You may have heard about how breathtaking White Mountain National Forest is, but beauty and danger go hand-in-hand here.
The rugged terrain of northern Appalachia can take your breath away or even kill you. And while that sounds like an over-exaggeration, it isn’t.
So don’t plan a trip to the White Mountains before checking out these five reasons to avoid them.
Let’s get into it!
About the White Mountains, New Hampshire
The Northern Appalachian Trail is a part of the popular White Mountains of New Hampshire. The range is so extensive it covers about one-quarter of the entire state and juts into Maine. It’s home to Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeastern US.
Visitors flock to this area due to its proximity to New York, Montreal, and Boston. The area’s natural scenic beauty is incredibly alluring. There are so many individual trails, peaks, and valleys that a hike through the White Mountains can make you feel like you can disappear from it all.
But disappearing can also mean danger.
While the White Mountains offer a range of attractions like amusement parks, ski areas, and campgrounds, it’s easy to get lost here. In fact, many have died by taking risks in this extremely rough mountain range.
Two young hikers lost their lives here in 2022. Both set goals to hike the ranges on their own by arbitrary timelines. They just had to test their personal best. Tragically, both froze to death, alone in the wilderness.
New Hampshire’s Hike Safe program suggests leaving a map and itinerary with someone you can trust. But even with every safety precaution, you might want to avoid the White Mountains. Here are five reasons why.
Pro Tip: If you’re going to hike the Appalachian Trail, keep an eye out for these Most Dangerous Creatures on the Appalachian Trail.
#1 Rugged White Mountains Trails
Calling the trails on White Mountain rugged is an understatement. They’re downright ornery. According to forestsociety.org, local hiking experts have witnessed too many injuries and tough evacuations from the mountain to count. Some trails are steep piles of rocks at best.
Trails sometimes get repurposed to include switchbacks to make hiking safer. The zig-zag patterns prevent erosion and enable climbers to ascend steep land. But the White Mountains are too wild for this. So be sure to keep your eyes down as you walk. Take small, even steps as much as possible.
#2 Remoteness of the White Mountains
The White Mountains National Forest spans the width of New Hampshire. The area is so vast that it contains six federal wilderness areas. Some sections are close to the highway. But many others are so remote that you won’t see another person for days.
Hiking alone is incredibly dangerous. Your best bet is to go in groups in case you need to find help. This could take over 72 hours. Backcountry search-and-rescue teams say hikers underestimate the time it takes to hike these mountains. Estimate the time it’ll take you to get from point A to B, then double it.
#3 White Mountains Weather
Weather also plays a role in the harsh trail conditions, especially in the winter. Once you’re above treelines, exposure to sudden wind and precipitation can be deadly. And once you’ve reached the peak, you still have to climb down. Expert hiker Mike Dickerman recalls breaking through ice up to his waist.
Unfortunately, fatalities have happened since some are determined to reach the peaks no matter what. Sudden high-speed wind and freezing temperatures can cause flying branches and sharp ice showers, making hypothermia and frostbite huge risks.
Because numerous microclimates exist within the White Mountains, you want to plan your hike days in advance. Weather conditions depend on location, season, length of the trek, and time of day. Think of the mountain as something to respect. If the weather isn’t ideal, then stay away.
Black bears call the White Mountains home. It’s important to remember you’re hiking in bear country around these parts. In other words, it’s their backyard, not yours. Although black bear attacks are rare, they do happen. And since they’re two or three times heavier than people, it’s best to avoid provoking them.
If you see a black bear in the White Mountains, speak loudly and wave your arms. Back away slowly. And never feed bears when camping. This leads to all kinds of trouble, including the possible removal and killing of that bear! Our National Forest Service has a duty to protect people and wildlife. Let’s not make their job any harder.
#5 Be in Shape to Hike the White Mountains
Let’s face the music. You need to be in good shape to hike in most parts of the White Mountains. Hiking Mount Washington Summit is the same as climbing the Empire State Building’s stairs three times. Rocky and unstable trails can be exhausting for even the most experienced hikers.
That said, there are plenty of short and fun hikes for beginners. Look up trails with elevation gains of less than 1,000 feet. If you start with short day hikes, you can still enjoy Appalachian beauty without wearing yourself out.
Some outdoor enthusiasts recommend starting with fitness at home. Try walking a couple of miles around your hometown. If you still feel good afterward, add another mile or two next time. You can also look for a rock climbing gym to improve your hiking footwork.
For more inspiration, check out the Appalachian Mountain Mountain Club’s Couch to 4K fitness program, which helps hikers train for their first 4000-foot summit.
Pro Tip: If you’re planning to hike in the White Mountains, make sure to wear the Best Nike Hiking Gear of 2023.
Plan Ahead and Train Well
If you plan well, hiking in the Appalachian White Mountains can be magnificent. But don’t be cavalier. This is rough and dangerous terrain, which should be explored with care. In addition, protecting the native species and landscape should be front of mind.
We know our readers love and show great care for the outdoors. But we want you to be prepared. Just don’t underestimate the dangers of The White Mountains of New Hampshire, and you’ll be fine.
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