Video: Tackling Mt. Washington the Hard Way

Oct 11, 2019
by Jonathan Emery  

I'm sure some of the worst plans are conceived over beers with friends at the local watering hole. But there we were in the pub at Team Granite's home base, Highland Mountain Bike Park. It was post-ride at Wednesduro, and we were trying to figure out which peak to tackle next as part of Projectnortheast's #bikethewhites series. Then someone said it, "Why don't we ride the biggest and baddest mountain in the east?" All ears perked up as if we had all had it on our minds recently. Mind you, we have tackled many a local summit with our bikes on our backs, but this one, this one was different. "The home of the world's worst weather." Mt. Washington.

The seed was planted, legal trails were examined, elevation profiles were studied, and the higher summits' forecast was carefully looked over. The day and the route were picked. The weather forecast would hold true through the next week for beautiful clear skies and no wind; a very rare occurrence.

The simple joys on trail that can be brought by a simple short bread cookie after hours of hiking

Before venturing out into any backcountry ride in the White Mountain National Forest I always ensure that whatever we are trying to do is 100% legal. While I've been met with some criticism online, all of our on trail encounters have been nothing but positive. Most other trail users will ask questions/make comments like "Bikes? Here? Well, that's a first!" or "Are you going all the way to the top?" From people cheering us on as we respectfully descend by, seemingly surprised to see us again, to the WMNF ranger asking to take our picture at the top of Tuckerman's Ravine. I'm still kicking myself for not asking to take a selfie with her.

Our route would require us to take a 1/4 mile of the AT. Shouldering our bikes was the only way to cross legally

With frequent breaks to enjoy the scenery in pristine mountain weather, the hike up the western slope would take us close to 5 hours to reach the summit. After downing more calories at the summit than planned, we started our descent. At nearly 4 o'clock we wanted to ride a loop around the mountain, but our older wiser selves would make the right decision to turn back and leave some on the table for another day. The descent would prove to be a challenging technical game of pinball off rocks of every different size and shape and slick-as-snot, off-camber log waterbars. Being a Thursday, though the only souls we ran into during our descent were a local photographer and friend we knew heading up for sunset photos. We had the whole trail to ourselves, another rarity in the area.

As most people that earn their way to the top of Mt. Washington you only wait in line for summit pictures along with all those that either drove up, or rode the Cog railway once. But this picture was a must. So we waited in line and a lady was nice enough to take our picture

Riding along tuckermans ravine was an experience I'll never forget

Left: The terrain is big and hard especially with a bike on your back Right: Riding along tuckermans ravine towards lions head
As we descended down the light was fading and by the time we reached our vehicles it was almost pitch black. Beers were enjoyed as we sat on the asphalt in a circle reminiscing about what we had just accomplished. A small contingent of Team Granite just tackled the biggest peak in the east.


Thanks to
Team Granite MTB
Highland MTB Park
Yeti Cycles
Red Brick Clothing
Daniels Equipment
Zoic Clothing
Handup Gloves
Ryno Power Sports Suppliments
Cycles Etc.
Vittoria Tires
ODI Grips
Spy Optics
Nox Composites


  • 4 0
 Damn those were some hard earned beers! The weather can be crazy for sure on that mountain. The day we went up it was 70 degrees at the bottom, a beautiful summer day in August. I was in shorts. When we got to the top it was 40 degrees with about a 30 mph wind, damn was I unprepared for that. It is a beautiful but dangerous mountain.
  • 3 0
 We had a pretty rare day up there. 52 degrees as a low overnight at the top! No wind and sunny skies... waited a long time for the perfect day
  • 2 0
 Awesome story. Sounds like you all had an amazing trip and the photos are incredible! Thanks for sharing!
  • 2 0
 You should go biking in the alps someday Big Grin
  • 1 0
 @sxy-slo: its definitely on my list!
  • 3 0
 Wow. I just visited Mt. Washington for the 3rd time about 2 weeks ago! First time was `98 or so and we hiked up and stayed in the lake of the clouds hut. As I was driving up last time I was wondering if it would be legal/possible to bring my MTB.... Thanks for the report!
  • 5 3
 Definitely the unpopular opinion here, but I would hate to see Washington opened up for bikes. Sugarbush, Highland, and Killington have plenty of amazing tracks (can confirm). When going to Washington, I bring my two feet. Don't mind seeing one video every few years of a group like this, I just don't want to see one again for a few years now.
  • 3 1
 It's really more of a bucket list item for me. There are much better hike-a-bike adventures in the Whites.
  • 2 1
 @Coldspriner: As tempted as I've been to hike-a-bike in the Whites, I have to agree with all your points. The alpine zone in New England is tiny. Truly a rarified, "another world" kind of place, deserving of the leave-no-trace ethos. (Hikers could do better in this regard too Wink
No disrespect to the author's - part of me is glad at least a few humans have done it.
  • 13 1
Because the paved road and THE FREAKING TRAIN that pump hundreds of tourist’s up there every hour isn’t a big deal?

God forbid Mtb’s.

It’s about time we had a legit trail
Designed specifically for bikes in the alpine zone.

STOP acting like This is some
Kind of sacred area given the circus that exists up high.
  • 1 0
 @elsinore: My aim when putting these videos and blogs out isnt to advocate for mtb specific trails in alpine zones etc. But to atleast bring awareness that some of us do want to be there and it is legal in a few areas. Honestly though this kindof thing is more about the experience and being out there with my bike than anything and more access is always my desire.
  • 1 1
  • 6 1
Absolutely, great video!
These hike a bikes are the best, so many classics in the area. To be clear my comment was directed at coldspringier.

