I co-led an instructional trip on winter hiking over the weekend up Mount Waumbek, a White Mountain 4,000 footer, in New Hampshire’s north country. All the trip participants had gone through the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Winter Hiking Program that I helped teach in November and December down in Boston and were putting the classroom know-how they’d picked up in lectures into practice. I was doing the same, but in a slightly different way, putting to use the skills I leaned in the AMC’s leadership program this autumn, under the patient tutelage of my co-leaders Alex and Claudine.
The purpose of a trip like this is to give students first-hand experience in heat management and layering, winter boot systems, traction-aids such as crampons and snowshoes, how to pack a winter pack, and how to pace a winter hike, including water and snack breaks. If you’re just getting into winter hiking, it’s a lot less intimidating to build up your experience in these areas in a patient and supportive group where you can make mistakes and stop for adjustments, rather than on a regular AMC or Meetup.com winter trip where people are less tolerant of delays.
I know I benefited from going on hikes like these when I was learning the ropes and would encourage people new to winter hiking to check out the Boston and New Hampshire AMC chapter trips if they’re looking for a little more mentoring in order to learn winter hiking skills.
Mt Waumbek provided to be an ideal hike for this trip requiring 7 miles of hiking and 3,500 feet of accumulated elevation gain, but protected from full exposure by forest. It was also a pleasant trip because we had brilliant sunshine, some partially occluded but spectacular views of the nearby Presidential Range, and the trail was already packed out.
In winter, it’s not unusual for the Waumbek trail head (Starr-King Trail) to be closed, so we parked in the municipal lot in the small town of Jefferson and walked a short way up the road to it. I’d never parked there, but it’s probably a good place to park for 3 season hiking if you’re worried about car security at the trail head, because they’re more people around. I remember being a little concerned about this when I hiked to Mt Cabot along the Kilkenny Ridge last year.
The route up to Mt Waumbek climbs up the Starr-King Trail to Mount Starr-King (3,907 ft) before continuing through forest to the viewless Waumbek summit (4,006 ft). The hike up is a gradual, steady climb through hardwood and then pine forest. It didn’t take long for some of the student’s who’d rented or were trying out new mountaineering boots to experience lacing issues or get way too hot due to an excessive number of layers. It’s one thing to hear about these issues in class and quite another to experience it first-hand, where the lessons learned really stick. I prefer learning like this myself and have plenty of patience for others to do the same.
There was also some new leadership stuff for me to learn and observe from Alex and Claudine, who are both very experienced trip leaders. They have been very patient with me (and I’m making plenty of mistakes), something which I am very grateful for and plan to pass along in the future.
This was great hike and I really enjoyed myself and the company. It was also the first time I’d climbed Waumbek in winter, which really brings out the grandeur of the scenery. This section of trail is maintained by the Randolph Mountain Club and they do a very fine job, despite the remoteness of the location. If you’re looking for a relatively easy winter 4,000 footer to do, Mount Waumbek is a good choice.