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Backpacker Magazine – August 2012

The Other Way In

Hike to life-list hot spots without waiting in life-list lines. These under-the-radar trails deliver everything but the crowds.

by: Brendan Leonard

Hermit Trail (photo by Laurence Parent)
Hermit Trail (photo by Laurence Parent)
Cottonwood Lakes Trail (Chris Werner)
Cottonwood Lakes Trail (Chris Werner)
Angels Landing Trail (Scott Mansfield)
Angels Landing Trail (Scott Mansfield)
John Muir Trail (Londie G. Padelsky)
John Muir Trail (Londie G. Padelsky)
West Face Gully (Timothy Piya Trepetch)
West Face Gully (Timothy Piya Trepetch)
Rainbow Falls Trail (Kurdistan/Shutterstock)
Rainbow Falls Trail (Kurdistan/Shutterstock)
Huntington Ravine (Paul Rezendes)
Huntington Ravine (Paul Rezendes)
Mt. Katahdin (Michael Kormos)
Mt. Katahdin (Michael Kormos)

Mt. Washington
White Mountain National Forest, NH

X    Trade route Tuckerman Ravine Trail
→   Sneak route Huntington Ravine
Key stats 8.5 miles (one-way), 4,280 feet of elevation gain
Off-radar cred The AMC’s White Mountain Guide discourages “novices” and those who “tend to feel queasy” with exposure.

With six trails, a paved road, and a cog railway leading to its summit, “popular” is a bit of an understatement. You can’t land a plane on top of Mt. Washington, but just about any other way to the top of the New England landmark is fair game. Get on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail in the summer or early fall and you’ll never be alone. But thankfully, the mountain is as big as its reputation—and amid all the trade routes lies a scrambley route reserved for fit hikers who’d rather climb up steep rock than plod along with the crowd, nose to tail. It has plenty of exposure to go with the class 3 scrambling, and Northwest editor Michael Lanza (born and raised 100 miles from here) calls it “the East’s toughest trail.”

Do it From the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, hike 1.3 miles on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to the junction with the Huntington Ravine Trail. Follow it through the gradually thinning spruce and fir forest to the level area at the bottom of the ravine, where you’ll find a jumble of large boulders. The real climbing starts here at mile 2.7. Pick your way up the chute to The Fan, a talus slope leading up to the right-slanting Central Gully (an ice-climb in winter). Follow yellow blazes up the slabby chute, finding cracks for hand- and footholds. As you exit the main gully at about 5,300 feet, take a left onto the Alpine Garden Trail, named for the alpine goldenrod, bluet, and other wildflowers that bloom in late July and August (they’re delicate; stay on the trail). Continue west on the Lion Head Trail (mile 3.6), and then pick up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail at mile four to gain the summit in .8 mile. (Aim to reach the top by 10 a.m. if you want to avoid the brunt of the car and railway traffic.) Rather than downclimbing your route (steep, and dangerous if wet), descend the more benign (hence well-trafficked) Tuckerman Ravine Trail. Best bet: mid- to late summer, in dry weather.

Get there From Gorham, take NH 16 10.5 miles north to Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.
Map Buy the BACKPACKER PRO MAP
Permit None required for day trips.
Contact (603) 536-6100; fs.usda.gov/whitemountain




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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star

READERS COMMENTS

Star
Jim Andrews
Jun 20, 2014

The Abol Trail to Katahdin's peak is closed indefinitely due to slide damage from the recent harsh winter -- http://bangordailynews.com/2014/06/05/outdoors/katahdins-abol-trail-closed-for-2014-season/?ref=search

Please don't plan to use this trail in 2014.

Star Star Star Star Star
Rick Buhite
May 15, 2014

Little known secret re" Mt Whitney permits.
(5% of the overnight permits for Mt Whitney afre held for "Date of Entry")
What this means it...
If you go to the Mt Whitney Ranger station in Lone Pine before they close the night before you intend to hike the Mt Whitney Trail, They can issue you an Overnight permit good for the next day, (Even if the available permits for the current day are all gone)
What this means is that you can start hiking at MidNight or after on that next day.

