Easy Winter Peaks

December 1, 2006

Taste the thrill of winter by ascending some of the Northeast’s most accessible summits. Come experience a frosted world where the air is crisp, the bugs are gone, the views are crystalline, and forgiving snow buries the ankle-breaking rocks of summer. Each of these seven mountains offers a sheltered snowshoe route to the top, where open vistas and alpine conditions await.

Rumford Whitecap
Rumford, Maine

An airy mile-long crest and 132 acres of open ledges provide all-encompassing views from this landmark promontory. Maine’s western mountains and New Hampshire’s Presidential Range puncture the skyline from atop the 2,197-foot summit. Cairns and ribbons indicate the route, though a confusing network of logging roads makes a good map and guidebook essential. Public access is permitted, but the future of this privately owned peak is in doubt; the Mahoosuc Land Trust is working to purchase the mountain as conservation land.

Distance: 4 miles round-trip
Info: Mahoosuc Land Trust: Rumford Whitecap Mountain Preserve, Maine Mountain Guide (AMC Books)

Middle Sugarloaf
White Mountain National Forest

A 1903 forest fire charred the top of Middle Sugarloaf Mountain down to a rocky nub. Its summit remains free of view-shrouding trees today. Located only 10 miles from Mount Washington, the 2,539-foot peak offers a complete panorama of the northern Presidential Range, plus views of 4,000-footers in the Pemigewasset Wilderness. The hike ascends gently from Zealand Road to a low col, where the route bears left and briefly steepens before reaching the bare summit. A right turn leads 0.3 mile to the more wooded—but quieter—summit of North Sugarloaf.

Distance: 2.8 miles round-trip
Info: White Mountain Guide, Map 2 (AMC Books), 50 More Hikes in New Hampshire (Backcountry)

Mount Moosilauke
White Mountain National Forest

With more than 3,000 feet of elevation gain, an ascent of Mount Moosilauke requires heart-pumping effort. But if you’re looking to climb a winter 4,000-footer, Moosilauke is much friendlier than most others. Ascend the sheltered Glencliff Trail on a steady grade (part of the AT). As you approach the bare 4,802-foot summit, the route steepens and then passes through head-high trees that dance in the winter blow. The final few hundred yards expose you to the full brunt of winter glory—and its icy blasts.

Distance: 7.8 miles round-trip
Info: White Mountain Guide, Map 4 (AMC Books)

Mount Watatic
Ashburnham, Mass.

Mount Watatic offers a bare summit with world-spinning views that span the length of the state. On a clear day, the 360-degree vista stretches from the Boston skyline to Mount Greylock, and north to the White Mountains more than 100 miles away. The short hike to the top (1,832 feet) follows the start of the Wapack Trail, a 21-mile route that extends north to Pack Monadnock in New Hampshire. In 2002, the state and local land trusts purchased the mountain for $2.5 million to prevent developers from installing cell phone towers on the summit.

Distance: 2.2 miles round-trip
Info: Friends of the Wapack, Massachsuetts DCR: Mount Watatic Reservation, Wapack Trail Guide (Friends of the Wapack)

Alander Mountain
Mount Washington, Mass.

Contemplate the snow-covered landscapes of three states from the farthest corner of Massachusetts. Located only a half-mile from New York and 3 miles from Connecticut, 2,239-foot Alander Mountain hides out in the little-visited gem of Mount Washington State Forest. The gentle climb to the summit follows the Alander Mountain Trail, passing a few backcountry camping areas en route to a run-down and spooky cabin just below the summit. Nearby Bash Bish Falls State Park is worth the side-trip, its namesake waterfall a massive curtain of ice and winter spray.

Distance: 5.6 miles round-trip
Info: 413-528-0330, Massachusetts DCR: Mount Washington State Forest, Massachusetts Trail Guide (AMC Books)

Hurricane Mountain
Keene, N.Y.

A steady but moderate climb leads up the flanks of this imposing massif, topping out at 3,678 feet near the base of an abandoned fire tower. The broad bare summit boasts more open stone than most of the Adirondacks’ 46 High Peaks, and views extend from Vermont’s Mount Mansfield to some of New York’s highest mountains. Approach from the west near Hurricane Road, taking advantage of the Adirondacks’ second-highest trailhead to shorten your climb. A lean-to is available en route, but the tower is closed and slated for removal.

Distance: 5.6 miles round-trip
Info: Snowshoe Routes: Adirondacks and Catskills (Mountaineers Books), Views from on High (ADK Books)

Acra Point and the Blackhead Range
Catskills, N.Y.

The Blackhead Range rises as the Catskills’ northeast front, topped by the view-laden summits of Blackhead and Windham High Peak. But a more accessible and less-visited peak awaits in between: Acra Point. Get there via the Black Dome Range Trail, which quickly rises to intersect the long-distance 24-mile Escarpment Trail (part of New York’s Long Path). The route heads south to the 3,110-foot promontory and its ledgy views of the Blackhead Range and Batavia Kill watershed.

Distance: 3.4 miles round-trip
Info: AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the Catskills and Hudson Valley (AMC Books), Catskill Mountains Map (AMC Books)

Contributors: Robert Buchsbaum, author, Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains (AMC Books); Larry Garland; Mike Lanza, author, The Ultimate Guide to Backcountry Travel (AMC Books); Bryan Wentzell.

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