Ski Touring the Pemigewasset Wilderness Traverse

Jefferson, New Hampshire



23 miles

Elevation Gain

4500 ft

Route Type



Added by Thomas Keefer

In winter, "The Pemi Traverse" is the perfect get away ski tour. Only a few hours from Boston, you can find yourself enjoying an overnight ski tour with a night in an amazing hut and enjoy the most amazing solitude in the Northeast.

The Pemigewasset Wilderness is a 45,000-acre treasure embedded within the spectacular “Whites” of New Hampshire. It’s a remote, less often travelled wilderness than the nearby Presidential Range but no less spectacular. The winter “Pemi Traverse”, a 23 mile tour from Bretton Woods to Lincoln, jumps out from the guidebook as one of the most rewarding adventures but comes with both fair warning about the difficulty in navigating the middle section and scant usable route beta.

The trailhead for the “Spruce Goose” ski trail is just past where the Old Man of the Mountain used to form the skyline of Canon Mountain before it tumbled into the talus below, a victim of the annual freeze thaw cycle. Spruce Goose meanders through a forest of mixed pine, birch and, of course, spruce trees, slowly climbing towards the Zealand Falls hut. 

The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) operates a series of huts offering rustic accommodation across the entire range, some of them open in winter too. The Zealand Falls hut is a great spot to relax and take in the rich mountain history of the region after knocking off the first 8 miles of the tour. The 'Z cliffs' above the hut are another worthy outing for skiers looking for some steeps. The Zealand Falls hut is similar to those in the alps - perched on a precarious overlook and well appointed. It has a great and is energized with a great vibe despite it being just the caretaker and one other staying that night with us.

The hut has the logs running back into the 1950s on a shelf (the rest are stored in the main AMC library!) and so pulled a couple down. It was slightly disappointing to find that no one was in the hut the day I was born but there was a very poignant, philosophical discussion in the log the day after. I read it closely being sure to heed the warning about ensuring to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible in order to ensure the soul is adequately nourished.

After we'd procrastinated as much as possible, we decided to boot down the first section below the hut before skiing down the lower slope back to the Wilderness trail. We also debated what the best trail names would be without consensus. The sun was breaking through they chilly morning and the skiing was great. Up to this point the route was very straight forward but the crux of the route, the section from Thoreau Falls to the junction with Wilderness Trail, was still ahead.

We descended to Thoreau Falls anticipating finding the seasonal snow bridge but jokingly committed to a chilly wade across the river if it had been melted out. Fortunately, it was still there and we were now about to start the most difficult section - five and a half miles deep in the center of the Pemi Wilderness that likely only saw a couple parties cross this season. No problem! 

The track started out well broken and easy to follow... for about 100 yards. The view into the valley we were to follow made the route obvious on the grand scale but the many cut banks and fingers made choosing the correct route a great time - just enough to distract you from the fact that were coming up on ten miles for the day. The trail came and went - with no discernable reason for disappearing and ranged for well tracked to imaginary but following the river seemed to keep us crossing sections of 

One of the cooler parts of the trip was getting finding a set of coyote prints in the snow that followed a perfect line through the trees and eventually picked up a nice skin track! It looked as if we had successfully picked out way through the crux - only minimally impacted by caked up skins, a few foot issues, a binding problem and a no real knowledge of the exact route.

Finally on the last leg, the track was well set and easy to follow in most places. We skinned along, eventually watching the sun set and pulling out the headlamps. In final couple miles we came across the first people we had seen all day - a group of young kids heading in to camp at the Franconia tent site. 

The first few cars ignored our attempts at hitch hiking but luckily while wandering around looking for a signal a sudden burst of texts came through. With a single bar, we were able to text for a ride out. Pemi Traverse.. bagged.

Please check local avalanche conditions prior to heading out on this adventure. And bring & know how to use appropriate safety gear: shovel, beacon, probe.

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