It is a mistake to short change the peaks under 4,000 feet in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Many of them are as hard to hike as any high peak and can be just as steep, rough, and dangerous, especially in winter, as their larger counterparts. I found that out last week when I climbed South Doublehead Mountain (2,979 ft), one of the Doublehead Peaks (North and South), located outside of Jackson, NH.
I decided, innocently enough to hike the New Path Trail up South Doublehead instead of The Old Path Trail because it was a shorter distance to the summit. It was shorter all right, but much steeper, climbing nearly 1,500 feet in one mile. This has got to be one of the steepest trails I’ve ever hiked in the area.
There wasn’t much ice on it when I climbed it, but it must be perilous later in the winter, as well as an excellent place to practice crampon, ice axe and french technique.
On the flip side, this hike proved to be an exceptionally good winter training hike for me. I did it carrying a full winter pack with about 40 lbs of gear and food/fuel, while wearing plastic mountaineering boots. Having hiked in trail runners most of the year, I found myself remembering some of the more advanced hiking footwork I’ve learned over the years and felt the muscle memory kicking back in.
Despite the load, I didn’t have to stop that much along the way and I made it to the summit in about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Because the trail is so steep, it was hard for me to see the more obvious foot holds on the way up. I found these coming down, thank god, because I had been dreading the down climb on my ascent.
The views of Mt Washington and the Presidential Range were quite good from the summit of the Southern Peak and you can also see to nearby Maine, to the north. I considered climbing another 500 feet to North Doublehead, but I’d gotten a late start (mid-December) and was worried about daylight and getting back to my car.
Moreover, you can’t make a complete traverse of all of the trails on North and South Doublehead without retracing your steps and I knew I’d have to make a second trip up here to complete the trail system anyway. If you’re thinking I’m crazily obsessive compulsive, I assure you I’m not that far gone yet.
Hiking trail decisions like this are often related to the multi-year White Mountain project I’ve undertaken, which is to hike every segment of trail listed in the AMC White Mountain Guide. I assure you, there is some purpose to the madness. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I’m confident it will be revealed to me sometime when I’m out hiking, in the next few years.