Mt. Washington and the White Mountains
by Peter Holleran
"The road to Heaven may not be a road at all."
In September of 2003 I combined a wedding in Cape Cod, Massachusetts with a trip to the White Mountains of New Hampshire to attempt in one day to run over nine peaks of the Presidential Range surrounding Mt. Washington, the tallest peak in the northeastern United States. Notorious for extremes of weather (including, at 231 miles an hour, the fastest recorded winds in the world - a piece of data the marketing team at Mt. Washington exploits to the fullest), Washington has had an attraction for me ever since I trudged up the Tuckerman Ravine trail on Memorial weekend, 1968, with a high school friend to ski the famous Headwall, a 1000 foot glacial cirque with a 60 degree pitch that collects snow all winter long providing the latest and steepest skiing in the East.
The so-called Presidential Traverse is a rite of passage for long distance hikers and runners in New England, the relatively short 21-24 miles belying the difficulty of its 8000’ of climbing. The trails of the Washington range are steep and filled with uneven stones, with the marked trails above treeline on the summit cones being little more than arbitrary routes through rock piles. The weather is fairly predictable - seven days out of ten will be cloudy, with fog (often thick) over the summits. Temperatures can drop at any time and long stretches of the route are on fully exposed terrain above treeline, where the impact of the wind must always be considered. Deaths from exposure, falls, avalanches (and poor judgement bordering on stupidity) have occured regularly on Mt. Washington, frequently in summer and early fall when warm valley temperatures often mask the high winds and much colder conditions up above. While topping out at only 6288 feet, modest by western standards, the White Mountains are all about relief. Mt. Washington has five thousand vertical feet, even more if a hike is started from its extreme southern flanks.
Only intelligent, well-conditioned, and well-prepared individuals should undertake a PresiTraverse, especially if the weather isn’t perfect. Fog or drizzle will make the trip take much longer, both by making the ever present, often algae-covered rocks more slippery, and also by making trails harder to follow. Numerous cairns mark the paths in the White Mountains, but they are not hard to miss, and to venture out without a good map, and prior study of the various routes, is a dubious undertaking at best - but one that many, nevertheless, far too often seem to take. One such example was a man I met the evening after my climb. He was planning on finishing the portion of the Appalachian trail that goes over Mt. Washington, counting on following the white dashes of paint marking that route. His “plans” included staying at the Mt. Washington Hotel at the “top” of the mountain if the weather turned bad. I had to tell him that he was about a hundred years too late, there was no such hotel, and the white dashes were few and far between and totally insufficient for guidance in bad fog. Further, he had no understanding of the trails offering bailout points off of the ridges during extremes of inclement weather. I told him that he had a good chance of becoming a new entry in a future revised edition of the morbid but fascinating bookNot Without Peril: 150 Years of Misadventure on the Presidential Range of New Hampshire, by Nicholas Howe. The reader is advised to study this book several times until its message sinks in and he has acquired the necessary fear to be properly cautious on the mountain. Another essential book is Hiking Guide to Mount Washington and the Presidential Range, published by the Appalachian Mountain Club. A compass is useful to aid in navigation during fog-outs, and enough emergency clothes and gear should be carried to survive a night in the elements if necessary.
Having said all that, and carrying my Camelback RimRunner stuffed with rain pants and windbreaker, tights, fleece, compass, etc., the day I ventured out, after a deceiving ground level fog, turned out to be near picture-perfect, with sunny blue skies, little wind (except at the top), and relatively warm temperatures. I say “relatively” because the all-time high atop Mt. Washington was 72 degrees (yearly average 27, average summer high 52), but the 62 degrees I encountered must have been close to a record for that date. The week before had consistently been in the 30’s and 40’s with rain, fog, freezing fog, zero visibility, so I was anticipating much less benign conditions. As it was I didn’t even put on a T-shirt until near the summit, and even with 50 mile an hour gusts of wind I still felt a bit warm. This was a remarkable stroke of luck, for on both the day before and the day after my run it rained.
