Posted on

Redlining the White Mountain Guide: Challenges, Strategies, Tips, and Tricks

Peakbagging lists like the AMC 4000 Footers, the 52 with a View, the Grid (48 x 12), the Trailwright’s 72, and the Terrible 25 have always been a popular way to embrace and experience the grandeur of hiking in the White Mountains. Spanning New Hampshire and Maine, the White Mountain National Forest is home to hundreds of mountains with a well-developed network of connected hiking trails to explore.

While much of the White Mountains hiking scene is focused on peakbagging, a growing subset of hikers and backpackers are focused on hiking all of the trails listed in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s White Mountain Guide, now in its 30th edition. Called “Redlining,” the goal is to hike all 623 of the trails listed in the guide, totaling 1454.1 miles in length.

This includes every trail, up every mountain, to every viewpoint and destination, subsuming most of the region’s hiking lists, which are good stepping-stones toward the goal of finishing the entire redlining trail list. Since it takes most hikers years to finish redlining all of the trail in the White Mountain Guide, these peakbagging lists form an important source of motivation, community, and gratification along the way.

Redliners

Hikers who are actively working on the Redlining trail list are called redliners. Many have years of experience hiking in the White Mountains, often starting with the Appalachian Mountain Club’s 4000 footers list and branching out from there to hike to more and more destinations. Few start out with the intention of redlining all of the trails in the White Mountain Guide, but fall into it, when they run out of other lists to pursue.

The Redlining Patch
The Redlining Patch

There comes a point when every nascent redliner tallies up the trails they’ve hiked and the parts of the trails that they’ve missed (short sections, called “chads”) using the Redlining Spreadsheet, which is a list of all the trails in the current edition of the White Mountain Guide. This spreadsheet is freely available for download from NETrailconditions.com. 

The Redlining Spreadsheet is broken into the 12 regions covered in the White Mountain Guide, listing each trail, its mileage, with space for you to record how much you have left to complete and notes for future reference. While most of the trails on the spreadsheet are in the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire and Maine, many are not. The mere mention of a trail in the White Mountain Guide is justification for its inclusion in the Redlining Spreadsheet. In some cases, you’ll need to venture as far north as the New Hampshire/Canadian Border and as far west as the Vermont/New Hampshire state line to hike those trails.

Summary Page of the Red Lining Spreadsheet
Summary Page of the Red Lining Spreadsheet

Filling out the spreadsheet for the first time can be a sobering experience. When I filled it out for the first time, I found that I’d only hiked 50% of the trails and had dozens of unfinished trail segments that I had to go back and complete. This was even after eight years of intensive White Mountains peakbagging and backpacking. The Redlining spreadsheet soon became my focus of attention and completing it became a passion and obsession over the following two years.

There are two important numbers on listed on the summary page of the Redlining Spreadsheet:

  • percentage of trails completed
  • percentage of trail miles hiked

In my experience, I’ve found that the first metric, the percentage of trails completed, to be a better indicator of progress than the percentage of miles completed. Getting to the trails to hike them is the most difficult part of redlining; hiking the miles is easy after that.

A look at a spreadsheet page
A look at a redlining spreadsheet page

Rules of the Game

The Rules for Redlining the White Mountain Guide are easy to understand and follow. The following list is adapted from the unofficial White Mountains Redlining web page.

  • To become a White Mountains Redlining Finisher you must hike all of the trails in an edition of the AMC White Mountain Guide. Most people redlining today are working on the 29th or 30th (current) edition of the guide. While the 30th edition has about a dozen more trails than the 29th, it’s a closer reflection of the current trail system, which is always changing due to trail closings, trail reconstruction, timber harvesting, and so on.
  • You are expected to make an honest effort to hike all the trails in the guide. This includes visiting campsites, shelters, and scenic viewpoints that may not be listed in the spreadsheet. For example, there are a few springs and ledges mentioned in the guide that are not listed on the Redlining Spreadsheet, but many red-liners feel compelled to visit.
  • Trails can be redlined in the winter. But when the snow is deep, it is easy to get off trail and you might not be able to see the trail or know that you’re still following it. As long as you’ve made a good faith effort to stay on the trail, you can give yourself credit for that section of trail.
  • All segments or pieces of a trail must be hiked, walked, run, skied, snowshoed, on foot, at least once, without the aid of any sort of transportation with wheels. The mode of transportation used to get to each particular segment or section of trail is not an issue.

When you’ve finished the Redlining Spreadsheet and hiked 100% of the trails, you can submit an application to get the Redlining patch and have your name listed with the other people who’ve finished the Spreadsheet. To date, there have been 44 finishers since 1991 (click for the complete list).

Maps

As a redliner, you’ll quickly discover that many of the trails in the AMC’s White Mountain Guide are not drawn on the AMC’s White Mountain maps. If you’ve been using a red sharpie to highlight the trails that you’ve hiked so far on hiking maps, you’ll want to switch to the Redlining Spreadsheet to keep an accurate record going forward.

Here’s a partial selection of maps that I’ve found helpful for finding the trails you need to redline:

That said, many redliners are map collectors and you’re likely to accumulate an increasing number of maps as you work through the Redlining Spreadsheet.

You’ll probably also want to increase your skill set and become adept at using a GPS receiver or Smartphone Navigations Apps like GaiaGPS or Guthook’s NE Hiker App which provide GPS information for many of the obscure trails in the White Mountain Guide. A sizable number of the trails on the Redlining list can be difficult to find and difficult to follow because they’re hiked infrequently, sparsely blazed, or poorly maintained. While maps are essential to carry, having a GPS track of the trail in your backpack can be quite handy if you’re having difficulty following it by sight alone. It’s also a useful aid in helping you find your car on the way out.

