the Lion Head'll see the sign denoting the Lion Head Winter Route where the summer route meets up. Follow the rest of the regular Lion Head Trail up....

Weather on the Lion Head ridge can be brutal. It is not uncommon for winds to be only around 30-50 mph on the summit, with winds blasting the ridge at 80-100+ mph (just past the Lion Head rocks, about a half hour hike from the end of the Winter Route). Below Lion Head, the winds may be gusting a bit here and there, but are generally not too bad. The avalanche danger isn't real significant compared to the gullies. The LHWR has blue markers denoting the trail, and on the upper section has orange reflectors to aid visibility at night.

The route should take around an hour, at a somewhat leisurely pace....with a lighter pack and less rest breaks, around 45 minutes....with a firm snowpack. If you have to break trail, it will be considerably longer. If you must break trail on the LHWR, chances are the eastern snowfields (just above the Alpine Garden/Lion Head junction) will be brutal, up to chest deep. If you decide to do this route, get an early start.....5:30 to 6 a.m. is good, otherwise there can be long lines ascending. If you start at the above time, you should not see anyone on the Winter Route itself, except for perhaps only a couple of people. Going down is fun, as you can glissade about 80-85% of it. Since the trail winds around turns and such, it's like going down a huge waterslide.....

Essential Gear

At the minimum, crampons and a mountaineering axe. I've seen people try it with no crampons and trekking poles...NOT advised. Bring your ice tools and make it into a fun little'll go much quicker than the rest of the folks, and have more options, particularly when you have to climb up and over an icy rock section. If you like climbing in storms, bring snowshoes for before and after the LHWR, as the snow can be deep above treeline. I've seen people bring pickets and rope, but they are not really necessary, unless it's the person's first time climbing in the winter or are uncomfortable with climbing. Don't get me wrong, like anywhere else it can be easy to fall, and while you won't be falling hundreds of feet, it'll still hurt (and can kill you).


Miscellaneous Info

If you have information about this route that doesn't pertain to any of the other sections, please add it here.


Additions and CorrectionsPost an Addition or Correction

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marcminish - Nov 25, 2002 12:02 pm - Hasn't voted

Route Comment

The route info has "under two hours" given as an approximate time for completion. My estimate would be 6-8 hours.


GuitarWIzard - Feb 13, 2004 12:33 pm - Hasn't voted

Route Comment

The Lion Head Winter Route itself is very short - I've done it in under an's merely a connector between the Huntington Ravine Fire Road and the Lion Head Trail, which is more avalanche-prone in the winter time.

I guess I should've clarified that the trailhead to summit takes 4-6 hours....but the actual Lion Head Winter Route takes less than 2. Sorry 'bout that.

sewardj - Dec 21, 2008 12:19 pm - Hasn't voted

60-70 degrees misleading

This description seems to incorrectly imply a 1,000-foot snow and ice climb of 60-70 degrees - a far different proposition than the Lion Head trail. An ice axe may be warranted on this route assuming one knows how to use it, but there is almost no "exposure" in a mountaineering sense. There are a few ledges or steps that might briefly approach 60-70 degrees, but these bits are of almost trivial length.


Foreman - Aug 5, 2016 2:08 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: 60-70 degrees misleading

I agree with Sewardj with particular regard to the 60-70 degree comment. This is a very misleading. I would estimate a sustained slope of around 30 degrees or so on the route in snow where crampon work and step-kicking is rather easy for an intermediate - advanced mountaineer. In full-winter conditions, I would say that a classic ice axe is mandatory. Anything more aggressive is overkill and to impress the ladies.


nixoriugis - Oct 31, 2017 2:20 am - Hasn't voted

How to justify an ice axe?

In planning for a climb this winter, I have trouble justifying bringing an ice axe unless there is freezing rain. Can someone point me wrong? If this is the technical crux, I would rather strap my axe on my pack and get handholds on rocks and trees than hooking on roots (LNT!) and rocks. Or use hiking poles if I want a cane. If this is representative of the slopes higher up, and I would believe so since on my GPS track the slope never goes beyond 50% above tree line, it would be hard to fall and arresting would be easy with poles. I will probably still bring an axe since I have one and everyone seems to bring it, but what if someone has never practiced self-arrest and has to shed money to rent one? Are we only bringing the axe for mountain cred, with guides overselling the route? Again, barring freezing rain. I will update this post after my climb. On another note, I'm considering using touring skis above tree line. Anyone know if there is usually enough snow for this?

sewardj - Dec 30, 2017 1:20 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: How to justify an ice axe?

Probably crampons and hiking poles make the most sense and would offer the most benefit over all. Seems to be the preferred set-up of most winter hikers on this trail.There are MAYBE a couple of places where a properly executed self-arrest could be useful in event of a fall, but maybe not. LACKING crampons, one could, with an axe, cut a few useful steps...... There is no viable skiing on the route.The southeast snowfields (to the right, above "alpine gardens") offer limited skiing when filled in, but there isn't necessarily much point to lugging skis over there.


nixoriugis - Mar 1, 2018 6:00 am - Hasn't voted

Re: How to justify an ice axe?

It's funny I was actually on the mountain when you replied. But thanks still! I now agree with what you said. For the others who may read this, the ice axe was in the "nice to have but not essential" side. It did help climb in the winter route itself, but I could have done it without. Above tree line, I found poles to be way more useful and no need for self-arrest. I saw many people not bring an ice axe. The mountaineering crampons was more useful and definitely made progress easier on the winter route itself and more secure higher up. However, I think I saw more people with hiking traction devices than crampons, and at least some of them has made it to the top. I had bulletproof crust for most part above tree line, so the ski was interesting, but not fun! And dropping down Tuckerman ravine was a definite no when your edges don't bite, even if the avalanche risk was low. At least the skis did make the approach and exit quite faster. If I was to go there again, I would still bring the axe and crampons, but cache the axe once above tree line. About glissading down below tree line. You destroy the steps that are so useful for the people going up without crampons. So think twice about it.

Viewing: 1-7 of 7



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