By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Hazardous hiking in the White Mountains

Click on photo for slideshow

Mark Pothier’s Boston Globe Magazine story on amateur hikers who get into trouble in the White Mountains inspired me to post photos from my last hike up Mount Washington, in August 2003.

My son, Tim, his friend Troy, Troy’s mother and I hiked to Mizpah Spring Hut on a muggy Friday afternoon, along the Crawford Path to Lakes of the Clouds Hut on a clear, cool Saturday. The next day it was up and over Mount Washington in a cold wind. We descended via the Jewell Trail.

For me it was a nostalgia trip, because it was largely the same route I followed on my first hike up Washington, with my Boy Scout troop in September 1968 at the age of 12. Back then, you were still allowed to camp above treeline, and we pitched tents by the shore of Lakes of the Clouds under full cloud cover. (I’ve still got photos from our return trip the following year. I should scan them in and post them someday.)

The next day we hiked to the summit in a howling wind, surrounded by clouds and rime ice-covered rocks. My guess is that, today, our leaders would have been denounced as lunatics for taking a bunch of out-of-shape kids to the summit under such conditions. But we all came through it fine. We did have winter coats, gloves and hats, so it’s not like we weren’t prepared.

I was glad to see Pothier make mention of Nicholas Howe’s excellent book, “Not Without Peril,” which documents 150 years of fatal accidents in the White Mountains. In my much younger days I also liked to read the accident reports in the Appalachian Mountain Club‘s journal, Appalachia. Invariably, the victims would head up into the mountains wearing shorts, T-shirts and little else, only to be overwhelmed by winter-like conditions regardless of the time of year. Cell phones and GPSs may have increased the stupidity quotient, as Pothier writes, but it’s nothing new.

Unfortunately, I never managed to hit the trail this summer. Tim and I talked about doing a five-day 50-miler in Vermont, but the summer got away from us, and then I sprained my ankle while running in a downpour a couple of weeks ago. Maybe we can get away for a couple of days during Columbus Day weekend.

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  1. Cee Jay

    Thanks for sharing the pictures, My husband and I hiked the AT and were in the Whites fall of 2004. That was some of the toughest hiking of the whole AT but also some they are soooo beautiful.

  2. R. Scott Buchanan

    In my Scouting days, I was always astonished to go to places like Philmont and some of the national parks in the southwest and in Mexico and witness people, many of them Scouts, going off on day hikes with nothing in the way of emergency gear than a canteen and knife per man (and maybe a candybar or baggie of gorp each). These weren’t the patrols doing their Wilderness Survival merit badge outings, but bunches of 12-year-olds with no adult supervision (we, on the other hand, were survivalist 15-year-olds whom the adults wanted no knowledge of, lest they be indicted as co-conspirators :).I remember a very ugly camping trip in Mexico when I was about 13 on Mt. Potosi when a hurricane blew in off the Gulf, and we were so far up out of radio range that we had no idea it was coming. We made it back from our climb to the 3rd microwave tower in a gale and dragged some other campers (all Americans) down with us, but that’s when my hiking pack grew an appendage: the throw-down bag. Basically, it’s a bright orange mesh bag with a small rescue blanket, a bottle of water, some candy bars, a whistle and a disposable lighter in it (I assume anyone hiking has a knife, but who the hell really knows). It isn’t much, and I just looked at the one in my bug-out bag and realized those Snickers bars were best by 1986, but at least if I’d ever encountered anyone after that trip who I couldn’t/shouldn’t stop to help, but who clearly didn’t have any gear at all to save themselves, I could throw that to them and keep on trucking.I’m not sure what my point in all this is, except to say that I’m always shocked and appalled to be reminded that I’ve been more prepared to save other peoples’ lives than they have for nearly three decades now. And if they care so little for their own safety and well-being, why do I keep giving a crap? One of my Scouts took the PJ’s oath “that others may live,” but I’m not that noble or self-sacrificing.

  3. acf

    Dan: Nice pictures. It reminds me of when I hiked up Mount Washington, 30 years ago last week. I’ve often thought of doing it again. Maybe this will be an incentive. The story was right about how modern technology is no substitute for common sense and prudent behavior when hiking in the mountains. It can give the inexperienced a false sense of security. PS Thanks for adjusting the color on the comments line. It jumps out at me when I scan the page. The green and gray banner looks nice, too.Al

  4. David

    Funny reading this today. My 14-year-old son, 9-year-old nephew and I hiked to Tuckerman’s Ravine Saturday. 75 degrees and sunny at the bottom. By the time we got to Hermit Lake, the temperature had dropped to 40 and we were in the middle of a hail and lightning storm.We had rain- and cold-weather gear but decided not to go any farther anyway. We couldn’t believe the cotton T-shirt and jeans crowd still heading for the summit.Turns out the auto road folks had to ferry more than 200 hikers who couldn’t make it back down the mountain. The Cog Railroad shuttled a bunch as well, I think.I always feel silly stuffing my pack full of extra clothes for a dayhike. And then we get hail in August…

  5. Pamela

    Hi Dan,Interesting coincidence – I recently posted an entry on my blog entitled “How to Know How Far to Go:Business Lessons From the Mountains”, based on an excursion in the White Mountains. Thanks for sharing yours.-Pam CampagnaPS – here’s the link to my blog:

  6. Doug Shugarts

    Remember when former radio and TV journalist Ted O’Brien became lost in the White Mountains in 2001?O’Brien’s thoughts, from an interview the following year:I learned that nature is utterly indifferent to outcomes. And I learned that people, family and friends and even complete strangers, are not. And I am grateful to them all.Doug ShugartsBrookline

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Doug: I remember it well. It was a great story, especially since it had a happy ending.

  8. Tim Allik

    If you are looking for a place closer to home and you also enjoy paddling, check out Tully Lake near Orange, Mass. It’s a walk-in (no cars or campers) campsite operated by the Trustees of Reservations. There is zero development around the 200 acre lake. I just spent two nights there with my wife and kids. It was so serene that I couldn’t believe I was so close to where I live. There is mountain biking and hiking as well.

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