Vine at Lime Rock Preserve (photo by Webmaster)

Hiking Safely Through the Seasons in the Mountains
By The White Mountain National Forest and New Hampshire Fish and Game

The White Mountains are popular for hiking year round. However, each season has its special challenges; be sure you're prepared.

Seasons aren't always clear-cut in the mountains. It can be summer-like in the valleys, while in higher elevations it can be raining, snowing or socked-in by fog.

Click on a Season below to jump to information on that particular time of years in the White Mountains:

Springtime in the White Mountain National Forest   

Each season has its outdoor hazards. Spring in the White Mountains can be like winter; deep snows can still be found at high elevations, even when there's no snow in the valleys below. Avalanche danger may still exist. Hypothermia can be an issue year-round, especially if you do not have warm, waterproof clothing.

Here are some other hazards you may encounter in spring.

Water crossings: In spring and after heavy rains, streams can change from trickles to torrents, making crossings difficult. If you decide to ford a stream, be extremely careful. Keeping your boots on will give you better footing and prevent your feet from going numb from the cold water. Unbuckle your pack's waistbelt before starting. Use common sense and, if in doubt, don't cross.

Bugs: Black fly season usually runs from late spring to early summer. A good insect repellent will help keep the worst of the biters away. (Some people claim that eating raw garlic will also do the trick!)

Lyme diease has been reported in New Hampshire. A good insect repellent will help repel ticks, and the threat of disease can be minimized by quick removal of any attached ticks. A daily inspection is a good habit.

Here are some other ways to avoid ticks:
  • Use insect repellent with 20% - 30% DEET on adult skin and clothing to prevent tick bite. Effectiverepellents are found in drug, grocery and discount stores.
  • Permethrin is another type of repellent. It can be purchased at outdoor equipment stores that carry camping or hunting gear. Permethrin kills ticks on contact! One application to pants, socks, and shoes typically stays effective through several washings. Permethrin should not be applied directly to skin. For details on permethrin visit the National Pesticide Information Center.
  • Wear long pants, long sleeves, and long socks to keep ticks off your skin. Light-colored clothing will help you spot ticks more easily. Tucking pant legs into socks or boots and tucking shirts into pants help keep ticks on the outside of clothing. If you’ll be outside for an extended period of time, tape the area where your pants and socks meet to prevent ticks from crawling under your clothes.

Tuckerman Ravine (photo by Phil Blampied) To find out more about ticks and lyme disease, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site.

Hunting season: While most of us associate hunting season with fall and early winter, May is also hunting season for select species. Dress in bright colors - blaze orange is recommended. Call ahead if you have any concerns.

Tuckerman Ravine: Tuckerman Ravine, on the southeast shoulder of Mt. Washington in the White Mountain National Forest is famous for its challenging spring skiing and hiking which are enjoyed by thousands of visitors every year. There are no ski lifts so skiers and hikers alike must climb and carry all their equipment, gear and food from Pinkham Notch Visitor Center (located on Route 16, 11 miles south of Gorham and 15 miles north of North Conway).

Please note:
  • Always check avalanche bulletins and conditions before you go. Visit www.tuckerman.org for up-to-date conditions.
  • Due to the crowds, sometimes you must wait for other hikers to make their way up or down the narrower sections of the trail. Cutting around other people, mud, or ice, destroys the vegetation and erodes the trail. STAY ON THE TRAIL!
  • Tuckerman Ravine can be a dangerous place for your dog. Pets are not allowed overnight at Hermit Lake Shelters. Be aware of your dog's location at all times.
  • Pack out all your trash.
  • Use valley and outhouse facilities when possible.
  • Treat all water prior to drinking.
  • Heed warnings of Snow Rangers.
  • Be alert for falling ice.
  • Check avalanche and weather conditions. In late spring, the Lip and upper sections of Tuckerman Ravine Trail are dangerous due to crevasses, ice and snow. Lion Head Trail can be followed to and from Mount Washington's summit.
  • See "Winter" for more on avalanches.

Summer is the most popular time for hiking in the White Mountains   

In summer, you may encounter extremes in temperatures from winter-like cold to high heat and humidity, along with rapid changes in the weather. You may associate hypothermia only with winter; however in the mountains hypothermia can be an issue year-round. That is why it's important to have warm, waterproof clothing with you no matter what it's like when you start your hike.

Summer's heat can create problems for hikers, including:
  • Heat exhaustion, which will leave you feeling tired, nauseous, dizzy, and headachy. Rest, rehydration and a good night's sleep are the treatment for heat exhaustion.
  • Heat stroke is a life-threatening illness. Symptoms include confusion, delirium and loss of consciousness. The skin feels hot as the body's cooling mechanism fails. THIS IS A TRUE EMERGENCY. Cooling the patient immediately is essential.
  • Asthma and other respiratory conditions may be triggered by heat. Have all appropriate medications.

Salt marsh cove at Bellamy River Wildlife Sanctuary (photo by Ben Kimball) Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke can be prevented by avoiding overexertion on hot days. Pace yourself, rest often and drink plenty of water throughout your hike. You'll know that you've drunk enough water if your urine is "clear as mountain spring water."

Perhaps the most common, and serious condition in the summertime is dehydration. Dehydration occurs when your body loses too much fluid. This can happen when you stop drinking water or lose large amounts of fluid through sweating and the exertion of hiking. Not drinking enough fluids can cause muscle cramps. You may feel faint. Usually your body can reabsorb fluid from your blood and other body tissues. But by the time you become severely dehydrated, you no longer have enough fluid in your body to get blood to your organs, and you may go into shock, which is a life-threatening condition.

Crisp fall days and glorious colors make fall a popular time for hiking   

However, if you're hiking in fall, remember:
  • The days are shorter and darkness comes early in the forest and mountains, especially in fall. Plan your hike so you're at hike's end before dark. Always carry a flashlight or headlamp.
  • Fall is also hunting season in New Hampshire so be sure to wear bright colors - blaze orange is preferred. Hunting season can run from early September through late December.
  • Carry extra warm clothing, as you may experience winter conditions, including snow and high winds. Remember: in the White Mountains, hypothermia can be an issue year-round.

Winter hiking and climbing take special preparation   

You must be prepared for extremes of cold, wind, snow and even rain and thaws. Skis or snowshoes are almost always needed. Even if there isn't much snow at the start of your trip, sudden storms can quickly appear and the amount of snow may increase as you climb and gain elevation. For above-treeline trips, an ice axe and crampons are necessities.

Winter hazards
Before striking out in winter, it's essential to be experienced with summer hiking and camping. A minor injury can become life-threatening in the harsh winter environment. Be sure that someone knows your trip plans.

Be prepared for the extremes in temperature and conditions with the proper gear and clothing. Hypothermia is a hazard year-round, but is especially dangerous in winter.

Snow cover may make route finding difficult, so know how to navigate with a map and compass.

Early thaws with their attendant racing waters, engorged streams and mud, can make negotiating trails and streams difficult and even dangerous.

Avalanches
Even though the White Mountains are not as avalanche prone as, say, the Rocky Mountains, avalanches DO occur - and in the case of Mt. Washington and Tuckerman Ravine, they can occur frequently.

For more information on this, go visit the HikeSafe's Avalanche Safety page, or visit the White Mountain National Forest site, or the Mt. Washington Avalanche Center at www.tuckerman.org.

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