We here at The MediaFile have interests outside of movies and video games, too! In fact, some of us really like to get out into the great outdoors from time to time.
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to climb Mount Washington – home of the world’s Worst Weather!*
It was quite an adventure! What follows is the story of my ascent and descent of the tallest mountain peak in the Northeastern Unites States!
Some friends of mine decided that they wanted to climb Mount Washington . They invited several people to go along for the trip, which included camping at Moose Brooke State Park. The campground was awesome, by the way. Comfortable. Lots of trees. Soft-ish ground cover. And dog-friendly! If you want to spend time in the Mount Washington-area, and you’re not afraid of camping, I highly recommend it. Though, be warned… For the entire campground there is only one shower stall per gender. You may have to wait in line!
We got up early on Saturday morning. There were my friends (a married couple), their other friend, myself and my dog (a medium-sized border collie/black lab mix). We loaded up into the car and headed out – straight to; DUNKIN DONUTS! What can I say? We’re all New Englanders! We like our coffee! Once we loaded up on coffee, iced coffee, bagels, breakfast wraps and donuts, we were off again! This time to the Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center at the base of the mountain.
We laced up our boots. We checked our packs. We ditched the remainder of the coffee. Actually, that’s not true. Aaron drank the remainder of the coffees. Confident in our preparations, we hit the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. This trail starts on a very gentle slope, so we were off and (nearly, actually) running! It was a beautiful day! A bit warm, and a bit humid at the start. But it’s hard to complain on a trail like that!
The first hour or so was just some quick, slightly uphill hiking. A couple of us get off to a practically running start! But it was a bit hot and very humid at the lower part of the trail, so we slowed down to a reasonable pace within about an hour or so.
For the most part, the ascent wasn’t too bad. It was about 5 miles long to climb up from about 2000 feet above sea level to over 6000! My dog, Brylee, had a few challenges climbing up. She a small-ish (45 lbs) dog and she’s afraid of stairs. Well, at one point on the trail, the AMC put in a flight of step to get up over a particularly steep climb. It took some cajoling, but she climbed it!
It was worth it! As you come out above the treeline and into the alpine zone, the views of the surrounding country are stunning! At one point you can look out across Tuckerman Ravine to see ice still clinging to the side of the mountain (in June!) as well as one of the shelters that are available to through-hikers.
Near the summit, Mount Washington basically becomes a pile of boulders (as most tall mountains that I’ve seen do!). That’s where we ran into some trouble. It’s challenging. It’s too steep to just walk across them. It’s not quite steep enough to call it climbing. I call that sort of hiking ‘Scrambling.’ It’s exhausting for a human, and down-right nerve-wracking for a dog. It slowed us down quite a bit. We could tell she was nervous and having a hard time picking out her path. There were even two large boulders we had to lift her over! But we all got through it!
When you climb a mountain, every crest in the hill looks like it must be the top! Then you get there and you see that there is yet another quarter-mile to go… Mount Washington is no exception. “This Mountain goes on forever!” We knew we were finally at the top, when I saw something I’d never seen before. I saw a VAN drive by the next crest! So surreal! I’ve never seen a vehicle this high up! But there it was! Mount Washington has a road, and it crosses the trail right at the top! We had made it!
The Summit of Mount Washington is a neat place. There’s a huge visitor’s center. A gift shop, cafeteria, showers, parking… everything! We found ourselves a picnic table and had our lunch! I had even lugged a bottle of Scottish soda called Irn-Bru up the Mountain with me, just to have that unique experience. We hung out for a bit. Saw the cog railway make its way up. We got cold. We bought some pizza. I got a pin for my dog’s collar saying that she climbed the Mountain. And I got myself a t-shirt that says “This Body Climbed Mount Washington” (screw your car!) Finally we got our picture taken at the official summit.
Next, as an ominous cloud rolled in and the temperature dropped (probably) another ten degrees, we hit the trail again. We had picked out a slightly longer, but supposedly easier route down the Mountain, using part of the Appalachian Trail to get to the Boot Spur Trail back to Pinkham Notch.
It was a 6 mile hike. All downhill. I hate hiking downhill. It rough on my legs, my ankles, my knees. I just don’t deal well with the impact. I came prepared though. In one hand, I had to hold on to the dog’s lead, but in the other I carried a light-weight trekking pole. This gave me something to lean on to take the impact off my lower joints. Let me tell you, it did the trick! No joint pain the next day!
The first part of the descent wasn’t bad! Certainly easier than the Tuckerman Ravine trail. At one point we could see the point where we were able to look out across the ravine from the other side. We even got to look down on the famous Lakes of the Clouds AMC hut. Beautiful!
But what about that cloud I mentioned before? Yeah, it started raining. As a matter of fact – we found out later that night, that shortly after we began our descent, they closed the trails to hikers! So, for the first hour or so we ran into the usual mix of hikers that you’re likely to see… But then we spent the majority of the afternoon in isolation on the side of a mountain. That was eerie! Seriously. Go look up the word ‘uncanny.’ Go ahead, I’ll wait… Yeah – it was like that.
Rain is miserable. In a situation like this you are both freezing and hot at the same time. Clothes are sagging. Those awesome waterproof hiking boots? They’re like wearing buckets of water on your feet. Everything is uncomfortable and every single surface that you try to grab, step on or sit on a just slippery!
There is one notable landmark that must be mentioned. Split rock. It’s a giant spherical boulder on an overlook with some great views. When we got to it, we had a few minutes of no rain. We had a break and a snack. We enjoyed the view and bitched about the height of this stupid mountain. And we all stopped to pee behind the rock. We renamed it ‘Split Pee Rock.’
As we get back down into the forested area, the trail (that was supposed to be easier!) turned back into a rocky, scrambling scenario again. In the rain. Downhill. Oddly enough, the dog was much more confident and sure-footed on this segment. After a few hours, I felt I could barely move. We came across another one of those stairways… There were tears. The name of Mount
Stupid Washington was cursed. It was also the one place where Brylee faltered. She hates stairs. But she did it. She carefully stepped right down them, so as not to be left behind (which of course would never have happened!).
We were probably still two hours out at this point. Soaked. Beaten. Bruised. Exhausted. We were all underfed and I was starting to dehydrate (ironic!) a bit. Brylee was smart. She would actually suck the water off of blades of grass growing on the sides of the trail.
Just as on the ascent, where every crest looks like it must be the top, on the descent, every bend in the trail looks like it must be the place where it finally levels off! Nope. Not so much. What kept me going? Well, for one thing it’s only a hike, but I just kept silently repeating to myself and the mountain, “Is that it, Washington? Is that all you can conjure? You cannot defeat me with cheap tricks!” It’s some silly stuff á la Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. But it kept me going into the unknown distances. We did know, however, that we would be very close to the bottom when we found a skiing trail. When we finally saw it around the corner, at least one of us started running! Not me. Though I was tempted to walk down the ski trail instead (it was a straight line back!), but it was very tall grass and who knows how many ticks and what sorts of rocks are hiding in that grass!
We continued down the trail. It finally evened out, and about a mile later we were back at the car! It was hard. And it might not sound to you like it was fun. But it was! It was such a great adventure and such an awesome achievement. That is why we do big, important things: “Not because they are easy, but because they are hard!” (JFK).
I was tired and sore. And hungry. And the dog didn’t move for about three days after. But the experience, and the views and the accomplishment are all awesome.
Why did I climb the tallest mountain in the USA northeast of Pennsylvania?
Because it was there.