Non-runners and non-hikers can enjoy the grandeur of Mt. Washington by either taking the world-famous Cog Railway to the summit from the west side of the mountain (near the equally world-famous (and expensive) Mt. Washington Hotel, or driving up the steep and precipitous, mostly dirt, Mt. Washington Auto Road from the east side, with an average 12% grade and final 20% pitch near the top. This road is apparently nasty enough that after reaching the top many are known to beg for a one-way ride down the Cog Railway, despite the $35 fee and 30 mile drive their companions must make around the valley to the other side of the mountain in order to pick them up. Round trip fare on the Cog Railway, by the way, is $57 (2006), a substantial hike from the $10 charged when I was there in 1977. This in no small way is attributable to the famous meeting in nearby Bretton Woods in 1944 which pegged all currencies to the dollar, setting the stage for worldwide inflation when President Nixon in 1971 severed all final links of the dollar to gold.
The Presidential Traverse can be done North to South or South to North, with some feeling North to South is preferable as it gets the tough climbing over the northern peaks out of the way early on, allowing one to coast down the somewhat easier southern presidentials at the end of the day when one is more tired. That is the way I did it, but both approaches are challenging. The other choice one must make is whether to do a minimal traverse skirting the summits via the Gulfside and Crawford trails or whether to summit all of the peaks along the way, which adds considerably to the difficulty of the route and substantial time as well. I chose, naturally, to climb all of the peaks. Consequently the whole thing took longer than anticipated and I missed the last hiker shuttle bus by two hours and had to hitch 25 miles back to my car, an interesting story in itself that I will explore later on.
The trek begins at the Appalachia trailhead (1306’) four miles west of Gorham at the north end of the Mt. Washington Valley. The standard route is to take the Valley Way up to the Madison hut (4825’), then Gulfside trail past Adams, Jefferson, Clay and on to the summit of Washington, followed by the long descent on the Crawford Path (supposedly the oldest existing footpath in North America) past Mts. Monroe, Franklin, Eisenhower (formerly Pleasant Dome), Pierce, and on down to Crawford Notch. A Maximal Traverse would include two more peaks, Jackson and Webster, but I didn’t have enough time for these. With a half hour of mistakes and detours, and an hour and a half of breaks for refueling, taking in the views, and eating and shopping on the summit of Mt. Washington, I took ten hours (eight hours of actual trekking). Book time for fit hikers, excluding breaks, is fourteen hours - seventeen if you include Jackson and Webster. (Note: in order to achieve book time one must be able to maintain the required pace the entire distance. There is no allowance for slowing down).
Valley Way, as stated, followed by the Osgood Trail, is the most common way up Mt. Madison (5366’), but there are other options, some requiring backtracking. One of these is to take Airline (the shortest and steepest trail up Mt. Adams) to Gulfside, then go one-third of a mile back to the Madison hut. Another is Valley Way to the Watson Path, which follows a steep, rough and exposed route to the summit (“in bad weather one of the most dangerous routes on the northern peaks”). MacDonald Barr met his death here in August 1986 during one of the worst summer storms in history. A popular side trip I wanted to explore was Airline to Shortline to King Ravine, where an interesting formation called the Subway is located. Here you climb over, under and through house size boulders at the base of wild and rugged King Ravine, leading to the icecaves which sometimes have ice and snow year-round. For New Hampshire that’s definitely unique. You then climb very steeply and exit King Ravine on the Gulfside trail near Thunderstorm Junction, a level saddle on the northwest side of the summit cone of Adams, where on a Presidential Traverse you will have to descend and backtrack in order to first climb Madison. I intended to do this short trip the evening before my big day, but felt it was too far (3 miles each way) and too high (2000’ of climbing) for me to be fresh for the next morning. Instead, however I went up Airline and got carried away, climbing 2400’ and getting down just before dark. Along the way I broke one of the cardinal rules of hiking, going on an unknown trail leading I knew not where in approaching darkness with no one knowing my whereabouts. This little gem branching off Airline was called Scar Trail, named for a conspicuously bare lookout spot, but just as appropriately could have referred to the crude way the undulating and precipitous trail was hacked out of the side of the mountain. A slip or fall in here would have meant a night on the mountain at best. Lucky for me the trail finally led to the Valley Way and I successfully completed the loop back to my car.
