Laudizen King Banner gathered along the way
long road home Signposts and Junctions      



New Hampshire in Winter

New Hampshire in winter, what memories those words evoke: old friends, woodstoves, cold still nights, rustic homes, bone-numbing wind, ice-choked streams leading into frozen lakes, and mountain summits blasted by storms and crusted with white. Over the years, I did my best to experience the North Country throughout the freezing months, to enjoy the snow and ice-encrusted mountain landscapes during those short days of diminished sunlight.

Hiking was always my primary winter pursuit. I had tried snowshoeing but could not deal with deep powder; it was much too arduous, especially with a backpack. Cross-country skiing was out of the question: wide feet with a high instep meant finding suitable cross-country skis and boots was next to impossible. I was short with a heavy build and thick squat legs, not built for speed or deep snowdrifts and prone to break through on any windblown crust. Aware of this, I felt content to wear my hiking boots with a pair of gaiters and keep to those areas that I could safely navigate during the winter. I chose well-traveled trails, pathways accessible during the winter months because the numbers of hikers that used them remained high, and visited areas less remote and more forgiving than those I might explore during the summer or fall.

I never climbed the highest peaks of New Hampshire in winter, I felt those summits lay beyond my endurance and capabilities. In the 1972 Appalachian Mountain Club's White Mountain Guide, a chapter titled "Mount Washington Range in Winter" described the dangers of hiking in the Presidential Range.

"The conditions on Mt Washington in winter are as severe as any known upon our continent south of the great mountains of Alaska and the Yukon Territory." (pg 496)

"Severe weather and unfavorable snow conditions, such as deep powder below treeline or a breakable crust above, may put the climbing party to its ultimate test of physical fitness." (pg 497)

I was no athlete and decided not to face the risks inherent with venturing up onto the major summits of the Presidential Range in winter. Yet because of my three-season hiking experience on the high peaks of New England, I possessed the proper gear and knew how to dress and prepare for the rigors of outdoor adventure in the cold. Hiking in deep snow was arduous enough and I always worked up a serious sweat; it was important for me to wear the correct clothing in layers and to have a change of dry clothes on hand when conditions demanded it. Because I was always well prepared, I enjoyed winter hiking in the White Mountains on my own terms and to my own limits and abilities, alone or in the company of others. The style of those trips varied from contemplative solo hikes through the barren stillness of the winter landscape to raucous overnighters with friends. One of my favorite activities entailed a long daytrip where we could make a wood fire and enjoy hot food and warmth on the trail along with the camaraderie of my friends.

In this way, I came to know and love various areas of New Hampshire during the winter months. Listed below (from south to north) are my favorite winter hiking locales, places in the Granite State that remain dear to me many years on. This is not a 'how to' story, it is more of a 'where to', and I assume that readers acquire their own winter outdoor skills and experience. Every hiker can find something special to enjoy and appreciate at these outdoor destinations, places that allow the outdoor enthusiast to use the skills they currently possess and to acquire new capabilities through personal experience.


Mount Monadnock

Mt Monadnock, also known as Grand Monadnock, is the dominant physical feature of the southwestern part of New Hampshire. There is a traditional Yankee beauty associated with the Monadnock area and the nearby towns carry rustic names like Dublin, Fitzwilliam, and Jaffrey Center. The 3165-foot summit is bare rock and the views from the top are extensive, from the tallest buildings in Boston to the Green Mountains of Vermont, and from the Connecticut River Valley to the White Mountains far in the northeast. During the winter months, the mountain can provide a wide variety of hikes and experiences, from frightening icy-cold ascents in gale force winds to calm winter days that see a lot of foot traffic on the mountain. The Monadnock Inn is located a few miles away in Jaffrey Center and during those years when I was a visitor, the bar within provided the perfect setting to bring a day of climbing adventure to a close as we enjoyed an Irish Coffee beside the fire on the hearth.

