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View Full Version : What's it like in the Whites?



Kimbo
02-15-2009, 18:28
Ok, I keep hearing that the White Mountains are the toughest part of the AT. I know itís steep, cold, rocky, and windy, and that you have to carry a heavier pack to deal with sudden extreme weather, but what else, exactly, does it mean when experienced hikers say the Whites are difficult (like what I have mentioned already isnít enough)? I would feel better prepared if I knew more specifically in what ways the AT through the Whites is hard going. I can imagine a lot of different things that may or may not apply, and I would like to have a more accurate idea of what I am in for before I get there. The more detail you can provide, the better. Also, it would be great to hear from several peopleómore perspectives are always helpful.

Which of these are true, and to what extent?

1) It is a lot farther between water sources than other trails. (How far?)

2) The trail is hard to see, to pick out from its surroundings, or it is otherwise easy to get lost.

3) Some of it is not just walking; you have to climb on hands and knees and/or slide on butt. (What else? And how much? Any technical, rock-climbing skills required?)

4) If you lose your balance you will fall a dangerously long way.

5) It is easier to lose your balance than other trails.

6) The trail is too narrow (or otherwise unsuitable) for you to use your hiking pole(s). (For how long?)

7) The trail is rough and rocky, and thus hard on your feet and boots. (How much of it?)

8) There are stretches where there are no safe places to stop and rest. (For how long?)

9) There are no trees for shelter. (How long are these stretches? And how far away from trees would you be?)

10) There are long distances between opportunities to get off the trail and into a town. (How long?)

11) There are deep or wide stream crossings.

12) The trail is slippery.

13) Bugs, snakes, or other animals are problematic.

14) You have to jump over deep crevices.

In my mind I have it pictured as a series of very steep, very long, very cold, very slow walks carrying a heavy pack. If there is more to it than that, let me know!

Thanks so much.

Bobbo
02-15-2009, 18:49
I hike a lot in the Whites. Even during the nicest, warmest part of the summer it can be very cold and there can be sudden weather changes. There is often afternoon precipitation. It is a very popular place to hike and therefore it can get crowded at shelters and huts, which hikers are suppose to stay in while in the Whites (or at least designated camping areas). The only real potentially dangerous area, as far as Iím concerned, is the section between Madison and Webster Cliffs where you are mostly above tree line for like 20 something miles. There are several huts and the visitor center on Washington in between there to get water and shelter if a storm hits, but other than that it is exposed.
I think people make the Whites out to be more than they are. Yes there are some steep ascends and descents were you are using all fours and perhaps even butt sliding, but I think Southern Maine is probably more difficult as far as hiking mile for mile is concerned.

Whites are ďownedĒ by the AMC so you can be restricted in terms of creating your own daily stops and camping areas. That is not to suggest there are not options; itís just that you will be breaking the rules of the AMC in many cases.

Whites are not a big deal on a thru-hike. By the time you get there most hikers are machines and can cover the miles and elevation gains with little problem

fiddlehead
02-15-2009, 19:00
For the most part, it's simply the steepness of the climbs.
From now on, when you go up steps, start going up them 3 at a time and expect every step to be this way. (or 4 at a time)

Switchbacks are rare. The trail designers were brutal.

Other than that, you have some above treeline (exposed) trail to consider in what's often terrible weather. That means fog, wind, whiteouts and possibly people losing the way up there.

Then you have the huts, which are like private resorts that are expensive but the rules say sometimes it is the only viable option for sleeping. This complicates the whites for planning purposes. It may take a few trips through there before you figure out a few stealth sites to make it possible to do without these high dollar hotels.

But If you happen to hit the presidentials (above treeline stetch) on a good day (rare), you may find some of the best hiking you've ever had.

Can't imagine where you heard stories about snakes, or wide stream crossings. I've never seen a snake in the whites that i can remember. (seen a dead moose with a cigarette in his mouth though)

CrumbSnatcher
02-15-2009, 19:12
southern maine is tougher!!!

garlic08
02-15-2009, 19:13
Read "Not Without Peril" by Nicholas Howe and you'll get an idea of why the Whites have such a reputation.

I do most of my hiking in CO and the Rockies, so I really felt at home in the Whites, on the long, above-treeline talus slopes. Once you're up on the Presidentials, you can make pretty good time in decent weather. I thought the Mahoosucs were tougher, too. A lot depends on the weather. The hard part for me was mud and roots below treeline.

CrumbSnatcher
02-15-2009, 19:18
Read "Not Without Peril" by Nicholas Howe and you'll get an idea of why the Whites have such a reputation.

