Winter Hiking In New Hampshire: The Basics
Summer and fall aren’t the only seasons for hiking
What could be more idyllic than a day of hiking one of the many mountain trails New Hampshire has to offer? Maybe hiking only one of them on a sun-streamed, snowy day in winter. A modern-day poet, Ivan Granger, penned, “Why is it among the most glacial mountain peaks I find the greatest warmth?”
Most of us think of the summer and fall as ideal hiking seasons for New Hampshire’s peaks, but winter affords some of the prettiest, most serene trail adventures you can ever hope to have. While preparing to hike Mt. Washington in December one year with my husband, a guide and some other climbers, I was a little daunted by the amount of packing and prep that went into the climb, not to mention the inherent dangers of climbing in winter with unpredictable weather conditions that can change in moments, and how the word “hypothermia” gets tossed around a little too often among the climbing crowd. But taking the time to be prepared affords you the luxury to relax and really absorb your surroundings as you ascend, enjoying the intricate details Mother Nature puts into her winterscapes.
Our beautiful state offers mountains and trails to suit every kind of hiker at every ability level. For information and inspiration, visit the AMC’s site at outdoors.org and get planning your next adventure.
Fred Pitcher (this month's expert – see his advice below) has hiked Mt. Monadnock (aka Grand Monadnock), the highest peak in Cheshire County, a whopping 1,545 times — so far!
AMC’s “White Mountain Guide, 29th Edition” ($17.47) is a great addition to any Granite Stater’s home library collection. With descriptions of more than 500 trails and topographic maps, it is an essential companion for hikes both big and small.
Rated one of the top winter hiking jackets for 2013, the Rab Xenon ($155.97) gets points for its incredible warmth and lightweight material, making it highly packable when not in use. Featuring Primaloft One in the body, sleeves and hood, two hand warmer pockets and a YKK zipped chest pocket.
The KEEN Men’s Summit County III Boot ($165) featuring 400 grams of Keen Warm Insulation and waterproof nubuck leather will keep your toes toasty warm whether below or above the treeline.
Outdoor Research Rocky Mountain High Gaiters ($40) feature a nylon-coated bottom and breathable upper for lightweight comfort and protection on snowy, wet climbs. The elastic bottom hem can accommodate many different size/style boots.
Expert Advice: Frederick Pitcher
Fred Pitcher is originally from Arlington, Mass., but he’s been a Nashua resident since 1995. He spent every summer of his childhood camping or at a cottage in the woods of New Hampshire, and is a self-described “hiking nut.” He hikes Mt. Monadnock twice a week and, since logging his miles, Fred estimates he has hiked an average of 800 miles in each of the past three years. He has created a website, in which he shares his extensive knowledge of Monadnock and hiking in general.
What are some of your favorite hiking trails/areas here in New Hampshire? Of course Mount Monadnock, where there is a lot more to see on the mountain than the spectacular summit. The Presidential Range — including Mount Washington, Adams, Madison — are great but are also strenuous. Mount Jackson at the southern end of the Presidentials is an easy hike to a nice summit. The Franconias, including Lafayette, Lincoln, Liberty and Flume, are all great and spectacular. I can’t leave out Mount Moosilauke as a favorite. For the most part I hike Monadnock in winter.
What are some of the risks of hiking in the winter? There are slippery, icy conditions. Many hikers get injured slipping and falling. You should always bring ice traction crampons or microspikes, which are popular today. There is also the risk of hypothermia. One rule of thumb for winter hikers: cotton kills. You sweat and your shirt gets very wet and then you can get cold, so only use synthetics or wool. In winter on Monadnock I pack a couple of extra large heavy-duty trash bags just in case and they don’t take up much space. Navy Seals are quoted as saying a trash bag can save your life. Once a zipper came open at the seam on my jacket and I wore the trash bag under my jacket to go above treeline to get over the mountain. Lesser-used trails, especially right after a snowstorm, can be difficult to follow when the beaten path is buried under deep snow. Hikers should bring a map and compass and know how to use them. Don’t rely on electronic devices or cell phones, which can fail in the cold.
In terms of clothing and gear for a day hike, what are the essentials and what is overkill? Wear an outer layer or shell such as Gore-Tex jacket and pants. Fleece is very good for a middle layer. I prefer heavy gloves and, if it’s around zero degrees or colder, I use heat packs. Snow gaiters are good to keep the snow out of your boots. Long underwear can help in cold weather such as Bergelene or a micro fleece if it is very cold. For ice traction, crampons and microspikes. Map and compass, whistle, matches or lighter in case of an emergency. I also like to pack my flashlight separate from my batteries, so the batteries don’t go dead and there is no acid leakage in the flashlight. A headlamp is good, but not if it is foggy and dark — then it acts like a high beam and you can’t see where you’re going. Packing some rope or non-climbing cord can have many purposes such as for first aid. I once used cord because a screw popped out of my crampon and it got lost. I tied my crampon to my boot with the cord to safely continue hiking. I like to keep a bottle of water close to my body so it doesn’t freeze and I insulate the water I am drinking on longer hikes.