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Backpacker Magazine – May 2011

Going to Extremes

Can you ever really have too much of a good thing? Once you've seen the biggest tree, largest glacier, and deepest canyon, nothing else compares.

by: Ted Alvarez

Mt. Washington's Nelson Crag Trail (Jerry and Marcy Monkman)
Mt. Washington's Nelson Crag Trail (Jerry and Marcy Monkman)
Emerald Lake in the Weminuche (Tad Bowman)
Emerald Lake in the Weminuche (Tad Bowman)
White Fringed Phacelia in the Smokies (Paul Rezendes)
White Fringed Phacelia in the Smokies (Paul Rezendes)

Coldest / Windiest / Wettest
Mt. Washington, NH

Who needs a Fourteener when you have this bad-weather magnet? Mt. Washington’s records put the Lower 48’s higher peaks to shame. Coldest year-round average temperature (27.2°F)—check. Most subfreezing days (242) in the continental U.S.—check. Most days per year (244) coated in heavy clouds—check. Highest annual rainfall (101.9 inches)—check. Until 2010, the world’s highest recorded surface wind speed (231 mph)—check. Temps have never risen above 72°F on the mountain. Fave fact: From November to April, you have a two-in-three chance of experiencing hurricane-force winds at the summit.

Unless you’re an extreme-weather vet, tackle Washington in summer or early fall, via Tuckerman Ravine ( hikes/20773). Odds are you’ll still get a taste of the mountain’s stormy personality. For ultimate hardcore cred, consider (cautiously!) the White Mountains’ Presidential Traverse in winter. You need no-nonsense winter mountaineering bona fides in order to attempt this 23.3-mile route’s 10,000 feet of elevation gain and 10 peaks above 4,000 feet. The traverse starts with a 3,500-foot grind up the Valley Way Trail, to the base of Mt. Madison, then another 557 feet of kick-stepping to the summit. From here, the trail rounds counterclockwise past Mt. Jefferson and over Mt. Clay before topping out on 6,288-foot Washington. Camp near the Lake of the Clouds hut. Next, tackle seven miles of crampon travel across Monroe, Franklin, Eisenhower, Pierce, Jackson, and Webster, descending 5,000 feet to the Crawford trailhead.

Want a winter warm-up? Get a taste of wild Washington without the overnight by hiking 4.1 miles one way to the summit from Pinkham Notch. You’ll gain 1,000 feet per mile, but packed snow instead of broken summer talus makes for easier going, provided the weather cooperates—which it won’t.

Do it
Pinkham Notch is about 10 miles north of Jackson via NH 16. Map AMC Maps Presidential Range ($10, Guidebook AMC White Mountain Guide ($25, Contact (603) 466-2721;

*Mt. Washington lies at a convergence of storm paths coming from the south Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific northwest. Add the mountain’s north-south orientation (which blocks moderating west winds), and you get a recipe for perfect storms year-round.

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Tammy Vanden Heuvel
Jun 30, 2011

I just was at Black Canyon in May 2011 and hiked to the bottom. The only animals I saw were the birds, squirrels and pikas. But there were posted signs around that the park was having an issue with a problem bear.

Don't let the predators scare you off - this is an absolutely gorgeous park. Take time and the right gear and hike to the bottom.


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