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Backpacker Magazine – February 2001

Two Shades of White Mountains

Lines at backcountry outhouses. Hikers competing for tent sites. Is there any solitude left in New Hampshire's White Mountains? Lots of it, if you know where to go.

by: Mike Lanza

Walk softly: Camping is prohibited above timberline, within 200 feet of any trail, within a quarter-mile of any hut or shelter except at authorized tent sites, and in designated Forest Protection Areas. Timberline begins roughly where trees are less than 8 feet tall and is often indicated by trailside signs. Stay on the trail in the alpine zones to avoid damaging fragile vegetation. Fires are prohibited in many areas; check with the WMNF office before your trip.

Fees: A WMNF parking pass is required at all WMNF trailheads, which are marked by signs. The pass costs $20 for 1 year, $5 for 7 days, and $3 for 1 day, and can be purchased in numerous area businesses or from any WMNF office; an order form is also available on the WMNF Web site (see Contact below). A night in any AMC backcountry lean-to or campsite costs $6 per person. The AMC operates a hiker shuttle between some trailheads ($7 for members/$8 for nonmembers).

Contact: White Mountain National Forest, (603) 528-8721; Appalachian Mountain Club Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, (603) 466-2721;

The author's route: The best views on this 29-mile loop are from the alpine ridge connecting Bondcliff and Mt. Bond, and the summits of West Bond, Guyot, and South Twin. From the Lincoln Woods trailhead on the Kancamagus Highway (NH 112), 5 miles east of Lincoln, follow the Lincoln Woods Trail/Wilderness Trail, the Bondcliff Trail-including the 1-mile round-trip to West Bond-the Twinway, and then the Garfield Ridge, Franconia Brook, and Lincoln Woods Trails.

Pilot Range traverse: This little-known northern section of the WMNF harbors a beautiful birch forest, a secluded pond, and long mountain views from Rogers Ledge, The Horn, and Mt. Starr King. You'll need to shuttle vehicles. The 24-mile traverse starts at the South Pond Recreation Area, off NH 110 between Stark and West Milan, and ends at the Starr King trailhead off US 2 in Jefferson, .25 mile east of the junction of US 2 and NH 115A. Follow the Kilkenny Ridge Trail for more than 20 miles, then the Starr King Trail for 3.6 miles.

Mt. Isolation-Dry River: This 20-mile traverse crosses the ridge due south of Mt. Washington, with great views of the Presidentials from Isolation's summit-more than 7 miles from the nearest road-and descends into the spectacular Dry River Valley. Start at the Rocky Branch trailhead on NH 16, 8 miles north of US 302, and finish at the Dry River trailhead on US 302, .3 mile north of the Dry River Campground. Link the Rocky Branch and Isolation Trails, Davis Path, and Dry River Trail.

Lonely heart of the Pemigewasset Wilderness: This 30-mile loop from Sawyer River Road follows valleys and bags one big peak, 4,403-foot Mt. Hancock, which boasts views, but two wooded crowns. If you link the Signal Ridge, Carrigain Notch, Wilderness, Cedar Brook, Mt. Hancock, Hancock Notch, and Sawyer River Trails, expect a 2-mile hike on Sawyer River Road if you don't have a second vehicle. Extend the trip 10 miles by looping around the Shoal Pond, Ethan Pond, and Thoreau Falls Trails from the Wilderness Trail.

Northern Presidential Range: You're thinking, "Huh? One of the most overrun places in the Whites?" Yup. This 20-mile loop is admittedly a bit contrived, taking some of the most arduous and indirect trails on the Whites' tallest peaks, but that's exactly the reason for doing it. You'll encounter other folks at the Appalachia trailhead and on the summits of Madison, Adams, and Jefferson, but otherwise you'll see relatively few people.

From the town of Appalachia on US 2 near Randolph, follow the Air Line, turn left on the Sylvan Way, then take the Howker Ridge Trail to the top of Madison. Descend the Osgood Trail to Madison Hut, then follow the Star Lake Trail up Adams. Backtrack to the Buttress Trail, descend it to the Six Husbands Trail, climb it to Jefferson's summit, then descend the Castle Trail to The Link and follow it back to Appalachia.

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