Star Star Star Star Star
Laguna Hiker
May 15, 2014

Mt. Whitney - Cottonwood Lakes: A great route! No crowds until Trail Crest, and some of the most beautiful scenery in the Sierras. It's a tough hike, though, so make sure you condition for it.

Star Star Star Star Star
Back in Colo
Jan 28, 2014

I've done the Hermit trail 3 times. Twice to the river on a day hike. It's a long day, but you earn your burger at Beaver Street Brewery (in Flagstaff). I also enjoyed the Boucher trail. If camping permits are available, you can loop Boucher to Hermit. We did this with a stay at Boucher campground, looped over to Hermit rapids via the Tanto trail and then an extra night at Hermit campground.

Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Jan 24, 2014

Beautiful scenery minus the crowds means less chance of other hikers finding you if you need help but it can still be a safe and enjoyable hike. Why? Because you read Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon) before you hiked off-trail. A MUST READ for hikers who love to hike where others don't! Learn essential day-hiking skills, including items to pack, how to navigate your way with and without a map or compass, and how to get rescued. Learn to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. A compass doesn't need a signal or batteries and works in all types of weather but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Hike Smart and STAY ORIENTED. This book is a fast, easy read that will definitely make hiking off the beaten path safer and more enjoyable! Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart on Amazon.

Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Jan 24, 2014

Beautiful scenery minus the crowds means less chance of other hikers finding you if you need help but it can still be a safe and enjoyable hike. Why? Because you read Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon) before you hiked off-trail. A MUST READ for hikers who love to hike where others don't! Learn essential day-hiking skills, including items to pack, how to navigate your way with and without a map or compass, and how to get rescued. Learn to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. A compass doesn't need a signal or batteries and works in all types of weather but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Hike Smart and STAY ORIENTED. This book is a fast, easy read that will definitely make hiking off the beaten path safer and more enjoyable! Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart on Amazon.

Star Star Star Star Star
sierracanon
Jan 23, 2014

Did this Whitney from the south trip in a all on-trail version several years ago. Went over Cottonwood Pass, through Rock Creek, Crabtree Meadow, and out through Whitney Portal in three days. A good alternative for those who are not comfortable with extended cross-country travel.

imjackhandy
Aug 16, 2012

If you have to take the Rainbow Falls trail take it down and not up. Not a lot of views on this trail but the falls are spectacular. I recommend the Bullhead trail up and Rainbow Falls down. It'll put you out at the same parking lot.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/imjackhandy/sets/72157609867058824/

Nick
Aug 16, 2012

I just got back from a very similar trip where we came down from tenaya lake stayed need sunrise lakes then did clouds rest then staying at the john Muir trail connection. Only had to get up at 4am the make the 2.5 miles to half dome where we beat the sunrise by half an hour and had the entire summit to ourselves for the sunrise. The weather could not have been more perfect. This is the only way to see half dome.

David Dickey
Aug 16, 2012

I did the short hike 3 times last April. The crouds don't get up early so if you start early the hike is croud free. That seems like a easier way to beat the crouds than to spend $39 and 19 miles of hiking. The main point is that it is not that crouded and the last half mile (the chained part) is crouded the same no matter which way you do the hike.

Phil R.
Aug 16, 2012

Did approximately this hike before they started requiring permits to go up the cables. If you want shorter hiking days, consider taking three nights. One additional night at Upper Cathedral Lake is worth considering. Then the second night at mentioned in the article is OK. Consider a third night camped at at Little Yosemite Valley...it is a large backpackers campground, but we enjoyed it. When hiking out the last day you can choose the John Muir Trail or the Mist Trail. The Mist Trail has some wet steps, but you pass by two amazing water falls. You can also consider taking a hike to Clouds Rest. That would add another day.

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