Sunday, September 4, 2011

Conquering America's First President

3rd September 2011

The forecast was for rain. With Mount Washington known for its erratic weather and super-strong winds, this is one piece of information never to be taken lightly. Yet, five hours into the drive from Troy, the night gradually turning into day, we were greeted by beautiful views with just intermittent spots of rain clouds. There was some occasional meek lightning trying to scare us, but more or less we were increasingly feeling confident that the weather wasn’t going to deteriorate on us so much that we would have to call-off the hike.

There were ten of us in three cars. Roughly half past six, as soon as we turned into the parking lot at Pinkham Notch visitors center it started to pour. It was coming down strong. Distant rumbles could be heard as well. It was a rancid welcome, no doubt. We were at roughly 2000 feet elevation. If it was bad down here then the summit (6288 feet) could be deadly, the ascent tricky and dangerous. We had a decision to make.

There are different routes leading up from the visitors center. The most popular and the easiest way up is the 4.2-mile Tuckerman’s Ravine. One look at these photos here and there are no prizes for guessing why this route is popular. A diversion via the Lion’s Head will take one through a more scenic route. A section here is slightly steeper than the Tuckerman’s Ravine trail but this diversion won’t punish you distance-wise. The Lion’s Head trail rejoins the Tuckerman’s Ravine trail in the final push to the summit.

The 5.4-mile Boott Spur trail is another option. Starting off from the visitors center, this trail is no more difficult than the Tuckerman’s or Lion’s Head trails; yet, the extra mile makes it a relentless and daunting task.

If you have no acrophobia and wish to take a more direct route up, the Huntington trail that branches off a mile and a half up the Tuckerman’s trail might sound welcoming. This trail is very much like the Cathedral on Katahdin.

7 a.m
We enquired at the information desk. Due to the weather going up Huntington was strongly discouraged. Coming down that trail was anyway not an option. Though this news was not welcoming for those in the group who had scaled Cathedral, one never challenges the weather. We decided to go up Tuckerman and on the way down via the same route, to take the Lion’s Head diversion.

Initial stretch of Tuckerman. Fortunately it stopped raining half an hour into the hike.  The rocks were still slippery, though. The 2.4 miles up to the Hermit Lake shelters is a wide and relatively easy hike. However, you still climb 1800 feet. As I was to learn later, the hike down this stretch is long and relentless.

Seven of us made it up to the Hermit hut by 9. Three others had chosen to take the Lion’s Head diversion instead. We would join them later as we set out on our final push to the summit.
[Photo courtesy Nikhil]

Looking up at the Tuckerman’s Ravine from the Hermit hut. 
[Photo courtesy Mitul]

Another view from the shelter. The sky seemed to be clearing. We might have a smooth ascent with great views, after all.
[Photo courtesy Nikhil]

We were going to tackle this stretch next. The trail looks tough but is manageable in bad conditions and in terms of difficulty, it may be classified as a moderate hike under good weather conditions. At roughly quarter past 9 we started the climb.
[Photo courtesy Mitul]

Looking down into the ravine. The sun was out for a brief period. “If it stays this way we might have even better views from the top”, I thought. Pity it didn’t.

Looking up.

We still had 1500 feet to climb and the visibility was only going to get worse. It was also getting colder. It is important to carry warm clothes with you on this hike. With this fog it is important to hike in groups. With the poor visibility it is easy to miss the trail markers and wander off. Once lost and off the established trail, you would not only be damaging the fragile environment but also run the risk of falling into the ravine. Seeing other hikers offers a great reassurance that you are on the right track.

11 a.m - We had reached the top.
[Photo courtesy Nikhil]

There was a board nearby that proudly declared “The highest wind ever recorded by man was observed here - 231 mph”. It was a great climb up despite the poor visibility. The challenge in itself was exhilarating. Somehow, with mist-blurred glasses and a case of bad cramping in my thighs during the final 0.8 miles, I had made it up.

The peak is a tourist trap. The “not-so-serious” outdoor types can drive up or take the shuttle. There are plenty of gift shops and eateries. The sheer number of people up at the summit, in spite  of the miserable weather and zero views, suggested that this particular tourist destination is a commercial success. The parking lot was full. For what joy would people drive up when on a day like this, I’ll never know.

A little after 12 we begin our descent. Walking into the fog with misty glasses affected my depth perception. I had to hike without them and the strain on my eyes eventually gave me a headache.
[Photo courtesy Nikhil]

We somehow managed to miss the diversion to Lion’s Head. Barring three others in the group, we ended up coming down the same way we traversed up. The climb down was tough, no doubt. It was taxing on the knees and some sections were scary to the hilt. We were down by 3.

At the end of the day, my knees hurt more than ever before. The cramps were still there in spite of a bottle of gatorade. I was exhausted, more so than I was after the Katahdin hike; and, this was supposed to be easier.

I guess the workload and the subsequent lack of food, sleep and exercise over the last one month got to me.  Either that, or as a friend cheekily suggested, “You are getting old, Kiran”. In any case it is time I said goodbye to Big Apple, from where I have been having two slices of pizza every other night during the summer. It is time I trained hard, watched my diet and strived to stay fit. I can’t imagine the thought of an old body with weary bones.


  1. Looks like a beautiful trail! Makes me wish I had gotten out and hiked more while it was still nice.

  2. ABFTS, There's always next summer.