Q. What is book time?

A. The White Mountain Guide (the book) gives estimated times required to complete each trail, and often similar times for the segments of the trail. These times are the result of an arithmetical computation based on the distance and elevation gain. Each mile, or 1,000 feet of elevation gain, is estimated to take 30 minutes. Downhill stretches are treated as if they were flat, i. e. they are estimated to take 30 minutes per mile.

The most obvious problem with this is that it says nothing about how long it will take you to complete that segment. Two other, less obvious, problems exist: it does not take the difficulty (steepness, roughness) of the trail into account, nor does it account for the fact that most hikers are slower at the end of a long trip than at its start.

You may use my book time calculator, written in JavaScript, to calculate the book time given the distance and elevation gain.

Q. What can book time tell me? Or, to be blunter, is it of any use?

A. In spite of its imprecision book time, used with some though, is extremely useful.

As a minimum it is a single number that can roughly classify trips into short, medium and long. This is very useful for the beginner who is unfamiliar with the region.

With experience hikers learn what their speed on most trips is relative to book time. Once you know that you usually take 10% less than book time to do a trip it becomes a much more useful planning tool. With more experience you will learn roughly at what stage a long trip starts to slow you down, and with that knowledge the tool becomes even more powerful.

Once you have learned what your speed is relative to book time it even becomes a navigational tool. The Crawford Path reaches the Mizpah Cutoff at 1:40 of book time. If you have observed that you usually take about 10% less than book time, that means that you should reach it in about 1:30, so you should be on the lookout for it after about 1:20 on the trail.

Q. How difficult is this trip?

A. There are many factors to be considered in estimating the difficulty of a trip.

• Distance. This is the most obvious factor, but not always the most important! See the comparison between the Mt. Garfield and Falling Waters trails under Steepness below.

• Elevation gain. For many hikers elevation gains greater than 2,500 to 3,000 feet become very tiring. Going from 2,500 to 4,000 feet adds less than an hour to book time, but for many will change an easy hike into a very difficult one.

• Steepness. This adds very much to the difficulty of a hike. Many people will find the Mt. Garfield trail, with 3,000 feet of elevation gain over five miles, substantially easier than the Falling Waters trail, with the same 3,000 feet of elevation gain compressed into three, much steeper, miles. Note that, because of its greater length, the easier Garfield trail has a greater book time than the Falling Waters trail!

• Roughness. A rough footway is more tiring than a smooth one.

There is no way to integrate all these into a single number that will reflect on the difficulty of the trip. Nonetheless, questions such as "What are the easiest Fours?" or "How do these two trips compare?" are valid questions. I believe that book time, with all its imperfections, is as good a proxy as any for the difficulty of a hike. I therefore give a table showing most of the hikes described on this site, sorted by book time. Use it with some common sense, and with the information available elsewhere on this site and in the White Mountain Guide.

Q. What are some easy trails to 4000 footers?

A. The following have fairly short distances, minimal (by White Mountain Fours standards!) elevation gains and reasonable footing (this last factor excludes Cannon and the East Peak of Osceola from the list):

Q. What are some of the harder Fours?

A. There are two groups of peaks that may be difficult to do. The first consists of the peaks with more than 4,000 feet of elevation gain, fortunately they can all be reached more easily by using the AMC huts. The second consists of the peaks that are far from any road, these can prove more challenging.

Mounts Washington, Adams and Madison all require more than 4,000 feet of steep climbing, and many hikers find them extremely challenging. Fortunately trips up these peaks can be done over two easier days using the hut system, spending a night at Lakes of the Clouds Hut for Mount Washington (and getting Mt. Monroe in the process) or at Madison Spring Hut for Mounts Madison and Adams. In good weather a three day two night traverse based on the huts is a spectacular trip.

At least two, and some would say three, peaks involve substantial distances. Owl's Head is a long hike, but with moderate elevation gain, many peakbaggers decide that it is easier to do it in a day than to do it as an overnight. Mount Isolation is shorter than Owl's head, but has more elevation gain, it is again a candidate for an overnight. Many peakbaggers find the Bonds too long to do in a day and decide to do them as an overnight (or even over three days and two nights).

Q. What are some moderate Fours with great views?

A. I wrote an article on Great Rewards for Moderate Effort (published in the July 2001 issue of the AMC Boston Chapter's newsletter "The Charles River Mud") that may be of interest to some visitors to this site.