The Tripyramid Slides: A Crazy Steep First Look into Winter
Today was a really difficult but super fun hike in the Sandwich Wilderness! The north and south slides of the Tripyramid Mountains are known for being some of the steepest and most treacherous trails in all of New England and are both on the Terrifying 25 list. I knew that they would be difficult, but I don't think I was mentally prepared for the grade at which the north slide would ascend. I love these extremely technical, challenging portions of the Whites, but this was the first time I was actually afraid while hiking (well besides Carrigain solo for sunrise but my fear of the dark is a bit different). All that being said, I still loved this hike! The combination of just-past-peak foliage with the first signs of winter made for a beautiful day in the mountains.
The day started off at 7:25, a pretty typical start time for me. The first 3.5 miles of the hike on Livermore Rd were almost completely flat. Like I'm talking Lincoln Woods long and flat but much less busy and talking to my friend that came with me was good to pass the time. With leef peeping season still in full swing, I had decided to do this hike from Waterville Valley instead of the easier option of Pine Brook Bend Trail starting off the Kanc. Last weekend I drove by Lincoln on I-93 and there was traffic backed up for miles on the highway. I come up to NH to get away from all of the Boston traffic, so the sight of the gridlock-ridden Kanc last weekend was more frightening to me than the slides after a day of rain!
It was a really beautiful late fall day but it was a little bit chilly. It rained yesterday so I was a little nervous because I knew that the slides could potentially be really dangerous if they were wet. It was just about freezing at 33 degrees when we hit the trail, but it was a bluebird day so the sun warmed us up a bit. My fingers had frozen and turned an eerie white and then almost purple color when we were first hitting the trail (I think I may have a touch of Raynaud's syndrome), but they warmed up in the first 30 minutes of hiking. We ended up doing the first 4.3 miles of the hike in about an hour and a half but as soon as we hit the bottom of the slide we slowed considerably.
The bottom of the slide was mostly small and medium sized loose rocks. This was really easy to maneuver and while it was an uphill grade it wasn't steep. After this there was a section of pretty steep large slabs of rocks and this is where we started running into some minor difficulties. The rain yesterday combined with the freezing temperatures overnight made many of the rocks ice-covered, so that made it pretty difficult to scramble up. Luckily there were lots of trees to grab onto and haul myself up with. Through great focus I came out of this section with only one minor slip on some black ice. I was able to catch myself with the help of a nearby tree branch, so all was well.
The slide then opened up to a vast, 45 degree rock field full of small and large areas of scree. I knew that the trail climbed 1,800 ft in about a mile, but it's hard to put that in perspective until you get up there. I was pretty intimidated by the sight of the seemingly vertical slide as far as the eye could see. There was no end in sight which made me a little nervous. I decided that the only way I was going to get up it was to just put my head down and attack it step by step so that's exactly what I did.
This left me huffing and puffing but I was still shivering from the cold temperatures and being mostly in the shade. As I made my way up I stopped frequently to look at the views. It was really beautiful looking out at the Osceolas, and there was still a good amount of fiery foliage desperately hanging onto the tree branches. At one point I made the mistake of looking down at the steep section I had just ascended. I instantly got a knot in my stomach. Looking at it I knew that if I made a mistake and fell down there it would mean serious injury or even death. With that thought in the back of my mind, I turned around and hiked up with the most focus and precision I think I've ever had in my life.
Towards the top of the slide we started to see a light dusting of snow on the rocks and trees. I was super excited about this because it meant winter was coming! The top of the slide turned into wooded trail pretty abruptly and got significantly less steep quickly. It was good to know we were done with that part of the hike and we were onto a comparably easy traverse. We reached the summit of the north peak around 10:00 but only stopped for a minute or so before we kept on going.
There was a small drop into a col between the north and middle peaks of Mt. Tripyramid, but there were no pointless ups and downs so it was relatively straightforward. The forest was enchanting with snow dusting every tree. It was really a beautiful sight! We stopped for about a half hour for lunch near the south peak and dawned our puffy jackets. I just got a new L.L.Bean jacket from the outlet in Concord, and I was really glad to have it. It's only about 12oz but I was toasty warm sitting in the 37 degree weather.
When we got back on the trail we mentally prepared to descend the south slide. I've heard that this isn't as bad as the north slide, so I was hopeful that it would be less draining. The north slide took a lot out of me mentally, so I was looking really looking forward to the part of Livermore Tr. where I could turn my brain off and walk.
The south slide was much less consuming than north. I was still pretty steep and the rocks were very loose but it was a lot easier. My friend and I had met this couple who had done all of the 4,000 footers multiple times, but it was their first time up and down the slides. It was nice to talk to them about their experiences, and it helped take my mind off of how tired my knees were getting. It's funny though, a few months ago a descent like this would have killed my knees but today it wasn't bad at all.
When we got to the bottom of the south slide the leaf covered path was easy going. We knew there was a good amount of mileage left (maybe 3 miles), but the hard part was over. We speed walked out back to the parking lot and made it back right at 1:15.
The Tripyramid slides were a real challenge for me both mentally and physically. I think this is the steepest trail I have ever been up. Even though there were times when I was nervous, it was really fun scrambling up such difficult terrain. I think my hiking skills improved more in this single hike than many others that I have done. It took more focus than I've ever needed in my life, and any of you that know me know that I get distracted pretty easily. Ascending the north slide required a lot of mental perseverance, but I loved the challenge! I'm also super excited that winter is on it's way! Seeing snow was a great reminder for how close winter is approaching which means skiing, ice climbing, and winter hiking. I can't wait! Overall a great hike on a beautiful day for #41 and #42 of the NH48 4,000 footers!
#41 North Tripyramid (4,180 ft), and #42 Middle Tripyramid (4,140 ft) via. Livermore Rd, Livermore Tr, North Slide, Mt. Tripyramid Tr, and South Slide [11.0 mi, 2900 ft, 5:55].
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