It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…..
Hiking to the summit of Mount Washington here in New Hampshire has always been a dream of mine. Located in the White Mountain National Forest, it is the highest peak in the northeast at an altitude of 6,228 feet. It is the home to some of the worlds worst weather so much so that the highest winds ever recorded by man were measured here, 231 MPH.
So, why does this mountain with its wild climate and is known to kill a man (150 people have been killed here) attract so many of us? The challenge.
Checking in at the Appalachian Mountain Clubs Highland Center Lodge on Wednesday afternoon, I was asked where I had intentions on hiking. I openly said that I will be hiking Mount Washington, and I’ve never done any hike similar to it. Without a pause, I was told I should be really prepared for what I was about to get myself into.
That evening I mapped out potential routes with a few new friends that came in from Germany. We looked at the Tuckermans Ravine trail noting that it was one of the more popular trails to take, a sure sign that it would be okay for some newbies to the mountain.
Thursday morning, it was go time. After a hearty breakfast at the lodge, I got in my car and drove some forty minutes to Pinkham Notch, where the Tuckermans Ravine trail welcomed you to the mountain. In my pack, I made sure I had all of the hiking essentials, including extra protein bars, a jug of water, a first aid kit, camp gear, and of course a flashlight. When you’re on these kinds of hikes, you never know what could go wrong. You could be stranded overnight if you’re not careful. It’s better to be prepared than underprepared for anything that comes your way.
As I prepared to ascend the mountain, I checked into the hikers log and then made my way up the rocky path to the ravine. It was a nice stroll for about 2 minutes and 45 seconds, then things started to get really rocky.
Making my way up this path I was greeted by many other hikers who were making their climb to the summit as well. I began to start a conversation with this guy named Thai who was visiting the area from Egypt. He helped me along the way as the incline became more and more of a climb over a boulder like path. He had friends on the trail who were much faster than he, so we decided to continue the climb together, and as we did, we could feel our bodies start to get acclimated to the elevation increase, now sitting around about 3,000 feet as we arrived to the ravine.
We paused. We took in the sudden surroundings that caught our eye as the landscape opened up to a beautiful mountain peak backdrop. What a world we live in.
After a 10 minute rest, it was time to carry on.
I knew it was only about to get rougher from here. These bones in my body felt it just by looking. Those boulders we were climbing over below suddenly looked like pebbles.
We continued to gradually make our way to the peak via the Tuckermans Ravine trail where we were now faced with an incline that became a little more strenuous, and a lot more picturesque thanks to the views of the valley below us, and the height of the mountain that we still had yet to climb above us.
Higher and higher, the words “Are we there yet?” continued to replay in my head. It was at this very point that I continued to question my sanity as well as my heart rate as I glanced down at my Apple Watch now at a clip of every 2-3 minutes to make sure the ticker was still thumping.
Thankfully so. Carrying on.
Carrying on is exactly what it felt like. With my pack in tow and feeling heavier with each step up, I knew that there was no turning back now, but I also knew I had to stay slow and steady. This wasn’t a race to the top.
Eventually, we left the tree line behind and entered the famed Alpine Zone, an area where trees are non-exsistent and the land is filled with boulders and dirt. It was at this very point that we had reached the last mile of the climb, otherwise known as the hardest. As we made our way through the clouds, trying to find our way along the path, we continued to get colder as temperatures were now in the lower 30’s with gusty winds so much so that you felt as though you would be knocked off the mountain with every step you took.
Boulders upon boulders we climbed over, each step carefully planned, for one wrong move would have twisted an ankle or other damage to the body that would have failed this mission miserably.
Finally, around 0.02 miles, we heard a train. We couldn’t see it thanks to the incredible amount of cloud cover that we were under, but with the sound of the locomotive, we knew we were now just feet away from the summit, and 10 minutes later….we hit pavement. We reached the parking lot of the auto road, a road where many drive up from the mountains base. Where’s the the thrill in that?
As we crossed over the parking lot and made our way to the summits sign, people saw that we were hiking and passed along their congratulations to us. It was a relief.
The summit conditions weren’t the greatest as we shivered and by this time couldn’t even see 10 feet in front of us, but as we said our goodbyes to each other as Thai found his group of friends, we knew that we had made it. Together. Our first big hike, and the two of us were total strangers. Theres something to be said about that. In a world where everyone is bickering, and everyone is fighting about differences, it’s nice to know that we could come together as one and hike a mountain together and be each others moral support. Human kindness goes along way, and this was certainly one fine example of it.
After about 15 minutes on the summit, it was time for me to make my solo trip down. It would take about three hours to reach the car, but along the way I was able to take in some stunning views as the cloud cover finally fled away and opened up to a land filled with beautiful mountain scenery.
I took the Lions Head trail back down, a more gradual trail and slightly less strenuous as I coasted the entire way down. I was in no rush, just happy to be in the moment, and happy to be in a place where I felt a lot of myself.
When they say, the world is your oyster, it truly is. You can go anywhere you put your mind to, hike the mountains that you’ve been telling yourself for years that you’ll hike, and meet all the fascinating people that you’ve been wanting to meet. All you’ve got to do….is get in the car and go.