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Winter Conditions on Mt Tremont

Green Cliff in the Sawyer River Valley, seen from Mt Tremont
Green Cliff in the Sawyer River Valley, seen from Mt Tremont (3371′)

Jack Frost has arrived in the White Mountains, coating all of the peaks and big hills with a blanket of ice and snow. November can be a frustrating time for hikers here, when it’s hard to decide whether to carry full winter gear or not, and when precipitation is just as likely to fall as snow as it is freezing rain. Perhaps the worst of all, is when your hikes start in a protected valley, the trail covered with fallen leaves, and you ascend past 2500 feet of elevation into a winter hell, slipping and sliding on snow and ice-covered trails while being blasted by bone-chlling winds.

The hiking is still wonderful, but you do wonder if you’re mad.

Our original plan last Sunday had been to bushwhack Mt Dartmouth and Millen Hill, two trailless peaks adjacent to Mt Jefferson, but high winds and the threat of freezing rain nixed that plan. Instead, we decided to climb Mt Tremont (3371′), a 52-with-a-View Peak, located at the eastern end of Crawford Notch. It’s wonderful hike, past the waterfalls and cascades of Stony Brook, to a scenic viewpoint that overlooks the Pemigewasset Wilderness and the Sandwich Mountain Range.

Waterfall along the Mt Tremont Trail
Waterfall along the Mt Tremont Trail

I’d climbed Mt Tremont before, but I knew it’d be a good workout for our group (the Bushwhackos). While a relatively short hike, the trail gains 2550′ from the trail head on Rt 302 up to the 3371′ summit over a distance of 2.8 miles. The going is so steep, especially near the top, that trail builders saw fit to include a few switchbacks, a convenience seldom found on other White Mountain Trails.

This turned out to be a micropsike hike
This turned out to be a micropsike hike

The first part of the Mt Tremont Trail follows an old logging road through a birch and hemlock forest. Well-blazed, the trail is easy to follow despite a dense cover of fallen leaves obscuring the treadway. Maintained by John Compton (1 Happy Hiker), I always feel a personal connection with John when I hike the Mt Tremont Trail, even though we’ve never met in person. John does a lot of off-trail exploration and historical fact-finding across the White Mountain region and his adventures are fun to follow.

Mt Tremont Trail
Mt Tremont Trail

After crossing Stony Brook, the Mt Tremont Trail gets significantly steeper en route to the summit. We encountered snow on the trail at 2400 feet and a cold icy breeze (probably 30 mph) as we ascended a series of switchbacks. Those switchbacks came in handy for myself and my friend Michael, because we were the only hikers in our party who hadn’t brought microspikes. Going up was not the problem, but coming down would be. However, I was confident that we’d both be fine because Michael is a very experienced 4-season hiker with excellent footwork skills, and I knew I could get down safely too.

Snow-covered switchbacks on the Mt Tremont Trail
Snow-covered switchbacks on the Mt Tremont Trail

Switchbacks are a rarity on White Mountain Trails, especially ones as distinct as those found on the Mt Tremont Trail. But their absence is just one of the reasons why hiking in the White Mountains is so tough. I was grateful for their presence though, being somewhat fatigued after 2 previous days of strenuous hiking.

Ken surveys the Pemigewasset Wilderness from Mt Tremont
Ken surveys the Sawyer River Scenic Area from Mt Tremont

Though steep, our party made good time on the final approach to the summit which has a rock crown and excellent views. We ate Pringle’s and sipped hot cocoa there, while admiring the Sawyer Pond Scenic Area and the mountains in the Sandwich Range to the south. I was delighted to finally get a clear view of Green Cliff (top photo), still cloaked in autumn red. I’ve had my eye on that small mountain for a while and hope to climb it soon.

After a short break, we headed down the way we’d come, and drove off to Munroe’s in Twin Mountain for a late lunch. Winter conditions have arrived in the Whites Mountains, and so they will remain until next May.

Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:

5 comments

  1. I think this might mark the end of my Long Trail adventure for this year. I’m going backpacking this weekend. I had planned to couninue in the Northern section of the LT, but with the weather we’ve been getting I’m not sure I want to be out there alone this late in the season.

    It looks like the AT in Connecticut is calling me!

    • My solo backpacks are over until next spring. If I do any solo hiking in the mountains from here on out, it will be day hiking only on low level trails or on hikes inside the 495 region in Massachusetts.

  2. Thanks Philip for an enjoyable report about the challenges and joys of hiking in the Whites in late Autumn when conditions are mixed. Also, your description and characterization of the Mt. Tremont Trail is ‘spot on’! (And BTW, the 1HappyHiker mention and link is much appreciated!)

  3. You have just way to much fun…..enjoy it while you can..

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