Climbing Mt. Washington by Leg
Once in awhile, one sees a bumper sticker that reads: “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington”.
Screw that, these legs climbed Mt. Washington.
It’s the highest peak in the northeastern United States, and was first recorded by the explorer, Giovanni Verrazano, who spotted it from the Atlantic in 1524.
However, at 6, 098 feet, Mt. Washington’s height is quite low.
which is deceiving….
for Mt. Washington is considered one of the most dangerous mountains in the U.S..
It’s the weather. The peak is uniquely situated along a weather system that makes for some of the most unpredictable weather around. At times, it can be moderate and calm; but at others, it is viciously cold, icy, and WINDY. In fact, the most powerful sustained surface wind ever recorded on Earth (231mph, on April 12, 1934) was at the weather observatory on the summit. On average, the top of the mountain experiences hurricane-force winds for almost a third of the year.
Luckily, we were greeted with the gentler disposition of the peak.
After a long drive through the night from New York City, we slept a bit at a hotel, and hit the trail early the next morning. Though it was late May, the trail was snow-covered – packed down by a long, long winter. It was the Tuckerman Ravine trail- the most common route to the summit. Initially, the trail was filled with skiers, many French-Canadians among them. The Tuckerman Ravine is a famous spot for free, facility-less skiing. Pretty soon, the skiers veer off onto a sidetrail, and the forest begins to thin out. The path becomes steeper, and in spots, one has to pass precariously along narrow footholds covered in snow.
Then you pass the treeline and clamor up rocks to Lion’s Head, an outcropping about halfway up the mountain. The weather was fine this day- a light, chilly wind, with a clear view of the surrounding countryside. Lunching at Lion’s Head, we spied upon the distant skiers in Tuckerman Ravine below, who were meer dots cruising down the sheer snow-fields. Next, we passed relatively level ground through the “Alpine Garden” – covered with wind- and cold-swept lichen and icy meltwater.
Beyond, is a steep snow-covered slope, and above that are large boulders, spotted with navigational cairns. Here is where you really begin to appreciate how far above the Northeastern U.S. you are. The close clouds and the sheer rim surrounding the Ravine take on an alpine feel. The wind picks up on the blank, rocky face. Then finally, in a surreal moment, you emerge onto a road – the famous vehicle route to the top. It’s only a few more meters to the true summit.
While it was springlike and mild at the trailhead, here it is freezing, and windy.
It was before tourist season, and the Road wasn’t open yet (it opens after Memorial Day) – the summit belonged to the climbers. As mentioned above, the numerical altitude here is nothing at all to write home about. However, given that the surrounding landscape is rather flat, the majesty of the scene is undeniable. Part of the weather station is chained strongly to the the rocks, evidence of the possibly extreme wind up here.
The obligatory summit picture, and then the descent.
We returned to the trailhead around sunset, and drove off to our campsite in the deep dark of the White Mountains. Along the way, a van in front of us with Quebec plates, stopped short – immediately before us was a towering moose, crossing across the road anxiously, glaring at us crazedly from the other side of the windshield.
The next morning, legs sore, we drove the long drive back to the city, with dreams of bare tundra landscapes on the surface of our minds.
– Being late May, we did not expect to encounter such a significant amount of snow. Winter dies hard here – so plan accordingly. Also – keep track of the weather reports. Our climb was unusually blessed with mild conditions. However, given the mountain’s record, this is not a landscape to take flippantly. It is truly one of the few places in the East below deep-Canada to have such harshness.
Posted on March 21, 2012, in travel, Uncategorized and tagged east coast, hike, hiking, mount, mountain, mountaineering, mt washington, new england, new hampshire, peak, scenic. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.