The day of my eagerly anticipated adventure dawned with fog all the way down to the road. Seeing that I deliberated for an hour after sunrise, which turned out to be a mistake, as I needed the extra time later. There came a small break in the clouds, high up, and I headed out, hoping it would lift. No more than 500 feet up the sky turned blue, the grandeur of Madison was visible, and a great day was underway. (I was informed by another hiker that it had been clear at Pinkham Notch that morning; likewise, on the day I left it was raining in Gorham, but patchy in Pinkham Notch, and clear in North Conway, leading me to think that Gorham in the north may get more precipitation than areas in the southern end of the valley. At the very least it pays to check the local weather reports before staying in a motel room all morning thinking that the weather is no good. It may be better than you think. This being said, the chances of the opposite being true - having it start out great and end up lousy - are much greater in the Whites).
Book time for hiking to the Madison Hut is 3:40. I arrived in a pretty good 1:37. This was still, however, only 25 minutes per mile - my average throughout the day - a testimony to the steep and rocky terrain. Because of the need for caution the downhills are not that much faster than the uphills on these trails. My main concern was to get a good workout and to finish in one piece. A careless moment with a slip and fall on the New England granite could mean the end of the trip. At the Madison Hut a few campers were just finishing breakfast and relaxing outside, admiring the beauty of nature. I said Hello, topped off my Camelback , scrambled up and down the summit cone of Madison (:19 up, :13 down), while spending a few minutes to admire the view across the Great Gulf to Mt. Washington, and then headed off to Adams. One peak down, eight to go!
In about a third of a mile the Gulfside Trail (so-named because it skirts the awesome Great Gulf wilderness which separates Mt. Washington from the northern Presidentials) reaches Airline. From this point it is a fairly long scramble to the top of Adams, which after rock-hopping up the summit cone of Madison didn’t look appealing to me. Far easier is to continue on Gulfside past Thunderstorm Junction and then scramble up the west side of Adams on either Lowe’s Path or Israel Ridge Trail, both still virtually arbitrary routes through the rockpile, as mentioned before, but only 200’ or so as contrasted with 700’ on Airline. Mount Adams has earned the unusual distinction of being identified as one of nineteen holy mountains of the world by a UFO/yoga/new age group calling themselves the "Aetherians." Summer pilgrimages and ceremonies are held by them to direct energy from the mountains into the world to create peace. (Mt. Baldy and Mt. Tallac in California are two other such mountains). Be that as it may, from the top of Adams (5774’) one finally has a jaw-dropping glimpse of "the rest of the world" as one hiker put it. The view across Edmunds Col to Jefferson and Clay and across the Great Gulf to the summit of Washington is magnificent, with the latter seemingly so close but still a full five miles away. From Adams to Edmunds Col (“col” meaning a low point or saddle between two peaks) is a significant descent of one thousand feet, followed by a one thousand foot ascent to the summit of Jefferson (5712’). Edmunds Col is emphasized in the guidebooks as a dangerous place in bad weather, fully exposed to the strong northwest winds so frequent on this range, with no easy escape routes below treeline into Great Gulf or over and down Jefferson or Adams. It is haunting to read of those who have died of exposure in or near this area, often going north en route to the Madison hut on a long alpine traverse from Mt. Washington. I did notice a pickup in the wind here compared to the placid conditions I had been enjoying to this point, and could only imagine the peril others had found themselves in after going on when they should have turned back. An emergency escape from here is the Edmond's Col Cut-Off descending into the Great Gulf. 50 yards south of the Col on the Cut-Off lies Gulfside Spring which purportedly has some of the best tasting water in the Whites, while the more reliable Spalding Spring is 0.2 miles north near the Castle Ravine trail.
