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Hiking Boott Spur Mountain and the Bigelow Lawn

The Bigelow Lawn on the southwest face of Mt Washington

Boott Spur is a subpeak on Mt Washington’s south face in the White Mountains and the Bigelow Lawn is the grassy tableland between them. It’s not an area frequented by most White Mountain hikers because it isn’t on the official 4000-footer list, even though Boott Spur Mountain has an elevation of 5492′. The people who make up peak lists don’t “count” mountains that are too close to one another which explains what Mt Washington got on the 4000-footer list and Boott Spur didn’t. In fact, many mountains in the Whites are higher than 4000′ but are not on the Appalachian Mountain Club 4000 footer list.

It is difficult to appreciate the scale of Tuckerman Ravine without standing at the bottom of it. This is the view from the Boot Spur Trail.
It is difficult to appreciate the scale of Tuckerman Ravine without standing at the bottom of it. This is the view from the Boott Spur Trail.

The most direct way to climb Boott Spur is up the Boott Spur Trail which starts in Pinkham Notch. Both it and the Tuckerman Ravine Trail run parallel to each other, climbing up opposite sides of Tuckerman Ravine, a huge glacial valley on the southeast side of Mt Washington.

The Boot Spur Trail climbs 3200’ from Pinkham Notch to the Bigelow Lawn above Tuckerman Ravine
The Boott Spur Trail climbs 3200’ from Pinkham Notch to the Bigelow Lawn above Tuckerman Ravine

The bottom half of the Boott Spur Trail climbs through the forest before breaking above the treeline at 4000′. It’s a very steep trail, climbing 3200′ in 2.9 miles before ending when it reaches the Davis Path, the second oldest continuously maintained trail in the United States. Once above the treeline, the trail is completely exposed to wind and weather and not a place you want to be in a thunderstorm when lightning is a significant danger.

Mt Monroe, about a mile south, peeks out above the Bigelow Lawn.
Mt Monroe, about a mile south, peeks out above the Bigelow Lawn.

The last 1500′ feet of the Boott Spur Trail climbs up a path marked by rock cairns before traversing a boulder field to the summit area which is actually rather anticlimactic, given the surrounding scenery. Instead of being a well-defined peak like its neighbors, Mt Washington or Mtr Monroe, the summit of Boott Spur is a small bump at the south end of the Bigelow Lawn, not even meriting a summit sign. Instead, you’re treated to a web of cairn-topped trails extending to the horizon, beckoning you to explore the grassland before you.

The trails on the lawn are signed and marked with cairns. The trail surface is all rock though and looks like a stream bed without water.
The trails on the lawn are signed and marked with cairns. The trail surface is all rock though and looks like a stream bed without water.

I proceeded to do just that, hiking down the Camel Trail on the east side of the Bigelow Lawn to the Lake of the Clouds Hut below Mt Monroe. I’d lost a bottle of water while climbing the Boott Spur Trail, probably when I stopped for a sandwich and needed to fill my remaining empty bottle and an extra soft bottle I carry when I need to hike for extended dry stretches without a water source. I knew I’d need at least 2 more liters for the route I’d planned, but that I could resupply below treeline if I needed more. There are several natural water sources along the upper section of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail where you can filter/treat drinking water.

The Lakes of the Clouds hut is a crossroads for multiple trails, including the Camel.
The Lakes of the Clouds hut is a crossroads for multiple trails, including the Camel.

The Camel Trail weaves its way across the lawn before descending past the small alpine tarns adjacent to the Lakes of the Clouds Hut run by the Appalachian Mountain Club. The hut has a potable water spigot on the outside where hikers can refill their bottles. There are also benches outside where you can sit to rest and chat with other hikers passing by.

The Tuckerman Crossover Trail (left) bisects the Bigelow Lawn
The Tuckerman Crossover Trail (left) bisects the Bigelow Lawn

My goal for this trip was to hike all the trails on the Bigelow Lawn including the Camel, the Southside Trail, the Davis Path, Tuckerman Crossover, and the Lawn Cutoff, before heading back down below treeline on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail back to the Pinkham Notch Visitors Center.

The Davis Path is marked by quartz-topped cairns reaching over the horizon.
The Davis Path is marked by quartz-topped cairns reaching over the horizon.

Why would you want to do that? I’ve decided to hike all the trails in the White Mountain Guide again, all 650+ trails (1475 miles of trails), something I’ve done twice before this (called White Mountain Guide Redlining). The trails are located all over, from southern New Hampshire to the Canadian Border and from Hanover, NH all the way into western Maine. The last time it took me four years to finish them, but this time it will probably take longer because they’re not my sole focus…more like a casual hobby that I pursue a little bit at a time.

Mt Washington looms above the Bigelow Lawn
Mt Washington looms above the Bigelow Lawn

But why? The simple answer is that I’ve really enjoyed all of the adventures I’ve had in the past hiking these trails, and I want to do it again. I’ve found that I forget trails after about 6 years and honestly, there’s no place I’d rather hike, with the possible exception of Scotland, than in the White Mountains. It’s that good and it is right outside my front door. But I have some ideas about how to do things a little differently this round.

The cairns of the Southside Trail are hard to pick out amongst the boulders at the base of Washington
The cairns of the Southside Trail are hard to pick out amongst the boulders at the base of Washington

From the hut, I hiked up the Tuckerman Crossover trail to the Davis Path Junction and then followed the Davis Path to its northern end at the junction with the Crawford Path. I then backtracked along the Davis Path to the Southside Trail which travels through the bottom of Washington’s summit cone, which is a boulder field. When I reached the end of that trail, I hiked up the east side of the Tuckerman Crossover Trail to the Davis Path again and headed south to finish the section I’d missed, before turning onto the Lawn Cutoff, which I followed to the big cairn at the top of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. In other words, a typical Redliner route to hike every section of all the trails with as little duplicate effort as possible.

Tuckerman Ravine drops down from the east side of the Bigelow Lawn.
Tuckerman Ravine drops down from the east side of the Bigelow Lawn.

Having completed my goals, I headed down the steep Tuckerman Ravine Trail to the snow ranger’s hut at the base of the ravine and had a snack while chatting with some climbers who’d climbed Pinnacle Gulley that day in Huntington Ravine. I favor the Boott Spur Trail for hiking up to the Bigelow Lawn over the Tuckerman Ravine Trail because it’s much more scenic and there are far fewer people on it. Tuckerman Ravine makes for a quick departure down the flanks of Washington back to Pinkham Notch though, but after the ravine, the trail down makes for a far less inspiring exit.

At the base of Tuckerman Ravine.
At the base of Tuckerman Ravine.

Still, the awe I felt walking across the grassy open Bigelow Lawn is what stands out about this hike. I have a feeling I may be visiting the Jefferson lawn in the not-to-distant future, to experience more of the same in another sublime place in the Presidential Range.

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4 comments

  1. Jean-Marc Lapierre

    I did something similar on Saturday, going up Tuckerman and then wandering on the trails south of Mt Washington cone. The place is magical and you hardly ever see anyone, even on weekends. I prefer to go down Boot Spur instead of Tuckerman (the last half is really boring). My other preferred alternative down is Nelson Crag.

  2. Hey Phil. Any idea of how the prominence of 200′ was determined? Why not 250′? 150? I’ve always been curious as to how that difference was chosen. TIA

  3. First time I hiked Washington I went up tuckerman and down boot spur. Boot spur is beautiful, great views the whole way!

    I’m hoping to finish redlining Washington before the end of summer. Would love to redline the state but I’d probably die before completing it. Tough to find the time working 80 plus hours a week

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