Redlining: Beware the Last 10%

Redlining the Mahoosuc Trail

There are 651 trails in the AMC’s White Mountain Guide which add up to about 1460 miles of trails and anywhere from 2200 to 2800 miles of actual hiking. People known as “redliners” aim to hike them all, a process that can take years and require thousands of miles of driving to obscure trailheads in New Hampshire and Maine because many of the trails are not contiguous.  It’s a really fun but challenging trail list to complete and takes you far from the crowds that mob the White Mountain 4000 footers on summer weekends. Most redliners take years to finish the list but there is no small measure of joy and camaraderie in the struggle.

When you get started on the Redlining trail list, it’s easy to rack up miles and trails. But as you get farther along, it gets increasingly difficult to make rapid headway for a variety of reasons. Many trails are inaccessible in winter and spring because they’re covered in snow. Work and family obligations get in the way. Travel times to and from distant trailheads can become onerous. Cars break down. Bridges and roads are washed out. Injuries can put you out of action for months. Old age slows you down. If this sounds a lot like section hiking a triple crown trail, that’s no accident.

But the hardest part of the Redlining list is the final 10% of trails and trail miles: there’s no set order of hikes, so this trail list is different for everyone. But invariably, this final set of trails takes the most effort to drive to, the most effort to climb in terms of elevation, or distance to hike. Bill Robichaud, another Redline finisher, hit the nail on the head when he said: “Beware the last 10%”.

I’m living those final 10% of trails myself at the moment. As I write this, I have 46 trails left in my second redlining round. Over two-thirds of them are in the Northern Presidentials, on the sub-peaks of Mt Washington, and in the Mahoosuc Range which are some of the toughest trails on the list.  I’m four years into this round and I have my hopes set on finishing it this year, but it’s going to be close. Three months of injuries slowed me down this year as well as the Pandemic, which shut down the trails for a month. Although it’s still August, frost, icing, and high winds have started to occur on the high peaks which limits the days when the trails and peaks are safe to climb. If I’m lucky there will be enough weather windows before the end of October to get in the hikes I need, but after that, all bets are off.

I’m going to plug away and see how far I can get, but I’m starting to doubt whether I’ll be able to finish this year. That’s a hard pill to swallow because the thought of hiking those trails kept me going all those months I was on the bench. It’s also humbling, but the mountains will be there another day.

More about White Mountains Redlining:

About the author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 7500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 2500 articles as the founder of SectionHiker.com, noted for its detailed gear reviews and educational content. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip is the 36th person to hike all 650 of the hiking trails in the White Mountain Guide. He is also the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. In addition, Philip volunteers as a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont's Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He lives in New Hampshire.

15 comments

  1. Phil, we’re rooting for you! If worst comes to worst, just remember Hank Aaron, who finished the 1973 season one home run short of breaking Babe Ruth’s record. He hung on all winter and broke the record the following season. Whether you complete your goal this year or not, you’re still an inspiration!

  2. The title of this post made me chuckle! Reminds me of the 80/20 rule, the one about how 80% of the work gets done in 20% of the time, which therefore means it takes 80% of the time to do the remaining 20% of the work.

    This also reminds me of how when I was working on my 48 I had only 7 left at the end of one fall and had to wait a whole winter to finish up the list, since I wasn’t about to attempt the Bonds or Washington for the first time in winter. It’s worth the wait though, as you know.

    And also, come to think of it, when I was trying to finish the 67 and I was stuck for at least two years trying to get into the Rangeley area to get those peaks. It was difficult just finding someone with the time to drive up there with me. Again it just made the finish even sweeter.

    You finish when you finish. No sense in rushing it except to get it off your chest, I guess. Best of luck with the weather and the ankle and all that!

  3. Very true! We had the trails in the RMC to finish and it had to wait for the next year and summer and injury to complete. Enjoy and savor that 10 percent

    • Had a similar thing happen to me on my first round. Got to 95% and had to wait until the following late spring to finish the RMC 100. Looks like history may repeat itself.

  4. Seems to me you need to start with the hardest 10%. Then you know the rest is going to be a breeze.

    • Makes it too boring, actually. Personally, I like to rotate between the different regions every hike or two for variety. It’s hard to explain. While the measurable goal is to finish the list, the real reason people do it is to savor the experience. It’s only when you get toward the end that finishing becomes the focus. The rest of the time it’s more about an appreciation of the places that it takes you.

  5. Now that I live in Portland I am beginning to tap into the vast opportunities in the Whites. Without even trying I have stumbled into some amazing country. I can see how it can become an obsession to hike them all.

  6. Good luck Phil, love the blog, one of my must reads and I learn something new pretty much every post.

  7. Go for it Phil! You are certainly well qualified to finish it up this year if you get the weather breaks.

  8. Is there a trail that you are saving for last for a particular reason or has it been just working on whatever trails fit your schedule at the time?

    Best wishes on your final push.

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