New Hampshire is a sneaky gem of a state when it comes to outdoor recreation. A short coastline grants it beautiful beaches and within a two hour drive one can be deep in wilderness, fly fishing a crystal clear river or stream for native brook trout (aka brookies), enjoying a myriad of stunning lakes, or ascending the tallest mountain range in the Northeast, the White Mountains.
While the tallest mountain range in the Northeast, it’s all relative. For reference, New Hampshire touts its 48 4,000ft+ peaks within the state, and Colorado touts its 58 14,000ft peaks courtesy of the Rocky Mountains… But the comparison really isn’t a fair one, as the White Mountains are over 100 million years old, ground down by the inevitable passage of time. And what they might lack in height, the White Mountains more than make up in other ways. Much of the trail system within the White Mountain range traces its roots back to horse trails from the late 19th century when grand hotels dotted the New Hampshire landscape and summer vacationers would seek high viewpoints on horseback.
This resulted in trails lacking in switchbacks, in favor of a brute force direct route to the top. Ascents start low and gain vertical quickly and steeply. This is all before you consider the weather…the White Mountains, and specifically its tallest peak in the Presidential Range, Mt. Washington, is thought to be home to “the World’s Worst”. Sitting at the collision point of three different weather systems it is volatile, extreme, and generally unpredictable. Snow is a possibility in any month of the year on Mt. Washington. Suffice to say, the mountains of New Hampshire are a beautiful yet punishing place that deserve respect and planning.
That means the right gear for the weather, the season, the hike you’ve chosen, and, worst case, some snow. The trails aren’t far per say from our house, but far enough that I pack the night before a hike and do a final shake down in the morning. My perspective on hiking is still very much shaped by my time in Boy Scouts growing up: “Be Prepared” is always great advice. No matter what hike I’m doing, a pouch of basics goes with me. Lighter, Leatherman, gaffer tape, Gear Tape, paracord, headlamp, and an aspirational koozie for end of hike libations. From there my tool kit expands depending on where I’m headed.
Our chosen target was Mt. Whiteface, a peak my partner had already summited a few times, but not one I’d set foot on. Spring is a weird season in the White Mountains, the higher mountains often still icy and snow dotted in the alpine zone, and the lower parts of the trail a muddy slop courtesy of the melting snow and spring showers. A large rain storm had hit the New Hampshire coast earlier in the week, which added a decent amount of snow cover at the higher altitudes. As such, a winter shell, micro puffer hooded jacket, microspikes, beanie, and gloves were packed into my Mystery Ranch day pack even with a favorable forecast.
The 10 mile loop we’d chosen would serve as a fitting excursion to take the Hamilton Khaki Field Titanium 38 through the paces. The Khaki line channels a watch close to my heart, the Hamilton GG-W-113, the military spec field watch they provided for years to the US military. Early after college, a dead stock GG-W-113 was my first “real” watch purchase after I found a great deal on eBay. For a few years it was my daily wearer, and it’s still in my collection today even though my preferences for watch size and water resistance have changed over the years. The modern Khaki, particularly with a PVD Titanium case and a gray dial nods to its origins in Hamilton’s field watches of decades past, but steps solidly into the present.
The beauty of a field watch is its purity of purpose, there truly is nothing superfluous, it tells the time first, foremost, and solely. The Hamilton H-10 automatic movement sports an 80 hr power reserve and the Khaki case is rated for 100m of water resistance. In the mountains, the three handed timing of the H-10 one actually needs. Sunrise, sunset, time on trail, and speed between waypoints tracked to ensure a successful day. With its small size and lightweight titanium case, the 38mm Khaki rests easy on the wrist, confident in dropping into the background until needed. The PVD case again helping to keep its signature low profile.
The steepness of the ascent of Mt. Whiteface reminds me that I’d be smart to increase my cardio in the coming months if I want to knock more than one 4,000 Footer off my list in 2022. Quads burn as the air thins and each step feels a bit higher than the last one. The views are well worth it though, and provide a needed excuse for rest and reflection. Mt. Washington blanketed in fresh snow sparkles pure white in the distance as the Blueberry Ledge Trail begins to peak out of the treeline. Beneath our feet, the trail transforms to shear granite ledge. Looking at the gray almost moonscaped dial of the Hamilton Khaki gives me a double take each time as it looks to be mirroring the steep granite we’re scrambling up. Time takes on a different scale for me up here, these ancient mountains, a humbling frame of reference as we push through a day’s hike.
Standing at the top of a mountain is always a rush. Some people might look at it as having conquered the mountain, but 100 million years of longevity is more than enough to dissuade me from this mindset. If anything, you get to overcome what keeps you from arriving at the trailhead in the first place. The constant list of to-do’s that keep you from leaving the house, the drive just far enough to make for a bleary eyed morning on a day off, and the Jello-leg making monotony heading up. That’s what I feel like as I wander around at the summit, lucky to be here, fortunate to take in the view, happy to have made the time. Sitting behind a large boulder eating lunch, the wind is blocked enough to cool me versus chill me. 45 minutes passes much faster than the previous few hours, but checking my wrist it’s time to begin heading down. It’s a day well spent.