The White Mountains Direttissima

The White Mountains Direttissima

The White Mountain National Forest, known as “The Whites” has its share of difficult hiking lists and challenging hikes. The White Mountain 4000 footer list with its 48 peaks, is the list that most aspiring New England hikers cut their teeth on before branching out to work on the Terrifying 25 or the 52 With a View. For those seeking a more extreme challenge, there’s The Presidential Traverse, The Pemigewasset (Pemi) Loop, and The Grid, which requires hiking all 48 of the White Mountain 4000 footers in each month of the year.

But the hardest and most extreme hike in the White Mountains is called the White Mountains Direttissima which requires hiking all 48 of the White Mountain 4000 footers in one continuous route. A complete Direttissima, which translated loosely, means “the most direct route” in Italian, requires hiking approximately 240 miles with 75,000 feet of elevation gain.

A White Mountains Direttissima Route requires close to 240 miles of hiking with 75,000 feet of elevation gain
A White Mountains Direttissima Route requires close to 240 miles of hiking with 75,000 feet of elevation gain

The History of the Direttissima

The first White Mountains Direttissima was completed in 1970 by Henry Folsom over the 46 White Mountain 4000 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, “Direttissima”, Appalachia, 38:#4, p.65, 1971.)

Fast forward to 2007, when Mats Roing finished the next documented White Mountain Direttissima over the course of 10 days and 14 hours. 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 to get out of torrential rain. You can read a short description of Mat’s route on Views from the Top or as an edited chapter in Peak Experiences: Danger, Death and Daring in the Mountains of the Northeast.

Direttissima Guidelines

There’s no governing organization overseeing the White Mountains Direttissima or granting certificates of completion and there are few rules. There’s no set route and you can climb all 48 of the White Mountain 4000 footers in any order or direction that you choose.

  • You can follow hiking trails, snowmobile trails, XC ski trails, roads, or hike segments off-trail if you wish.
  • You can hike it unsupported, by carrying all of your food the entire distance, or supported by others, including visits to restaurants, food shops, or lodging along your route.
  • You can hike it continuously or break it into smaller sections, drive home to rest, and resume where you left off previously.

The only hard and fast rules are that you walk, run, and/or ski the route end-to-end and start at a trailhead and finish at one, which are the accepted norms for peakbagging endeavors.

White Mountains Trails are rocky and steep
White Mountains Trails are rocky and steep

Direttissima Hiking Challenges

There are many challenges to hiking a White Mountain Direttissima apart from blisters and the physical fatigue of climbing 75,000 feet elevation. Chief amongst these is the weather, which can be downright life-threatening above treeline, with high winds, thunderstorms and lightning, and cold temperatures year-round.

Winter snow covers the higher elevation peaks from November until well into May with horrendous insect pressure (bug season) in June. July is the month with the most thunderstorms and August is often unbearably hot. The best time to hike a Diresttissima is during September and the first half of October when nighttime temperatures are cooler and insects are the least active.

The White Mountains trail system is lightly blazed and it pays to be familiar with the trails in advance so you know which ones are the easiest to climb or should be avoided at night.  The trails are also rough, rocky, full of tree roots, and quite steep.

The weather is one of the biggest challenges in hiking the White Mountains
The weather is one of the biggest challenges in hiking the White Mountains

Recent Direttissima Finishers

Since 2007, a dozen or more hikers have completed the White Mountains Direttissima, and it’s attracted its fair share of people wanting to set supported and unsupported FKTs (Fastest Known Times). The times for these records range from just under four days to eleven days. Perhaps the most ambitious of these was a self-supported, self-powered Winter Direttissima completed by husband and wife, Rich Gambale and Arlette Laan, in 29 days. One has to be impressed by Rich and Arlette’s perseverance in this undertaking since winter in the White Mountains is quite harsh and unforgiving.

Section Hiking a Direttissima

While Direttissima FKTs are impressive to read about there’s no reason you can’t hike the White Mountain Direttissima at a more casual pace or incrementally as a section hike, like Henry Folsom did originally in 1970, resuming each section where you left off previously.

Breaking a Direttissima into smaller chunks, or sections would make the endeavor a lot more accessible to a larger group of participants. You could day hike or backpack sections as long as they add up to an end-to-end Direttissima. The level of effort required would probably be comparable to section hiking the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail with a few side-trips thrown in to get the outlying summits.

Section hiking a Direttissima is definitely something to consider if you’re looking for a challenge but you can’t take the time to do it all at once.

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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 backpacking gear reviews and hiking FAQs. 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, a distance of approximately 2500 miles, completing a second round in 2021. Philip is 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. He lives in New Hampshire.

13 comments

  1. Thanks for this! Not that I have the stamina to do a full Direttissima but I’ve often looked at the maps and wondered what the logical route is.

  2. I would say late August to mid September is the ideal time frame. October gets dicey above tree line. Thanks for the mention and great write up!

  3. I recall reading in Chip Brown’s book Good Morning Midnight, that Guy Waterman hiked all 46 (at that time like Folsom – before 1982) in one go over a 16 day period with his sons and dog. It’s been a few years since I read the book so I may not have the facts totally correct.

  4. Mr peanut butter

    I did an unsupported direttissima last August..it was a blast. I planned my route pretty much from arlette’s FKT summary. It took me 12 days 8 hours…the first 3-4 days were the hardest until my pack got a little lighter…knowing what I know now I think I could casually go sub 10 day.

  5. Thank you! Very inspirational (but for me, only possible by breaking up into smaller section hikes). Years ago (2014?), you posted details on the “White Mountain Challenge” (and your two attempts), but those posts seem to have been taken down. How is this different from that? Did you ever complete that hike?

    • Same thing. I attempted it twice but didn’t finish. I might try to section it in the future, but I have other higher priority goals at the moment. I suspect I’ll finish the grid first. 48 x 12.

  6. Thanks for setting straight the history of the Direttissima. Not sure if my own 2016 section hike (during the Calendar Year Grid) showed up in your searches, but if interested, here are some further thoughts:

    http://runsuerun.blogspot.com/2016/07/white-mountain-direttissima.html?m=0

    • You write “Focusing on the “fun” part vs. pushing for a fast, competitive time in unappealing weather was key in the overall experience being a complete joy”

      I’m totally with you. I’m not a fan of people who put others down because they can hike faster.

      • Few hike slower than me. Although my trail identity is “Grandpa”, I could also be called “Buzzard Bait” because I’m so slow going uphill they start circling, thinking I must be dead. I have a plucky buzzard feather in my hiking hat. If I ever start moving faster, I might be able to upgrade it to falcon or eagle plumage… but not likely to happen any time soon!

    • Thanks so much for sharing all of your experiences and knowledge! I followed you through your Direttissima yoyo and it was so incredible!!

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