Although I climbed Monadnock in every month of the year, there were times when things did not go as planned. I once made a winter climb with friends that began on the road to the old halfway house. From there we went up the Sidefoot Trail (aptly named for winter scrambling) and on to the upper stone pyramid for the final ascent. Near the summit, the trail rose through a steep gully in the rock and this portion of trail was filled with thick blue ice; even if we scrambled up and over this obstacle, getting back down would be problematic. We sat down on a rocky ledge and enjoyed lunch and hot coffee at the base of the gully, high on Monadnock but not quite at the summit.


North and South Pack Monadnock

Located on rte 101 east of Peterborough was South Pack Monadnock, a 2290-foot mountain surrounded by Miller State Park. A road, closed in winter, ran steeply from the parking area to the summit and many hiking trails crisscrossed the park. From the summit on a clear winter's day, a hiker could see the snow-covered summits in the White Mountains, including Mt Moosilauke, Mt Lafayette, and in the far distance the iconic white shape of Mt Washington in the Presidential Range. My friend MB always likened the rounded shape of the distant peak to the top of a votive candle. Over the years, many of us enjoyed making a fire at the summit and watching the sunset. Later, we would descend the road to our cars. It was easy to negotiate the road by foot, even on the darkest nights and in the worst kind of weather.

North Pack Monadnock, at 2276 feet of elevation, was located just to the north of Miller State Park. The Wapack Trail, one of the oldest interstate hiking trails in the country, ran from the summit of North Pack Monadnock some twenty-one miles south to its terminus on the summit of Mt Watatic in Massachusetts. I recall one winter hike in particular; Sam Greene and I followed a trail to the summit of North Pack that left a dirt road north of the mountain. The county plowed this road during the winter so we followed the gravel track to the height of land and parked the truck at the trailhead. High on the northeast flank, the trail entered 'the field', a stretch of open area we had named on previous hikes. Once there, we floundered across 'the field' for more than an hour; blowing snow having covered the trail with waist deep snowdrifts. Normally, it took us a couple of minutes to climb up through this open stretch of trail high on North Pack. After that arduous hour of wallowing through deep soft snow and pouring down sweat, we renamed it 'the f-----g field', a name more apropos, to what the trail had become on that sunny winter day.



When I lived in Hooksett, Mt Kearsarge (2937 feet) was one of my favorite winter destinations. I would drive to Warner and park at the base of the carriage road (closed in winter) before starting out on the nine-mile roundtrip hike to the summit and back. Depending on the conditions, this could be a long and arduous day for me. One good thing about this hike was the fact that I never felt pressured by the time of day; I could follow the road in total darkness and in any kind of weather. The open summit provided extensive views, from Mt Monadnock in the southwest, Mt Cardigan to the north, and on to the White Mountains in the northeast. Before leaving Warner, I would often stop at Brock and Helen's rustic farmhouse to enjoy a drink and warm myself next to the green-enameled Jotul woodstove in their kitchen.


Mt Cardigan

The Mt Cardigan area offers the visitor a choice of many trails over a wide variety of terrain, capped by the barren 3121-foot summit of the region's namesake, Mt Cardigan. Because the mountain sits so close to the southern reaches of the White Mountains, the views to the northeast from the summits and high ridges of the Cardigan area are especially fine during the winter. The AMC maintains a lodge on the eastern side at the 1375-foot level. From the lodge, the Holt Trail climbs to the summit in less than two miles, and other trails provide the hiker the option of making fine loop trips over the neighboring summits and ridges.

Cardigan is an area rich in winter splendor, from scenic ridges to secluded tree covered pathways, and a hiker can choose to make it easy or arduous. Sue Cashman and I once enjoyed a spectacular winter circuit over the summit but on another solo trip, I lost my footing and slid down a rocky chute banging my knee. I sat there alone in the gloaming, holding my leg and rocking in pain, gathering myself until I could stand up and continue on to the car.


