Trail Running Challenge Blog (Ethan Banks)

The New Hampshire Hut-to-Hut Traverse 24H Challenge

What is the 24H H2H challenge?

The Appalachian Mountain Club maintains 8 high mountain huts in New Hampshire's White Mountains. The huts lie on a roughly east-west line. The route is ~45 miles long with 15K feet of vert.

The challenge is to start from one end and make it to the other, visiting every hut along the way, in less than 24 hours.

What's so hard about this challenge?

The issue with the H2H isn't the distance. I think most determined folks with adequate fitness could put their heads down and walk an average of 2 miles an hours for 22.5 hours and cover 45 miles. It's just walking.

But the H2H challenge isn't just walking. It's walking over rugged mountain terrain using rough trails. If you're familiar with hiking out west, New Hampshire's White's aren't that. Western trails are graded for pack stock and are generally nice underfoot.

Trails in the WMNF are made of rocks and roots. They can be comically steep. Climbing 1,000 feet in a mile is commonplace, and steeper than that is not uncommon. Descents are not to be taken for granted--the same rough terrain and steep grades, but now with extra impact to your quads and joints as gravity does its work.

The challenge, then, is one of survival. You need several things to go right.

  1. Your legs, knees, and ankles have to hold up to the pounding.

  2. Your feet have to stay together for the distance.

  3. You can't get lost. While the WMNF trails are well-signed, making a navigation error is easy.

  4. You need to be comfortable night hiking.

  5. You have to hike away from your car just to get to a starting point. If you start at the eastern extremity of the route at Carter Notch Hut, you're going 3+ miles before you even begin.

  6. You need to average nearly 2 miles per hour to pull off the route in sub 24 hours. I'll tell you from several years of experience hiking in the Whites that averaging 2mph in that terrain requires fitness and focus.

My biggest day in the Whites so far

Last summer, I completed the Pemi Loop in a day. That's a ~32 mile route with ~10K feet of vert. At a hiking pace with some breaks built into the schedule, that took me just over 18 hours.

That is not fast, and definitely not fast enough to map onto a H2H challenge. This reality is doubly true when considering that ~6.5 miles of the Pemi Loop is on trail that used to be railroad bed--nearly flat and down by a river.

What will it take to beat the H2H 24 hour challenge?

To beat the 24 hour cutoff for the H2H traverse, I'm going to have to do the following things.

  1. Trail running. As much of the trail as I can run, I'm going to need to run. There are many miles of runnable trail along this route.

  2. Improve physical strength. I have issues with my knees, IT band irritation especially, that have hindered my trail running efforts. An IT band injury is annoying, taking 3+ month to fully heal for me the last couple of times I've had the problem. Strength training is the best way to prevent IT band injuries.

  3. Improve endurance at speed. I know I can hike for as long as you want me too. When I finished the Pemi Loop, I had more miles in the tank. I've done several 20+ mile days as well. That's nice, but running is a different stress on my body. How far I can run is different from how far I can walk or hike.

And so it begins!

Going forward, this is my training diary--the work I'm doing each day to prepare myself for the H2H Challenge. I'd like to make the attempt in August or September of 2023.