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North and Middle Tripyramid Attempt

Tripyramids, White Mountains
Mount Tripyramid, White Mountains

Winter peakbagging wouldn’t be challenging if you successfully bagged the peaks you were after every time. That was the case last weekend, when seven of us took a crack at Mount Tripyramid, a rugged and distinctive 4,000 footer  in the Sandwich Range of the White Mountains.

We approached the mountain from the north starting at the Sabbaday Falls parking lot off the Kancamagus Highway.  The temperature in the parking lot was a frigid 6 below zero Fahrenheit when I booted up at the car.  I wore an extra layer on top of what I normally wear at the beginning of a winter hike, but quickly shed it once we got moving.

From the cars, we followed the Sabbaday Brook Trail, which climbs up a long and beautiful valley before climbing very steeply to the col between the Middle and North Peaks. The trail had a number of significant stream crossings, which were not bridged despite the cold. One of these was impassible and we were forced to bushwhack a short section to bypass it.

Snow has finally arrived in significant quantities that showshoes were the order of the day and we had to break trail the 4.6 miles up to the summit ridge. Due to the extremely cold weather, the snow had the consistency of sugar and didn’t pack down very well, making progress a little bit more strenuous than normal, even for the people who weren’t breaking trail.

Random Hikers in the White Mountains
Random Hikers in the White Mountains

This came to head for me on the final very strenuous section of the Sabbaday Brook Trail, which is very steep and usually very wet the rest of the year. My snowshoe crampons had balled up with ice from a previous stream crossing and I had a really hard time climbing the last few hundred feet up to the col. I tried barebooting it, but there was solid ice under the powdery snow and I had to resort to pulling myself up to the mountain by grabbing at roots and trees to make any headway. It was slow going and disheartening.

When we finally got to the col around 2:30, we all decided to call it a day and hike out without summitting so we could our retrace steps down the final steep section in daylight with fresh legs. That’s the way it is sometimes.

We put on our snow pants and slid down the steep part until we could put on snowshoes again for the long march out.  Despite our caution, we still ended up hiking well past dark, only getting back to the cars at around 6:30 pm. This wasn’t unexpected, but it’s always a little unnerving to hike after sunset in winter and in the forest, when you can’t see more than 25 feet in front of your headlamp.

Mount Tripyramid along Sabbaday Brook Trail
Mount Tripyramid along Sabbaday Brook Trail

Despite the cold, we did have nice sunshine for most of this hike and cloud-free skies, with temperatures warming to the 20’s by mid-day and even rising toward the end of our hike. The views climbing up to the the col were also very nice, particularly down the valley toward Owl’s Cliff and Mt Tremont.

I was also able to get a good look at an adjacent peak called The Fool Killer, which is a bushwhack on the New Hampshire 100 Highest List I’ve started working on. It’s called that because hikers used to climb it thinking it was North Tripyramid before the good trails were put in, only to discover that they’d undershot their objective were on an adjacent peak.

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  1. You certailnly did the right thing by turning back and getting down safely. The mountain will always be there for your next try.

  2. Hey, Philip, that last stretch to the col is certainly a challenging one. In winter our preferred route has always been up and down the Pine Bend Brook Trail. However, in the fairer seasons we’ve gone up Pine Bend Brook and down Sabbaday to a waiting bicycle. On a hot summer day those streams crossings are a pleasure! Can just imagine how tough the steep part was as it’s taxing on my knees when there is no ice or snow there.

    Nice report.

    • Yes – not my first choice of a route – still nice to have hiking partners in the winter. I’ve been up the northern peak in winter via Pine Bend and don’t remember it being too bad. I would like to try sometime from the waterville valley side. They are very nice peaks and it is a really pleasant forest in the area.

  3. I just noticed that one of the peaks on the map near your turn-around is named “the fool killer”.

    I think you made the right decision.

    • I didn’t make the call actually – we had a very good trip leader who did it – and who I really trust. I think I would have made a similar call if I had been leading our group, but there’s never a downside with being more conservative like this, particularly in winter.

  4. Considering the walk out in the dark I would say the leader made the right call. Winter brings its risks – why push the limit. Go again and take lots of photos to share with us.

  5. Martin, I have my eye on The Fool Killer bushwhack. This was a good hike to see the lay of the land.

  6. I too have been foiled by the Tri’s. We ascended from the Kanc and made it to the ridge. Very difficult snow conditions turned us around. The Hancocks took me 3 attempts before I made it. Hale via FW trail was another that foiled us. The snow on Hale was VERY deep and we had to break trail the whole way. We were exhausted and turned around at about 3300 feet. It was getting really cold and nightfall was upon us.

  7. Just reading this post today…although you attempted this hike almost a year ago a group of us did this same route on January 5th, 2013….and had the same issues….trail unbroken and the steep sections were difficult to pass. I did not make the summit and decided to turn back at 2:30 due to exhaustion and not wanting to hike down the steep sections in the dark. Next attempt will definitlely be via Pine Bend Brook Trail, that trail was nicely packed (per other trail reports I’ve read)!

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