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Backpacker Magazine – May 2013

Top 3: Knife-edge Ridges

Test your bravery with these scrambly hikes that take you to airy heights and rewarding views. Don't forget to watch your step.

by: Dougald McDonald

Photo by Blake Gordon
Photo by Blake Gordon

White River National Forest, CO
Capitol Peak’s NE Ridge
Walk this balance beam up a tricky 14er.

With more than 700 peaks over 13,000 feet, Coloradans see plenty of knife edges in their jagged skyline. But only one knife edge is a household name among peakbaggers: the climax of the standard route up 14,130-foot Capitol Peak in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. About 150 feet long, this horizontal arête is so sharp that few dare walk across it; most clamber along one side (usually on the southeast face) with boots smearing the granite slabs and hands clutching the edge. For more security, some scoot across à cheval (horseback-style). Camp near Capitol Lake (11,600 feet), about 6.5 miles from the trailhead, for an early start. From here, it’s less than 1.5 miles to the top, but you’ll earn every step. Snow-free season starts mid-July. (970-945-2521; fs.usda.gov/whiteriver) Trip ID 30680

The way From Glenwood Springs, take CO 82 for 25 miles. Go right on Co. Rd. 11 for 1.8 miles, then right on Co. Rd. 9 for 7.5 miles (last 2 miles require high clearance).



Ahupua’a O Kahana State Park, HI
Pu’u Kahekili Loop
Hang 10 on the edge of a precipice.

Ascend spectacular fins eroded from a dormant shield volcano on this experts-only horseshoe loop. The unmaintained route is only 5 miles long, but most people will need five hours, and the park discourages hikers from even trying it. Head up Kahekili’s steep ridge to scramble around rock knobs and tiptoe along catwalks with 1,000-foot drops and views of Oahu’s lush coast. Hit the 1,800-foot summit of Pu’u Kahekili, then descend to a saddle. Forge through thickets of grabby uluhe ferns to reach the ridge’s 2,000-foot highpoint. Head makai (seaward) along another 4-foot-wide ridgeline, grabbing rope handrails over the roughest parts. As you descend, gape at crescent-shaped Kahana Bay before plunging to the paved road. Continue .7 mile to your car. (808-237-7767; bit.ly/kahanaSP) Trip ID* 2131107

The way From Honolulu, take HI 63 to HI 83 W. In 13 miles, park at Swanzy Beach Park. Walk 100 yards west to Huamalani Rd.; look for a faint trail at road’s end.



White Mountain National Forest, NH
Durand Ridge, Mt. Adams
Soar up the state’s second-highest peak.

Durand is more butter knife than razor, but it’s only three hours from Boston—much more accessible than the famous catwalk on Maine’s remote Katahdin. And what the Durand Ridge lacks in bragging rights, it makes up in grandeur. The calf-busting Air Line Trail beelines 4,500 feet up the ridge to 5,774-foot Mt. Adams in about 4 miles. Above the stunted black spruce and balsam fir at treeline, the ridge narrows and the route winds along rock ledges with eye-popping views into 1,000-foot-deep King Ravine. After crossing the Appalachian Trail, you’ll scramble steeply through dishwasher-size boulders to Adams’ summit. To make a loop, return via the Valley Way, with a .5-mile rock-hopping push to bag 5,367-foot Mt. Madison. (603-536-6100; fs.usda.gov/whitemountain) Trip ID 1036333

The way From Boston, take I-93 N 140 miles to US 3 N. In 12 miles, go right on NH 115 for 9.6 miles. Turn right on US 2 E; go 7.1 miles to the Appalachia trailhead.

Equip Your FeetFor scrambly hikes, don’t compromise support for traction. Testers loved the sticky-soled Five Ten Aescent light-duty hikers ($120, 1 lb. 9 oz.; fiveten.com) for off-trail scrambling with loads up to 30 pounds. Get more shoe reviews at backpacker.com/gearguide2013.


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