The Best Time to Hike the Whites
Ahhhh spring... Beautiful beautiful spring. By spring, I mean late May and early June, which is when you start to experience it in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. There is still snow here and there. The temperature is rising to that perfect, not too hot, not frozen solid range. Birds are coming back home and fiddleheads are starting to unfurl. Spring is a great time to get out there and hike.
There is a calmness that you can find in the spring that isn't around in the fall, when thousands of leaf peepers and late summer adventurers head for the Mount Washington Valley.
On a recent trip up North, I was shocked to pull right up to the drive thru at Dunkin in Lincoln (a good measuring stick for crowds). Mind you, I've waited over 15 minutes in the Summer, Fall and Winter at that spot. You could tell the town was getting ready to ramp up for the huge summer rush when motorcycles will pour in over the Kanc and sunburnt tourists will stumble in after a day at Flume Gorge. But, they aren't there yet. Instead, it was nice and quiet in the Price Chopper as I grabbed a few last minute essentials for the 2 day hike I had planned with my sister.
Don't get me wrong... Spring can be one of the most dangerous times to hike in the White Mountains.
I would argue spring is also one of the most dangerous times to hike in the White Mountains. High temperatures in Boston usually result in unprepared hikers that are shocked to find snow fields, quickly changing temperatures and LOTS OF WATER. After all, all that snow has got to get into the ocean some how.
Most of the really dangerous situations occur in "traditional" (read as flatlander) spring. Late March, April, early May. By the end of May and the start of June you will still find some snow, although nothing you would need snowshoes for (I still suggest throwing some microspikes in the bag, cause why not?) That is of course with the exception of the Presidential Range, which is so incredibly unpredictable I would be wrong regardless of what I said the conditions might be like. Up there, it's a whole other world.
A well prepared hiker should be just fine (here are some things to consider). The real trouble comes when folks who would have had a rough but survivable time in the summer expect the same conditions in the spring. Combine that with shorter days and you have a recipe for disaster. Like the group that took on the Flume Slide in sweatpants and Air Jordans this May. Or last spring when an eerily similar group got stranded on Tuckerman Ravine when they found out the Cog wasn't running yet (covered by this blog).
While the kids are still in school and their parents are still at work. While the average joe hiker is still putting away his skis and hasn't dug out his hiking boots yet, take to the mountains. Enjoy the breeze and soak in the silence.
I can remember one May trip with my brother where it felt as if we had the whole of Mt. Chocurua seemingly to ourselves. It is one of the most photographed mountain in existence and a New England hiking staple (also the outline of the Finding 4000' logo).
On that May day it was ours. After a night at Camp Penacook we watched the sun rise over the valley from the bald summit. That's the type of thing you can only pull off in the spring. I can still remember hearing bees buzzing on the alpine granite slabs, while everything began to bloom. It was beautiful.
Give it a month and a half and you would be joined by a thousand of your closest friends and get a nice downwind draft of Deep Woods OFF! instead of the scent of alpine flowers.