MARK SIREK Administrator Posts: 306
edited December 2022 in ROUTES & TRAILS

Our friend Will Peterson likes to do hard things in harder ways when possible. His upcoming New England Direttissima attempt will illustrate this trait of his beautifully. What's a New England Direttissima? Read on, friends. We love Will's big, bold plans, and we're always stoked when he shares them. Jump into the comments if you have any questions, want to throw a little encouragement his way, and follow along if you're so inclined. He certainly will be.

Words and Photos by Will Peterson

If you're familiar with the Northeast's hiking culture, you're probably familiar with the New England 67 4,000 footers. Spread out across the three states, five peaks protrude from the south-to-north spine of Vermont's Green Mountains, 48 create the heart of New Hampshire's White Mountains, and 14 of them are dotted across the remote and wild landscape of Maine.

Hiking all 67 4,000 footers is a challenge that many hikers undertake, and there are many variations of the challenge. The simplest and perhaps most elegant way to complete the challenge is to hike the 67, without a timeframe, whenever the hiking feels right. There are, however, variations. Some opt to try and hike them all in a single year or even in a single season. Others work on a "grid," where he or she summits each mountain during each month of the year over the course of many years. Some even go for speed hikes. Currently, the fastest known time to complete the New England 67 sits at nine days, 23 hours, and 57 minutes.

Few, however, have taken on all of these mountains in a continuous thru hike. To my knowledge, only one person has finished such a feat. (By the way, if I'm wrong and more people have done this, please let me know!) This superlative title belongs to Taylor Radigan, who, in 2020, thru hiked the 67 (all on foot) as part of a larger project where she hiked and biked between the entire Northeast 115. In New Hampshire, a thru hike of the 48 4,000 footers is called a White Mountains Direttissima. "Direttissima" is a word that loosely translates from Italian to mean "the most direct route." 

A thru hike of the New England 67 is attempted so seldomly that there isn't even a name for it, so I propose the New England Direttissima.

Growing up in Maine, I have always been captivated by the beauty of New England's wilderness and its highest peaks. I also love thru hiking. In the last few years, I thru hiked the 48 New Hampshire 4,000 footers as well as the Appalachian Trail. So naturally, when I heard about Taylor's project, the idea of traveling in this style over the New England 67 was incredibly appealing. Now, I'm graduating from college at the end of April and have about a month of free time, which I think is just the amount of time that I would need for this hike.

Because the New England Direttissima is a sequence of peaks rather than a trail, the mileage and elevation gain will differ somewhat depending on individual variations of the route. That said, the whole project runs approximately 730 miles and features about 180,000 feet of elevation gain. Completing this hike in about a month means that I will need to average about 24 miles per day.

I've broken this hike down roughly into three sections, each of which I'll briefly describe. Before I get into the details of the route, this would be a good time to address the logistical nightmare that comes with hiking during this time of year. Unfortunately, my stretch of free time is during the month of May, which often comes with disgusting trail conditions in New England. There will likely still be ice and snow at higher elevations, and lower elevations will likely be quite muddy. In fact, Green Mountain Club in Vermont highly encourages people to stay off many trails and closes certain trailheads during mud season. Moreover, depending on the snowpack, the trails going up Mount Katahdin may not even be open when I reach Baxter State Park late in the month. I have different route variations planned out depending on the trail conditions for these reasons. I'll expand on these below. Anyways, here's the route.

*Mileage and vertical are approximated

SECTION 1Ellen through Moosilauke – 160 miles, 33,000 feet of vertical – Vermont is perhaps the most logistically challenging portion of this hike due to mud season and the accompanying trail closures. I reached out to the Green Mountain Club to work with them to create a version of the Long Trail portion of the hike that will be as low-impact as possible, given that my timeframe is limited to May. Vermont’s two northernmost 4,000 footers – Mansfield and Camel’s Hump – are on state land and are formally closed during mud season. For that reason, I am going to begin my hike with Mount Ellen and continue south on the Long Trail to Abraham and Killington. During this and other sections of my hike, it will be important to follow proper hiker etiquette by walking through the mud and staying on trail to limit my impact on the trail system. I will return to Mansfield and Camel’s Hump at the end of the hike once the trails are formally open. I will then follow the Appalachian Trail from Killington eastward to New Hampshire. Once in New Hampshire, I will follow the Appalachian Trail for another 50 miles until I reach Mt. Moosilauke.

SECTION 2Moosilauke through Cabot – 250 miles, 80,000 feet of vertical – mile for mile the toughest section. If you remember earlier when I talked about the White Mountains Direttissima, (a thru-hike of the NH 48), this is that. I have done this route before, just not during this difficult time of year. I won’t go over this route in too much detail because multiple people, including myself, have thoroughly documented it. There is not much variation that I can do on this portion, especially during this time of year, so I expect it to be essentially the same as how I went about it in 2020, only with fewer miles per day. Read here for the nitty-gritty of my prior travels through this section.

SECTION 3Cabot through Baxter – 295 miles, 60,000 feet of vertical – southern Maine is just as difficult as the White Mountains, but it mellows out quite a lot once you get north of the Bigelows. This section requires walking on back roads from Mt. Cabot until I reach Old Speck, and from there, I simply follow the Appalachian Trail northbound. The Appalachian Trail in Maine avoids the summits of many of the 4,000 footers, meaning that I will have to do short out and backs for these peaks. This brings me to the 100 Mile Wilderness. For this project, it really has no point. There aren’t any 4,000 footers in there, and I could cut off about 40 miles by simply road walking around it to Baxter State Park. However, it is one of my all-time favorite sections of trail, and I plan to hike it if time allows. Once I reach Baxter State Park, one of two things will happen. The park contains Maine’s final three 4,000 footers (North Brother, Katahdin Hamlin Peak, and Katahdin Baxter Peak), and the hiking trails up these mountains may or may not be open when I arrive. If they’re open, great! If they are closed, I will have no choice but to wait for the green light to carry on.

SECTION 4Camel’s Hump and Mansfield – 42 miles, 13,000 feet of vertical – back to Vermont! In thru hiker terms, this technically constitutes a “flip-flop.” I think this may take the cake as the world’s smallest flip-flop. In any case, the trails that access these final two peaks should safely be open by Memorial Day weekend. Because I am thru-hiking the New England 67, I will need to return to the exact spot where I began on Mount Ellen and then hike North. That way, after summiting Mount Mansfield, I will have connected a continuous footpath between all 67 mountains.

Of course, the time of year dictates that I’m going to be carrying a gear loadout that is slightly different from my usual summer kit. Stay posted for that article soon! If you want to follow along with me on this trip, there are a couple of options. My Instagram is here, which I will try to post to regularly while on trail. I also very recently started a podcast where I talk to interesting people about the outdoors. That podcast is called “From The Backcountry,” which is on Apple and Spotify. While I’m on trail, I’m going to be uploading my thoughts at least weekly. I plan to begin the hike on or around May 1st.

Will Peterson is a thru hiker, trail runner, alpine skier, peak bagger, and a Behavioral Neuroscience student at Northeastern University. He hopes to continually push himself to new limits on the trail and in the mountains. Follow him on Instagram @_will.peterson