The idea that bikes do not belong in alpine zones is wrongheaded, if the land managers do not specifically forbid bikes you are in the clear. In fact, an existing trail reworked for mtb’s off the top of Washington would NOT be as difficult to pull off as most think. It would also have significantly less impact to the alpine zone than most hiking trails as mtb’s stick to the designated path much better than hikers, never mind that it’s essentially impossible to get off the trail up there with a bike.
Hike any hiking trail in the whites right now and you will see what I’m talking about, compared to a mtb specific trail they are brutal..

The fact that we have people on an mtb specific forum suggesting we should not be riding in alpine zones (in legal areas) is mind boggling when a paved road and train are open daily dumping hundreds of people up there who tramp around the alpine zone like a bunch of lemmings and cause actual damage.

Imagine a rideable trail from the top of Washington. 4500’ of vert. There would be nothing like it in the east.
  • 1 0
 @elsinore: it would be truly unique. Lots of big things coming to the Mt. Washington valley for MTB next year! Ride_noco are doing huge things and bringing one of the best trail builders in the east to town!
  • 2 0
We are, Got a few things up our sleeve as well!
  • 2 0
 (1) It is already open to bikes.

(2) Washington is full of people driving up in their mini-vans.

(3) The trail is only maybe 10% rideable uphill and 60-70% rideable downhill?

(4) What you can ride isn't for everyone... its tough as hell, and not intuitive.

Essentially, folks who are going to do this are few and far between. There are many many better places to ride your bike.
  • 1 0
 @bikekrieg: All very true... depending on who you are and what you enjoy. Wink
  • 2 1

The white mountain national forest has ridiculous elevation potential... They are brutal rugged mountains. I'd love to see NEMBA get full reign to cut whatever they wanted out of some of those 4000+ footers
  • 2 1
 @elsinore: didn't expect this opinion to get too much 'Hoo-rah' on an mtb site. My point is that the very limited
Alpine Zone where it exists in the Whites, is the rare gem that myself and many consider "sacred." Not the circus of Mt. Wash itself -- obviously the train/auto road make that one summit a sad case. Hiking your butt up to that summit to be swarmed by tourists and autos is a pinnacle of disenchantment.
  • 1 1
 @elsinore: As in my first comment, Agreed - many hikers do a poor job of sticking to a trail and minimizing impact. This isn't a hikers-vs.-bikers argument. I'd prefer No care-less peeps of any persuasion allowed in the alpine zone... Not that I'm much for Moar Regulations... Just aiming to spread some awareness that rare places deserve a rare amount of respect -- by all user groups.

As for "bike stick to trails better than hikers", I'm curious what you mean? That hasn't been my experience (even before Strava). Even the video here has a couple spots where corners are cut because- momentum, difficulty, speed, continuity. Not a judgement -- just reality.

I freaking love mtb-ing, pushing limits, hike-a-biking. But given how much impact just hiking causes, I'm not really looking for ways to increase impact on a fragile, gorgeous, very small area -- or to make the "Circus" up there any bigger or louder. Gotta be a way to maintain what we can in the Sublime essence of Alpine zones here, without castrating adventure-lust.

(Side Note to Trekking pole manufacturers -- you really can't find a way to keep some rubber secured to the tips so every group of hikers median age 35+ doesn't clatter by like a drunk robot spider skittering down the trail?)
  • 2 0
I'm lucky enough to have grown up in the whites, and currently live here. I agree that these areas are sacred, but the argument 'We just don't need more people up there" is total crap. If you have spent any time in the alpine zone, and in particular on Washington, you will quickly realize that its nothing but stacked rocks.. its a big rockpile. Given this reality, you would have to do a ton of rockstacking to make something rideable which would in essence make it mandatory to stay on specified track, if you want to stay on your bike at least.

As far as hiking trails vs mtb trails go, sure there is a ton of rider induced braiding on your southern New England trails, and on flatter trails up here as well. Things are very different on DH trails in the mountains though, its typically more difficult to get off track than it is to stay on when it comes to most mtb specific trails in the mountains. Again, hike any popular hiking trail in the whites these days and you will see how outrageously braided and blown out they are. Most of our local popular hiking trails here in North Conway are two tracks at this point.
  • 2 0
 @elsinore: not to mention most of the higher traffic hiking trails have all the rocks are removed from the tread and line the sides. I can guarantee anything we rode was 0 impact.
  • 3 0
 Now that is the kind of video I want to see more of here. Looked like the descent was just as challenging as the climb. Bravo.
  • 2 0
 Great camera work, video and editing Jon.keep posting the videos. Looks like you couldn’t of asked for better weather.
-Scott McPherson
  • 2 0
 I’m tuned in for more epic biking adventure opportunities coming out of the Mount Washington Valley. So much to explore! Thanks ProjectNortheast and Pinkbike.
  • 3 0
 Epic day... exciting that all hikers were also very excited to see us with bikes and cheering us on!
  • 2 0
 Great stuff!!!

..and what is the name of the background music? Also great stuff.
  • 1 0
 Mountain spring high by Gabriel Lewis
  • 3 0
 Well done buddy. A Truly epic adventure.
  • 1 0
 Thanks man!
  • 3 1
 Any chance you could post a link to your route?
  • 2 0
 I drove up it 3 years ago. Damn, that was scary enough!
  • 2 0
 Definitely! Specifically at the top where it is gravel and one car has to basically come to a stop for an oncoming vehicle to go by.
  • 1 0
 should straight line it down Huntington ravine next. Get a taste of those Squamish slabs
  • 4 3
 A network of biking trails on Mount Washington would be amazing.
  • 2 0
  • 2 0
  • 1 0
 Great stuff!!

What is the name of the background music? Also great stuff.
  • 2 0
  • 2 2
 that's a lot of work. any plans to make a rideable trail top to bottom?
  • 2 0
 Very doubtful... terrain is so hard and weather is harsh

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