Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about hiking in the Whites. I have tried to answer these as best I can, and be as factual as possible, but I'm sure that my opinions have slipped in on occasion. But hey, if you want it to say exactly what you want, write your own. :-)
A: Yes, the trailhead and the begining of the trail are on private land. Due to a dispute between the landowner and the WMNF about snowmobile trails in the area, the landowner has closed the trailhead and closed access to the trail. Now, the shortest trip to Mt Cabot is by the north, via Unknown Pond. Consult the AMC White Mountain Guide for details on how to get to that trailhead. You can still hook into the upper part of the Mt Cabot trail from the Kilkenny Ridge trail.
A1: The best all around guidebook is the AMC White Mountain Guide. It comes with a full set of maps for all the hiking trails in the Whites. You can purchase them without the book, in tyvek form, which is best since they will withstand the most abuse. In addition, the AMC publishes an excellent map of the Presidential Range by Brad Washburn. This map is practically a work of art and I have mine hanging on my wall. The RMC publishes a fine map of the northern Presidentials as well. Delorme has a single map that covers most of the White Mountains, but doesn't really have enough detail as a hiking map. You can also use USGS topo maps, although they may not be as up to date as the AMC hiking maps.Q2: What are good on-line sources for maps? Or mapping CDs I can buy?
A2: The best site that I know is www.topozone.com. It offers all the USGS maps of the US for free. As a disclaimer, I'm a friend of the CEO, but it really is the best site for on-line maps. I also use TOPO! mapping software.Q3: What's this I hear about a parking fee and sticker?
A3: The USFS has started a pilot program which charges a use fee for recreation in the White Mountain National Forest. If you park at one of the WMNF trailheads you will need have one of the following: a year long parking sticker, a one week parking pass, or a ticket from the self-serve parking fee stations at some trailheads. Here is a link to the official information page.Q4: Where can I camp?
A4: The general rule is that you can camp anywhere that is 200 feet from a trail or water source, 1/4 mile from any hut, shelter, or established campsite, and is not above treeline. There are several areas that have special protection and have no camping allowed, such as Tuckerman Ravine (except the Hermit Lake Shelters), Huntington Ravine, Franconia Notch State Park, and others. For the official rules, consult this link.Q5: I want to climb Mt Washington. What's the easiest way?
A5: The most popular way is to start at the AMC's Pinkham Notch Visitors Center. From there take the Tuckerman Ravine Trail up to the Ravine, then up the steep headwall, coming out above treeline. For the return trip, many people take the Lion Head trail, which is a little easier on the knees. There are steep sections of both trails, and it may be unnerving for some people. In addition, the sections above treeline are a jumble of large rocks, which are difficult to walk on and can be very tiring.
This is not an easy trip. It is 4.2 miles to the summit and most people in good shape average about 1 MPH. Round trip times run from 6 to 10 hours. It can be 70 degrees and sunny at the bottom, while at the top it will be 40 degrees, raining, with high winds. Bring 2 to 3 liters of water per person, extra food, sturdy boots, warm clothes (no cotton!), rain gear, hat, gloves, headlamp, map and compass, first aid kit, and the sense to turn around if the weather turns bad. Don't keep pushing on because you know the visitors center is at the top. In bad weather, you may never get there. The mountain will always be there, make sure you're there too.Q6: I want to hike Mt Washington as an overnight. Where can I camp?
A6: There is really only one good answer to this question: Hermit Lakes Shelters. From the Pinham Notch side, that is the only legal place to camp. It's at the base of Tuckerman Ravine, so it only cuts off about 1.5 hours of the hike, but it gets you away from the road and into an alpine setting. Camping anywhere else in the Cutler River drainage is illegal. There is also a hiker refuge in the basement of the AMC's Lakes of the Clouds Hut, called the Dungeon. It sleeps 6 people, and you can call the AMC up to 48 hours in advance for reservations. The Dungeon is a dark, dank place, that is not the most pleasant place to stay.
From the Ammonoosuc Ravine side, there are also no good, legal places to camp. The Jewel trail has some places that are OK, but be sure to go 200 feet from the trail. That will mean camping down low as well, since higher up the trees are too tight to place a tent.Q7: What is the highest elevation trailhead in the Whites?
A7: Aside from the Mt Washington Auto Road, the highest trailhead is for Ridge of the Caps Trail, at 3009' on the Jefferson Notch Road.Q8: Which Forest Service Roads gated in winter? When? And When do they open in the spring?
A8: The following roads are gated: Tripoli, Bear Notch, Moosilauke Ravine Lodge Access, Garfield/Gale River, North Twin, Sawyer Pond, Dolly Copp, Zealand, Tunnel Brook, Mt Clinton, Marshfield Base Station (Cog RR). This is not a complete list.The following roads are Not Maintained for Winter Travel: Jefferson Notch, Sandwich Notch, Hurricane Mountain, Dolly Copp/Pinkham B, North South Road
Most roads are gated by Nov 15. The Forest Service makes the call based on the snowfall, and may close them earlier if a big storm is predicted. The goal each year is to have them all open by Memorial Day, and most years the roads start to open in early May. Not Maintained for Winter Travel usually means impassable. But before the snow flies, or if it is a mild winter, they can be navigated. Four wheel drive, high ground clearance, and winter driving skills are a big help.Q9: Can I make reservations for the backcountry shelters and campsites?
A9: No, the are first come, first served. And they fill up on busy weekends. Never count on getting into a shelter, always bring a tent or tarp and be prepared to continue past a designated site to camp farther on.
