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Climbing the Tripyramids in January

The Tripyramids
The Tripyramids

North and Middle Tripyramid are two 4000 footers located in the Waterville Valley, in the southern section of the White Mountains. They’re quite close together and usually climbed on the same day. South Tripyramid is another peak on the same ridge, but is not climbed as frequently because it’s not on the official 4000 footer list.

There are a number of different trails to approach the Tripyramids, but they’re all steep, including two trails that climb up avalanche slides. For this hike, we approached the peaks from the north on the Pine Bend Brook Trail, before hopping onto the Mt Tripyramid Trail and following that to North and Middle. This being January, this was a winter hike, which makes these ascents a non-trivial affair. The snow conditions were favorable however, with loose granular snow on top of a thick icy crust, which made traction quite good with the aid of crampons.

I was accompanied by four other hikers on this trip, Hilde and Keith, who’d climbed the South Carter with me in December, and Tom and Nicole, who I’d never hiked with before. They’re all Random Hiker regulars though, a very hard core Meetup Group I lead trips for and I was pretty sure we’d get along. We also have a lot of mutual friends.

Other Nearby hikes

It’d been some years since I hiked up the Pine Bend Brook Trail and I’d completely forgotten what the approach hike looked like. The trail was broken out and we hiked up it quickly passing through open forest that looked like it’s been thinned by logging. We had to make a number of stream crossings along the way, but the water was running low and the ice shelves along their banks were stable, so we had no problems crossing them.

Easy stream crossings on the Pine Bend Brook Trail
Easy stream crossings on the Pine Bend Brook Trail

The temperature at the trailhead has been 8 degrees when we started our hike, but we soon felt a curiously warm breeze blowing through the trees. Temperatures were expected to get up to 40’s later that day in the valleys, but I expected it to be much colder on the summits. Tom said that the higher summits (Mt Washington and the Northern Presidentials) had 50-60 mph winds and I expected us to get some of that higher up on the peaks we were climbing as well.

The first two miles flew past as we passed the Wilderness Boundary and started climbing up a steep draw that the trail follows to the ridge. It soon became difficult to ascent with microspikes and we switched to full crampons. It’s been a while since I’ve had to hike in crampons, but I quickly remembered how to use them and practiced my International Step and French Technique as we slogged up the steeps. I kind of wish I’d brought an ice axe to be truthful, because the slopes were much steeper than I recalled. In its absence, I concentrated on my footwork in order to avoid an unplanned slide.

Changing to full crampons at the bottom of the draw
Changing to full crampons at the bottom of the draw

There was surprisingly little snow when we reached the ridge trail, which thankfully, is fairly protected from the wind. There was a layer of monorail on the trail, which is kind of surprising, because we usually don’t see that until April or May in spring conditions. The rest of the snow on the ridge had been blown off or melted.

There was a final steep ascent to the summit of North Tripyramid which towered above us, but it was only intermittently visible through the trees. And then we were at the summit where we took a few pictures and has a snack break. From there it was an easy 0.8 mile ramble to Middle Tripyramid, passing the Sabbaday Brook Trail Junction.  That trail was not broken out at all, which is just as well as it requires many stream crossings which can be very tricky in winter if the stream is not well bridged with ice.

Nearby Mt Passaconaway seen from Middle Tripyramid
Nearby Mt Passaconaway seen from Middle Tripyramid

We backtracked from Middle and then reversed our route. This was easier said than done because we had to climb down three very steep ascents in crampons, avoiding an uncontrolled slide each time. This required careful footwork and an extra effort to keep all of my spikes deep and perpendicular to the surface to avoid a slide into the surrounding trees.

On the way down, we passed many hikers who had churned up the trail and made it more slippery by breaking the snow that had been frozen on top of the ice during the morning into a granular powder. I’m glad we had started early that morning because we’d had good snow conditions and traction on the way up, which had been plenty tough by themselves, without having to deal with the now unconsolidated snow.

We got back to the trailhead after about 6.5 hours, plenty of time to stop at The Moat in North Conway for a few beers and burgers. Then back to the ski lodge for a quick afternoon shower and nap before dinner.

Tripyramids Map

Total distance: 8.9 miles w/3400′ of elevation gain.

Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:

Written 2018.

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  1. I climbed out of bed… didn’t require crampons, snowshoes, or an ice axe… but a winch might have helped!

  2. That was a great hike. I did the same route on the winter solstice to open up my winter 48. Conditions were snowy with loose powder but since we started at 11:30 am and a few hikers had at least broken it out. Those steep sections coming down were no joke. It certainly did a number on my knees, including one? I had injured the previous summer. Great way to start my journey on the winter 48 however as the views were great and I grew an epic frost beard. I always enjoy your posts Phillip keep em coming.

  3. This year my hikes in the whites will end a 2190 mile hike from GA. I am sad to miss my winter hikes. But excited to go home to my whites. I’m 20 miles to Tennessee with 20 degree nights and rain and freezing rain. Snuggled in my four season tent and 0 degree bag with my hiking buddy Zealand. A year old English setter. Thanks for sharing your post I love them!

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