The climb up from Edmunds Col to Jefferson is steep, technical, and a difficult descent in bad weather. Gulfside veers left around Jefferson while the loop trail goes straight up to the summit, from where the Fabyan plain to the west becomes visible, along with the Mt. Washington Hotel and the base of the Cog Railway. Also prominent is the so-called castellated ridge of Mt. Jefferson. The Caps Ridge Trail ascends steeply along this western slope of Jefferson and offers the quickest route to above treeline terrain on the Presidential range, starting high up at 3500 feet off of the Jefferson Notch Road. Proceeding southward off Jefferson one then crosses the Monticello Lawn (“lawn” in White Mountain terminology meaning a boulder strewn grassy area - still predominantly more rocks than grass), and the low point of Sphinx Col between Jefferson and Clay. Gulfside rejoins on the left. The loop to the summit of Clay goes left while Gulfside continues to the right of Clay. Taking the summit loop is preferable because it affords nice views down into the Gulf. Gulfside then continues up to the summit cone of Mt. Washington. From the North the climb up Clay is considerable, but from the South coming off Mt. Washington it is not so much, and in fact Clay is considered to be a shoulder of Mt. Washington itself and is not listed separately as one of the 5000-footers of the White Mountains. Make sure to stay to the left of the Cog Railway for some distance after coming off Clay or you may mistakenly find yourself on the Westside Trail heading toward the Lake of the Clouds hut. This is a poorly marked junction, and in the fog that prevailed on the top 1000 feet of Mt. Washington this day I went the wrong way. This was surprising to me because I saw the sign for Westside and then went further up and crossed under the Cog Railway and took what seemed like the next trail to the right but ended up on Westside anyway. I couldn’t see the continuation of Gulfside nor its cairns proceeding upwards at this point. If this happens simply take Westside a half mile to its junction with Crawford Path and turn left uphill on Crawford to the summit of Mt. Washington.
The Cog Railway trestle is at a low point here and has been a sight of vandalism in years past. On September 6, 1967 eight people died when the train derailed after someone had placed rocks on the track. Supposedly there is more security now but it must only be on the train itself because I was quite alone when crossing under the track. An even more spectacular crash occurred in July, 1929, when a final celebratory run of the original train “Old Peppersass” turned into disaster when its brakes failed on the descent sending it careening off the steep trestle known as Jacob’s Ladder and getting scatterred 900 feet across the mountain. Three jumped to safety but photographer Daniel Rossiter died after plummeting into space and dropping forty feet onto the jagged rocks below. Today the Cog Railway takes over an hour to travel the 3.5 miles to the summit. Early workers on the railway used to descend at speeds over 60 miles per hour on “slideboards” similar to the “trays” used on today’s alpine slide rides. (The record: 2 minutes, 45 seconds). Several high speed deaths put the kabosh on that form of travel, too.
The summit of Washington has a weather building, museum, gift shop and cafeteria. On busy summer days it can be a bit hectic up there, compared to the peace and solitude of most of the trails. Cars, vans, motorcycles, as well as the Cog Railway brings lots of tourists. In the summit fog I never even saw the parking lot, however, and the 50 mile an hour winds drowned out most of the noise.
There are three annual races up the 7.5 mile auto road: bicycle race (record 49:24), a foot race (56:41), and an auto race (6 minutes). In 2002 the mid-June foot race ended at the 3000 foot level due to a snowstorm.
