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May 2005

America’s Hardest Dayhikes

Push yourself on any of these challenging hikes

1. Timberline Trail
Mt. Hood, OR

95 Miles: 41 Elevation Change: 12,000 feet X Factor: Insane mileage

This legendary path deserves top honors for its mileage alone: Most sane hikers take 4 days-not 1-to conquer the Timberline, which circles the base of 11,239-foot Mt. Hood. But these are Oregon’s Cascades, so the challenge goes well beyond trekking more than a marathon and a half’s worth of miles. Numerous climbs and descents hamper your progress. From Cloud Cap Saddle, for example, you’ll lurch 1,500 feet up in less than 3 miles, then drop more than 1,800 feet in the next 2. There are dicey river crossings-glacier-fed streams rise in the afternoon-and the wind, rain, even blizzards can kick up at any time. In a typical incident in 2003, five climbers had to be rescued in unexpected whiteout conditions. The good news: It’s tough to get lost; hike clockwise and keep the volcano on your right. And meadows awash in flowers, waterfalls, and towering glaciers distract you from the pain. Start and finish at the great Timberline Lodge on Hood’s south side. Contact: Mt. Hood National Forest, (503) 668-1700;

2. Pemi Loop
White Mountains, NH

92 Miles: 32 Elevation Change: 18,000 feet X Factor: Knee-hammering rocks

Extreme types hardened on the Whites’ granite staircases obsess over the better-known Presidential Range Traverse, but we consider that so-called Death March a mere training jaunt for this classic in the rugged Pemigewasset Wilderness. From Lincoln Woods trailhead on the Kancamagus Highway (NH 112), this circuit chugs up and over eight craggy 4,000-footers: the four peaks of Franconia Ridge (Flume, Liberty, Lincoln, and Lafayette), and Mts. Garfield, South Twin, and the Bonds. The long stretches of abusively rocky trail never seem more demoralizing than on the South Twin ascent, a straight-uphill section that ascends 1,150 feet in less than a mile, midway through. Be ready for dazzling views and pitiless winds above treeline-and go hard; even if you’ve lucked into a tailwind, this is likely a 16-hour trek, with miles of jouncing descent on shaky legs in the dark, even on summer’s longest days. The Appalachian Mountain Club’s Galehead Hut, near the halfway point, provides the logistical advantage of a water resupply and leftover pancakes-but tempts you to linger so long you may never get up again. Which might not be a bad idea, if you’re not truly ready for this. The state’s 6-year-old "reckless hiker" law means that if you try something hairball and need to be rescued, you reimburse the costs. Contact: White Mountain National Forest, (603) 528- 8721;

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