This is the route plan I developed for my second White Mountains Challenge attempt, a complete traverse of all 48 of the AMC White Mountain 4000 footers in one continuous multi-day backpacking trip. This plan includes three resupply stops to cut down the amount of food weight required for a journey of this magnitude. Food resupply and lodging stays are admissible under the White Mountain Challenge Guidelines although your ability to use them will be limited by their concentration on the periphery of the forest or along major roads in some of the mountains passes, called notches in the White Mountains.
The three resupply points are:
- Jefferson, NH Corner Store at the bottom of the Starr King Trail on Rt 2
- Waterville Valley Post Office which accepts general delivery packages (open limited hours)
- The Irving gas station and deli located next to Fabyan’s Restaurant on Rt 302 in Bretton Woods
You are welcome to resupply at any other food location or arrange for a parcel pickup at a place of lodging as long as you walk to and from it and any other Challenger has access to the same resource (which means no support teams.)
The Caltopo map shown here is interactive, so you can drill down into it if you want to see the actual detailed route. I wouldn’t recommend downloading the GPS data points from this map and trying to hike it. Caltopo is a convenient tool for providing a visual overview of this route, but the USGS mapping data it displays is out of date and inaccurate with missing or re-routed trails, bridges and roadways. In reality, you’ll want to scout parts of your route by foot if you’re unfamiliar with the White Mountains and use multiple maps from different sources including maps for rail trails, snowmobile trails, forest and logging roads, and mountain bike trails.
I’m happy to share this information with you and it will definitely speed up your planning process if you want to attempt this hike.
Disclaimer: The author of this site is not responsible any damage, personal injuries or death as a result of the use of any information, maps, routes, advice, gear or techniques discussed on this blog and web site. All outdoor activities are carried out at your own risk.
Route Planning Advice
- Most digital mapping tools generate false mileage and elevation gains which compound over long routes (see Distance Discrepancies between Digital Mapping Tools, Paper Maps and Guidebooks) for a thorough discussion of the issue).
- When planning a long hike in the White Mountains, your best bet is to use National Geographic’s White Mountains Trails Illustrated Explorer digital mapping tool. It’s been programmed to use the Appalachian Mountain Club’s White Mountain Guide mileage and elevation gains, which are all measured using a wheel and not based on GPS approximations. The editor of the White Mountain Guide advised me to use this program instead of the online White Mountain Guide. Both of these programs use the same data, but the National Geographic tools are much easier to use for multi-day route planning.
- I recommend you find other maps for rail trails, snowmobile trails, forest and logging roads, cross-country ski trails and mountain bike trails which are not typically shown on hiking-specific or USGS maps. Historic maps of the area can also be useful for finding routes which are no longer officially maintained but still widely used by local hikers.
- I dropped almost all of the bushwhacks I’d considered adding because off trail hiking is so slow and energy intensive in the White Mountains. There are still one left in the plan but it’s short and fairly benign: a bushwhack from the foundations of the old suspension bridge over the East Branch Pemigewasset River to the Thoreau Falls Trail, which also requires a ford of North Fork.
- Don’t carry your food up peaks when you don’t have to. While it’s illegal to cache food on Forest Service land for more than 24 hours, you can hang it for a few hours and climb a peak without it. Doing this is a big energy saver and a good trick to exploit whenever possible.
- Water is very heavy, so avoid carrying extra whenever possible. There are some dry stretches and ridges however, so plan carefully to avoid running out and bring plenty of extra carrying capacity. This is where local knowledge is very helpful. There are many water sources not shown on maps.
- Don’t forget to factor in weather delays. especially when hiking above-treeline sections where lightning danger in thunderstorms is a real concern. Carry extra food because you may have to sit in a valley for a day or two for thunderstorms to clear out before you climb an above-treeline summit.
- It’s best to hike above-treeline sections before 2 pm when the threat of thunderstorms increases , particularly from June through August.
- Avoid trails that are very hard to hike when easier alternative are available, even if they require walking a longer distance.
- Schedule your hike near the summer solstice when the days are longer, but avoid hiking when valley temps reach 80 degrees or higher. Cooler weather is easier to hike in.