Hiking a White Mountain Direttissima

Cabot to Moosilauke Diretissima Route
Cabot to Moosilauke Diretissima Route

I have been interested in hiking all forty-eight of the White Mountain 4,000 footers in one continuous hike, called a Direttissima, ever since I read Chris Townsend’s account of hiking all 283 of the Scottish Munros in one round in his book The Munros and Tops: A Record-Setting Walk in the Scottish Highlands.

Direttissima means “most direct route”and implies that the shortest ‘as the bird flies’ route be taken. I don’t think anyone’s done that in the White Mountains, although I know of at least one person, named Mats Roing, who completed a Direttissima over the White Mountain 4,000 footers in 2007. The journal for that hike is available on Views from the Top, a New England peakbagger forum, as well as a second Direttissima attempt that Mats and his partner MEB had to end early in 2009, due to very bad blisters. Mats quit his second attempt after completing roughly 240 miles of hiking, 87,000 feet of elevation gain, and climbing 44 of the 48 peaks in 10 days.

While there have been other hikers who’ve set speed records for hiking the 4,000 footers, I haven’t found any other references to people who’ve hiked all of the 4,000 footers on a continuous, unsupported backpacking trip where you walk all the miles (no bikes or cars), carry all the food you need for the entire trip, and camp outside every night. That’s the appeal for me, but I’d like to think that anyone attempting a hike like this should be able to complete it the way they want without regard for any kind of set rules.

I have since hooked up with Mats via email and he’s been giving me some route planning advice. One of his biggest issues were dry stretches of trail and the need to carry extra water in addition to the weight of all of his food and gear. I will be paying special attention to this as I plan my route.

While I’m not 100% sure that I’ll attempt a Direttissima of the White Mountains (my wife is not against it), it’s proven to be a fun planning exercise to think about the route I’d take and what kinds of foul weather alternatives I’d have to take if there were sustained heavy rains or lighting.

There are also some interesting strategies one can take on a hike like this. For example, whether to start low and end high when your food weighs less, whether to bushwhack, whether to set up a base camp and climb certain peaks in a loop with minimal gear weight, whether to go solo or not, what kind of gear to take and so on.

The last time I had so much fun planning a trip was when I hiked across Scotland in 2010 in the TGO Challenge. That route was easier to plan because I only had to start and finish at set locations, but could hike (and resupply) anywhere else I wanted between the west and east coasts of the country.

So stay tuned. Tomorrow, I’m heading down to the Appalachian Mountain Club Archives in Boston to see if I can dig up any more historical information about White Mountain Direttissima hikes.

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  1. Wow! I love it! Next summer? Let's go for it. I was once thinking of doing an unsupported, no-reapply Long Trail… This would be equally nuts. Or maybe more. So when do we start? :-)

  2. I was doing some searching on Views last night and I wasn't surprised to see that you've used "Direttissima" in a post. I was thinking mid-June before the heat but after snow-melt. Let's talk some more. I'd love to do this with you although we should talk strategy. I'm entertaining some unconventional ideas about how to do this hike.

  3. Hmmm… I knew I brought my maps to work for a good reason. I've got to do some research here. Your map here obviously isn't the final route, but it shows how tricky it would be to get Owls Head, Osceola, Tecumseh, and a bunch of the other outliers. We'll talk… :-)

  4. That map represent the route Mats took in 2009 with MEB – I recreated it in TOPO to see how they went. That second attempt started at Cabot. I'm leaning toward a southerly start. Mats advocates a Moosilauke->Wolf->Kinsmans start, but that seems like a hard route with so much food. Climbing Wolf from Kinsman notch is hard. Can you imagine coming down Beaver Brook though!

    We should take this offline after we've had a chance to ponder alternatives on our own.

  5. This is really cool. Granted the "carrying all your food over 83k of vert" part is a little insane… Why not reup at the huts since you'll cross them all? If its not cheating since there's no set rules, it seems like it would contribute to successfully finishing this.

  6. Sounds good, Phil. I just looked at Mats' 2007 itinerary, and it does seem like the best possible route, with a little room for tweaking. I'll be interested to hear your unconventional ideas… I'll admit that part of my summer plan has some small similarities to this crazy scheme.

  7. Awesome! I wish I could get the time off from work to do things like this. This sort of makes me remember your post about creating new peak lists, and camping out for each 4000 footer. Although its not that, it would just be plain sweet to complete all of the 48 in one trip before going home. Also, its not all on the Appalachian trail, which would make campsite selection fun, and you would get to camp in every corner of the White Mountains and in multiple wildernesses. From the picture, it looks like you would spend nights in the Pemi 3+ days in a row. I'm very interested in the route you come up with for future reference.

  8. Maz – Resupplies are tempting but make this hike too easy. Taking resupplies out of the equation also adds an interesting dimension to planning the route, since extra days mean extra food weight. Plus, I wouldn't mind losing a few pounds (Mats lost 15 pounds in 10 days.)

    Of course, I haven't ruled out fishing…especially since I'll be carrying a lot of olive oil (240 calories per ounce).

  9. Dan – I think half the fun will be planning the route. Having done it once for my hike in Scotland, it's an incredible process to go through and forces you to really understand your strengths and limitations. That's in part why I'm fiddling with so many route alternatives. I can't do 22 mile back-to-back days like Mats did. I've got to figure out a different way, my way, to make this route manageable.

    Yes – lots of interesting camping too. Imagine getting to see the morning mist, sunrise and sunset over the peaks every day from deep in the wildernesses, and watching the stars at night before you pass out from exhaustion!

    Mats says his Direttissima was the best hike of his life.

  10. What a timely post. I have about 18 4000 footers left on the list, and was trying to come up with a route to finish the rest in one trip. I'm adding the complicating factors of not repeating any peaks I've already bagged, and not being local. Also thinking about a mid-June time frame. I am planning on doing a resupply, as my pack won't hold that much food, and I refuse to purchase a new pack…

  11. I read Mats Roing hiking blog of this huge hike. What a terrific hike.

  12. John – I think I first learned about the term Direttissima back when I wanted to create a peak list where you backpack the 48 (not necessarily continuously). Remember that one? Maz referred to it above.

  13. 3 days ago I hiked up Flume and you know with hiking there’s a ton of thinking time. I had a thought about doing all 48 in one go and I said so out loud. That’s when I learned the word “direttissima”. Wow. I need a new athletic goal and this might be it. Not getting much support from the hubby yet but I’ve got time to work on that. I’m at the obsessing stage … I will be following this post.

    • I’ve decided to do it and have a route planed. I’m training now, by carrying 25 pounds of birdseed on hikes during the week. Next step is to identify a charity to raise money for. I should be posting more details in the next month of so as, but the hike itself is still a few months away. I am really looking forward to it though!!!

      • That’s great! I’d love to see your route and hear about your experience with it. My plan, such that it is, would be for summer 2013. This summer I’d like to hike the route as separate, individual hikes.

      • while I actually enjoyed my few solo 20+ miles per day hikes this summer my knees did not. it’s hard to think about throwing in the towel on this goal since I’ve been obsessing about it for a year but reality is that my knees won’t tolerate it. I’m trying to wrap my brain around carrying lots of food and doing it much slower – maybe 15 mile days max – but, even then, it’s probably not realistic. getting old sorta sucks. now, where’s that bottle of advil …

      • I haven’t completely given up on the idea yet – but carrying 50 pounds is a formidable task. Not sure I’m up for it. Might as well try though….:-)

  14. New record made in 2015 – journal posted today: http://trailsnh.com/URL/77178

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