In most things I do in life, I try to emit an air of positivity (although my mom, brother, and friend Cody would probably argue otherwise, as they seem to catch most of my grief). I feel I do the same on this blog, almost never offering a negative review or sharing a negative experience. I think it’s more fun to share good experiences, and I think it’s more fun to read about them.
Hiking, however, isn’t always marshmallows and unicorns. I’ve had times out on the trail that I absolutely hated. Times that have made me question why I was even out there. It’s those times though, once you mentally and physically get through them, that prove why hiking is so great and so rewarding. Sometimes, hiking can be unpleasant due to a number of variables: weather, forgetting an essential piece of gear, group dynamics, a lingering injury, etc.
Sometimes, it’s just the trail. There are those sections of trail that just seem miserable, no matter what. Here are the trails I hate (I will continue to update if/when I find more):
1. Garfield Ridge Trail, New Hampshire
This trail tops the list for me. I downright hate it. This is the section of the AT between Mt. Lafayette on Franconia Ridge and Mt. Garfield (not to be confused with the Garfield Trail). Yes, Franconia Ridge is amazing, and Mt. Garfield is awesome itself, but the section of trail between the two makes me want to hate myself. If hiking north from Franconia (the only way I’ve ever hiked this section), you must descend Lafayette. The descent down Lafayette is strenuous and seemingly never ending. I can’t imagine it’s that fun to go up it either. When descending, no matter how fast you go, it feels like you’ll never make down to tree line. Even when you do make it to tree line, feels like you’ll never be ascending Garfield either. From Lafayette, you can see Garfield, your destination. At many locations below tree line, you can see Garfield, your destination. And then you walk farther, and you can see Garfield, your destination. And then you ascend and descend a little bump, but it’s not Garfield. From that bump, you can see Garfield ahead, your destination. Do you see where I’m going with this? No matter how hard you hike, it seems like Garfield is never getting closer. It either feels like you’re not making any forward progress, or as you move forward, Garfield runs away from you, getting farther. Finally, when you make it to the base of the mountain, Garfield slaps you in the face like you just accused it of an unconstitutional act worthy of impeachment, with a steep, and also seemingly never-ending climb. James Garfield may have had the shortest presidency ever, but this trail seems like the longest one in the Whites.
This trail also throws you another curveball, especially in a backpacking situation. Like Franconia Ridge, there is no water source on Garfield Ridge. So, if you plan to do Franc-Garfield together, you have to seriously consider your water supply, through either rationing or taking plenty extra (especially on a hot, sunny summer day above treeline). If there was just a life-giving water source on this trail, it would make it a lot more bearable. You can drink from the standing water in Garfield Pond, if you’re into that sort of thing, but I’d rather not (trust me, I’ve had to do it before). If anyone knows of some secret water source on Franc-Garfield Ridge, please tell me…
The immediate descent (going north) after the Garfield Ridge Tent Site along Garfield Ridge Trail is also unbearably steep and difficult to go down. Quite frankly, I don’t know why anyone ever thought it would be a good idea to put a trail there, as it seems to go straight up a few rock faces that are extremely slippery when wet.
And that’s that.
2. Lion Head-Tuckerman Ravine combo, New Hampshire
I like this trail combo a lot less while descending than ascending, but that’s neither here nor there, I still don’t like it. Look, it’s cool, you get a view of Mt. Washington, Tuckerman Ravine, and the Wildcat Range, I’ll give it that, but this trail too seems way too long for its own good. First, to approach (on ascent) Lion Head Trail, or to exit the trail (on descent), you end up on the least enjoyable part of Tuckerman Ravine Trail. The beginning of Tuckerman Ravine Trail is as wide as a road and overly boulder-y for a low elevation section of trail. It’s not all that steep, but hiking it fast seems to be out of the question, mostly because of those damn boulders. Lion Head Trail’s ascent or descent (depending on your direction of travel), is just steep and endless between Tuckermans Trail and “the Lion Head” (a rock feature/overlook). Down low, there are switch backs of sorts (a rarity in NH), but they seem almost useless, as they’re still steep and rocky. Because the section between the Lion Head and Tuckermans is so steep, it creates a strange illusion as your descending from Washington. As you descend from Washington on Lion Head Trail, you can see “the Lion Head”. However, you cannot see the trail below it. It appears to ‘drop off.’ Because you cannot see where the trail slips into the trees, it gives you this feeling like you’ll be above tree line forever, or that there may not be a tree line at all. We all know, the more you’re above tree line, the farther you are from the trailhead, and feeling like a tree line doesn’t exist doesn’t make Lion Head Trail go any faster. After a long exhausting day above tree line on Washington, the Lion Head-Tuckerman combo is not a welcome descent, as it is difficult, tiring, and seemingly endless. They say it’s one of the easiest ways up or down Washington, but mentally it saps your energy and strength and physically kills your knees, quads, glutes, ankles, and maybe even your toes if your boots don’t fit right. Maybe that’s the problem with it, because it’s one of the most popular ways up and down Washington, the expectation is that it’s easier than all the other trails. Going into it, you expect a breeze, but what you find is something else: a difficult trail. So, while the trail’s features are unpleasant in my opinion, it may also be a somewhat unfounded reputation and mental expectation that also makes this trail, to say the least, not fun.
3. Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, VA and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN/NC, Horse Trails
All the horse people out there are going to hate me. However, I’m not using this blog to berate horses or horse back riders. Everyone has their preferred form of recreation, and I can definitely respect that. But I’ll just say this, horse trails suck to hike on. You might say, “then just don’t hike on horse trails.” I try my best, but unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Many times, these trails lead to points of interest that are desirable for both hikers and horseback riders. Sometimes, horse trails are the only route, and since they’re dual use (for hikers and horseback riders), there is no reason why a separate hiking trail should be put in. If they don’t lead to a destination specifically, sometimes they’re the only way to get to your desired trail that will lead you to your point of interest.
I put “Mount Rogers Nat’l Rec Area and GSMNP Horse Trails” as the title because I can’t choose just one trail. Those are the only two places I’ve ever encountered horse trails, and I disliked hiking on all of them. First, horse trails have a different feel than hiking trails. They’re wider, making the forest feel less intimate. Second, the tread surface tends to be filled with mid-sized rocks. All trails have rocks, but a lot of hiking trails have nicely packed and defined dirt walkways. Horse trails, on the other hand are full of rocks, as if they’re geologists consciously developing their collection. These are not large boulders that can support your whole weight as you jump from one to the other (like in the White Mountains). These are not small pebbles and gravel you can walk across. These are mid sized, loose rocks, that if stepped on wrong, will use your body weight against you to throw your foot, ankle, and leg in an awkward direction. It seems almost that as you hike you can hear little voices inside the rocks begging you to make a misstep so you can sprain your ankle on them. You have to pay close attention to each foot placement, leaving less time for you to enjoy the sights and sounds abound along the trail.
Lastly, they’re absurdly eroded. All trails erode, there are definitely some hiking and mountain biking trails that have some gnarly erosion. But horse trails are on another level. I’m talking, horse trails can sometimes erode so deep, I feel like the walls of dirt beside me are taller than those of an Olympic half-pipe. They’re like a trough for all those rocks to collect. In a rain event, they’ll catch more water than the gutters on your house and shoot it down the trail faster than the water slide at your local amusement park, further contributing to the erosion. Not only is this environmentally unfriendly and recreationally unsustainable, it’s unpleasant. Extremely eroded hillsides just look ugly. Therefore, horse trails are much less fun to hike along and look at.
Why do horse trails erode? It mostly comes down to the horse itself. They have a much higher erosion impact than hikers and mountain bikers. Horses have an extremely high ground pressure, all focused into a small hoof, that is almost shaped as a scoop. Each time they step, the put all of their weight into the ground, and loosen the soil as they step. Then, the soil gets blown and washed away. Hikers and mountain bikers have significantly less weight, that is distributed into a proportionally greater surface area compared to horses, needing less force to propel themselves forward, scooping out less soil from the surface beneath.
There is good news for horse trails however. Their erosion is less than that of ATV and dirt bike trails, but most importantly, I still don’t hate them as much as Garfield Ridge Trail.
For now, those are the only trails that I hate, or at least that I can remember off the top of my head. There may be more in the future, but I hope not, as I always like hiking to be an enjoyable experience. However, I hope I gave this blog a dose of reality, because not every hike leaves you on cloud nine (as my blog might make it seem). Sometimes that’s because you and the trail just don’t get along.
Are there any trails that you dislike?