Climbing Pierce and Eisenhower on the Second Day of Winter

The Crawford Path is the oldest continuously maintained footpath in the United States
The Crawford Path is the oldest continuously maintained footpath in the United States

Eliot needed Mt Eisenhower for his Winter 4000 footer list, so we decided to climb it on the second day of Winter (12/23). Eisenhower (4780′) is a bald dome in the Southern Presidentials, located about halfway up the ridge between Mt Monroe and Mt Pierce. It’s a pretty straightforward hike up the Crawford Path (the oldest continuously maintained footpath in the United States), provided the wind isn’t blowing too hard since the southern approach has about 2 miles of full above-treeline exposure.

On the day of our hike, the wind forecast was looking pretty borderline with 45 mph winds and gusts as high at 55 mph, peaking close to the time we expected to summit. That kind of wind speed can blow you off your feet and cause frostbite on exposed skin at low temperatures. There’s also the risk that blowing snow will reduce visibility and require the use of goggles and balaclavas, which have a tendency to fog up and blind you on long above-treeline approaches.

The temperature was warm despite the wind.
The temperature was warm despite the wind.

Lucky for us, temperatures were quite warm (30-40 degrees) which can mitigate these factors since there’s less danger of cold injuries. Rather than decide right away, we agreed to hike up to treeline and summit Mt Pierce, another 4000 footer, which is situated just above treeline, at the southern end of the 2-mile above-treeline approach to Eisenhower. We’d decide whether to go on or not from there.

This was an Appalachian Mountain Club Trip led by Eliot and me and we were joined by four other hikers with varying levels of winter hiking and above-treeline experience. Based on recent trips reports posted at NETrailConditions.com, I recommended that people carry microspikes and snowshoes on this trip. While microspikes were sufficient to summit both Pierce and Eisenhower, I wanted to come down off the peak and descend by the Edmands Path, which is protected from the wind by tree cover. I know from experience that the Edmands Path has a lot of snow on its upper reaches in winter and that we’d need flotation to get through it.

The view north from Mt Pierce.
The view north from Mt Pierce.

The wind was blowing from the west so we’d have it at our backs and left side on the above-treeline portion of the hike between Pierce and Eisenhow. I wanted to avoid having to walk back into the wind on our return trip, which is why I opted to lead people down the Edmands Path. I’ve used it in the past as an escape route from Eisenhower in poor weather. From the bottom, you can follow Mt Clinton Rd back to Crawford Notch. Note: Mt Clinton Rd is gated closed in winter but open for snowmobiles.

The snow conditions were perfect as we hiked up the Crawford Path wearing microspikes. The trail was well packed by all of the hikers who’d hiked the ridge the previous day, on the first day of Winter. We summitted Pierce easily in mild wind and decided to continue to Eisenhower. The day was sunny and clear and we had tremendous views of Mt Washington, Monroe, and the Northern Presidentials.

Hiking on the ridge from Pierce to Eisenhower
Hiking on the ridge from Pierce to Eisenhower

The Crawford Path alternates between full exposure and Krumholz between Mt Pierce and the Mt Eisenhower Loop Trail, which forks off to climb up to Ike’s summit. The snow was deep in the Krumholz, but broken out and fairly stable, so we kept our microspikes on through it. You often need snowshoes for this section, but we’ve had very light snowfall this year and there was only a foot or two on the ridge.

I led the group from Pierce up to the Eisenhower summit because I wanted to keep us all together and not get to spread out on the approach. The wind got decidedly pushy as we started up the summit cone which had shielded us from the full force of the west wind lower down Eisenhower has a huge cairn at its summit, so I got people behind it as a windbreak when we reached the top.

At the Eisenhower Summit Cairn
At the Eisenhower Summit Cairn

We continued north on the Eisenhower Loop for our descent which had much more ice and drifting snow, before turning onto the Edmands Path where we quickly encountered deep powder and donned snowshoes behind the cover of the short trees bordering the trail. Edmands contours around Eisenhower before dropping steeply and the snow depth diminished markedly as we dropped elevation.

Snowshoeing down Edmands Path
Snowshoeing down Edmands Path

We turned onto Mt Clinton Road at the bottom, still under cover of trees) and hoofed it back to Crawford Notch to wrap up our hike. We’d bagged two Winter 4000 footers and had a wonderful and companionable day in the Winter Whites.

Pierce Eisenhower Loop

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About the Author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 7500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 2500 articles as the founder of SectionHiker.com, noted for its detailed gear reviews and educational content. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip is the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. He also volunteers as a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont's Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He lives in New Hampshire.

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