A New Challenge: The White Mountains Direttissima Record

Like many prospective PCT thru-hikers, I read the PCT Association’s statement on March 19 with overwhelming disappointment. Others eloquently express the anguish of the thru-hiking community over the past few months; I share these emotions, but I do not suppose that I could add anything that has not already been said, and so I won’t. That is not what this post is about.

Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Sometimes you can do the research and the preparation only to face an insurmountable setback. These are some of the most difficult setbacks because they leave you feeling helpless. In your perceived helplessness, you wonder why you tried in the first place. If you’re not careful, they can make you resentful and damage your resiliency.

I admit that I experienced these negative emotions when it became clear that I would not hike the PCT in 2020. However, large setbacks often present unexpected opportunities. I began searching for something to dedicate my “hiking self” to this summer, and I soon came across the White Mountain Direttissima.

The Direttissima

The White Mountain Direttissima is not a trail but an idea: hike all of the 48 4,000 footers of New Hampshire in one continuous hike without resupplying. This brutal endeavor spans about 240 miles and 80,000 feet of elevation gain, depending on the route taken. Variables such as difficulty of terrain, personal health, and unpredictable weather conditions have kept the number of finishers very low. I do not know the exact number, but I believe it to be around ten.

Self-Supported vs. Unsupported

When looking at the fastest known times, I quickly decided that the self-supported record is a project that I would enjoy pursuing. As far as I am aware, the fastest known time for a self-supported Direttissima is held by Andrew Drummond, who threw down a time of 5 days, 23 hours and 58 minutes back in 2016.

There is a lively debate about what distinguishes a self-supported hike from an unsupported hike. I feel as though interjecting my own thoughts on the matter is irrelevant and will only cause unnecessary controversy. To avoid this, I plan to simply follow Drummond’s precedent for a self-supported hike.

In both cases, one carries all their own food and gear, and one does not accept any targeted physical assistance from outside sources. The differences that have been set by precedent, which I intend to adhere to, are as follows: I will take water from the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) huts, I will drop my full pack for “out-and-back” sections, and I will invite others to join me on sections as moral support.

A Few Logistics

I will be using two forms of verification to confirm my hike. My GPS watch will record individual days of the hike and upload the data to Strava (I will send out my Strava link in a later post). I will also be carrying a Spot device that will update my live location every ten minutes. I am hesitant to upload a link to the internet with my exact location for several days, but I am happy to send it out to individuals as long as I can vet them beforehand.

Another logistical note worth mentioning is my reasoning for choosing the Direttissima. I live well within a gas tank’s range from the start of the Direttissima, and I live even closer to its end. This seems like the perfect project because although it is a large commitment, it is both local and contained by design (no resupplies). I plan to adhere to all Forest Service rules, and I have been closely monitoring the status of the AMC huts, campsites, and trails.

Goal and Course

The goal, of course, is to break the self-supported record, but I hesitate to set a goal of a time beyond that. There are many confounding variables such as unpredictable weather in the Whites that render exact estimates rather inexact.

My next post will be dedicated to the specifics of my strategy and chosen course, but I will outline it briefly here. Suffice it to say that my route is not original. There are numerous and ingenious ways that people have approached the Direttissima; after evaluating several routes, I decided that Drummond’s matches my style of hiking the best. His route also contains a solid amount of “out-and-backs” during the first few days, which fits my strategy of loading bigger mile days at the beginning. I have made several changes to the route (which I will cover in the next post), but the vast majority is the same.

The route starts at the base of Mount Moosilauke, traversing the Kinsman Range and then Franconia Ridge. After a brief excursion to Owls Head, the rest of the Pemigewasset Wilderness area is covered before diving south to the Sandwich Wilderness. The route then circles back north to cover the west side of Crawford Notch before crossing the road and hitting the southern half of the Presidential Range. After grabbing Mount Isolation, the route crosses Route 16 to traverse the Carter-Moriah Range. Skirting back over Route 16, the Northern Presidentials are hit, followed by a large road walk that leads to the base of the Pilot Range, where the route is ultimately completed by peaking Waumbek and Cabot.

Time to Get Going

This is a 30,000-foot view, but I wanted to give a brief description of the route in this first post. I have put off writing this post for some time because I realize that talk is cheap when it comes to something of this magnitude, but I also want to be open and allow others to share in this project. In the meantime, I continue to train. Keep an eye out for more updates on The Trek and on my Instagram as I get closer to go time.

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Comments 2

  • Sue Johnston : Jun 25th

    Good luck, Will!

    A bit of history since I think it is important: The first Direttissima, “most direct route,” was actually completed in 1970.

    In the context of the NH 4’s, the idea was hatched by Reverend Henry T. Folsom, who in the December 1971 edition of Appalachia defined the endeavor as climbing the 4000 footers in the most direct manner using only trails and roads, starting at one end and walking all the way to the other. Rev. Henry began his quest on June 18, 1970, on Mt. Cabot and finished with Moosilauke on September 3, hiking 19 non-continuous days toward his summer’s goal. Returning home most nights, he also spent 4 nights camping out plus a night at Galehead Hut. Including off-route miles, Henry hoofed a total of 258 miles to complete his Direttissima.

    One does not have to carry everything from the start unless they are pursuing an unsupported/self-supported Direttissima.

    Snowflea (completed a Direttissima In 2016 in 9 days & change in in the spirit of Henry Folsom)

    Reply
    • Will Peterson : Jun 25th

      Hey Sue!

      That makes a lot of sense, thank you for the clarifying information about the history and the spirit of the Direttissima! It’s really cool to hear from someone who has completed one! I did not know that its history went back so far, that is really cool.

      Reply

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