In contrast to the wild and rocky northern presidentials, the long ridge of the southern peaks is gentler, with some of the peaks more obvious in relief on the way up than down. Still, the long, exposed section from Eisenhower to Washington is potentially one of the most dangerous sections of the Whites and the site of a number of deaths. Signs warn hikers to return to shelter below treeline whenever weather threatens. A light drizzle can quickly turn to driving horizontal sleet and there are few places to take cover. One such marginal and inadequate place was a small scrub patch of dwarf spruce between Franklin and Monroe where in July of 1910 William Curtis and Allan Ormsbee tried to wait out a storm only to give up in despair and finally meet their death fighting the much harsher elements further up on Mt. Washington. Stories like this were on my mind as I made my way down the windy and fog-covered upper half of the Crawford Path over the southern peaks. My estimate of a two hour descent for the 8 miles proved too ambitious. As on the northern peaks, the 1.5 mile section of the Crawford Path from the summit of Washington to the Lake of the Clouds Hut at the foot of the summit cone of Mt. Monroe was a technical rock-hop, needing even more caution due to the light fog, and there were many more difficult sections further on. Temperatures were still favorable, while the landscape was Brigadoonish, with the blustery wind heightening the sense of adventure. In bad weather one should escape below treeline at Lake of the Clouds via the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail leading to the Cog Railway Base.(The descent is steep and slippery, however, and is usually only recommended for hikers to ascend this route and then, after going to the summit, descend via the easier Jewel Trail, but if survival is an issue there may be no choice).
Although the 350’ climb to the top of Monroe (5384’) seems obvious enough, somehow I couldn’t find it in the fog and took what I thought was a longer way to the left around the mountain’s two peaks, but which turned out to be the actual Crawford Path itself. I then backtracked up the far side of the summit cone before heading on to Franklin, which in the downhilll direction wasn’t much more than a dimple in the ridge.
Past Franklin the Crawford Path descends for another mile, somewhat technical in places, to the base of Eisenhower (formerly Pleasant Dome, because that’s how it looks), where the path goes left around the cone while the summit loop goes straight up. A bail-out point a short distance up the summit loop is the Edmunds Path on the right which quickly drops below treeline leading to the Mt. Clinton Rd. 2.3 miles north of Route 302. At this point in the journey Eisenhower, as compared to Monroe and Franklin, feels like a more substantial climb than its 300’ would indicate, and likewise the view from its summit (4780’) towards the next peak, Pierce, seemed much longer than its 1.5 miles.
I concluded that this was partly because the trees on that summit are fairly small, and partly because I was getting tired, but even so, it was farther than anticipated, and there were miles to go beyond that. Looking back towards Washington and the northern peaks beyond showed me how far I had come. Hikers were now few and far between. I felt like I was stepping off into the unknown but was secure in my ultra conditioning that I could go the distance. The actual summit of Pierce (4310’) is 0.1 mile to the left off the Crawford Path. The view looking back towards Washington is commanding. From there, however, I detoured off the Crawford Path 0.8 miles and 600’ down the Webster Cliff Trail to check out the Mizpah Spring Hut, which acommodates 60 guests and also has tent sites, returning 1.2 mile further down the Crawford Path via the Mizpah Cut-Off (0.7 miles). This section of the Webster Cliff Trail from Pierce to the Mizpah Spring Hut begins modestly but then descends quite steeply for what seems like a long way and I began to worry that I had gone farther down than I should and perhaps was even on the wrong trail. The Mt. Clinton Trail is nearby and descends deeply into the Dry Brook Wilderness, and alone and at the end of the day this is not a good place to get lost. Finally, however, the hut came into view and I went inside to refill my Camelback. I was the only one there besides the caretaker. The Mizpah hut is a popular stop for hikers on the Appalachian Trail.
Mt. Jackson and Mt.Webster beckoned in the distance but would have to wait for another day. Sunlight was fading and I still had 3 miles and 2000’ to descend followed by the 25 mile hitchhike to my car. Taking the Mizpah Cut-Off I continued on down the Crawford Path where I met a woman half my age hiking up to Mizpah Hut who had seen me at the Madison Hut earlier that morning. She seemed impressed with my run and told me she had taken the easy way around - she drove.