I do most of my hiking in CO and the Rockies, so I really felt at home in the Whites, on the long, above-treeline talus slopes. Once you're up on the Presidentials, you can make pretty good time in decent weather. I thought the Mahoosucs were tougher, too. A lot depends on the weather. The hard part for me was mud and roots below treeline.
the climb up from pinkham or crawford can be a little tough! but i agree with garlic08 once your up top the crossing is rather easy on a good day(weather wise)

rickb
02-15-2009, 19:29
It may take a few trips through there before you figure out a few stealth sites to make it possible to do without these high dollar hotels.

I figured out how to avoid the huts (hotels)the first time through without much difficulty. Of course I am smarter than most.

I did stay at some inexpensive AMC tent/shelter sites with a caretaker because I liked shelters, which all had good flowing water nearby. I was too lazy to camel up and walk 1/4 mile past those sites to save a couple dollars (now its up around $8 a pop).

I learned that the US Forest Service camping regs could be simplified in most parts of the Whites-- ie don't camp above treeline in summer, camp at least 1/4 mile away from most things man made like shelters huts and roads, and if you are in a wilderness area walk 200 feet into the woods to camp and build your fire.

The only thing tricky with that is one long stretch above treeline between the Nauman tent site and the Osgood tent site. Basically you need to plan 1 day in advance, so you don't end up ending your hiking day in the middle of that most beautiful section of trail thinking you can just stop and camp. Not a big deal, really. Everywhere else, simply a non issue.

There is no technical climbing at all. Trails might feel narrow if you are the type who gets knots driving over a big bridge, but you are never close to the edge. Basically, if you were to fall and kill yourself, the recovery team would have to scramble down maybe 30 feet of boulders to get you. Never heard of that happening, however.

The only thing to really worry about are clouds screwing up the views.

And getting chilly. Best to have a warm fleece or such because it can get cold up there even in the summer. Not a big deal though.

Kanati
02-15-2009, 21:21
Only Moosilauke is hard

Jim Adams
02-15-2009, 23:05
If you are thru hiking, just go have fun! You will be in such good condition by then that it is no big deal.
The entire trail has beautiful areas and places but I always looked at it as the Whites were the beginning of my reward for walking that far.

geek

Tinker
02-16-2009, 00:02
southern maine is tougher!!!

Without a doubt. The wet, slippery slabs just don't dry up in Maine. The woods tend to hold the moisture.

The ups in the Whites are tougher than many other places with lots of granite slabs which can be slick when wet.

There aren't any spots along the AT that you'll fall vertically off unless you want to. The closest I can think of is the Franconia ridgeline.

The wind can knock you flat anytime of the year. I've been up there in calm and 80 degrees and gale winds of 40 and up in 30 degree weather - both in July.

Tree cover for protection is never really that far away, though you can't camp in areas where the trees are 8ft. or less in height.

There are no tough stream crossings on the AT in the Whites - at least in less than tropical storm conditions, even then, I can't really think of anything north of the west side of Mt. Moosilauke (one crossing) and Beaver Brook (on the northeast side), which you usually hike beside unless it's in flood, then you hike IN it.

Above the treeline, the trail tends to be rocky, most especially from Lakes of the Clouds over Mt. Madison. The north side of Mt. Madison traditionally, is the windiest spot on the AT in the Whites.

The climbs down Madison and up Wildcat are rough and slippery. Wildcat has a LOT of slabs.

Snakes? - No poisonous ones will be found in the Whites.

If it's sunny and you don't have a tan, slather on sunscreen and wear a broad brimmed hat (with a cord to hold it in the wind), or you will soon resemble a New England lobster dinner.

If you like tourists, and have some extra cash, stay at the huts. The food is good and you'll have to carry that much less weight.

If you don't want to blow a chunk of change for lodging, but want to be out of the weather, stay at the Randolph Mtn. Club's Grey Knob or Crag camp. There are some platforms near the Perch (a dog house of a shelter, really) if that's more your thing. You can hammock there, too.

When it's windy, watch your pack cover (tie it extra securely), and don't wear baggy wind or rainwear - it becomes a sail.

Vertical climbing is on south side of S. Kinsman Mountain and one spot on the Garfield Ridge Trail (AT) unless it's been rerouted.

In southern Maine, Mahoosuc Notch is interesting, cool in the summer, but overrated for difficulty (if you have a normal sized pack). The climb after the notch is tougher. Hall and Moody Mountains rate in my memory as the toughest climbs in southern Maine.

I don't want to give it all away (it's supposed to be an adventure, after all). ;)

CrumbSnatcher
02-16-2009, 00:27
Without a doubt. The wet, slippery slabs just don't dry up in Maine. The woods tend to hold the moisture.

The ups in the Whites are tougher than many other places with lots of granite slabs which can be slick when wet.

There aren't any spots along the AT that you'll fall vertically off unless you want to. The closest I can think of is the Franconia ridgeline.

