4 winter hikes not for the faint of heart

Does this sound like you?

You own several pairs of insulated boots and at least one pair of snowshoes. You’re thrilled to ski on sub-zero days. You also possess a weakness for numb digits, and you casually employ the windmill trick that forces blood back into extremities.

Colorado’s rugged Elk Mountain Range, home to Capitol Peak: NOT a piece of cake. Photo: Courtesy of Bryce Bradford/Flickr

Basically, you’re no stranger to cold weather. A glutton for punishment? Could be. These, my friend, are the hikes are for you.

They require crampons, lots of layers, and serious backcountry skills — along with sound judgment. Their payoff is tantamount to their very undertaking … It’s enormous.

Casaval Ridge Route, Mount Shasta, California

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At 14,179 feet, Mount Shasta towers over its neighbors at the southern end of the Cascade Range. The snow-capped volcano is one hell of a bright light to us adventurous moths: According to SummitPost.org, more than 15,000 summit attempts are made each year, but two-thirds of them are unsuccessful.

The Casaval Ridge route follows the mountain’s southwestern spine and climbs 7,000 feet in elevation. The altitude, steep, snowy sections, winds and temps below freezing make this long hike quite grueling, but the view from the top is absolutely breathtaking.

Lion’s Head Route, Mount Washington, New Hampshire

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No list of treacherous winter hikes would be complete without 6,288-foot Mount Washington in New Hampshire's White Mountains. While it only takes about six hours to reach the summit during the winter, it can also take, well, a lot longer. REI has called Mount Washington the "deadliest mountain in America," with at least 150 deaths recorded since 1849.

It is notorious for having horrendously, fatally fickle weather, with hurricane force winds on the regular and temperatures well below freezing year-round.

The Appalachian Mountain Club writes, “Winter hiking anywhere in the White Mountains requires specialized equipment and skills, and experience in coping with weather, navigation and winter gear. Extremely severe storms can develop suddenly and unexpectedly, especially above treeline. The combination of high wind and low temperatures has such a cooling effect that the worst conditions on Mt. Washington are approximately equal to the worst reported from Antarctica.”

Hikers of the Lion’s Head route will climb more than 4,000 feet in elevation over a little more than eight miles, depend upon mountaineering gear and would be wise to bring some experienced friends.

Dickerman Mountain Trail, Dickerman Mountain, Washington

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This popular year-round route, also known as Mount Dickerman Trail, in the remote North Cascades tops out at just 5,760 feet, but hikers gain nearly 4,000 feet in about four miles en route to the summit.

Passing through dense forest, along steep switchbacks and across picturesque ridges, the trail eventually culminates in a dramatic summit, which features phenomenal views of the surrounding peaks — and an intense, 450-foot drop off of the north side.

As with most alpine environments, the weather on Dickerman Mountain can change quickly, creating dangerous conditions. During winter, this route requires the usual accoutrements: Crampons, ice axe and probably a rope for good measure.

The Washington Trails Association writes, “With the possible exception of Hidden Lake Lookout, this is the finest summit view around — a rare chance to get so close to so many other summits at the same time. Mount Dickerman may have asked a lot of you to get here, but it will have more than held up its end of the bargain.”

Northeast Ridge, Capitol Peak, Colorado


Capitol Peak, located in the western Elk Mountain Range of the Rockies, is Colorado's 32nd highest mountain – 14,131 feet – but many consider it to be the state's most challenging Fourteener.

The Northeast Ridge route, a.k.a. “the Knife Edge route,” is 17 miles round-trip and gains 5,300 feet in elevation. The actual Knife Edge is just the beginning of the difficult section on this trail.

Hazards include sheer drops, avalanche and Colorado’s notorious, high-altitude lightning strikes – more common during the summer. The trail travels through exposed terrain that’s a no-go in foul weather. You’re going to need a rope, crampons and an ice axe (at the very minimum).

“The infamous Knife Edge and crux of the route … [is] a short, exposed section on the ridge that requires concentration and solid nerves,” says 14ers.com. “If you are spooked by exposure, this area may twist you in knots.”