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.”


Tackling the Appalachian Trail (sort of)

While in the eastern U.S., Sue and I just had to walk the Appalachian Trail. Not all 2,135 miles of it and not even the 544 miles of the AT that runs through Virginia.

The Massie Gap Trail in Grayson Highlands State Park took us up to the AT, where we witnessed some of the best views of the entire iconic trail, according to our state parks guide. And a rhododendron forest that hadn’t bloomed despite it being late April. There was not a wild pony in sight either, despite warnings not to feed them.

We saw a couple of northbound thru hikers with medium-sized backpacks, but they sped by too quickly for us to ask how far they were going. Then we came to a group of 15 or so adults and teen-agers laden with huge backpacks.

“You must be going a long way,” Sue asked them. ”Yep,” said a woman leading the group. “We’re out for three days!”

We are proud to say we walked the Appalachian Trail, at least a couple miles of it in southwestern Virginia.