Mount Washington is one of New Hampshire’s “top” attractions (yes, pun intended!). Standing at 6,288 ft, this Presidential mountain is the highest peak in the Northeastern US. It has quite a reputation for crazy weather at the summit, one of the reasons why this hike usually makes it on the list of most dangerous hikes, and why I obviously had to do it. I love a good challenge.
It is true the weather on Mt Washington can be unpredictable and dangerous, but doing your research, planning ahead and waiting for good weather can help keep you safe. The staff at the Pinkham Notch visitor center are on top of the weather at the summit and are very knowledgeable and helpful. Use them as a resource when planning your hike. There are several trail options for your route to the top, including the type you take by car or train. In mid-September, we opted for the most popular (to hike): the Tuckerman Ravine trail. We were a bit too early in the season to experience the brilliant fall colors, but early enough to have decent weather and warmer days.
After checking the weather forecast and signing the trail register at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, we got an early start on the trail. The first two and a half miles to Hermit Lake Shelter were pretty easy hiking and we made excellent time. We met a couple who had spent the night at the Hermit Lake shelters to wait on a sunny day that would afford them some actual views during their climb to the top. They had turned back on their summit attempt the day before because the fog was so thick they couldn’t see the trail ahead of them.
Once you leave Hermit Lake, the going gets good (FYI: good=hard). While the summit you seek to reach is near impossible to distinguish at this point, the trail is well-marked up to the top. On a foggy day with low visibility, seeing the trail or the markers could be very difficult if you didn’t know where you were heading. Take this into consideration as you continue on with your hike because the trail navigating and footing only gets more challenging beyond this point. The headwall that sits in front of you will be your first real challenge on the trail.
The rocks were slick from the streams that trickle over them. The incline gets the heart pounding but we were still keeping a great pace. The higher we climbed, the better the view around us got.
We waited it out two days for a perfectly clear sky and a great forecast, and were so thankful that we did. The views from here were incredible. Nothing keeps you going harder than earning an amazing view the entire way up. Above the headwall, different trails intersect en route to the summit. These are all well-marked on signposts. Keep an eye out for the AMC Lake of the Clouds Hut. What an neat place this would be to hike to and stay for the night (an idea for another trip perhaps).
The last mile of the trail is made up entirely of…rocks rocks and more rocks and requires some fancy footwork and hand-feet scrambling for us people with shorter legs. Follow the cairns to the summit from here on out.
After a couple of hours of beautiful scenery, peaceful trails and rewarding views.. you will pop up on the unsuspecting summit ahead of you.. into a giant parking lot of people and cars. Look both ways before you cross the road, as the cars whiz up to the top to check out the view that you have just worked hard to get yourself.
Prepare to stand in line to get a photo with the summit sign. Despite all of this, the views (should you be lucky enough with a clear day) from the summit of Mt. Washington are spectacular in every direction, just overlook the buildings that interrupt the photo you’re trying to snap. Despite all of the concrete at the summit, I found some educational value in what they have presented here, and enjoyed the information and exhibit about Mt Washington’s extreme weather. Speaking of weather, although it was a beautiful sunny day and we were sweating the entire hike up, the wind and cold temps at the summit has us reaching for our hats and down jackets.
Perhaps I seem a big negative.. don’t get me wrong, the hike was absolutely stunning and certainly rewarding. We knew that we would be sharing the summit with those who could drive or train up, so that was no surprise. I’m glad that people who are not able to make the hike can experience the outdoors in this way. But I think any serious hiker shares the sentiment that there is something more magical about hiking to a mountain summit and hearing only the wind, seeing only the clouds and the trail in front of you while you enjoy the unspoiled view. I’m not disappointed that I took the time to do this trail and I do recommend doing it, if not to say at least, that you have hiked it and to take in some great views from the top. If you are looking for other great mountain summits in New Hampshire, then you need look no further, they are all around you. This area is overflowing with amazing hiking. Get out there and explore. I guarantee you will find a summit you can share with only yourself and your thoughts (but you just can’t buy an ice-cream sandwich there)!
Was the summit of Mt Washington a let down for you ?