The White Mountains: Nightmare or Dream?

New Hampshire’s White Mountains draw complaints from many Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, but attract legions of walkers seeking to enjoy the sights and challenges of day hikes. Known for its rugged, steep terrain, the area has been our home for six days as we climbed and descended five trails, leaving many more for next time.

The highest peak in the Northeast, Mount Washington offers more than 4,500 feet of ascent from its base and three ways to get to its 6,288-foot peak: on foot, on the cog railway, and by car. The climb was intimidating and the price tag of the train was too high, so Sue and I opted to drive our truck for $53—a fourth the cost of the train. It was a perfect day for 100-mile views after we squeezed by descending vehicles on the harrowingly narrow, cliffside road.

Later, at Mount Washington’s eastern foot, we popped into the Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center, the starting point for the Tuckerman Ravine trail to the top of Mount Washington. From a network of paths, we took the Liebskind’s Loop, which overlaps part of the Appalachian Trail and lifted us high enough for a spectacular view from Brad’s Bluff, still well below Mount Washington’s peak. Mount Washington also holds the record for the highest wind speed ever recorded: 231 miles per hour, in 1934.

Northern New Hampshire and the Whites offer a host of trails, including paths to many of the peaks in the area. The difficult terrain kept us from trying the longer and more challenging routes. We chatted with an AT thru hiker who had diverted from the AT to the Mount Washington peak.

“How are the Whites treating you?” I asked him.

He rolled his eyes. ”When I look behind me, I can’t believe what I climbed. This (Mount Washington) was actually easier than most of the others.”


A Peek at Life on the Appalachian Trail

Our six miles on the Appalachian Trail during our tour of Virginia stirred affection and respect for one of the world’s great long-distance paths. In Shenandoah National Park, we entered the AT at the Thornton Gap trailhead parking lot.

The trail led us over a mostly rocky surface with more than 1,700 feet of climbing. We took a quick detour to Mary’s Rock, where Sue took in the view, then we continued southbound to the Bird’s Nest #3 Shelter, one of more than 250 shelters spread over the AT’s 2,190 miles. In order to sleep in the huts, campers must be traveling at least three consecutive days on the AT. The Bird’s Nest featured a rock fireplace, wooden sleeping platform, a nearby privy as well as a bear box and hanger poles to keep food safe. Thru hikers must use the shelter unless it is full, when they may use designated campsites nearby. I ate my lunch while sitting on the platform and imagined the hut filled with sleeping bags and trekkers. I could almost hear the snoring and smell the trail grime.

The higher we went, the less spring we witnessed as the season had delayed its arrival. We passed six or seven northbound thru hikers, who all traveled solo and appeared to be in their 20s. I resisted asking where they started and where their destination was. They all were in a hurry since a storm was moving in, but they took the time for a brief friendly greeting. I wished I had brought along some trail magic (beers?) to hand off as they passed.