When Sub-Zero Camping Goes Wrong – Winter Backpacking in the White Mountains


Join us for some frigid winter camping and backpacking along King Ravine in the White Mountains.

For this overnight backpacking trip we’ll be heading up towards Mt Adams, along the Presidential Range in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest in early February.  This trip was done almost a year to the day after our High Winds Hiking trip during the previous season.  Only instead of temperatures in the 20’s to 30’s, we had a dramatically different temperature range the low teens at it’s warmest, down to roughly 20° below zero at night.  Ouch.  Luckily, we didn’t have the extreme winds that we encountered on that last February trip.  One or the other is one thing.  Both together, now that’s what you don’t want.

As you’ll see in the video though, things still didn’t go – how should I say – well, as planned.  Thankfully, we were able to make the best of it and play things by ear.  While I certainly would have like things to have gone a bit closer to our anticipated itinerary, I think it still ended up be a quite memorable trip.  When things go as planned, that’s a vacation.  When things go awry and you have to react and adapt, that’s an adventure.  And that, after all, is what we’re truly after.  As long as know one get hurt, or suffers too much mental trauma, I’ll chalk it up as a win.

Below is a list of trails used, in order, as well parking info and other logistical items.  Unfortunately, due to the sub-zero temps, there was no full gps track recorded for this trip.  After ripping through two sets of Ultimate Lithiums in my Garmin Oregon 650 GPS on day one, I made the call to reserve my remaining rechargeable batteries for emergency route fining only.  On my last winter trip to the Dolly Sods, with temps in the low 20’s, I was able to go the entire 3 day trip on one set of lithium with juice to spare.  My performance was quite different at 15 or so below zero, though.  Once it warms up a bit, we’ll get back to recording full track data as usual.

Parking Location
Appalachia Trailhead
44.371470, -71.289391
(Not too far from the intersection of US Rt 2 and Dolly Copp Rd, in Gorham NH)

Trails Used
Airline Trail to
intersection with Upper Bruin Trail, just above treeline in the Alpine Zone
Planned Campsite:  Valley Way Tentsite or nearby vicinity, via Valley Way Trail
Actual Campsite:  Back below treeline, along the Airline Trail.

Our plan was to summit Mt Adams the following day and return cheerfully to our previous night’s campsite, base camp style.  As seen in the video, things got a bit more complicated, due to extreme snow drifting along King Ravine’s Alpine Zone, heading towards Madison Hut and the intersection with the Appalachian Trail towards Mt. Adams.  The plan was to save Adams for day two and to use Upper Bruin Trail to head back below treeline to establish a base camp, after getting some  brief views in the ravine above treeline.  Despite having been to this area twice before in milder weather, the high snow drifts and unbroken trail made navigation, umm, complicated, to say the least.  Add Mike’s little ordeal to the mix, and you’ve got yourself a very interesting little winter camping trip.  But I’ll let you find out how all that goes in the actual video…

 A Quick Overview of some of the Gear Used
Big Agnes 6p tent (yes, is a car camping tent.) Split three ways.
EMS Longtrail 70 Backpack
MSR Denali Ascent Snowshoes
Kahtoolah MICROspikes (the plan was to feel things out while ascending Mt Adams, and turn back if it felt like crampons were more acceptable)
CAMP Snow Shovel
MSR Rapidfire Stove (Inverted canister stove, no longer produced)
*Mike carried an MSR Whisperlight Universal, rigged for white gas, which we ended up using at night due to the colder temps.
Big Agnes Q-Core SL Sleeping Pad
Hammock Gear Burrow 0 Top Quilt
GSI Halulite Tea Kettle, 32 oz, for snow melting
Vargo 450ml titanium cup
Sea to Summit Alpha Light cutlery set (knife, fork, spoon)

Camera Gear Used
Sony Handycam HDR-cx380, primary cam
GoPro Hero 3, Black edition, secondary cam.
RavPower 10,000 mAH usb battery pack recharger

4 thoughts on “When Sub-Zero Camping Goes Wrong – Winter Backpacking in the White Mountains

  1. Thank you for doing your videos and your break downs of your packs. They are very helpful and very much appreciated.
    Thanks, cvweekender

  2. OH so many mistakes… You should join the mountaineering group in Meetup.com and learn some correct tactics. We camp above treeline on the pres traverse multiple times during the winter.

  3. Thank you for sharing! We did that last winter and turned around after one night too 🙂 What kind of boots did you guys used? Thank you again!

Leave a Reply