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Redlining the White Mountains

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The White Mountains are an enormous expanse – they cover over a quarter of the state of New Hampshire and a small portion of Western Maine (the White Mountain National Forest spans more than 800,000 acres). Due to the harsh weather conditions—the record wind speed is 231 miles per hour, recorded on the summit of Mt Washington—treeline begins around 4,000 feet, providing ample opportunity for amazing views.

oboz redlining mount jefferson
Jason and Mount Jefferson on his redlining expedition.

Peak Bagging

The Appalachian Mountain Club maintains a list of 48 peaks over 4,000 feet in elevation. "Peak bagging," hiking each peak on the list, is a popular goal for enthusiastic hikers.

oboz red lining spreadsheet
The redlining spreadsheet.

Some diehards attempt "The Grid", which involves hiking each of the 48 peaks during each calendar month—i.e. hiking Mt Washington at least once in January, February, March, etc. This is a multi-year goal that 56 people (plus a few dogs!) have completed as of this writing.

I bagged the 48 4,000 footers several years ago and have re-hiked most of the peaks for fun or to accompany a friend working toward the same accomplishment.

Red-Lining

And then, a few years ago I learned of a hiker who had just red-lined the Whites. What, you ask, is red-lining? It is hiking all 1,440.4 miles of trail as described in the Appalachian Mountain Club's "White Mountain Guide," including all the side trails to campsites and viewpoints. Redlining refers to using a red Sharpie marker to trace the trails one has completed on the map.

oboz red lining white lines
When you're redlining, you get out in any and all conditions.

"Hiker Ed" Hawkins maintains a website "48x12.com" and is the keeper of the Grid and Redlining records. Jon Burroughs is the first person known to have completed all 1,440 miles of trail (in 1991) and to date 25 people have finished the red-lining list. In 2013, Matthew Hickey hiked all of the trails in 193 days - a truly mind boggling effort!

Red-lining involves enormous amount of "out and back" hikes. Almost every ridgeline in the Whites had a trail that follows its crest, plus countless connecting side trails that lead to the ridge. It can be quite daunting to choose the best/most efficient route, especially in areas with a large number of short, intertwined trails. I find the best approach is to do big loop hikes wherever possible, and the return to cleanup shorter bits.

Personal Challenge

I had been marking my map (just for fun) for several years and had a lot of red ink on there. But when I checked it against a spreadsheet that list every individual trail, separated by region, in the same order as they are listed in the guide, I was surprised to learn I had hiked less than 50% of the trails listed. More—there were many trails not shown on the maps included with the guidebook.

In order to prepare for my 2012 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike, I began to do long, multi-day backpacking trips building up to averaging 20+ miles per day and saw an opportunity to add more red to my own map.

Getting After It

My home is over an hour drive to the closest trails on the list, many are almost four hours away, so I try and do as many miles as possible each trip. With such an enormous variety of terrain to explore, there is truly a hike for every mood. If it's a hot day, I choose a trail that follows a river, in the winter long gentle trails can be cross-country skied (the rules allow for non-wheeled transport, i.e. skis or snowshoes). On a bluebird day, I hike long and above treeline.

oboz red lining oscar
Oscar the redlining dog.

I keep two pair of Oboz in my car: my super cushy and lightweight Sundogs for long day hikes and ultralight backpacking and a well-loved pair of Oboz Traverse Low light hikers for trips above treeline. On the extended rock hops of the Presidential Range, they provide the support and one would expect from a boot without the weight and bulk.

Why Red-Line?

I have discovered a very supportive community of similarly afflicted hikers online and occasionally meet one another—typically online first, and then on an obscure trail. I have often asked oncoming hikers on more remote trails if they are red-lining, only to learn that we know of each other’s hikes from Facebook but have never actually met.

I once posted a message looking for help with a long car spot the following morning or perhaps that evening. Three minutes later I had an offer, and the next thing I knew, a fellow red-liner I had never met in person was driving me over 80 miles to spot my car! (We have hiked together since and become friends)

Progress

After many years of chipping away at this project, I now have 9.8 miles remaining and will likely be the 27th red-line finisher. If you enjoy long drives to obscure trail heads, muddy, overgrown and seldom used trails and don’t need a “view” to enjoy a hike, then red-lining may be for you!

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