Winter Hiking in the Whites
I always remember being a big fan of Winter and snow. I still get excited when I hear it's going to snow. So it only seems natural to me that even now that I'm in my 70's I look forward to coming up to the White Mountains in New Hampshire in the Winter to snowshoe and enjoy the copious amounts of snow. Snowshoeing became a passion of mine as an extension of my love of hiking in the woods and the Whites are the perfect place to go. Encompassing almost 800,000 acres in New Hampshire and western Maine there are hiking trails for all ages and abilities.
Just because the Summer hiking season ended didn't mean I should stop hiking in Winter, since I loved that Season the most. After trying snowshoeing, I was hooked. All the crowds that you might normally see vying for a parking space at the trailhead were now gone. The snow covered trees and the quiet surroundings always remind me of that vision of a Winter wonderland. Once you start on the trail you realize that much of the rock-hoping was eliminated because the snow changed the trail to a more consistent flat surface. Winter weather in The Whites usually means that the air will be dry, free of that Summer haze and visibility from the summit will be outstanding. And maybe best of all, there are no bugs! But Winter hiking has its own share of challenges. You will need to be prepared for extreme weather conditions that can escalate very quickly. Having the correct clothes, gear, hydration, energy (food) & planning are critical characteristics that cannot be overlooked.
Top Winter Hiking Tip
I recommend that you find the right size snowshoes for the conditions & terrain you'll be snowshoeing. My first pair were 30" as recommended for a person my size & weight. Well, those 30" snowshoes that seemed appropriate earlier that Winter proved to be an obstacle to hiking the trails of your typical White Mountain 4000 footer. Trails are sometimes steep, often icy and require a fair amount of maneuverability. If you're going to buy snowshoes, take into consideration the trails you will be using them on. Those 30" shoes are a good choice for deep, powdery conditions often found out west but not so much for hiking the Whites. Another factor to consider is the degree of traction they will provide. Those original snowshoes had limited traction capability which made it difficult to keep from sliding backward on some steep portions of the trail. Now I use a 22" snowshoe with serrated edges all along the periphery of the frame. Another feature of my present snowshoes is a heel elevator. That is a metal frame that pivots up at the heel of the snowshoe which allows for a more comfortable hike when going up a steep trail.
Best Winter Hiking Memory
My most memorable Winter hike was summiting Mt. Washington a few years ago with my daughter. We had attempted this challenge a few years earlier but were turned back due to extreme weather conditions. This time the March weather cooperated and we were successful making the 9 mile snowshoe and crampon trek (even with a -50 degree wind chill). The first three miles uphill required snowshoeing through a few feet of powder after which a change to crampons is necessary for the typically icy conditions above treeline. We were treated to incredible views and the satisfaction of knowing we met this winter challenge on the spot that has been dubbed "Home of the World's Worst Weather."
Favorite Winter Hike
My favorite winter hike in the Whites is a four mile loop in Waterville Valley, which is part of The White Mountain National Forest, that starts with a 500 vertical foot climb up an abandoned ski mountain followed by a ¾ mile snowshoe hike to a series of frozen waterfalls & cascades. The trail leaves the base of the cascades and climbs back uphill and loops around an evergreen forest back to the abandoned ski area. Waterville Valley is unique in it is believed to have the first trails that were developed just for hiking in America.
Favorite Post Hike Beverage
When I get back to the car I usually have chocolate milk waiting for me, but following a calorie burning snowshoe adventure I also enjoy having a frosty cold IPA. Appropriately, my choice is a local brew called "4000 Footer IPA" from the Woodstock Brewery in Woodstock, NH.
Favorite Post Hike Meal
Coincidentally, my preferred spot to grab a post hike meal is also the Woodstock Inn & Brewery. You can't beat their "Better Than Moms Meatloaf."