Waterville Valley

Waterville Valley is a winter playground nestled in the southern White Mountains. It sports an alpine ski area as well as numerous opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Many short scenic trails crisscross the area and several four thousand foot peaks (Tecumseh, Tripyramid, and Osceola) are accessible if the snow and weather conditions are favorable. Hike into the Greeley Ponds area with lunch and a thermos of coffee and reinvigorate your inner spirit at one of the most scenic destinations in the White Mountains. I always enjoyed hiking up the Tripoli Road in a storm and spending a few hours by a wood fire next to the Mad River.

The Livermore Road gives the winter traveler access to Scaur Ridge and North Tripyramid. A sharp turn high on the Scaur Ridge Trail is a grand place for a winter picnic; the North Slide of Tripyramid rises up directly across from Scaur Ridge and Waterville Valley lies spread out to the west.


Lonesome Lake Hut

I always enjoyed a winter's hike to Lonesome Lake Hut. For one thing, the trailhead is in Franconia Notch, one of the great locations in the White Mountains. Several long switchbacks on the Appalachian Trail brought me to the crest of the ridge and then a direct route across the frozen lake led to the hut itself. Frozen lakes allow the hiker to reach viewpoints normally impossible to enjoy. Looking back over the way I had come provided a stunning view of the Franconia Ridge, the great peaks of Lafayette and Lincoln bright white against the dark blue of a clear winter sky. Reaching the hut provided another great reward, a relatively warm wood stair or porch floor to sit on and enjoy lunch out of the wind.


Crawford Notch

Crawford Notch is a starting point for many premier winter destinations and the cold weather hiker has many nearby options from which to choose. Mt Willard is always a joy to climb either solo or with a group. The trail is short, its summit low, and woods protected the trail along the length of the climb; this meant a hiking party had little to fear from weather or exposure. The view of the notch from the summit cliffs is spectacular. One day after a group hike to the summit, we descended in the wind and gathering darkness to our cars parked along rte 302. Emanating through the narrows of the notch, a blowing snow swirled and danced amid one of the strangest colors I have ever seen in the mountains in winter, a deep purple haunted with a dark luminescent red. I have never forgotten it.

Depending on the amount of foot traffic and snow depth, I could usually navigate the footing on the A-Z Trail from Crawford Notch over the Field-Tom col and down to Zealand Falls Hut. Once at the hut I could relax with a hot drink before returning to the car. Occasionally I would bring my zero-degree sleeping bag and spend the night. On those overnight trips, hiking in along the Zealand Road and Zealand Trail usually served as the access route. Even though that route seemed moderate and flat, I still wallowed through deep snow on occasion and hiked across snow mounds that covered unseen water running audibly below.

Occasionally, when hikers had packed the trail well down, we would park a car at the bottom of Crawford Notch where the AT crossed route 302. Then we would hike into Zealand Falls Hut, continue down through Zealand Notch, and follow the Ethan Pond Trail down to the second car.

Once after a major storm, I spent a night at Zealand Falls Hut. When the storm ended, the temperature fell dramatically and it was an arduous solo hike up from the Zealand Road trailhead in the bitter cold. One group of eight never arrived so I shared the hut with three other visitors and the caretaker. After dinner, I enjoyed a cigar out on the porch. Out on the black flank of Whitewall Mountain a dim light appeared down in the notch, followed by another and then several more. This line of lights made slow progress across the black side of the mountain and I realized this must be the missing group of hikers making their way to the hut. An hour passed before their lights appeared on the steep trail just below the hut. The missing hikers were a scout group made up of two adults and six boy scouts. They did not start their hike until late morning and the climb up out of the notch on the Ethan Pond Trail in deep snow was much harder than expected. They had spent over ten hours on the hike to the hut; several kids were close to tears and ready to collapse, and the relief on the faces of the adults was palpable. Reading a trail map with contour lines is one thing, but foresight and good judgment are other skills acquired separately in the harsh classroom of experience.

