Mount Washington - New Hampshire
June 27th, 2007
Finally, after an almost two year hiatus from any kind of peak "bagging", we took the 6 hour journey down to New Hampshire to fulfill a long awaited aspiration to climb north-eastern America's highest peak... the busy, dangerous 1, yet anti-climactic, Mount Washington.
Why anti-climactic? Well, unlike other peaks where you sweat blood to make it to the top for that all too short moment of solitary bliss, beauty and silence high above the world, on Mount Washington you are welcomed with a multitude of cars, tourists, cog trains (with loud whistles), shops, museums, equipment, roads, parking lots and laboratories. These little distractions kinda take something away from the moment. But I don't want to be negative. Despite the activity on the peak, the hike itself was still wonderful and beautiful and challenging.
Only 4 days after partaking in a long bike trip with family and friends (165 km), I was a bit nervous that my legs might not have had enough time to recover for the hike ahead of us. But after spending a good night camping at Dolly Copp campground near the mountain, we felt in pretty good condition to hit the mountain that day (plus the fact that the next few days were calling for bad weather). No time like the present, as they say.
We drove to the Tuckerman Ravine trailhead at Pinkham Notch just a few miles down the road where we took in the first grand view of the mountain before us. I always love that moment of seeing the full scale of the mountain for the first time in person. It was bigger than I imagined and it felt great to be near such a large mountain again.
After being reassured that the trails were well marked, I passed on purchasing a trail guide or map and we were on the Tuckerman Ravine trail by 10am. By about an hour in I was already sweating more than I think I ever have on any hike yet. This was probably due to the oppressive and muggy heat in the valley that day (max was 32 Celsius in Berlin, NH). I was even beginning to worry we wouldn't have enough water since I was already needing so much so early in the hike (only the first mile of a four mile hike). Luckily for me, there were cool streams to wet my head in and a shelter at the half way mark where a water pump was installed along the trail... but I'm getting ahead of myself.
By about 11:30am, we were finally getting some open views of the mountains surrounding us. The first view of the "headwall" was amazing and truly gave a sense of scope and size to the place. Those are the kind of views that keep me coming back to the mountains. It was impressive, and as expected, photos never do it justice. We stopped in at the Hermit Lake shelter for some lunch and little break. After 2.4 miles and 1800 feet of elevation gain, that water pump about a hundred meters away from the shelter along the Tuckerman Ravine trail was a saviour. We chatted it up with a fellow Québequois who'd been hiking this mountain every year for the last 17, and who was going to ignore the trails signs stating Tuckerman Ravine trail was closed due to dangerous ice conditions.
Obeying the signs, we headed back down the trail a few hundred meters to the Lions Head Trail junction and started up this steeper and narrower trail section. I should mention that the entire trail from this point on is quite steep and boulder ridden. Not sure what the Tuckerman trail looks like, but Lions Head is quite the slog and I wouldn't recommend it to just anyone. I'm sure there have been countless twisted ankles along the way for this mountain.
Since we were now making our way up the ravines side walls, the views were growing more and more spectacular every step of the way. But as always, the top never seemed to get much closer very quickly. So it was a long and steady hike upwards. I kept waiting for the wind to pick up to cool me off and hopefully blow away the hundreds of annoying black flies flittering in my face. They seemed to appear out of nowhere in a particularly calm, breezeless spot on the mountainside... very odd considering that almost all the views around you are of open mountain vistas and one would expect great gusts of wind on this "notoriously windy, record breaking" mountain. It was at this point we crossed paths with a man heading down the trail. Alice asked him if we were close... he gave that knowing smirk that says it all... just keep walking.
It was only when we reached the ridgeline of the great ravine walls that a wind could finally be felt. Here we took another pause for some great photo ops of the ravine headwall. It was also the spot where we could see some kind of structure on the top of the mountain... we were now in eyesight of the peak. Only we met up with a couple that were either unseasoned hikers or pessimists because they put in that negative vibe you should never give a fellow hiker seeking the peak... they told us it's a long way still and hard going. Quite a contrast from the positivity of the man we passed a half hour earlier.
Undeterred, we plodded on for the final summit push. This is where the path disappears entirely and one must resort to boulder hopping and following the many cairn markers (damn, those are a lot of rock piles... the time it must have taken for all them to be erected is something to really think about!!). Anyway, slowly but surely we worked our way up, but the steep angle made it difficult to see just how close we were to the top until all of a sudden, there it was... the parking lot! No joke. You literally take a few last unknowing steps up the trail and out of nowhere you are suddenly standing in a parking lot. It is that anti-climactic!
Having the crowds around did have its perks though... willing photo takers. For the first time Alice and I were able to get a final victory photo at the summit post together.
1) "The total number of fatalities on Mount Washington and the adjacent Presidential Range peaks is over 110 since 1849, putting the peak in the top three deadliest mountains in the U.S. (along with Mount McKinley and Mount Rainier)." -- Quoted from Peakbagger
Distance: 4.2 miles (one way)
Time: 5 hour trip (one way)
Elevation Gain: 4,288 feet
Trailhead Elevation: 2,000 feet
Mount Washington elevation: 6,288 feet
GPS Coordinates: 44° 16' 14"N, 71° 18' 12"W (NAD83/WGS84) Topozone map.