I have been dreaming about climbing all of the White Mountain 4,000 footers in one continuous hike (see Hiking a White Mountain Direttissima) since the winter of 2011. I’d hoped to give it a try in 2012, but my father passed away that spring and I had to spend time with my family instead. However, I’ve never stopped thinking about this hike and plan to attempt it in 2014.
Make no mistake – this is a difficult hike. There’s no well-defined route, it requires significant backcountry skills, and it is on par in length and elevation gain with hiking Vermont’s Long Trail or the Maine section of the Appalachian Trail. For example, the route plan for my upcoming 2014 attempt is over 240 miles long with more than 75,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain over the course of 15-18 days.
Why do it? It’s a great excuse to spend 2-3 weeks fully immersed in the mountains and trails of the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF), one of the United State’s most-visited National Forests. Larger than the state of Rhode Island, the WMNF is over 800,000 acres in size and has over 1200 miles of maintained hiking trails, making it a mecca for serious hikers and adventurers.
White Mountain Challenge Guidelines for Hikers
The White Mountain Challenge is self-supported adventure where participants, known as Challengers, must climb all 48 of the White Mountain 4000 footers completing the entire journey over and between these mountains by foot. There is no set route so Challengers must plan their own. Challengers can cover the distance on hiking trails, off-trail, or by road, by walking or running, but cannot use any motorized, wheeled, or tracked vehicles during their journey. Resupply is permitted but Challengers much be self-supported without external assistance. Finally, the White Mountain Challenge is not a race or an event and can be undertaken and completed year-round.
The rules are simple.
- Challengers can take any route as long as they summit all 48 of the White Mountain 4000 footers.
- Challengers must complete their entire route on foot. In winter, skis and snowshoes are permitted.
- Transportation by any motorized, wheeled, or tracked vehicle is not permitted between the start and end point of a Challenge route.
- Routes must begin on a maintained road and end on a maintained road. In winter, seasonal roads must be “open” when Challengers leave or arrive at them.
- Challengers must observe all US Forest Service Rules, White Mountain National Forest Rules, and New Hampshire State Laws.
- Challengers can travel alone, in pairs, or larger groups.
- Resupply is permitted but Challengers can only resupply themselves by means readily available to any other Challenger. (see FAQ)
- The White Mountain Challenge is not an organized event and does not have to be completed in a set interval of time.
- Participation in the White Mountain Challenge is at your own risk.
Frequently Asked Questions
How difficult is it to do a climb all of the White Mountain 4000 Footers in one trip?
Very difficult. You should expect to hike over 240 miles over the course of 10-20 days with approximately 75,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain depending on the route you plan.
Do Challengers need to use hiking trails?
No. Any overland route is permissible as long as it is accessible to anyone, does not violate US National Forest Rules, White Mountain National Forest Rules, or New Hampshire State Laws.
Can Challengers run their route instead of hiking it?
Do Challengers have to camp during their entire route?
No. Challengers are free to camp, stay in shelters, at campsites, cabins, or other lodging, as long as they walk to and from each location along their route.
Is there a time limit on how long a White Mountain Challenge can take?
No. Challengers can take as long as they want to complete their route.
Can Challengers resupply during their journey?
Yes. As long as they travel to and from a resupply point by foot and the resupply point (the post office, a local store) is available to any other person undertaking the Challenge. Having a support team carry food in to a Challenger and meeting them along their route breaks the self-supported spirit of Challenge and is discouraged.
Can Challengers be resupplied by non-Challengers during their journey?
No. Challengers can only resupply themselves.
Can Challengers pre-stage food drops by caching food along their route, in advance?
No, this violates White Mountain National Forest Rules which prohibit unattended food storage for more than 24 hours.
Can Challengers be picked up by a vehicle and returned to the place where they left off the previous day to resume their route?
No, all travel must be by foot.
Has anyone ever finished a White Mountain Challenge?
Yes, Mats Roing finished a hike of all of the White Mountain 4000 footers in 2007 over the course of 10 days and 14 hours that complies with the rules listed above. You can read a short description of Mat’s route on Views from the Top or the published chapter in Carol Stone White’s Peak Experiences: Danger, Death and Daring in the Mountains of the Northeast (Kindle). Note that removal of a foot bridge across the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River makes duplication of Mat’s route difficult. Mats carried all of his own food for the duration of the hike and camped out each night, except the last, which he spent at a B&B.
What is the difference between the White Mountain Challenge and a Diretissima?
You can make use of motorized, wheeled, or tracked vehicles during a Diretissima but not during a White Mountain Challenge. This was the case when Henry Folsom completed a Diretissima in 1970 over the 46 White Mountain Four Thousand Footers (there were two fewer peaks on the list then) where he climbed all of the peaks and walked the distances between them, but drove home each night to sleep in his own bed (Henry T. Folsom, The Four Thousand Footers, “Diretissima”, Appalachia, 38:#4, p.65, 1971.)
How hard would it be to complete the White Mountain Challenge in Winter?
It would be quite difficult, perhaps even impossible to do without support or resupply.
Can you stop for meals or lodging at any of the AMC huts along your Challenge route?
Yes, provided that you don’t use motorized, wheeled, or tracked transport, and travel to and from them by foot.
What do you mean by “tracked” transport?
Snowmobiles, snow cats, or dog sleds.
Can you hike a White Mountain Challenge with a dog?
Doesn’t allowing Challengers to resupply during their journey, sleep indoors, or stop for meals make the White Mountain Challenge to easy to complete.
Perhaps a little, but I wouldn’t be surprised if many Challengers attempted to do unsupported routes where they carry all of their own food with them and sleep outdoors all of the time. Still, you’d be surprised at how hard the Challenge is to complete even if you resupply and enjoy creature comforts along your route. Relaxing some of the austerity conditions also means people of different ages and fitness levels can attempt or complete a Challenge and lets them do it on their own terms.
Why can’t mountain bikers participate in the White Mountain Challenge.
Mountain biking is prohibited in most of the White Mountain National Forest.
Can you complete a White Mountain Challenge without crossing any roads?
No. You’ll need to cross a few roads.
Can you walk along roads on a White Mountain Challenge?
Yes. In some cases it might be the most expeditious route, although not the most scenic.
Can you hike off trail along your Challenge route?
Certainly, but there are always trade-offs when hiking off-trail in the White Mountains. Plan carefully.
Is the White Mountain Challenge a race?
No. Personally, I’d just be happy to finish.