Trip Report: Tripyramids, Whiteface, and Passaconaway

Every since Josh announced that he’d be finishing his 4000 footers on the first weekend in June, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to beat him.  I eventually decided it wasn’t worth it really, but I still wanted to be close enough that I didn’t feel “behind”.  So I asked Terrill whether I could hike on Friday/Saturday this weekend and she said one day would be better.  She’s making a huge sacrifice watching our kids by herself while I do these things on the weekends, so she gets to call the shots.

So I tried to find a hike that could knock off as many peaks that I hadn’t done as possible in the same day.  The best clustering I got was this hike, a traverse of the Tripyramids, Whitesface, and Passaconaway.  I read several trip reports so I knew it was a sane hike to attempt.  An insane idea might be to throw in the Osceola’s as well for an extra 7-8 miles and several thousand feet, but that wouldn’t have made as much sense topographically.

Because this was a family weekend, I started the hike after 9am.  I usually don’t like to start this late because it makes me feel nervous, but I do like to have breakfast with my family.  So it’s always a compromise.

Trip stats
Distance: 16 miles
Elevation Gain: 5500 ft (ascend, traverse, descend)
Total time: 8 hours (roughly 9am-5pm)
Weight: 12 pounds (3L water, dried food/candy, Jetboil, long shirt, phone, headlamp, kit, Gossamer pack w/ pad)
Peaks: North, Middle, South Tripyramids, East and West Sleeper, Whiteface, Passaconaway
Water Consumed: 4.5L total
People Seen: 10+ groups – 1, 4-6 groups – 5, pairs – 5, solo – 3
Start of the hike at the car.  No real parking area
so you need to pull onto the shoulder.

I started up Pine Bend Brook Trail from the road.  The first part of the hike was your standard approach trail, not terribly steep and on fresh legs it felt flat.  The trail was clear and the sun was bright, it was a great morning to be hiking.  Around mile 2 or so I picked up a brook and the hike became a rocky valley ascent, getting much steeper.

There was only ice on the ascent of North Tripyramid

Eventually the terrain turned into a pine forest like it tends to in the White Mountains somewhere around 3000 feet.  At this point, the air turned colder and I began to see ice on the ground.  I hadn’t brought spikes on this trip, accidentally.  Luckily, it was mostly avoidable and there were only a couple of hairy spots where I had to hoist myself up with my hands.

 I think this is the view from the Middle Tripyramid.
Note Wateverille Valley over my shoulder.
I reached the ridge line where Pine Bend Brook Trail meets up with Scaur Ridge Trail and met two groups there in quick succession.   When they heard I was headed over to Whiteface, one of the guys pulled out his map and told me I should turn right to head to Whiteface ledge rather than go right to the summit since there was no view there.  That was a great suggestion and I ended up having lunch there.  Thanks dude!

Tripyramids were a bit disappointing, honestly.  There was a bit of a view from the middle one which was the only one that actually didn’t count.  I met a lone hiker on the North Tripyramid figuring out his blister situation.  My own feet were going strong at this point, my sock liners working well.  I hadn’t even taped pre-hike which was probably a mistake but ended up working out ok.

I got a couple of snaps in the middle and then headed on quickly down the south slide of South Tripyramid.  This was a glorious slide that was super tricky to navigate.  It was blind luck that I went down the left side because I managed to actually see the turnoff for Kate Sleeper Trail with a faded paint mark on the rock and a camouflaged sign.  This slide in general needed some trail marking love.  It was the place I was most confused on the whole trip.

Turnoff for Kate Sleeper trail off of the slide on South Tripyramid

After I turned off the main trail to Kate Sleeper, the trail looked very different than the trails to the pearks.  I love these cross-trails because they don’t get quite as much wear and they have a different feel.  It was still well-marked, but there were sticks still lying in the trail.  It was fast going doing the Sleepers and if I was a bit more hardcore I probably could have jogged them.  As it was, I did a fast hike pace and admired the war zone that was that area of the mountain.  It looked like the whole thing had been decimated by a giant wandering through there and the trail maintenance crews had valiantly carved a path back through the blowdown.

So many fallen trees, so much trail maintenance
One of the many poorly marked situations here
at the turnoff for Downes Brook

At the Downes Brook intersection (which was really poorly marked, I would have missed it if I hadn’t been wandering around looking for water), the trail turned upward toward Whiteface.  I had been dreading this turn of the trail back toward elevation, but it was honestly one of the gentlest 4000 footers I’ve ever climbed.  Of course, I was approaching it from the backside which is sort of cheating but it was still incredibly gradual.

Chicken gumbo – my delicious lunch

When I got the ridgeline of Whiteface, I turned right like the hiker I had met had recommended and hit the ledges at Whiteface.  There were a couple groups there but I found a nice high rock for myself and started to make lunch.  The largest group I saw all day soon glided up and took over the largest rock face.  It was a group of Canadians so I had no clue what they were chatting about and they never said hi.  Annoyingly, they were also littering.  Public service announcement: it’s littering to toss food scraps into the trees.  It still counts if it biodegrades.  Not that I have never accidentally dropped crumbs, but to purposely throw things into the trees is just bad hiker form.  Eat it or pack it out.

Looking back at the Tripyramids from Passaconaway

I finished my meal and headed out.  This was the last text I sent to my wife that hike I believe.  I had pretty decent cellular coverage on tops of the mountains.  I interjected myself into a conversation to point out that a couple was not actually at the peak of Whiteface.  The hiker who had recommended the ledges earlier had also mentioned that he thought Whiteface was the most mishiked mountain in the Whites.  Everyone gets to the viewpoint and assumes it’s the peak.  The far side starts to drop down and the map is a bit misleading so it’s easy to see how this is true.  This is compounded by the fact that the peak is not actually marked with a sign and the closest sign just reads “<- Mt Passaconaway”.  Dear trail maintainers, please work on this signage issue.

Points if you can tell me which mountain this is
One of the widest water crossings of the hike

I dropped off the far side of Whiteface on the Rollins Trail into the ditch in between the two mountains.  The descent off Whiteface was pretty bad, but the ascent up to Passaconaway on the Dicey Mills side was a bit more straightforward.  Yes it was steep but not quite as jagged in my opinion.  Overall though I’d say Passaconaway was the hardest climb overall.  It was pretty steep on all sides.  Going down the Walden Trail side of Passaconaway was not any less steep.  In fact, it started to feel rough on my knees as I took the Square Ledge Trail to the Passaconaway Cutoff.  The downhill was relentless and I was amazed that I had actually climbed this far.  Then near the bottom of the cutoff it transitioned into a standard valley approach trail and stayed really gentle as I met up with Oliverian Brook and headed on down the long, yet easy miles back to the dusty parking lot.  Miraculously, even though I was 45 minutes early, my wife showed up one minute after I arrived in the parking lot.  That was an awesome sight, because little bugs had started to bite as I was sitting down.

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