The next time you find yourself cursing as you stumble and sweat up a steep, rocky trail in New Hampshire, like the out-of-state hiker whose angry letter in a Granite State newspaper has created something of an online frenzy, here’s one target for your wrath: Horses.
Or, rather, lack of horses.
“Out West, trails like the Pacific Crest Trail were graded for horses, so the incline never goes above 15 percent. That’s a major reason why they’re smoother and less steep,” said Roger Moor, whose 2009 hike of the Appalachian Trial led him to write a book, called On Trails: An Exploration, musing about outdoor paths.
The situation is different in New England, said Laurie Gullion, coordination of the outdoor education program at UNH.
“Most trails here were created through hiking, not horse-packing,” Gullion said when asked to explain why our trails have a reputation for being surprisingly difficult. “The conditions out West have always allowed using horses – the forest canopy is much more open than here.”
The rare exception exists in New Hampshire, such as the path that became the Mount Washington Auto Road or the Old Bridle Path (as in horse bridle) on Mount Lafayette, but generally the region’s hiking trails charge uphill with few pitch-reducing switchbacks and little concern about rocks and boulders.
This has long been recognized by Appalachian Trail through-hikers, whose pace slows considerably as they cross north into New England. But it came as an unpleasant surprise to an Alabama woman named Mary Altz-Smith, whose furious letter was published in the New Hampshire Union-Leader last week.
“The trails in…
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