Two mountains on the Maine/New Hampshire border without any of the crowds that are often seen in other parts of the White Mountains.
Spring hiking in the White Mountains
Was that winter ever going to end, New England? I've only been here less than 5 years but everybody said it was the worst one in decades. I can't really complain; there are too many opportunities for winter trips. However the real season which gets me down is the post-winter/pre spring season when trails in the mountains are almost impossible to hike. Its about this time of year that we restless hikers get tired of waiting for better conditions and hike through the slop. While it may be the middle of spring at the lower elevations, the mountains are just barely getting out of winter.

Today I decided to hike some lower-ish elevation mountains in the Evan's Notch area. Both East and West Royce were perfect to that end. Here's a hiking map-

There are a half-dozen ways to get to the summits of the Royces. The easiest and most direct route is mapped above; the East Royce Trail and Royce Trail bag both summits in 6.6 miles. The other popular option is the Laughing Lion Trail which is equidistant to the summits but does involve a drop down in to the Mad River Valley before ascending both summits. The Royce Trail from Brickett Place adds 3.2 miles to the total distance but has the advantage of going by Mad River Falls which is frequently included in White Mountain photographer's favorite places. The summits can also be hikes from the Wild River side which is infrequently completed. For the extremists, there's the Baldface-Royce Traverse which tags all the summits of the entire range in a very long and strenuous day hike. 

So there you have it- you can hike them in a pleasant half-day or an extremely long day. As for me, the spring conditions pretty much limited me to the half-day option.
The Royce Trail... in May
So this will be the third year where I have the deluded idea that the trails will be perfectly clear and glorious. When will I learn? As it turns out, East Royce was easily hiked without much snow. It was about a mile from the Evans Notch parking lot to the turn-off to East Royce. This involved a few small spring crossings a little snow but nothing too bad. Mud prevailed at the higher elevations. The 0.5 miles of trail to the summit of East Royce could be hiked without traction although I did get some pretty muddy and wet boots. I was too focused on the fact that I was finally outdoors for the first time in months. East Royce was a great view but there's a great lookout 0.2 miles past the summit which can't be missed-
Misty and spring-y day on the Royce trail
Back down to the Royce turn-off, I continued on through the notch between the two summits and towards West Royce. As cols usually go, the area was completely snowed in. The snow was about a half-foot deep and probably won't melt until mid June. It was a muddy and snowy mess but I didn't have much trouble with good boots and gaiters.

The last 0.7 miles up the summit of West Royce were completely icy and snowy- I'm glad I brought along traction. Micro-spikes were fine; there was no need for snowshoes or full crampons. Nevertheless, it was slow going. The summit of West Royce had only directional views. If you're hiking for views only, I'd recommend East Royce and the northern viewpoint over West Royce. 
West Royce, as seen from East Royce
Overall, the conditions are very much "early spring status". I wouldn't want to hike anything this season without some adequate traction. There were some sections that were completely free of snow and ice with others that were as icy as they would be in November/December. Classic for this time of year! 

The Evans Notch area has some fantastic summits that are much less crowded than the other summits of the White Mountains. I've been impressed with some challenging but rewarding hikes on both sides- Speckled Mountain and Caribou Mountain are less than 3,000 feet but have better views than many 4kers. The well-known Baldfaces, Meader, Eagle Craig, Eastman and Royces are low to mid 3,000's and equally glorious. I look forward to continuing to explore this area of the Whites.

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