Last Sunday I hiked to the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire. 3 days have passed since completing the climb and I’ve had plenty of time to rest, recuperate, and reflect on the experience. The verdict? Hiking to the summit of Mount Washington was awesome! It was the most difficult hike I’ve made to date. Totaling roughly 4 hours the hike was a grueling assault on the human body with ever increasing inclines and an elevation gain of 4,288 feet.
I began the hike from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center with my buddy Milosz. We started up the Tuckermans Ravine trail at about 9:30am after a short stopover at the base lodge where we reviewed the weather and picked up a portable trail map. There’s no easing into the hike. The Mountain simply won’t allow it. The trails steepness starts to increase almost immediately. Before long you’re scaling rocky verticals that suck the air right out of you. The forest surrounding the trail and really the entire lower half of the mountain is absolutely beautiful. Thick old trees, exposed roots, gently flowing streams, waterfalls…everything you could hope for and more.
As we pushed further up the trail, steadily increasing our elevation, the mountains peak appeared through the tree tops. After hiking roughly a mile the summit looked too far away to be the actual destination. By this point we had gained about 600 feet in elevation. My muscles were already burning and there was still 3,688 feet to go. It’s at this point that I realized I wasn’t going to be able to maintain Milosz’s faster pace. After a couple of short breaks he seemed a bit antsy so I suggested he push ahead at whatever pace he felt comfortable with. Since there were lot’s of other people hiking the trail I was confident I wouldn’t be stranded if something happened.
Everyone on the trail was very friendly. We were all leap-frogging each other throughout the day as groups and individuals rested. I had read that the number of people hiking the Tuckermans Ravine trail made it somewhat unpleasant but I have to disagree. Seeing all those people made hiking to the summit seem that much less crazy. I hiked along side people from all walks of life including a handicapped hiker (missing a leg) and I even passed by a group of guys accompanied by an overachieving Labrador Retriever! There were lot’s of people hiking the trail but I wouldn’t call it crowded.
Nearly two miles into the hike I reached the Lions Head trail. Our original plan was to divert to this trail before making the final ascent to the summit. Given the fact that the Lions Head trail had a reputation as being steeper and somewhat more challenging than the Tuckermans Ravine trail (which was already kicking my a$$) I decided to stay on the Tuckermans Ravine trail and head for the caretakers cabin in the Ravine. Once arriving at the cabin I stopped for a power bar, some hydration, and to take in the sensational views of the Ravine. Thanks to some unusually nice weather the ravine was flooded with sunshine and clear views of the mountain top. At a distance of 2.4 miles this is the destination for many who started up the Tuckermans Ravine trail. I had my heart set on reaching the summit.
From this point there was only one way up and it meant scaling the massive headwall. This portion of the climb ran parallel to (and sometimes through) a massive waterfall. The path was just wide enough for two people to pass each other. Each step forward provided an even more spectacular view of the ravine. With the clear skies the days weather had provided I could see everything below. Looking out over the ravine the true scale of Mount Washington was revealed. Even the caretakers cabin I rested at a short time earlier was nothing more than a dot off in the distance. It was in this portion of the climb that I met the overachieving Labrador Retriever. Believe it or not that damn dog was climbing the headwall better than I was! With her tongue hanging 6 inches out of her mouth she kept a watchful eye over her companions.
After reaching the top of the headwall there was a small traverse to the final leg of the hike. This is when the weather started to turn. Whether it be the elevation (now approximately 5000 feet) or the storm front expected that evening — the wind was picking up, the fog was rolling in, and the temperature was beginning to drop. The wind gusts were strong enough to force an occasional brace but I suspect my being tired had me a little more unsteady than usual.
I took my time with this final leg of the hike. After-all there was no turning back at this point. I had worked too hard to let a little exhaustion keep me from the summit. With little vegetation and an abundance of massive rocks and boulders getting through this section was an exercise in bouldering. After a few rest stops and a couple of exchanges with fellow hikers I could finally see the observatory through the fog. I was there! When I finally reached the summit I experienced an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment — quickly overshadowed by exhaustion.
I think one of the biggest contributors to my fatigue was the weight of my pack. Sure a lot of the heft was water-weight but I could have reduced the number of supplies I brought. Especially considering the weather we had that day. I wanted to be prepared for anything, and I was, but I could have eliminated some layers and packed a little less water. My advice is to be prepared for any weather conditions but pack wiser than I did. Reducing the weight of your pack equates to less fatigue and a faster pace. Oh, and a return trip via a hike down. By the time I made it to the summit Mount Washington had sucked all the energy out of me. With the possibility of bad weather (several storm fronts were passing through the area) and the fact that I was exhausted, I decided to take the shuttle van back to the visitor center. No regrets though. The hike up was fantastic!
To view all the photos I took during the hike click here.«Selling 9/11 Mount Washington Hike Preparation »