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Trips in NH

Welch - Dickey Loop

by Bill Newman

Hike Length: Dayhike

Trails: Welch - Dickey Loop Trail

Date: January 3, 2005

I had never done any winter hiking but after taking one of the informal classes at REI about winter backpacking and realizing that my list of 48 - 4000 footers should have some winter hikes, I decided to give it a try.

I had several personal requirements. I wanted to make sure I went with a group for my first hike for safety reasons and for support, and I wanted a very simple hike in order to test the new equipment and make sure that I was comfortable with it. I was able to meet some people that were also starting out with winter hiking thanks to the posting on this web site and we were finally able to coordinate a hike to start the New Year.

The trailhead to Welch Dickey isnít too difficult to find. You need to travel down Rt 49 towards Waterville Valley (if youíre heading E on 49) to the Old Mad River Rd. From there, the signs lead you right into a good size parking lot (the nominal parking fee of $3 applies here).

The most popular way of doing this loop is counter-clockwise. I think the reason for this is because the loop doesnít start and end at the same place. Itís only about a couple hundred foot difference and both are right at the parking lot, itís just that the first trail you come to is the ďrightĒ side of the loop, so therefore itís the most popular (just my guess).

The trail is one of the most well marked trails Iíve been on, and some newer wood arrows have been place in strategic spots to assist you. Itís a fairly easy trail and would make for a great beginners trail for anytime, not just winter. A lot of the trail is on rock, but itís all ledge and not the usual rock debris trails you find in a lot of the Whites. There is nothing too steep and the total elevation gain canít be more than 1500 feet so I would rank this as easy. However, the trail has several open areas and outcrops, so it provides fantastic views throughout the hike. You do hit the summits of Welch Mt and then Dickey but both are below 3000 feet so they wonít count for much more than practice trails with great views. Several mountains could be seen at various spots including Moosilauke, Tecumseh, Osceola, and the Franconia Ridge (they looked great, all snow covered, especially Lafayette!) The total loop is about 4.5 miles and could probably be done in a few hours on a nice day. During this hike we had 7 people and most were also just starting to hike in the winter, so we did take our time to make sure we all made it safely, but even so, we were still able to complete the loop in about 4 hours.

The trail started off with a quick brook crossing and it was at this point, only a couple of hundred feet in, that we needed to stop and put on crampons due to the snow/ice pack on the trail (I think this was the only water we passed on the trail). This was my first time wearing crampons but I found that the toughest part is building the confidence in the equipment and to let them to do their job. I found the best thing to do was to hike all over some of the ďboiler plate iceĒ (ice sheets) to gain confidence that, with crampons, itís very tough to slip. It took me a while to feel comfortable, but once we finished I realized that a whole new dimension of hiking has opened up. Itís not for everyone but the idea of climbing on a snow/ice capped ridge has its appeal and we did meet several other hikers along this trail that were also learning the ropes, so even in the middle of winter, you wonít be alone.

Winter hiking does require a lot more equipment (a ďparkaĒ for your water bottle so it doesnít freeze!) and I highly recommend taking it slow and with a group the first few times to really get a feel for it. I did find that my poles were very useful at times, and other times they got in the way, so maybe 1 pole might be the way to go. Prepare to stop several times along the trail to add and drop layers of clothing, so use easily accessible pockets to stow the extra layers, hat, and gloves. This way they will be readily available when you make any long rest stops. Regulating your body heat is probably the biggest key to winter hiking. Have fun, enjoy the views, but be safe!

Special Equipment: Crampons, water, and always bring a camera
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