Two exceptions to this are the Hermit Lake Shelters in Tuckerman Ravine and the Dungeon hiker refuge in the basement of Lakes of the Clouds Hut. You need to pick up "tickets" for Hermit Lake at Pinkham Notch ahead of time. For the Dungeon, during the summer season you can reserve one of the six available spots up to 48 hours ahead of time by calling the AMC at Pinkham Notch.Q10: What services/facilities/supplies do AMC huts offer in full and caretaker season?
A10: During full season service, the AMC huts provide guests with dinner, breakfast, and hot beverages, a bunk with mattress and wool blankets, a good water supply, a toilet, a weather report at 8:00 AM, entertaining conversation, and an enjoyable evening. Many of the huts have gas or solar powered lights that stay on until 9:00 or 10:00, after which is lights out and the hut will stay quiet until morning. Most huts will also have "day soup" on for hikers at a small fee, as well as lemonade and hot beverages, plus a variety of items for sale including candy, sunscreen, bug dope, waterbottles, flashlights, and, of course, the hut t-shirts. Huts do not provide any garbage cans; for dayhikers and overnight guests you must pack out your own trash.
If spending the night at a full service hut, you should bring clothes to wear around the hut, a headlamp or flashlight to get around at night, earplugs to let you sleep with your snoring neighbors, and a camera. You will also need to carry your lunch and snack food.
Most huts are open in "caretaker mode" at the begining and end of the season. Zealand Falls hut is a caretaker hut all winter, and Carter Notch is caretaker year round. When operating like this, there is only one AMC staff at the hut and guests need to carry in and cook their own food. Guests sign up for a 30 minute use of the kitchen, where you can use all the pots, pans, untensils, dishes and silverware. There is a good water supply, and hot water is usually boiling on the stove.Q11: Can I drink water right from the stream? At the hut?
A11: In general, all water in the White Mountains should be treated before drinking. The three most common methods are iodine (Potable Aqua or similar product), boiling, or filtering. This includes water at campsites and shelters, even if you are getting the water at the source. The AMC Huts treat the water before it reaches the taps, so water taken from there is safe. You can also fill up with clean water in the Sherman Adams building at the summit of Mt Washington and the restaurant at the top of Cannon.Q12: Can I hike with my dog? Can I camp overnight with my dog?
A12: Dogs are allowed in all areas of the White Mountain National Forest. You should take precautions on some trails, especially in the Presidential Range, where the sharp rocks above treeline often cut the paws of dogs. Dogs should always be on leash or under voice command. This is especially important above treeline, near water sources, around the campsite, and in other sensitive terrain.
The AMC huts do not allow dogs. The RMC facilities have the policy that if no one objects or is allergic, dogs are allowed. Otherwise, you will be asked to move to one of the camping spots at the Perch with your pooch. When staying at a shelter, be prepared to use one of the tent platforms if anyone objects to sharing the shelter with your dog.Q13: Can I ride my mountain bike up the Wilderness Trail?
A13: You are allowed to ride bikes up to the edge of the Pemi Wilderness area, which starts about 2.7 miles in on the Lincoln Woods trail. This gets you to the bridge across Franconia Brook. No bikes are allowed past that point.Q14: Do I need to bring a tent if I plan of staying in a shelter?
A14: Yes. There is no guarntee that space will be available at any shelter. You should always carry your own shelter when planning an overnight, since you may find out when you arrive that the shelter is full, as well as all the tent platforms. The key is to be flexible and arrive early. Many shelters and platforms will fill up by 2:00 PM on a busy weekend. Even on a weeknight, a large group may fill up your intended spot and you will need to have a way of making shelter for the night.Q15: What are the various hiking lists (i.e. 4k, Trailwrights 4k, 100 highest, NE 111, etc.)?
A15:The most popular list is the NH 4000'ers. This list of 48 peaks in NH that rise over 200' from their nearest 4000 foot neighbor. The list is elsewhere on this site, and in the back of the AMC White Mountain Guide. The main critera for hiking them is that you go up and down from the trailhead on foot. You cannot use the Mt Washington Auto Road, or any chairlifts or trams, or a bicycle on trails that allow them. When you complete the list, you can send in your application to the address listed in the AMC White Mountain Guide.
There are other lists that hikers can "bag". In addition to the 48 peaks in NH, Maine has 14 4000'ers and Vermont has 5 more, for a total of 67 peaks in New England. The Adirondacks in NY have 46 more peaks based on their own crietia. Plus the two in the Catskills makes for 115 in the Northeast. There are also lists of the hundred highest in NH and New England.Q16: Is it safe to park my car in a hiker lot?
A16: For the most part, yes. While break-ins can and do happen, there are some precautions that you can take that may lower your risk. Don't leave any valuables in your car and make sure it's clear that you aren't hiding things in the glove compartment or behind the seats.Q17: Is the Sawyer River Road open for automobile traffic again?
A17: Yes, the road was repaired in 1999 and is open for car traffic to the trailhead and Sawyer Pond Campground.Q18: What is a Presie Traverse? What is a Hut Traverse?
A18: A Presie Traverse is a dayhike, hitting all the peaks in the Presidential Range. That includes Madison, Adams, Jefferson, (Clay), Washington, Monroe, (Franklin), Eisenhower, Clinton, and some people include Jackson and Webster. Keep in mind, Jackson was named after the NH State Geologist, not the President. It's a long hard day, and many people who start don't finish. Most people do it north to south, but it can be done both ways.
A Hut Traverse is an even longer dayhike, hitting all eight AMC Huts in a 24 hour period. It usually starts at Carter Notch at midnight, heading out 19 Mile Brook, then up to Madison and on south. Huts are the objective, not summits, so most hearty souls avoid all the summits along the way if they can. It's close to 50 miles of difficult hiking, so only the best hikers with the best weather make it.
I'll be getting to these in the future. If you have questions that you don't see answered here, please send them to David.Metsky.firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll include them here.