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The Tripyramids in Autumn

The Mount Tripyramid Trail
The Mount Tripyramid Trail

The Tripyramids are three peaks in the Sandwich Range of the White Mountains, North (4180′), Middle (4140′), and South (4090′), which are all over 4,000 in feet. Most people only bag North and Middle which are on the White Mountain 48 list, but I set out to hike all three at once, starting with South Tripyramid.

To make things extra interesting, I decided to hike the peaks using a route I’d never taken, hiking up and down the South and North slides which are avalanche run outs. The Southern slide is considerable easier than the Northern slide which should be avoided in wet weather. It’s also better to climb up it rather than down for safety reasons. I’ve been dreaming about this route for a while and thought it would make an epic hike.

Tripyramid Slides Loop
Tripyramid Slides Loop

I began at the Livermore Road trail head on the Waterville Valley side of Tripoli Road. This is not an area that I’ve hiked in much over the past few years, though I used to frequent it because it’s closer to Boston than the more northern and eastern White Mountain peaks.

The area around the Livermore Road trail head is crisscrossed by cross-country skiing and mountain biking trails that have some sort of commercial arrangement with the Waterville Valley Ski resort next door. Mountain biking is not permitted on trails in the White Mountains except in this area. The trails around here can be a little confusing to follow but if you stay on the big ones, which are old carriage roads, you won’t get too lost. Carrying a compass also helps if you get turned around.

Hiking on the carriage roads is fast walking, a factor to remember on a hike like this one which requires a 2 mile approach before you start climbing. On trails like this I can walk 3 miles an hour which is really moving.

Hyperlight Mountain Gear Expedition Backpack
Hyperlight Mountain Gear 4400 Porter Expedition Backpack

To further handicap myself – early training for winter loads – I carried a fully loaded Hyperlite Mountain Gear 4400 Porter Expedition backpack with me. It was heavy! But if you don’t train with a heavy pack you won’t be ready to carry one when you need to, and winter hiking in New Hampshire is all about weight.

After a pleasant 2.6 mile stroll through autumn glory, I reached the Mount Tripyramid Trail which climbs the South Slide, traverses all three summits, and then descends via the North Slide, or vice versa if you want to go the other direction (which on hindsight, is the way to go). The trail starts by climbing gently for about a while through lush forest and over several easy stream crossings.

That ends abruptly when you get to the South Slide which climbs the side of the Southern peak like an angry scar. The trail turns from leaves and packed earth into loose sandy rubble and huge boulders, making for tricky footing. In addition, you are fully exposed to the weather and wind. This was an issue because I could see a storm sweeping toward me over Mt Osceola and the wind was picking up. I knew that the forecast was iffy before this hike, but hoped I could literally sneak under the radar before it hit.

South Slide - South Tripyramid Mountain
South Slide – South Tripyramid Mountain

Whenever I climb up or down a slide like this, I can’t but think about the terrible force of the avalanches and flash floods that form them and reshape them year after year. It’s difficult to appreciate the steepness of the slide pictured above, but it easily matches the 30-45% slope angle commonly shared by avalanche zones worldwide. I was winded carrying my heavy pack up this route and it was a much harder climb than I expected.

Snows Mountain and Lost Pass, Sandwich Range
Snows Mountain and Lost Pass, Sandwich Range

Despite the difficulty, the view from the slide was quite beautiful, past the peak for leaf-peeping, but still quite grand. With all the emphasis that people put on the mountains in New Hampshire, it’s easy to overlook the beauty and wonder of the forest in the valleys and ravines between the peaks. I think this is one of the reasons off-trail hiking appeals to me so much, because you get to visit them and glimpse the elfin folk who dwell there.

Middle Tripyramid
Middle Tripyramid

The summit of the South peak is largely viewless although you can see the summit of the Middle peak through the trees about 1 mile north. When I arrived, it had just started to drizzle rain, but I had a snack and some water before continuing on. How long would the heavy rain hold off I wondered, or would it blow through?

I bagged the Middle and North peaks in quick succession but it was only as I was descending North Tripyramid that I finally met other hikers. It was a Friday after-all. I met a couple that warned me to avoid the North Slide, going down on wet rock with a heavy pack. The rain had picked up and it was chilly, so I heed their advice.

The crux section of the North slide loses 1200 ft of elevation in 0.5 miles making it more of a cliff than a slope in my book. Best to leave it for another day and climb up with a smaller load next time.  I’d known about the steepness of the North Slide before my hike, but I needed the South Peak for my Trailwrights 72 list and decided that summiting it took priority over anything else, knowing full well that I might have to come back and do the North slide another day.

I decided to come down the much gentler Scaur Ridge Trail instead, despite an additional 1 mile detour. Along the way, I started hiking with a woman I met up with named Karen and we flew down the trail like the wind hoping to beat the pending rain storm.

Junction of the Livermore Trail and the Scaur Ridge Trail
Junction of the Livermore Trail and the Scaur Ridge Trail

It was not to be. As soon as we arrived back at the intersection with Livermore, the skies opened up and it poured heavy rain. Karen didn’t have full rain gear and was drenched which was unfortunate because she had a long hike out in a completely different direction than where I was headed. I got email from her later saying she made it out ok, but was very soaked and cold.

I had a full backpacking load including a rain jacket, pants, and rain mitts so I enjoyed my walk out. It was really raining hard, but I was high and dry (except for my trail runners) and had a pleasant 3.6 mile walk back to the car in the rain. Wet feet don’t really bother me much anymore as long as the rest of me is dry and it’s not too cold out.

A nice hike and a great workout.

Total Distance: 12.0 miles with 3000′ of elevation gain

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12 comments

  1. I envy you this day. The Tripyramids are on my list for next spring. I’m about half way through the New Hampshire 48, having started up again a couple years ago after a 35 year hiatus from hiking…. Next summer I need to gear up for some overnights. Your writings are extremely helpful to those of us catching back up on our technique and knowledge.

    • How so? If you don’t mind me asking. I’m always looking for feedback on how to make my trip reports more helpful or inspiring to hikers.

      • How so? For one thing, you can read trail descriptions and gear reviews and lists, but rarely do you get an idea of how that all works together. I was taught well about being on the trails and in the woods as a teenager in a summer camp, but my skills are old and based on old gear (Anyone remember bent-wood marine surplus pack boards?) It’s great to hear from someone who makes it his business to talk the walk if you get my point.

      • I appreciate the feedback and the fact that you see value in a gear reviewer who also hikes with the gear he writes about. It makes me do a lot more hiking, so I don’t mind doing the extra research. :-)

        Pack boards – have you seen my posts about those?
        http://sectionhiker.com/amc-hut-crew-packboards/

      • No I hadn’t seen the post, but I went and read it. Just as I remember seeing both in the 60’s and recently. Thanks for bring that to my attention..

  2. North Slide is a fun trail, but I wouldn’t do it in wet weather, and I sure wouldn’t want to go down it! You were wise to take Scaur Ridge. Hope you’ll give us a full report when you do make the North Slide.

  3. Just wanted to share that I came down the north side on a wet day. It was very dangerous. I slid and fell the whole way down. A mistake I won’t let happen again.

  4. I had no idea there was was such a think as rain mitts…but I should have thought that. What brand do you use?

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