Steve Jermanok’s Active Travels: Hiking in the White Mountains
There’s a reason they call New Hampshire the Granite State. But surprisingly most of the rock you find on the trails is quartz, gneiss, and schist, not granite. Nevertheless, if you’re hiking at the higher elevations of the Whites, you’re going to encounter rocks in every shape and size and every form of obstacle. Trails like the Crawford Path, the oldest hiking trail in use in the country, circa 1819, start off as dirt, but quickly change to rock. Once you rise above treeline after summiting Mount Pierce on the famous ridge walk, you’re entering an alpine wilderness of wildflowers, gnarly krumholz, and a mind-boggling panorama of mountains and ridges in every direction. Everywhere you look is a carpet of green, rising and falling along the slopes.
Water was our friend on the first three days of hiking, from the Gale River Trail all the way up to Mizpah Springs Hut. At first, the rushing stream was just a delight to look at while walking along water’s edge or crossing over rivers on countless rock bridges. By Day Two, you want to soak your feet in the water of Zealand Falls after a long hike, dip your bandana into the cool waters every chance you get on a hot humid climb up to Mizpah. Thankfully, there were numerous opportunities to cool down and relax.
Then you reach Lakes of the Clouds Hut and it’s all hardscrabble rock the last 1.4 miles to the summit of Mount Washington. Strong winds were thrusting against the windows of our room at the hut the night before our ascent. When we woke to Emily playing violin, we were socked in to a cloud. The thought of attempting to summit Washington, the highest peak in New England and a beast of mountain to bag in often volatile conditions, put many ill at ease. But off we went, and lo and behold, the winds subsided, the clouds opened up at the 6,288-foot summit and we were treated to wondrous views of Mounts Jefferson, Adams, and Madison.
In a col between Adams and Madison, a stone hut was built 125 summers ago announcing the debut of the Appalachian Mountain Club. We wouldn’t make it to Madison Spring Hut on this journey, but there’s always another challenge, another memorable experience waiting in the future. I’d like to thank the AMC for a great week of hiking hut-to-hut and getting my summer off to the perfect start.
Steve Jermanok As a columnist for National Geographic Adventure, adventure travel expert at Budget Travel, and regular contributor on outdoor recreation for Outside, Men’s Journal, Health, and Sierra, Steve Jermanok has written more than 1,000 articles on the outdoors.He’s also authored or co-authored 11 books, including Outside Magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England and Men’s Journal’s The Great Life. His latest book is Go Now! Put Your Life on Pause and See the World. He’s currently an adventure travel expert at Away.com and blogs daily at Active Travels.