The remainder of the Crawford Path - steep, rutty, and still quite rocky - is a bit annoying after a long day picking through much of the same. Perfectly acceptable hiking but annoying for a jogger. Of course the same could be said for the whole Presidential Traverse, but the views and sense of adventure more than make up for any difficulty. Finally a junction is reached where you can go left 0.2 miles to the original start of the Crawford Path on Route 302 or 0.4 miles to the hiker parking lot on the Mt. Clinton Road just a short distance from 302 and the Crawford Hostel. I chose this way with amazingly fortuitous results.
After 30 minutes standing on 302 unsuccessfully attempting to get a ride, and feeling the first few drops of rain, I was starting to curse out each passing motorist. Heck, the day before I gave a ride in a downpour to two hikers hitching back to their car at the southern end of Crawford Notch near the start of the Davis Path, and I figured I was due a ride in return. In addition, this was hiker country, and I was standing across from a hiker hostel, no less, dressed in hiker - er, running, gear. (Maybe that was the problem). Anyway, realizing my anger would do no good I momentarily let it go, saying, “ okay, Lord, a little more faith, a little more faith.” A moment later a car pulled up behind me on the Mt. Clinton Road. I didn’t realize this road was a back way to the Cog Railway base area, and that people exiting from there might come this way. A man rolled down his window and asked where I was going. “North, I said. “Oh, I am going south,” he replied. I told him that was too bad, that I had missed the last hiker shuttle back to Appalachia (which left at 2:40 P.M. - it was now 5:45) and had to get to my car. “Is it far?” he said. “Yeah, pretty far, about 20 miles.” (I minimized the distance, it was really 25-30 miles). At this point I was willing to offer $25 for the ride. After a pause, however, he quietly said, “O.K.” Without hesitation I got in the car and we headed north. It turned out he was from Germany, on vacation, with no real plans for the next few days, or even that night for that matter. When I asked what he did for a living he hesitated, then somewhat shyly said, “I am... a priest.” Wow! No sooner had I petitioned “a little more faith, a little more faith,” when I get picked up by a priest who takes me 25 miles out of his way and refuses any money for doing so. I’d say that was a small miracle. In the words of Jack Haas, “The ride you are supposed to have will stop and pick you up, you need not worry but only have patience, and confidence, and ...faith, because God is directing the show and what should be, is what will be.”   The Lord works in mysterious ways. For the rest of the trip we had an interesting conversation that covered such varied topics as hiking, Niagara Falls, U.S. politics, Mr. Bush, the state of the Church and priesthood in Germany (not so good, decreasing numbers) to that in Poland (doing great, lots of priests), the history of monastic orders, etc. When he dropped me off I thanked him and insisted that he at least take $10 in gas money. I resisted making the joke, “here, use this for the legal fund,” and instead simply said “You saved my life.” “Not ALL of it,” he said, before driving away.
The closest lodging to the Appalachia trailhead is in Gorham where a number of motels, restaurants, and a grocery store are available. Ten miles from Gorham down Route 16 is the Pinkham Notch AMC headquarters, where hiking supplies can be purchased. The AMC center is also the trailhead for Tuckerman Ravine, Huntington Ravine, and other popular day hikes up the eastern side of Mt. Washington. Outstanding views of the latter are had by taking the nearby gondola ride up Wildcat Mountain Ski Area.
I stayed at the Gorham Motor Lodge in downtown Gorham, but a set of cabins at the Grandview Lodge four miles to the west out of town - just a short distance from the trailhead - were appealing. I don’t know what they look like inside, but the quiet isolated location at the crest of the highway has a picture perfect drop-dead gorgeous view of Madison and Adams (when it isn’t overcast, which it often is!).
