Wednesday, June 15, 2016

White Mountains Direttissima Attempt - An Unsupported Thru-Hike of the 48 4,000-Footers of the White Mountains

June 2016
Dan, Alton, & Cole (aka SuperPup)

Tomorrow, June 16, 2016, Alton, Cole (K9), & I (Dan) begin an attempt to hike a “direttissima” of the 48 4,000-Footers of the White Mountains. It is our goal to traverse each of the 48 4,000-footers in one continuous and unsupported hike, and by using the most direct route as possible. This means that we will not retrace one step or re-hike one spur trail as we traverse each and every summit on our way to, we hope, completing a direttissima of the White Mountains.

The word or idea “direttissima” comes from its use as an Italian climbing term in the 1930s and 1940s. Definitions across the board state that, generally, it means “most direct route to a mountain top”, or “the shortest link”, or “most direct route”. There have been previous thru-hikes and other unrecorded attempts revolving around the idea of a “direttissima” or “thru-hike” of the White Mountains. Based on my due diligence in understanding the prior attempts, the previous six known thru-hikes of the White Mountain 4,000-footers generally tagged the summits using the typical trails and spur trails (aka "out-and-backs"), and/or with the benefit of leaving backpacks/supplies behind for short portions of trails, spur trails, in particular. If one retraces a spur path or section of trail, then the route might not be considered the “most direct route”. If one has to retrace their path to get to the next section, than it is likely not the shorter or shortest route. Such a hike may be a continuous hike from start to finish, but wouldn't be a continuous, direct path or route. If one relieves themselves of their supplies along a route that is not the most direct, then a question could still be asked as to what truly is an unsupported Direttissima of the 48 4,000-footers of the White Mountains?

During our attempt, we will use trails, roads, and bushwhacks with all our own foot power. We will not use any spur trail more than once, which will require either an off-trail approach or off-trail descent from some of the peaks (namely Owls Head, Galehead, Hale, Zealand, West Bond, Bond, North Hancock, Passaconaway, Tom, Isolation). The ultimate goal is to take a route that does not retrace any part of our path and to potentially blaze a shortest route of all prior attempts. Our secondary goal is to pursue the fastest known time of any unsupported thru-hike of the 48 4,000-footers (8 days, 8 hours or less). By shooting high with our goals, we give ourselves a chance to still accomplish this inspirational feat, at the end of it all, in a number of potentially different ways. Any use of huts (except water), services (stores), or gifts, could deem this hike self-supported, as opposed to unsupported. We may use available open shelters or tent sites, but not enclosed huts with doors for sleeping. We will carry all of our gear and food for every step of the way (since we can't go back), and dispose of everything properly, practice LNT, and follow all WMNF rules for camping.

We respect, admire, and share the same passion and inspiration as those who’ve previously accomplished a thru-hike of the 4,000-footers. Such a hike is in inspiration to anyone. Each before us has done it in their own way, direction, or with their own twist, and we are simply doing the same, with a desire to push our physical ability to beyond its limits, while hiking across our favorite and beloved mountains. Below, is a brief synopsis of the known completions and attempts of a White Mountain thru-hike. Below it, is a brief note on what makes the prior attempts different compared to our goal.

Previous White Mountain Thru-Hike Accomplishments & Attempts

1969 - Reverend Henry Folsom, 19 days
In the summer of 1970, the Reverend Henry Folsom, of Old Saybrook, Connecticut worked out the shortest continuous route of walking trails and roads to climb all the peaks - “direttissima” --in the most direct manner. In 19 (non-continuous) days and 244.5 miles, he bagged them all starting with Cabot and ending on Moosilauke. His tale is told in the December 1971 issue of Appalachia.
-Steve Smith & Mike Dickerman

*Folsom drove home at the end of each day or section to sleep in his own bed and drove to the next trail head the next morning.
*Folsom’s set his "direttissima" guidelines as using only established trails and roads available to cars, and using the motorized vehicle as part of the route.

2007 - Mats Roing, 10 days 12 hours and 7 minutes
In 2007, the feat was reprised by hiker Mats Roing, who climbed all 48 peaks in one continuous, unsupported backpacking trip, starting with Mt. Moosilauke, and ending with Mt. Cabot. For his own twist, Roing dropped down for 10 push-ups on each peak
-Steve Smith & Mike Dickerman

Journal as it happened on VFTT

* Roing dropped his pack for a number of summits and used out-and-backs and spur trails.

2009 - Mats Roing & MEB, (Attempt) in reverse.
44 of 48, called off the attempt at Lafayette Campground, 4 shy of finishing

“We're carrying everything from the start and the only thing we'll refill is water. MEB's pack weighed in at 50.4 lbs last night (with 3 liters of water). Mine was 51.0 lbs but I still have 15 lbs of stuff to add (including water). The food is the bulk of it. We are using a Black Diamond Lighthouse tent without the vestibule. No tent stakes to save weight. Have solar charger for the Iphone so the GPS tracker will work....knock on wood.” - Mats Roing

* Roing dropped his pack on occasion and used out-and-back and spur trails.

2012 - Ryan & Kristina Welts (Attempt)
3 of 48

2014 - Taylor Radigan, approx. 14 days
*Route details were not available online, although it is presumed that only trails were used and was completed in the style of a White Mountain Challenge.