The Crawford Path began its climb to the summit of Mt Washington the other side of rte 302, and heavy foot traffic usually allowed easy access to Mizpah Spring Hut and the summit of Mt Clinton. Steve Barton and I made a memorable climb to the exposed and frozen summit of Mt Clinton in January of 1989, three months after my back surgery.


Tuckerman Ravine and Hermit Lake

From the first snows of autumn to the onset of spring skiing, the shelters at Hermit Lake make a perfect destination. Consider yourself lucky if you can secure a reservation for a night in one of the open-faced shelters surrounding Hermit Lake, close to the AMC caretaker's residence in Tuckerman Ravine.

Staying overnight allows a hiker to appreciate the nuances of the ravine in a more moving and personal way. One night, four of us sat on wooden benches near the base of the Little Headwall drinking hot chocolate laced with schnapps; it was 6 degrees below zero and we listened to the crackle of minor slides high up in the bowl of the ravine as the ice came tinkling and cascading down the slopes towards the bottom. The ravine was a deep purple-black and the hanging cliffs of the Boott Spur rose up purple and ominous some 1700' above us on our left. On some years during the spring ski season, I made the climb up into the ravine every week for 4 or 5 weekends in a row. If you travel up into the ravine during winter, remember where you are, exercise caution, and stay within your abilities; people occasionally die up there.


Great Gulf

A trip into the Great Gulf meant spending a day in and around Pinkham Notch amid some of the finest mountain scenery anywhere. I never traveled too far into the gulf during winter but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I would park at Glen House and follow the Osgood Trail to the Great Gulf Trail, and follow the Gulf trail to its junction atop a ridge where the Madison Gulf Trail came down from the Adams-Madison col high above. On one such trip, Sue Cashman and I were standing at that trail junction enjoying lunch when a loud cracking sound boomed out from high above us and was quickly followed by the roar and vibration of an avalanche somewhere up in Madison Gulf. I had seen numerous slides in Tuckerman's Ravine, but this was the only time I ever heard the explosion of the initial crack and subsequent roar of a wall letting go, or felt the power of an avalanche transmitted by vibration through the soles of my feet. The entire experience was humbling.


Carter Notch Hut

I have written extensively on my adventures and excursions up into Carter Notch during the winter; the AMC hut located there in the notch provides a perfect setting to enjoy and experience the White Mountains in winter. The upper half of the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail could be arduous in deep snow but weather and trail conditions never kept us from our scheduled stay at the AMC hut in Carter Notch, and we experienced some major storms over the years of our visits. We packed in elaborate dinners and enjoyed memorable feasts on the long picnic tables of the common room where we shared our bounty with other visitors and the winter caretaker. Groups of hikers would break trail up to Pulpit Rock and Carter Dome beyond, or up to Wildcat A, towering directly above the lake and the hut.

On one such hike, eight of us took turns out in front, as we left the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail at its maximum point of elevation and broke through deep powder on the steep ascent leading up to the summit of Wildcat A. It was biting cold but the view of the notch below and the Carter-Moriah Range to the north was memorable. Leaving the summit, we slid down the trail like bobsleds descending an icy run, crashing into snow banks and into each other, laughing uproariously all the way. We reached the trail junction at the height of land in the last light of the day, and continued down to the lake and across the snow covered ice to the hut. Once there, we made cocktails and prepared appetizers in advance of dinner. As I lingered by the entryway to the kitchen, I heard from inside the cooking area a hiker from another group ask Dave, the AMC hut caretaker, if Dave would like to join them for dinner.

"No thanks," Dave said. "I'm eating with the Laudizen party tonight. They always take great care of me when they're up for the weekend."

That remains as the finest compliment I have ever received from an employee of the Appalachian Mountain Club.


Laudizen King
Los Angeles
September 2010