Since hiking as opposed to running the Presidential Traverse will certainly make catching the afternoon shuttle from Crawford Notch back to the Appalachia trailhead impossible, an option I hadn’t thought of before for those planning a one day hike with only one car is to leave a small bag of clothes at the Crawford Hostel the day before. Then at the end of the hike you can stay overnight at the Hostel and leisurely catch a shuttle back to your car at Appalachia the next day. Those insisting on taking only one car and doing this in one day might try to get a cab (if available) from Gorham to Crawford, paying the $100 or whatever, thus allowing for a pre-dawn start hiking south to north. Hopefully you will get down Madison before dark. The best hiking option would be to use three cars, parking one at either end and one at the Cog Railway base, which would give one a bad weather, injury, or fatigue bail-out option midway through the hike. It cannot be stressed too often that if the weather changes, fog and rain will make this trek take much longer than planned. One needs to be prepared and await an opportune day to safely and enjoyably do this. Those doing a full backpack have additional options including staying at any of the various huts along the way, although reservations are required.
Popular 8-10 mile roundtrip day hikes up Mt. Washington are, from the Cog Railway base: Ammonoosuc Ravine trail to Lake of the Clouds, then Crawford Path to the summit, returning via Gulfside and Jewel trail; from Pinkham Notch: Tuckerman’s Ravine trail, or Tuckerman’s to Huntington Ravine (one of the most difficult in the Whites, and not recommended for the squeemish or in the downhill direction).
Tuckerman’s Ravine has a colorful history. From 1933-1939 a famous downhill ski race called the Inferno was held, usually in March, dropping four miles and 4000’ from the top of Mt. Washington. Brave skiers had to climb all the way to the often fog-enshrouded summit, try not to get blown off the mountain while waiting for their turn to start, negotiate the steep upper snowfields and check their descent before plunging over the lip of the near-vertical Headwall, hoping to be able to stay in control before entering the woods on the bottom half of the course. The first year of the race the winning time was 17 minutes. In 1939 young Toni Matt from Austria made history by miscalculating in the fog and flying over the headwall at 40 mph, hitting 90 at the bottom, and taking several minutes off the course record to finish in 6:29. After the war the Inferno was never held again. Late in the spring the snowpack on the Headwall functions much like a glacier and begins to pull away from the side of the mountain. A crevasse with a waterfall forms behind it, and unknowing hikers glissanding on the snowfields from the summit cone have lost control in the fog and met a gruesome death being swept into the crevasse. Late in the season a snowbridge also forms near the top of the headwall and it is equally dangerous to go near it.
Next on my list is to do the full Presidential Traverse including Webster and Jackson, and then the Davis Path, an isolated 19 mile climb from the south end of the valley with 7000’ of climbing to the summit of Mt. Washington. Another extreme hike is to do a "huts traverse", which is longer and more rugged than the Presidential Traverse. Starting to the east on the Carter Range near Wildcat or to the west in Franconia Notch going over Lafayette (5249’), this 50-miler links all seven AMC White Mountain huts. It could be done in two days using the same travel-light strategy I employed on the Presidential Range. Of course some one has already done it in less than a day. (At one time the record was held by an interesting character named Cave Dog. See http://www.thecavedog.com for accounts of his multiple speed climb attempts of different mountain ranges, including the Adirondacks, Catskills, White Mountains, and Colorado 14000 footers).
A Presidential traverse in the winter encounters brutal arctic conditions and is considered one of the most significant feats for an alpine climber.
Those flying out of Boston should not miss the drive south past picturesque North Conway to the Lake Region of New Hampshire. Winnipesaukee, whose name means “beautiful water in a high place,” with over 360 islands, has to be one of the prettiest lakes in the world. My priest friend from Germany was quick to point out that his favorite movie, the quirky What About Bob? (with Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfus) took place there. Nearby Squam Lake was the site of the movie On Golden Pond.
For more logistics on the Presidential Traverse, click http://home.earthlink.net/~ellozy/faq2.html