Weather: mid 40’s in the morning, mid 70’s in the afternoon, chiller at the summit due to the wind and elevation, sunny and blue skies
Elevation: 6,288’ (gain was 4,252’ from the Pinkham Notch visitor center parking lot)
What I wore: leggings, tech shirt, LLBean hiking boots, thin wool socks, sunglasses
Extra Gear I Brought: hydration pack with 1.5L water, fresh fruit, dried fruit, granola bars, an extra bottle of water, extra socks, GPS watch, rain jacket, extra long sleeve tech shirt for the summit, bug spray, sunscreen, a trekking pole, my phone for pictures, money for snacks at the top!
Total mileage: 8.4 miles (4.2 miles to summit and 4.2 miles to descend back to Pinkham Notch)
Total Time: ~8.5 hours (including about 40 minutes at the summit and several water/snack breaks)
After several hikes in the Lake George area and Mount Mansfield in Vermont, Mount Washington in New Hampshire was my boyfriend and I’s next hiking goal for 2016. I wasn’t sure if I was prepared to take on such a challenging hike with the highest elevation I had experienced to date. Mount Washington is located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire which are absolutely breathtaking and also the largest mountains I had personally ever seen. Mount Washington is known for having bouts of terrible wind and storms that can happen in the blink of an eye so this worried me as well. We planned to hike it over Labor Day Weekend of 2016 and somehow lucked out with gorgeous weather: very few clouds and bright blue skies . I had never expected to be exploring New Hampshire and now I am so glad that I did. The drive to our hotel on Friday, September 2, 2016 took about four hours. We arrived in Bartlett, New Hampshire late on Friday, September 2, 2016 to stay at the Attitash Mountain Resort, about 30 minutes from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center where we would begin our ascent of Mount Washington early the next day. The resort was simple, but clean and quiet and offered spectacular sunrise views over the White Mountains on Saturday morning. We ate at the breakfast buffet at our hotel on Saturday before our hike and then drove to Pinkham Notch to begin our day.
We arrived at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center in the White Mountain National Forest at about 8am and the lot was already packed! Parking was scarce, but we managed to snag a spot in the overflow area which was only a short walk to the visitor center. We laced up our boots and made sure we had all of our gear before making our way to the trailhead. There are restrooms, a cafe, and a gift shop at the visitor center which is very convenient. The trailheads are clearly marked and there was also a large crowd of people beginning their hike at around the same time as us. We took the Tuckerman Ravine trail which is the most popular and the most heavily trafficked trail to climb Mount Washington.
The first part of this hike is a gradual, but unrelenting climb over small boulders with stream and river crossings and massive evergreen trees lining the path. The Cutler River runs throughout this area of the trail so you can catch glimpses of it through the trees. This part was certainly tiring, but manageable for the average hiker. This section of the trail was very crowded with families and young children making their way to the Hermit Lake Shelter at the base of the ravine 2.4 miles into the hike. The shelter had a first aid station, a water well, and several park rangers that could answer any questions that you had about the trail ahead. It was a great place to stop and rest while having a snack and enjoying the view.
After heading past the shelter we came across Hermit Lake at the base of the ravine and stopped for a few pictures before continuing on. The ravine looks very daunting from this vantage point and I began to worry that I wouldn’t be able to make it all the way to the top. We continued on the Tuckerman Ravine trail though and soon began climbing up rock scrambles and over a small water fall in the middle of the ravine. It was gorgeous and although I slipped several times on the slick rocks near the waterfall, I was enjoying myself. It was challenging and exciting being so exposed while hiking. I can see why this is considered a very dangerous hike if the weather turns quickly, but luckily the weather on this day was perfect.
Soon we came to another trail junction and continued on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. At the top of the ravine, the difficult and seemingly never ending rock scrambles begin. There is a marked route over the rock scrambles, but all of the hikers seemed to make their own route to the top over the giant boulders and crevasses that covered this part of the trail. I was struggling at this point and every step I took toward the summit seemed to make little difference. I stopped a few times to take a sip of water from my hydration pack and continued on over the boulders. Awhile later the summit came into view and the auto road was visible. Cars are able to drive up to the top of Mount Washington via the auto road so the summit is often crowded with people other than hikers and today was no exception. Once we reached the auto road there was a set of stairs leading to the actual summit elevation of 6,288 feet.
The views from the summit were amazing, but the crowds were not. I was looking forward to getting a picture with the summit sign, but wasn’t able to do that due to the long line and the dwindling time left to descend the mountain. At the summit, we took some pictures, ate some snacks, and spent about 45 minutes wandering around looking out over the White Mountain National Forest in awe.
Then, it was time to descend which ended up being a lot harder than I thought it would be. We took the Tuckerman Ravine trail back down over the huge boulders and soon came to the junction that would lead to either us continuing down the Tuckerman Ravine trail or taking the Lion Head trail back to Pinkham Notch. A trail guide recommended that we take the Lion Head trail to descend the mountain because it’s a little easier on the way down so that’s what we did. The trail did not turn out to be as easy as I was expecting though. The trail offered amazing views of the surrounding mountains, but there were tons of rock scrambles to climb down and huge rock slabs that I had to slide down with some help. My knees were killing me by the end of the hike and the last few miles seemed to go on forever as we approached Pinkham Notch. Once we arrived back at the car we drove to a nearby bed and Breakfast in North Conway where we spent the night and then we explored the town of North Conway the following day which was lovely with gorgeous mountain views and plenty of shops and restaurants.
Overall, this hike was one I will never forget and also one of the most challenging feats I have ever accomplished. I was definitely not as experienced as I would have liked to be at the time of this hike, but it was a learning experience nonetheless. I look forward to hopefully hiking the entire Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains one day and experiencing more of New Hampshire’s wild beauty. I love New Hampshire’s state motto as well, which is “Live free or die”. The motto seems fitting for a state filled with so many natural wonders.
Have you ever hiked in the White Mountains? What was the most challenging hike you’ve ever done? Subscribe to my blog for more of my adventures!