The wind can knock you flat anytime of the year. I've been up there in calm and 80 degrees and gale winds of 40 and up in 30 degree weather - both in July.

Tree cover for protection is never really that far away, though you can't camp in areas where the trees are 8ft. or less in height.

There are no tough stream crossings on the AT in the Whites - at least in less than tropical storm conditions, even then, I can't really think of anything north of the west side of Mt. Moosilauke (one crossing) and Beaver Brook (on the northeast side), which you usually hike beside unless it's in flood, then you hike IN it.

Above the treeline, the trail tends to be rocky, most especially from Lakes of the Clouds over Mt. Madison. The north side of Mt. Madison traditionally, is the windiest spot on the AT in the Whites.

The climbs down Madison and up Wildcat are rough and slippery. Wildcat has a LOT of slabs.

Snakes? - No poisonous ones will be found in the Whites.

If it's sunny and you don't have a tan, slather on sunscreen and wear a broad brimmed hat (with a cord to hold it in the wind), or you will soon resemble a New England lobster dinner.

If you like tourists, and have some extra cash, stay at the huts. The food is good and you'll have to carry that much less weight.

If you don't want to blow a chunk of change for lodging, but want to be out of the weather, stay at the Randolph Mtn. Club's Grey Knob or Crag camp. There are some platforms near the Perch (a dog house of a shelter, really) if that's more your thing. You can hammock there, too.

When it's windy, watch your pack cover (tie it extra securely), and don't wear baggy wind or rainwear - it becomes a sail.

Vertical climbing is on south side of S. Kinsman Mountain and one spot on the Garfield Ridge Trail (AT) unless it's been rerouted.

In southern Maine, Mahoosuc Notch is interesting, cool in the summer, but overrated for difficulty (if you have a normal sized pack). The climb after the notch is tougher. Hall and Moody Mountains rate in my memory as the toughest climbs in southern Maine.

I don't want to give it all away (it's supposed to be an adventure, after all). ;)all you said, plus i always have less money in maine than i had in N.H.:D

Tinker
02-16-2009, 00:35
CrumbSnatcher, I saw the Quest Preying Mantis tent in your gallery photos. One of the best three season tents ever made, imo. The company sold out just before silicone impregnated nylon came on the scene. Would have been a world beater.
A place I worked at was looking at picking up the line in '96. The business closed two years later after I left (no, it wasn't my fault! :p).

Kerosene
02-16-2009, 11:56
1) It is a lot farther between water sources than other trails. (How far?)
Water seemed fairly plentiful in September 2006. I never carried any more than two liters and did just fine.

2) The trail is hard to see, to pick out from its surroundings, or it is otherwise easy to get lost.
This seemed to only be a problem above treeline. Even on a perfectly clear day (we were fortunate), I found that it was difficult to walk between the cairns while rock-hopping. I'd glance up between cairns and find that I was 10 feet off-line already, which would've been a real problem on a very foggy day.

3) Some of it is not just walking; you have to climb on hands and knees and/or slide on butt. (What else? And how much? Any technical, rock-climbing skills required?)
I actually didn't find too many sections where you could just stride, as the trail bed is so rocky and rooty, but there is nothing resembling technical climbing either. On a few sections you have to grab onto an adjacent tree/root/rock to swing yourself down, and it does help to have new sticky rubber soles on your boots. I think I only did one butt-slide (and that wasn't on purpose!).

4) If you lose your balance you will fall a dangerously long way.
This could be true of a lot of the AT, but outside of the long, slippery descent of Osgood Ridge (southbound from Madison Springs Hut), my fear of heights never kicked in. Osgood Ridge is very exposed, seems to slant downward heading north, and there's moss on many rocks. I went very slowly, even though we were running out of daylight.

5) It is easier to lose your balance than other trails.
See #4

6) The trail is too narrow (or otherwise unsuitable) for you to use your hiking pole(s). (For how long?)
Narrowness never seemed to be a problem, but they really don't do you much good on solid rock and the carbide tips scar the rock. If you bring poles, consider using rubber tips. The only places I felt they were worthless were the long descent off Moosilaukee to Kinsman Notch and the tough ascent of South Kinsman, and the descent of Garfield (I haven't climbed Wildcat yet). They do provide some additional stability in other places.

7) The trail is rough and rocky, and thus hard on your feet and boots. (How much of it?)
The rocks are bigger than the small, pointy ones throughout Pennsylvania, and as such you can step on/over them without your ankle always turning. Sticky soles would help on the smoother boulders, however.

8) There are stretches where there are no safe places to stop and rest. (For how long?)
You can rest anywhere, but you don't want to be caught above treeline during a storm. There are a number of stealth sites below treeline, but even hammocking is limited due to the dwarfed trees above 5000'.

