The first day of winter (yesterday) is a big deal in the White Mountains because it means that peakbaggers can finally start counting winter climbs against their Winter 4,000 footer lists. This peak list is much more difficult to complete that the four season 4,000 footer list because of the dreadful weather and limited daylight that accompanies winter in the Whites.
I marked the day by going on a long hike with some good friends and a few new ones, climbing Mt Hale (4,052 feet) and then bushwhacking to South Hale (3,700 feet), which is on the New England Hundred Highest List. It’s not a peakbagging list I keep track of, although I suppose that may change someday – I’ve actually completed over 90% of it already. My main goal for the day was to bag Mount Hale for the Trailwright’s 72 list I’m working on and to get a taste a winter bushwhacking.
Winter days are short (sunrise at 7 am, sunset at 4 pm), so we started this hike very early, meeting at 7 am at the Mountain Bean, a coffee shop in the tiny town a Twin Mountain. I’d spent the night at a cabin nearby, but most of my friends had driven up from Boston, leaving around 4 am.
We started this hike just up the road from the Mountain Bean, past the Seven Dwarves Motel, a very colorful landmark and a good place to park for overnights in the area. We got on the trail by about 7:45 am, hiking parallel to the Little River in the direction of Mt Hale. Temperatures have been unseasonably warm this December, so there wasn’t much snow except at higher elevations.
After about an hour or so of hiking we started to look for the Fire Wardens Trail, an unmaintained trail that runs up the back side of Mount Hale from the Little River. It’s not signed or anything, but it’s pretty easy to spot the grade if you keep looking up the hill towards Hale.
Then we climbed up and up to the summit for about 2 hours, bare booting the whole way. I was feeling pretty good. I’d slept well, had a big breakfast, and had pre-hydrated, but I was sweating like mad on the climb carrying a full winter pack, including group emergency gear. The grade up the Fire Wardens path isn’t that steep, but the trail just goes on and on.
Eventually we popped out of the trees onto the open summit of Mt Hale, which looked significantly different from when I was last here. The summit had been quite a large open area on my last trip, but the surrounding trees have really closed in over the past few years.
After a short break, a few members of the group decided to hike out and back to the cars while the rest of use went on to bag South Hale. We left the summit on the Lend-a-Hand Trail and hiked down about a mile, before forking right on a bearing of 215 degrees.
At this stage, our friend Alex took over navigating for the bushwhack because he’s got a fair amount of experience at it. It was interesting to watch Alex navigating and how he traversed stretches of ground, staying at a particular contour interval to loop around obstructions and avoid steep ascents and descents. I think I’m hooked. Bushwhacking requires excellent compass and map reading skills, a fair amount of stamina to push through dense growth, good footwork, and vigilant group communication.
We made it to the canister at South Hale by 1:30 before descending toward to Little River to the west, joining the trail that runs along the river about 10 minutes past where we left to ascend the Fire Warden trail. From there we hoofed it back to our cars, arriving at 4:30 om.
Good hike. I reckon we did between 8 -9 miles in 7 hours of hiking, with about 2,000 feet of elevation gain. I expect to sleep very well tonight.
Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:
- Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide
- AMC White Mountain National Forest Map Set
- Exploring New Hampshire Map from the Wilderness Map Company
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