The Tripyramids are three peaks in the Sandwich Range of the White Mountains, North (4180′), Middle (4140′), and South (4090′), which are all over 4,000 in feet. Most people only bag North and Middle which are on the White Mountain 48 list, but I set out to hike all three at once, starting with South Tripyramid.
To make things extra interesting, I decided to hike the peaks using a route I’d never taken, hiking up and down the South and North slides which are avalanche runouts. The Southern slide is considerably easier than the Northern slide which should be avoided in wet weather. It’s also better to climb up it rather than down for safety reasons. I’ve been dreaming about this route for a while and thought it would make an epic hike.
I began at the Livermore Road trailhead on the Waterville Valley side of Tripoli Road. This is not an area that I’ve hiked in much over the past few years, though I used to frequent it because it’s closer to Boston than the more northern and eastern White Mountain peaks.
The area around the Livermore Road trailhead is crisscrossed by cross-country skiing and mountain biking trails that have some sort of commercial arrangement with the Waterville Valley Ski resort next door. Mountain biking is not permitted on trails in the White Mountains except in this area. The trails around here can be a little confusing to follow but if you stay on the big ones, which are old carriage roads, you won’t get too lost. Carrying a compass also helps if you get turned around.
Hiking on the carriage roads is fast walking, a factor to remember on a hike like this one which requires a 2-mile approach before you start climbing. On trails like this, I can walk 3 miles an hour which is really moving.
To further handicap myself – early training for winter loads – I carried a fully loaded Hyperlite Mountain Gear 4400 Porter Expedition backpack with me. It was heavy! But if you don’t train with a heavy pack you won’t be ready to carry one when you need to, and winter hiking in New Hampshire is all about weight.
After a pleasant 2.6-mile stroll through autumn glory, I reached the Mount Tripyramid Trail which climbs the South Slide, traverses all three summits, and then descends via the North Slide, or vice versa if you want to go the other direction (which on hindsight, is the way to go). The trail starts by climbing gently for about a while through lush forest and over several easy stream crossings.
That ends abruptly when you get to the South Slide which climbs the side of the Southern peak like an angry scar. The trail turns from leaves and packed earth into loose sandy rubble and huge boulders, making for tricky footing. In addition, you are fully exposed to the weather and wind. This was an issue because I could see a storm sweeping toward me over Mt Osceola and the wind was picking up. I knew that the forecast was iffy before this hike, but hoped I could literally sneak under the radar before it hit.
Whenever I climb up or down a slide like this, I can’t but think about the terrible force of the avalanches and flash floods that form them and reshape them year after year. It’s difficult to appreciate the steepness of the slide pictured above, but it easily matches the 30-45% slope angle commonly shared by avalanche zones worldwide. I was winded carrying my heavy pack up this route and it was a much harder climb than I expected.
Despite the difficulty, the view from the slide was quite beautiful, past the peak for leaf-peeping, but still quite grand. With all the emphasis that people put on the mountains in New Hampshire, it’s easy to overlook the beauty and wonder of the forest in the valleys and ravines between the peaks. I think this is one of the reasons off-trail hiking appeals to me so much, because you get to visit them and glimpse the elfin folk who dwell there.
The summit of the South peak is largely viewless although you can see the summit of the Middle peak through the trees about 1 mile north. When I arrived, it had just started to drizzle rain, but I had a snack and some water before continuing on. How long would the heavy rain hold off I wondered, or would it blow through?
I bagged the Middle and North peaks in quick succession but it was only as I was descending North Tripyramid that I finally met other hikers. It was a Friday after-all. I met a couple that warned me to avoid the North Slide, going down on wet rock with a heavy pack. The rain had picked up and it was chilly, so I heed their advice.
The crux section of the North slide loses 1200 ft of elevation in 0.5 miles making it more of a cliff than a slope in my book. Best to leave it for another day and climb up with a smaller load next time. I’d known about the steepness of the North Slide before my hike, but I needed the South Peak for my Trailwrights 72 list and decided that summiting it took priority over anything else, knowing full well that I might have to come back and do the North slide another day.
I decided to come down the much gentler Scaur Ridge Trail instead, despite an additional 1 mile detour. Along the way, I started hiking with a woman I met up with named Karen and we flew down the trail like the wind hoping to beat the pending rain storm.
It was not to be. As soon as we arrived back at the intersection with Livermore, the skies opened up and it poured heavy rain. Karen didn’t have full rain gear and was drenched which was unfortunate because she had a long hike out in a completely different direction than where I was headed. I got an email from her later saying she made it out ok but was very soaked and cold.
I had a full backpacking load including a rain jacket, pants, and rain mitts so I enjoyed my walk out. It was really raining hard, but I was high and dry (except for my trail runners) and had a pleasant 3.6-mile walk back to the car in the rain. Wet feet don’t really bother me much anymore as long as the rest of me is dry and it’s not too cold out.
A nice hike and a great workout.
Total Distance: 12.0 miles with 3000′ of elevation gain