Redlining Challenges

Motivation: The sheer number of trails on the Redlining Spreadsheet can be daunting. One way to stay motivated is to work on shorter-term peakbagging lists like the Terrifying 25, the Randolph Mountain Club 100, or the Trailwright’s 72 that require a lot of trail hiking to complete. It’s also easier to find friends who are willing to work on these lists with you, unlike many of the more esoteric trails on the Redlining Spreadsheet. For example, if you can hike 25% of the trails per year, you’re doing very well and moving through the spreadsheet at a fast pace.  Most people take much longer though.

Winter: Most of the trails on the Redlining Spreadsheet are not accessible in winter because the seasonal roads leading to them are closed and gated  or because they’re not “broken out” enough to make them possible to hike without a large group of fellow snowshoers. Winter typically lasts from mid-November through April in the Whites. The only trails that are broken out enough in winter are trails leading to peaks on the AMC 4000 footer list, which will slow down the pace of your redlining efforts. See NETrailConditions.com for up to date trail condition information.

Community: Most of your old hiking and peakbagging partners will probably abandon you when you start redlining and you’ll need to hike solo or surround yourself with the handful of people who are actively redlining. The best place to find kindred spirits is in the White Mountains Red-lining Group on Facebook, which is very supportive and convivial. Join it today, if you’re already redlining or want to get started.

Redlining Strategies

Here are a few tried and true redlining strategies that can help you motor through the trail list and reduce the number of repeat hikes you need to do over the same trails.

Hiking Partner: Redline with a friend, if you can, so you can bring two cars on hikes to avoid having to re-hike the same trail back to your car. Finding a hiking partner who is also redlining can be tricky though, unless you start at the same time and hike the list together, since most redliners avoid re-hiking trails they hiked before, even to help a friend.

Loop Hikes: Try to plan loop hikes in order to avoid hiking the same trails twice. This in often inevitable, especially on individual trails that end at scenic destinations and don’t have any connecting trails. But loop hikes can be a very efficient way to hike a lot of trails.

Backpacking: Backpacking trips over a period of one, two, or three days can give you the opportunity to hike many trails and cover many miles in one hike. In some cases, they’re the only efficient way to get to remote trails in the Mahoosuc Range or the Wild River Wilderness, deep in the Pemigewaset Wilderness, or along the western New Hampshire portion of the Appalachian Trail. Staying at the RMC’s low-cost huts or shelters is also a good way to knock off a large number of above-treeline trails in the Presidential Range in one trip.

Bike Drops: If you have to hike a trail that is near a road, you can drop a bike at the far end and ride it back to your car. This can be a big time saver.

Avoid Creating New Chads: Try not to leave portions of trails un-hiked, because they force you to come back and hike them.

Don’t Let Existing Chads Pile Up: Don’t let un-hiked portions of trails pile up because they can be a frustrating distraction later, when you’re trying to finish the redlining list.

Beware of Seasonal Closures: Hike the trails that are dependent on warm weather or dry days when conditions permit, rather than leaving them for shoulder seasons or winter, when seasonal conditions or road closures can make them impossible to reach.

Concentrate on Trails not Miles: While there are many difficult and challenging trails to hike in the Redlining Spreadsheet, the hardest part of redlining is getting to the trails, not completing them. You’re not done until you finish all the trails, so focus on them instead of accumulating more miles.

Tips and Tricks

Lodging: If you don’t live near the White Mountains, you should find a nearby place to stay a few days a week while you’re working on the Redlining Spreadsheet. Staying in motels or hostels gets expensive quickly. Car camping is an option and often free, although it can be a hassle. Another good alternative is to join a Ski Club, which is a group house, shared by many other skiers and hikers for a reasonable annual fee. If you like a quiet place to sleep, use the ski house on weekdays and in the warmer months and avoid it on winter weekends when the partiers arrive to go skiing.

Transportation: I’d recommend getting a higher clearance, 4 wheel drive vehicle for driving down the many unpaved forest service and logging roads required to find more remote trailheads. You might also want to pack a small hydraulic jack to make it easier to change wheels if you get a flat. You need to be very self-sufficient when redlining, because you’re going to be off-the-grid when hiking more remote trails.

Planning Tools: It helps to master a navigation planning tool like Caltopo.com or Garmin Basecamp when planning your routes, to help you visualize new loops, and import/export them to a GPS or Smartphone navigation app.

GPS Route Tracking: Once you’ve found the trail you plan to hike, consider tracking yourself on a GPS or Smartphone Navigation App so you can easily reverse your route if necessary. Less frequented trails are often overgrown and may be disturbed by logging, so having a reliable way of retracing your steps can be a real benefit.

Wrap Up

Redlining can be a joyous and fun way to experience the best of New England Hiking in the White Mountain National Forest and beyond. If you like to explore new places and hike new trails, it’s a great way to expand your horizons and increase your skill set as a hiker and backpacker. But redlining is a long term quest that can take years to complete. In order to stay motivated and engaged, try to work on some other peakbagging lists at the same time as you redline, hiking new trails that you’ve never hiked before to get to the destinations. This will help you keep your existing hiking friends around, while you pursue the longer term redlining goal.

About Philip Werner: Philip is the 36th person to finish hiking and backpacking all of the trails in the White Mountain Guide (1440 miles). He’s also finished hiking many of the region’s peakbagging lists including the White Mountain 4000 footers, the 4000 footers in Winter, the Terrifying 25, the RMC 100, and the Trailwrights 72. Philip is a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a member of the executive committee for the Random Hikers, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont’s Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He also teaches several compass, GPS, and off-trail navigation courses each year, listed on Outdoors.org.

SectionHiker.com receives affiliate compensation from retailers that we link to if you make a purchase through them, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep our content free and pays for our website hosting costs. Thank you for your support.