For more than 100 years now, New Hampshire hiking enthusiasts have been turning to the AMC White Mountain Guide for the most complete and up-to-date information on the region’s vast network of mountain footpaths. The current edition of the guide— the 28th— covers more than 1400 miles of trails and includes descriptions for over 500 different trails. Its physical size alone, being more than 600 pages long, is a tell-tale sign that creating a new updated edition every four or five years is a monumental undertaking, one which is already underway.
Steve Smith of Lincoln, co-editor of the two most recent editions of the AMC Guide (published in 2003 and 2007) and author of several other popular regional hiking guidebooks, said last week that he has already begun field work for the next guide, which will be published in 2012, and that by next year at this time the 29th edition of the venerable “hiker’s bible” to the Whites will be well on its way toward completion.
“Between now and then a lot of trails will have to be checked, and there will be a lot of communication between myself and the many trail maintaining organizations that are active here in the Whites,” said Smith, who also owns and operates the Mountain Wanderer Map and Book Store in Lincoln. “To the average person, it probably seems like overkill that we come out with a new edition every four of five years, but it’s really amazing how many little things can change over time.”
Given the magnitude of the White Mountain trail system, and the very nature of the region, change is inevitable. According to Smith, updating the trail guide every couple of years is a necessity, not a luxury, ‘because you don’t want people to be surprised” when they get out on the trail. Naturally-occurring events such as ice and wind storms, landslides, and ongoing beaver activity can radically alter the landscape and adversely impact hiking trails. Trail relocations are also an ongoing fact of life in the mountains, as are the building of new trails and paths, and the closing of others. Logging activity is another contributing factor when it comes to impacting the mountain trails.
When Smith takes one of his frequent trips into the woods to check out an existing footpath, one of his main objectives is to “compare the description in the guide with the actual experience on the ground.” It helps, too, he says, to look at things differently than he normally would, especially when he’s on a trail that he may have hiked many times before. “Sometimes I try and take a fresh perspective…and pretend that it’s the first time I’ve ever hiked the trail.” When you do that, you see things differently, he said, and that can lead to a very different description than what appeared in the guide previously.
While many of the region’s major trails— like the Crawford Path, the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, or the Mount Willard Trail—admittedly see little change from one edition of the guide to the next, there are a like number of lesser used paths that require frequent field checking. Because these paths get little use, and are frequently difficult to follow in places, it’s absolutely essential that the guidebook description be as accurate as humanly possible for it may very well mean the difference between someone staying on the trail, and someone losing their way. That, says Smith, is where updating the guide regularly can make a difference.
In the course of prepping the next edition of the AMC Guide, Smith said he will consult frequently with groups and organizations such as the Randolph Mountain Club, the Chatham Trails Association, the Wonalancet Outdoor Club, the Dartmouth Outing Club, and the U.S. Forest Service, to see what trail projects they’ve been working on or what projects may be on the near horizon.
He’ll also gladly accept input from the hiking public at large, and will frequently visit internet sites where hiking and hiking trails are the primary interest or focus. “The World Wide Web has certainly been a big help in recent years as there are several excellent bulletin boards where hikers post comments on their experiences and on the condition of the trails,” noted Smith. “I probably rely more on these reports than any other single source.”
Smith said he already knows there will be some changes to trail descriptions in the next guide. As an example, he said a Forest Service trail into remote Albany Notch in the Speckled Mountain region near the Maine-New Hampshire border is slated to be closed due to heavy beaver activity. “The Forest Service has thrown up the white flag in that instance,” quipped Smith. And just recently, Smith said he discovered a relocated section of trail in the Green Hills Preserve near North Conway that he had not previously known about. “There will be more surprises along the way, I’m sure, because there’s always something going on out there.”
With the removal last fall of the old suspension bridge deep in the Pemigewasset Wilderness, lack of a safe place to now cross the East Branch of the Pemi, and some impending name changes to the paths affected by the bridge removal, several trail write-ups for that part of the White Mountain National Forest will also have to be severely altered in the next guide.
Because of the already lengthy nature of the AMC Guide, Smith said there’s not a lot of room to expand or add much new interpretive stuff, but subtle additions such as noting a view or making mention of a particularly nice stand of trees are certainly possibilities.
Mike Dickerman is a longtime hiking enthusiast, award-winning columnist, and author or coauthor of nine books related to the White Mountains region of New Hampshire. He lives in Littleton.