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White Mountains, New Hampshire

Sometimes walking "backward" is the only way to go in New Hampshire's White Mountains.

Little-Known Fact: Pound for pound, there are more salamanders in the White Mountain National Forest than moose.

We started off on the A-Z Trail in a valley with a second-growth forest of mixed hardwoods and conifers, worked our way up a steep col, and climbed gradually down to the hut and a view of Zealand Notch. Over the next two days we hiked up saddles and down peaks, savoring both the mixed forest and windswept, granite-strewn summits with fragile alpine gardens.

This way, we saved the best and most difficult terrain for last. The views from Lafayette are unparalleled in that part of the White Mountains ~ on a clear day you can see peaks in Vermont, Canada, and Maine. In all we planned to hike about 23 miles in four days, stay at three huts, and climb four major peaks: Guyot (pronounced “Gheeoh”), 4,580 feet; South Twin, 4,902; Garfield, 4,500; and Lafayette, 5,260.

The Appalachian Mountain Club’s hut system in the White Mountains offers the perfect weekend hiking trip. Because the huts provide hot, hearty meals, beds, and protection from the unruly high-mountain weather, we could travel rugged, challenging terrain carrying little more than daypacks and water bottles with a great sense of security.

Most of the hut’s guests had done the reverse of the trip we planned. The rationale behind doing it “their” way, as one guest told us, is that you get the 5,260-foot Mount Lafayette out of the way as soon as possible. By comparison, the rest of the trip is easy.

But traveling from east to west, as we planned, sets the stage more gradually for the grandeur and difficulty of the Garfield Ridge Trail, which rises up out of a sea of green with its three humplike false peaks, alpine vegetation, and moonlike landscape strewn with granite boulders and outcroppings.

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