9) There are no trees for shelter. (How long are these stretches? And how far away from trees would you be?)
A little less than a mile atop Moosilaukee; 5 miles atop Franconia Ridge; 15 miles over the Presidentials.

10) There are long distances between opportunities to get off the trail and into a town. (How long?)
You can hitch a ride to a town from any of the notches: Kinsman, Franconia, Crawford, Pinkham. Heading north, Kinsman is 10 miles from Glencliff; Franconia is about 15 miles further; Crawford is another 30 miles; and Pinkham is perhaps 25 miles on; and Gorham is 22 more.

11) There are deep or wide stream crossings.
None in the Whites. You'll have to wait for Maine to gain that experience.

12) The trail is slippery.
Yes.

13) Bugs, snakes, or other animals are problematic.
Bugs before July can be a real problem. That's why I hike after Labor Day.

14) You have to jump over deep crevices.
I don't recall any.

Kimbo
02-17-2009, 00:21
Thanks to all of you for all this useful info. This is exactly what I was looking for.

Several of you mentioned that I'd probably be in great shape by the time I made it that far, but I was actually thinking of going SOBO, so southern ME and the Whites would come up pretty early for me.

CrumbSnatcher
02-17-2009, 00:25
CrumbSnatcher, I saw the Quest Preying Mantis tent in your gallery photos. One of the best three season tents ever made, imo. The company sold out just before silicone impregnated nylon came on the scene. Would have been a world beater.
A place I worked at was looking at picking up the line in '96. The business closed two years later after I left (no, it wasn't my fault! :p).
i actually carried that tent in 99' ga-me. my dog bear loved sleeping in the vestibule. i used to joke around and say you need a tent large enough to host. my old ass now sleeps in a zoid 2. which was nice size for me and my dog. :D

Bobbo
02-18-2009, 18:53
hey
even if you go southbound - you will be fine. Just have fun, keep walking and make sure your pack doesn't weigh to much. Southern Maine is awesome as are the Whites. Don't worry.....enjoy.:banana

Kerosene
02-18-2009, 23:06
I wouldn't be surprised if Maine gave you a lot more trouble as you get into hiking shape than the Whites will.

Even Hikerhead from this site, along with that tire he wears, made it through the Whites without too much trouble!

DiamondRidge
03-25-2009, 10:16
The Whites are my home and they are beautiful. Yes, some challenging hiking, but well worth it! Have fun and enjoy NH!

Tin Man
03-25-2009, 10:37
I guess I missed this thread earlier. NH is tough, but not as tough as one may imagine from some of these posts. You just can't expect to make the miles you do elsewhere. Starting ME this year from Pinkham. Wildcat sounds like fun!

Going North down Madison is an interesting experience for sure. I was looking for some footsteps in the rock like there is on Moosilauke's north side.

sixhusbands
03-25-2009, 11:01
Most of this forum is talking about the Presidentail range , which is very specatcular and there are some very good springs along the way from Mizpah Hut to Madison hut. The Franconia ridge where you find Lincoln , Lafayette and Garfiled peaks is my favorite stretch on the AT ( less crowded) but if you want to take a nice side trip , go try the Bond range where you will find Bond , West Bond and my favorite peak Bondcliff. One you get there you will know why! As a whole the Whites are just higher and more exposed than most other parts of the AT. ( if it is wet you will definitely enjoy the trek down Garfield for NOBO's) take your time... stop at the huts for any leftovers and enjoy the views.

peakbagger
03-25-2009, 11:09
Except for the long above treeline stretches, there is nothing in the whites that you will not encounter in Maine on a SOBO. If Maine doesnt get you prepped, the Mahoosucs will!

celt
03-25-2009, 22:09
Whites are ďownedĒ by the AMC so you can be restricted in terms of creating your own daily stops and camping areas. That is not to suggest there are not options; itís just that you will be breaking the rules of the AMC in many cases.

Whites are not a big deal on a thru-hike. By the time you get there most hikers are machines and can cover the miles and elevation gains with little problem

The backcountry camping rules in the Whites are the rules of the United States Forest Service. The AMC partners with the USFS to manage many trails and facilities in the Whites Mountains but it does not write any rules or laws.

Outside of Wilderness Areas (the A.T.s contact with WMNF Wilderness is extremely limited) the Backcountry Rules aren't very restrictive. You can read the pamphlet here:

http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/white_mountain/recreation/camping/backcountry_rules_2008-09.pdf

The rule that effects most A.T. hikers is this:

No Camping, Wood or Charcoal
Fires within 1/4 mile of the
following except at designated sites:
Any hut, shelter, developed tent site, cabin,
picnic area, developed day use site, or
campground
Any trailhead


p.s. Kerosene's post is excellent, as are The Whites