Sun, Apr 30, 2017
This is probably the most important section in this entire FAQ. The White Mountains are a dangerous place. People die there all the time. Some from unavoidable accidents, but many from ignorance and stupidity. In this section we'd like to present some of the questions that we have been asked about various topics. However, a good place to start is with a page that has much of our collected wisdon on it: the 10 Things to Remember For Hiking in the White Mountains page.
What weather can I expect for my hike during X?
Mark Twain once said, "If you don't like the weather in New England, wait a minute." This is never more true than in the fall or early spring. We've lived here for 10 years now, and can give you these rules of thumb:
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I have no winter hiking or camping experience. A friend and I were thinking of hiking Mount Washington via the Tuckerman Revine Trail. Do you recommend this?
This sounds cliche, but please read this. It may save your life. In case you don't heed this advice and read no further, please at least go here: http://www.mountwashington.org/visitor/winter/index.html
I hope you'll read on.
As with most of the questions we are asked, there is a short answer to your query. There is also an infinitely long answer, which you should hear at least a significant part of. Here goes:
In short, we do not recommend Mt. Washington to novice hikers even in the summer months, never mind the winter.
Mt. Washington has been called by many "the most dangerous small mountain in the world." This is not a joke. Since records have been kept beginning in the mid-1800s, well over 130 people have died on Mt. Washington and the other northern Presedentials. Eliminating those killed in vehicular accidents (plane crashes, Auto Road accidents, and the Cog Railway) the death toll is still over 100. This number has unfortunately been increasing geometrically in recent years as more and more people take to the backcountry. I believe the body count is three already this season, and we haven't reached the busiest time of year when hundreds of people climb Tuckerman's Ravine to ski the Headwall.
When personified, one inevitably concludes that Mt. Washington possesses a Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde personality. This is perhaps the most dangerous of its many characteristics. During the relatively warm summer months that envelop the rest of the state, the mountain can display two distinct environments. When the weather is dominated by high pressure and the skies are clear and sunny, climbing the mountain is a moderately strenuous dayhike for anyone with a water bottle, decent sneakers, a windbreaker, and who is in reasonable shape. The round trip can be done in 4 hours from base to base, and people in good shape don't even break much of a sweat. Yet, on the same day, a low pressure system can blow through and the weather can turn violent enough to scare even the most seasoned hikers; usually with deadly consequences for the unprepared.
Consider the following:
In the wintertime, the mountain displays much the same bi-polar personality, only with temperatures ranging from a frighteningly low -20°F to a high of +30ºF. Couple this with unrelenting wind, lack of shelter, and the fact that the summit is on clouds most of the time, and one sees the deadly potential. On a clear, sunny day, many skiers make the climb to the top of the Tuckerman's Headwall without incident, wearing light jackets to control their temperature. But when (not if, but when) the weather turns bad, people face the potential of losing their life.
There is a weather observatory on the summit that has been continuously staffed since the 1930s. They have this to say about Mt. Washington:
The people who live on the summit year-round know what they're up against. They allow members of the observatory to visit them during the winter months. More than anyone else, I trust their judgement, and I encourage you to read carefully their recommendations at this address:http://www.mountwashington.org/visitor/winter/index.html
Their basic piece of advice to novice the winter hiker "Don't go for the summit." Beyond that they give the best and perhaps the most common-sense advice I've ever read about the subject.
In addition to all of the above warnings, I will also tell you that much of the area around Washington is closed to camping anyway per US Forest Service regulations. This is done as an effort to combat the intensive use that the area receives year-round. The Mt. Washington Observatory page above describes these restrictions well.
All that being said, I would pursue a trip to a much less severe area for my first outing. Chris and I recently reviewed a trip to Franconia Falls (http://hike-nh.com/trips/franconia/) that could easily be extended with a little creativity. Backcountry camping permits are required in the area, but are available free of charge from the Lincoln Woods Info Center. The beginning of the trail is well packed and traveled that it provides a great way to evaluate the weather before committing yourself too deeply. It eventually crosses the boundary of the Pemigewasset Wilderness area, which provides incredible camping away from crowds. It is also near water which is important, because as you'll soon find out, melting enough snow for cooking and drinking water really stinks and uses way more stove fuel than you think.
Other possibilities include Sawyer Pond, or a retrace of our route on Mt. Tripyramid (http://hike-nh.com/trips/tripyramid/).
Lastly, if you do plan on any hiking on peaks / summits, the following gear list is what the Observatory demands people coming to visit them bring, for the ride up the road in the snowcat. This is considered EMERGENCY gear -- it has nothing to do with providing comfort or camping overnight. This is the bare minimum needed to survive a 3 - 4 mile walk above treeline.
Bottom line, start slow. Hike Washington in the summer first and then work your way into winter camping.
Finally some other resources:
The NH Fish & Game Dept. recently announced plans to charge unprepared hikers for their rescue. Read about it on the Fish & Game page: http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/newssearchrescue.html
For reference information and to pick up a copy of the AMC White Mountain Guide: http://www.hike-nh.com/books/
The Appalachian Mountain Club: http://www.outdoors.org/
Our normal views on Mt. Washington: http://www.hike-nh.com/trips/whywashington.shtml
For a humorous look at winter camping: http://www.haeadventure.com/
Good luck. I hope this helps even if it was more than you were looking for.
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Do I have to worry about bears in the woods?
Umm, no. You pretty much have to worry about bears that have left the woods and are near you. If they stay in the woods, you should be fine. But seriously, there are bears in New Hampshire. They are black bears, which normally don't bother people. However, in recent years, these bears have become accustomed to feeding on garbage, birdfeeders, and other things that people leave around the North Country. So what this means is: are you likely to be attacked by a bear? No. You will not, in all probablility, unless you do something really stupid, become part of Yogi's dinner. Will you encounter a bear? Possibly, although they tend to stay away from humans. The surest way to encounter a bear, however, is to leave food around your camp. Bears have an incredible sense of smell and are eating machines during the summer. If they smell your dinner leftovers they could, quite possibly, wander into your camp. If you are in the habit of keeping food in your tent, they may try and rip it open to see what's inside. If you are inside at the time, this could be quite an unpleasant experience. The safest thing to do is follow some simple rules:
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Chris Oberg & Robert Havasy