White Mountains, New Hampshire

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

Contact Information:

White Mountain National Forest

Box 638

Laconia, NH 03247

603/528-8721

Office hours: 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays

Hut System Reservations

Appalachian Mountain Club, Pinkham Notch Camp

Box 298, Rte. 16

Gorham, NH 03581

603/466-2727

Location:

The White Mountain National Forest is located in northern New Hampshire and part of Maine, 150 miles from Boston. From Pinkham Notch, Gorham is 11 miles north; North Conway is 15 miles south; and the quaint village of Jackson is 8 miles south.

Getting There:

From Boston, take I-95 north to Spaulding Turnpike north, which eventually turns into Rt. 16. Travel on Rt. 16 to Conway, New Hampshire, where routes 16 and 302 converge. Continue north to Glen, where the two roads diverge. Head east on Rt. 302 to the Crawford Depot.

Seasonal Information:

In summer, temperatures can be anywhere from freezing to the 50s. There is the offbeat chance it might reach into the 60s or low 70s. Afternoon thunderstorms are not uncommon, and there may be freak summer snowstorms.

In winter, temperatures can get as low as 40 degrees below zero. Winds can be extremely high at 130 m.p.h. Snowfall is around 100 inches per year. Avalanches are a threat.

Average Highs & Lows

March: 18 to 37 degrees

July: 56 to 78 degrees

October: 36 to 56 degrees

January: 6 to 26 degrees

Weather forecasts: 603/466-2725

Wildlife:

Red foxes, red squirrels, moose, deer, woodchucks, and elusive bobcats live in the area. Black bears are fairly common, so keep food away from your tent.

If you're an angler, you'll appreciate the brown trout, rainbow trout, eastern brook trout and atlantic salmon that inhabit the area.

Insects:

Black flies are prevalent in this area from late spring to early summer, usually at their worst from mid-May to mid-June.

Plant Life:

Some alpine flowers can take up to 25 years to flower for the first time -- and one hiker's footprint can destroy that plant forever. There are many species of endangered plants here, so tread lightly.

Facilities:

Make reservations for the huts available from Appalachian Mountain Club several months in advance. The AMC also operates a hiker shuttle service (there's a small fee), so you only need one car. Drivers will pick you up at designated spots and drop you off at your car.

Parking:

Contact park office for information.

Permits:

No permits are required.

Policies:

Policies & management information will be available in the near future.

Hazards:

Be alert to extreme weather.

Leave No Trace:

Be careful not to tread on fragile plants.

All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps:

The best maps are the AMC White Mountain Guide's Map 5 (Franconia) and 6 (Mt. Washington), or USGS maps (Crawford Notch, NH, South Twin Mountain Quadrangle, and Franconia, New Hampshire). Contact:

Appalachian Mountain Club

5 Joy Street

Boston, MA 02108

617/523-0636

Other Trip Options:

In the vicinity are Crawford Notch State Park and Fraconia Notch State Park (including a waterfall gorge and a ski area).