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On the Shoulders of Giants: Climbing White Mountain Sub-peaks

Mount John Qunicy Adams (5410')
Mount John Qunicy Adams (5410′) looms above the AMC Madison Spring Hut

There are many mountains in the world and mountaineering traditions where it’s common to climb the major summit in addition to its sub-peaks. That’s not the peakbagging tradition in New Hampshire’s White Mountains however, where most hikers concentrate all of their energies on climbing the White Mountain 48 x 4,000 footers.

To each his own, but I’ve gotten hooked on climbing all of the subsidiary peaks of some of the White Mountain summits in the process of hiking the Trailwright’s 72 peakbagging list.

Climbing the sub-peaks of some of our larger mountains like Adams, Washington, and Moosilauke gives one a chance to hike up different trails (or bushwhacks), experience different aspects and views of the primary summit, and savor the enormity and beauty of these big mountains. There’s so much you miss out on if you’re just bagging 4,000 footers to get through the 48 list.

Mt Adams and Sub-peaks
Mt Adams and Sub-peaks

Mount Adams

Take Mount Adams (5799′), the second highest peak on the White Mountain 48-list and one of my all-time favorites. It has 4 sub-peaks named:

  • John Quincy Adams (5410′)
  • Sam Adams (5585′)
  • Adams 4 (5355′)
  • Adams 5 (5274′)

All of these are on the Trailwright’s 72 list, which requires that they be climbed on separate hikes.

I love hiking up Adams -everyone does –  but having a slightly different objective each time really adds to the spice of planning and hiking the sub-peaks. Of course, once you are up on the ridge, you can hike along the Gulfside Trail and climb as many other peaks as you want on the same hike. But knowing you just need to bag Adams 4, instead of topping the main summit, can make all of the difference on a very windy day or in winter.

Mount Washington

The sub-peaks of Mount Washington (6288′) are another good example of the pleasures that await if you hike the mountain’s more picturesque and isolated sub-peaks.

Mount Washington and its Sub-peaks
Mount Washington and its Sub-peaks

These include:

  • Ball Crag (6106′)
  • Nelson Crag (5635′)
  • Mount Bootspur (5492′)
  • Mount Clay (5533′)
  • Slide Peak (4760′)

These are some pretty serious above treeline hikes in remote parts of the mountain’s perimeter, worthy of major expeditions by themselves.

The same holds for some of the other big mountains in the whites that have sub-peaks: Mount Moosilauke, Mount Hancock, Mount Lafayette, Mount Carrigan, Mount Isolation, and so on. See also, the Northeast USA 4,000 footers which includes many of these peaks and sub-peaks.

Remember, if you get bored climbing the White Mountain 4,000 footers, there’s plenty of other options for great hikes in The Whites. Don’t forget the shoulders of these great mountains.


  1. Hey Philip, last summer when I was staying at Madison Springs Hut, there was a group there who were having a ceremony to celebrate the renaming of Adams 4 – it’s now called Mt. Abigail Adams. Looks like the new name hasn’t yet made it to the Trailwrights list, but it is on the newest AMC map.

  2. Philip, I believe they changed the name of Adams4 to Abigail Adams in 2010.


    • Just a reminder to all, its not ethical to hike the trailless NH alpine peaks due to potential damage to rare alpine plants. Obey all signs and hiking norms, that’s more important than ” bagging ” some peak.

  3. Easy for you to say! You already did the 48!

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