2014 - Arlette Laan, 11 days 19 hours

Arlette’s Blog & Personal Account -

*Laan dropped her pack on occasion and used out-and-backs and spur trails

2015 - Ariel & Anna Feindel, 8 days, 8 hours, 37 minutes, fastest time
On September 16, 2015, Ariel and Anna Feindel of Portsmouth, completed a 4000-Footer Direttissima (an unsupported, continuous backpacking hike of the 48 peaks) in, to the best of our knowledge, a record time of 8 days, 8 hours and 37 minutes. They started up north on Mt. Cabot and ended on Mt. Moosilauke, averaging nearly 30 miles per day on their 240-mile trek.
-Steve Smith & Mike Dickerman

*The Feindel’s used out-and-backs and spur trails

Other Information & Discussion Regarding the idea of a “Direttissima”

A Views from the Top discussion on trying to decipher and discuss the “shortest route” and the term “Direttissima”.

A thread in Views from the Top discussing “direttissima”.

Philip Werner’s (Section well thought-out ponderings of a White Mountain Direttissima or White Mountain Challenge

A general comment from Tim Seaver about blazing a direttissima route, explains our approach best.

“I am sure a very interesting route could be constructed using only bushwhacks which would be shorter mileage-wise, but what I am really after is the most efficient way to tie all 48 peaks together (using primarily the established trails) without an undue amount of thrashing.”

White Mountains Direttissima Itinerary

Start: June 16, 2016
Target End Date: June 24, 2016
Estimated Distance: 230-250 miles
Estimated Elevation Gain: 80,000 ft +/-
Estimated Elevation Loss: 80,000 ft +/-

A very rough and approximate daily peak itinerary is below:

Day 1
Moosilauke, Kinsmans, Cannon

Day 2
Flume, Liberty, Lincoln, Lafayette, Garfield, Owls Head, Galehead

Day 3
S. Twin, N. Twin, Hale, Zealand, West Bond, Bond, Bondcliff, N. Hancock, S. Hancock

Day 4
East Osceola, Osceola, Tecumseh, N. Tripyramid, S. Tripyramid, Whiteface, Passaconaway

Day 5
Carrigain, Willey, Field, Tom, Jackson, Pierce, Eisenhower, Monroe, Washington

Day 6
Isolation, Wildcat D, Wildcat A, Carter Dome, South Carter, Middle Carter, Moriah

Day 7
Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Waumbek, Cabot

General Astronomical Outlook for Mid-June

Sunrise:  5:00 AM
Sunset:    8:30 PM
Twilights: 20-30 minutes before and after sunrise/sunset (4:40am / 9:00pm)
Day Length: 15 Hours 20 Minutes
Moonrise: In the evenings, one hour later each day. 8:30 pm on the Full Moon
June Full Moon: Monday, June 20th, 7:04 AM; Full Strawberry Moon
Summer Solstice: Monday, June 20, 6:34 PM

Estimated Route Details & Camping Options

Complete Pack List

Complete Food List

As always, we tremendously appreciate the support, and encouragement of all our friends and family in our crazy endeavors, and we hope that you will support us in this exciting attempt to complete, perhaps, the first “true” direttissima of the 48 4,000-Footers of the White Mountains. We look forward to seeing many of you out on the trails next week! Remember, we will be on a precise plan and focused on our goal. Someone please bring us some good champagne and some ice cold beer to the Unknown Pond Trail head next week! Welcome Summer! Cheers to all of you!


  1. You guys are monsters. Good Luck!

  2. Good Luck and we will be watching !

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  4. Good luck! This is awesome!

  5. Sounds awesome! Wishing for good weather for you!

  6. I will be out there. Hope I see you in passing to cheer you on. Good luck. Can't wait to see updates.

  7. Geeking out over your route. Does the short Bushwhack on the Passaconaway summit refer to the roughly 10 yard spur to the summit cairn? If so, that's really commitment to the not retracing steps goal!

    1. You're absolutely correct! Shouldn't be too difficult, right? Ha. Thanks,

  8. Wow! Wonderful detailed planning and research! Good luck and have a fabulous adventure!

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  10. Cheering for you guys!!! Can't wait to follow your journey! :)

  11. Just friggin amazing! Good luck to all 3 of you!

  12. Good luck, not that I think you will need it having read about some of other amazing hikes the 3 of you have done.

  13. Good luck you guys! It was great to meet you on Haystack and to have seen your crazy progress so far. Amazing. And to all the rest of you out there, so you can get a measure of the man Dan, he broke out his Macallan scotch and shared it with strangers / new acquaintances, thus adding 20 minutes to the finish time. He should be granted a 20-min time allowance for kindness to strangers!

    Power to you!

  14. Awesome. Just stumbled upon this, and I hope you had a great trip. My wife and I did a White Mtns Thru-Hike (we called it the High Peaks Route) over 2.5 weeks back in 2000. Amazing way to hit the high points plus lonely parts of the Whites and great swimming holes all in one trip with basically no backtracking. Ending up at Rodgers Ledge and looking back over all the Whites is a grand finale. For me, it was a fun follow up to previously hiking the AT (southbound '94) and Continental Divide Trail ('97). Doing it fast sounds incredible. Glad to hear about it and hope to try it again some time! By the way, I'm pretty sure that the Waterman's reported on at least one other continuous thru-hike in their book, Backcountry Ethics.