“This is really sketchy,” I thought, sliding on my butt at the top of a cliff covered with ice. I wished I’d brought heavier traction other than microspikes.
I was hiking all of the trails in Echo State Park, home of Whitehorse Ledge and Cathedral Ledge, two famous rock climbers’ cliffs in the White Mountains. I’d hiked up to Cathedral Ledge the prior week and had been able to bare boot that hike, so I was surprised to find so much ice on Whitehorse Ledge. Known for its crack and slab climbing, Whitehorse Ledge and the adjacent Cathedral Ledge are considered the epicenter of trad climbing in the Northeast.
The Whitehorse Ledge Trail is not a terribly hard hike. but it was still a decent workout given that I carried a full winter day pack, minus my snowshoes. There were about 6 inches of snow on the ground, borderline snowshoe conditions, but I was able to bare boot most of the hike, only switching to microspikes when I needed more traction.
The trail isn’t a complete loop, but it is well signed and well blazed, so I didn’t have any issues following it in the snow. I’d decided to hike below the ledges first, counter-clockwise, before climbing to the top, and descending. This proved to be quite scenic since the forest at the foot of Whitehorse Ledge is littered with bus-size boulders that have fallen off the cliffs.
Before reaching the summit of Whitehorse, I took a short detour down the Red Ridge Link Trail which joins up with the Red Ledge Trail about 0.5 miles away. The Red Ledge Trail climbs up to an unnamed peak between Middle and North Moat Mountains over, you guessed it, open ledge. I hiked down this trail in 2009 on a spectacular spring day and have been thinking about hiking it again lately. It’s very exposed, so you need good weather to hike it and to appreciate the views.
It was so quiet at the base of the Link Trail. Just pretty open forest and lots of animal tracks.
I hoofed it back up to the top of Whitehorse Ledge, checked out the views, and starting picking my way gingerly downhill, sometimes hiking off trail to get around steep icy spots. Staying well back from the cliff face seemed prudent and I proceeded slowly and methodically, until butt sliding seemed to the best way to descend.
In the end, fancy footwork and some brute force bushwhacking got me around the dicey spots and back down to the shores of frozen Echo Lake. Later that evening, I related my experience to my friend Ken who told me that the ice is always thick on Whitehorse Ledge. I’ve been carrying heavier crampons for my winter hikes ever since.
- NEMBA Echo Lake – Cathedral Ledge State Park Map
- Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide
- AMC White Mountain National Forest Map Set
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