I led an Appalachian Mountain Club hiking trip to North (4180′) and Middle Tripyramid (4140′) Mountains last weekend. These are two 4,000 footers in the southern section of the White Mountains. linked by a 0.8 mile ridge. South Tripyramid (4100′), the third “Tri” is not an official 4,000 footer on the AMC White Mountain 4,000 footer list so it’s often ignored by peakbaggers, which is too bad because there’s a great (land)slide you can hike up to the summit on.
I was joined by 8 other hikers on this trip, and two co-leaders: Michael, who’ve I’ve co-lead many trips with before, and Alex who’s working on qualifying for his full 4 season leader status by co-leading trips like this one. Michael and I “mentored” him by letting him do most of the organizational work to pull off the hike! I shouldn’t joke about this trip leader mentoring process, I actually take it quite seriously. But it was nice to have someone else take care of all the niggling details of setting up a trip like this. Alex did an excellent job.
Routewise, there are two primary ways to climb the Tripyramids: from the south starting from the Livermore Lot or from the north starting along the Kancamagus Highway (the Kanc), which was the first scenic highway built in America and is still one of the most scenic. It runs east to west for 32 miles through the heart of the White Mountains and passes many scenic vistas and excellent swimming holes.
For this hike, we started at the Kanc, taking the Pine Bend Trail to the Mt Tripyramid Trail and reversing our route on the way out – a total of 9.6 miles with 3,450 feet of elevation gain. This is a challenging route to take because the Pine Bend Trail is quite steep in places and full crampons were needed for much of the hike. The snow depth wasn’t too bad however, and we were able to leave our snowshoes back at the cars. Another group from the New Hampshire Chapter had hiked in on the same trail about 45 minutes before ours and broke out the trail for us.
The other common route to the Tripyramids from the Kanc side is to follow the Sabbaday Brook Trail. But the stream crossings on the Sabbaday Brook Trail are extremely wide and have been slow to bridge this winter. While there are a few stream crossing on the Pine Bends Trail, they are all much smaller and were all frozen over or easily rock-hoppable.
While it was cold when we started the hike, about 10 degrees, we had very clear weather for the first half of the hike, with clear views of the peaks and hills in the Sawyer River Valley, Mt Carrigan and Carrigan Notch, and the Presidential Range in the distance. Of course, by the time we started climbing with crampons, we’d all stripped down to our baselayers and were sweating profusely.
Once you start climbing the steeps on Pine Bend, the trail zigs back and forth. Still there are several very steep and ice-covered scrambles along the path which require good traction and determination to get up. That, or some creative route-finding by bushwhacking off trail over easier ground. This is something I avoid doing in three season conditions because it can led to trail erosion, but it’s not an issue when there is a foot of snow on the ground. It’s also a lot safer, especially if the people with you don’t have a lot of crampon experience or are out of practice.
I’d actually met a woman that morning back at the youth hostel where we stayed the night before, who asked me whether she should climb East Osceola Mountain because there was heavy ice on the trail. I replied that she’d need full crampons and she replied “I carry crampons on all of my hikes, but I don’t know how to use them.” I keep repeating that statement in my head
This is more common than you might realize. Hikers are told that they need to buy crampons to go on winter hikers, but they never learn the skill of how to use them, which is frightening to me, because you can really hurt yourself badly by using crampons in inappropriate situations like sledding or glissading. It only takes a few hours to become extremely proficient with crampons (with about 45 minutes of instruction) and you should find someone to teach the skill so you can become a better and safer hiker.
We made it the first peak, North Tripyramid shortly after noon and had a quick lunch. There’s a clear viewpoint on the western face of the mountain just below the summit which I’d never seen before, which surprised me because I’ve hiked this peak several times over the years. As we stood there, I pointed out the various mountains by name for the other hikers there because I’ve done a fair amount of hiking in Carrigan Notch and the Sawyer River Valley below.
One of my co-leaders suggested that we take the Sabbaday Brook Trail back to our cars rather than go down the Pine Bend again to avoid the ice we’d encountered on the climb. This would have extended the hike by another two miles, but it was worth considering nonetheless because getting down those icy stretches would probably be a lot harder than getting up them. In the end I nixed the route change because I didn’t know the state of the ice bridges or water level across the Sabbaday Brook stream crossings. I’d rather face a known situation rather than take a different path on what I consider a substantially higher consequence route.
After lunch, we continued another 0.8 miles along the Tripyramid Trail to the Middle Tripyramid peak which loomed large between the trees. I ran sweep behind a hiker who was moving a little slower than the rest of the group, but only about a minute or two off pace. I don’t mind this kind of thing at all – I have my slow days too. I view my job as a leader to help people be successful and safe on my hikes, even if that means hanging back with a slower hiker. That’s also why we like having at least two leaders working together on a trip.
The views from Middle Tripyramid are far less obstructed than on the Northern Peak. We could clearly see Mt Tecumseh and the Waterville Valley Ski resort that defaces it, as well as the two Osceola 4,000 footers, Mt Osceola and East Osceola. Mt Passaconaway and Mt Chocurua were also clearly visible to the west along with Mt Hedgehog and Potash, which are also excellent hikes.
Having reached our destination, we about-faced and started the long hike out, reclimbing North Tripyramid to get back to the steep Pine Bend Trail. I took the lead for the descent and alternatively slid on my butt or bushwhacked around the tricky icy parts of the trail that we had climbed head-on earlier in the day. This made the descent much easier and far less risky for all involved, myself included, and we made excellent time back to the trail head. Judging by the smiles all around and the camaraderie of the group, people had a great time on this hike. I can’t wait to get back on the winter trails again.