How to Prepare

Spring, summer, fall, and winter offer great experiences and challenges to those who are well prepared.

The last warning to unprepared hikers. Photo from Francis Trudeau, 2005.Spring - Spring in the White Mountains is a beautiful time of awakening. The leaves are not fully on the trees, allowing great views through to the valleys below, and to the higher summits. Spring rains flood the rivers and streams, creating some spectacular waterfall viewing along Coldbrook, Snyder Brook and Spur Brook, among others. The weather is largely unsettled, however, and one must prepare for the worst by bringing waterproofs, gaiters, fleece or wool insulating layers, hats, and gloves. Winter, after all, is just a puff of wind away during the early spring. During the early spring "mud season" of late March through April, RMC asks that you avoid trails that are excessively wet or muddy. Hiking during this worst part of mud season severely damages trails. Valley trails and trails with southern exposures dry first; please consider these options as you plan your spring trip. If possible, venture out later in the spring, when trails have had a chance to dry out. The RMC -- and your boots -- will thank you! Even in late spring, temperatures well below freezing can still be found in the heights of the Presidentials. At this time of year, however, the valley paths of the Crescent and Pliny ranges can be very pleasant -- although full of pesky mosquitoes and unrelenting black flies. Plenty of insect repellent is a good item to bring along. DEET based products work best, but many people have good success with citronella based product and even Avon's "Skin-So-Soft."

Summer - As one might expect, summer is the most popular hiking season on RMC's trails, as longer days and warmer temperatures make hiking a joy. Light daypacks can be carried, though hikers should still be well prepared for the cold temperatures, rain and high winds that can accompany passing thunderstorms. Even in August, hikers have perished from hypothermia in the Northern Presidentials. During warmer spells, heat exhaustion can be a concern. Bring plenty of water, or plan an itinerary that includes water stops, and bring a water filter or iodine tablets.

Hiking along the Gray Knob Trail, near The Quay. Photo from Chris Fithian, 2005.Fall - Fall sees temperatures drop, along with the leaves from the trees. Before the fall of the leaves, however, the colors become spectacular-- drawing visitors from all over the world to view nature's palette of colors. Maples, beech, birch, and oaks turn brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows as the season moves towards Columbus weekend, the traditional end of the foliage season. Hiking during this season can be among the most enjoyable time of year to be outside, with the fall foliage, fewer trail users, cool, clear days and generally settled weather (weekends, however, can still be very busy at this time of year). The challenge lies in preparation, as fall weather can bring surprise snowstorms and the omnipresent risk of hypothermia. The autumn visitor needs to be fully prepared for the worst of nature's offerings.

Winter - Winter is Randolph's quiet season, as far fewer visitors to the National forest and the North Slope means more solitude. Winter, however, is the most challenging time of the year to be out of doors. Brutal winds, deep snow and below zero temperatures can combine to produce deadly conditions for the ill prepared. Proper equipment and conditioning are essential even for day trippers. Know what the weather forecast calls for-- but never assume the forecast is correct. In other words, plan for the worst conditions and hope for the best. Travel times can be at least doubled in the winter, due to the snow pack and difficulty in locating unbroken trails. Staying warm requires energy, so bring plenty of easily digested, high energy foods and lots of water in insulated containers.

Related Links

White Mountain National Forest
Mount Washington Observatory
RMC's Recommended Gear List
Weather Conditions at Gray Knob
Photo Gallery: Mountain Views
Photo Gallery: Winter