Climbing Mt Washington

I don't know when I developed a fascination for mountains - it is now an addiction that is fueled by the feeling of insignificance when surrounded by the vast landscape. The bubble that seems impenetrable everyday bursts and there is a sense of balance again.

I have wanted to climb Mt Washington in in White Mountain ranges in New Hampshire ever since I heard of it. The 4,000' elevation over a 4.5 mile hike to the summit is in moderate - difficult terrain, steep and slick in some places. The weather has a very large part to play, some rain or high winds can quickly turn a perfectly normal hike to a dangerous one.

Mt Washington is marketed as the home of the world's worst weather. I would like to call the weather fickle - especially for us city dwellers, who find it difficult to understand the effect of altitude and vegetation on the microclimate. It has recorded wind speeds of 231MPH and we have infamously driven up to the summit on a foggy day with under 3' visibility and winds gusting to 60 MPH; but that's a part of the allure of the mountain!

Warning sign above treeline; about 1.4 miles from the summit. 
Coming back to our glorious August day, we set out, later than planned, at 9.30 AM, to ascend on the Ammonoosuc Trail. We were a group of about 15 people that started the hike together; we quickly broke up into smaller groups as we got higher on the trail. The highlight of the hike up was a watermelon; which someone carried all the way up to the summit.
The group, just as we started the climb

Plaques to remember those who died trying to climb up
The trail runs alongside the Ammonoosuc river for a part of the way, providing some scenic relief. The first hour or so is a relatively easy hike, following which there is a steep rocky ascent that took us by surprise. I couldn't see where it ended, neither could I google the answer, which was a little unnerving to me.  The gem pool, a swimming hole formed by a little waterfall is a great place for a rest. By this time, we had fallen behind our initial group and had to keep ploughing through.

Gem Pool - there were people swimming and (literally) cooling their heels
This was just like climbing stairs - except each riser was 14-16" high

The Ammonoosuc trail leads to the Lakes of the Clouds hut, which is a Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) hut. It is a welcome warm break, with hot soup, chocolate chip cookies, restrooms and plenty of fellow hikers for company.

About a 1/4 mile below the hut we reached a beautiful outlook, with dramatic panoramas of the white mountain ranges and waterfalls cascading at different angles. The climb up form here on was slick and steep, requiring us to be on all fours quite often, thanking our stars that it had not rained enough to make the rocks slippery. We also got our first view of the hut not too far from here, which was encouraging.

There was not a lot of water, but it was refreshing to touch and see

I felt like a seal - soaking in as much sun as possible while sitting on the rocks
About 1/4 mile from the hut - it only took us
about 20 minutes of hopping and crawling on rocks
 to get to the hut from here. 
This was also the beginning of the alpine zone that I was fascinated by

The hut was built in memory of two AMC members who were climbing up Mt Washington to go to a meeting at the Summit House. They encountered bad weather and didn't make it to the top. The hut was initially a wooden hut built at the spot where William Curtis had died. Allan Ormsbee perished a little further up the trail. Intended as a "place of refuge" and intended to be uncomfortable for campers; it has not evolved into a stone hut that can accommodate 90 people and is a comfortable place for a break.

Lakes of the clouds and AMC hut as seen from trail above
The hut is unconnected by road or rail, and the only way to get supplies in and out of there is to carry them on the back from the summit, where they are delivered by road. The staff, called 'croo' walk up and down effortlessly multiple times a day carrying supplies in and trash out from the hut. Their effortless hike with these large loads on their back made our task seem just a little easier !

pic courtesy: nationalparkstraveler.com
After a long-ish but much needed break at the AMC hut, we hiked on up, powered by the sandwiches we had carried with us and chocolate chip cookies baked in the hut. It was encouraging to see the observatory on the summit, but frustrating to see how we needed to take a circuitous path to get there.

We were now above treeline and the hike was essentially hopping on rocks, surrounded by alpine vegetation. Magnificent views silently cheered us on; the ominous looking dark clouds ensured that we didn't waste any time looking. The temperature had dropped into the high 50s ( considered very warm for the mountain), and the wind had picked up (~15 mph: very normal) ; we added on the thermal layers.
It looked like this when we left the hut
The clouds were starting to gather
Ten minutes later, it looked like this
These ominous looking clouds made sure we didn't slack on the last leg of the ascent.
About 45 minutes and .6 miles later, we were at the top ! After the initial exhilaration of having made it and taking in views, (we had never had a clear day on our previous two trips, these were the best views from the summit we got);  we went into the summit house which has restrooms, tables, a snack bar and (of course!) a souvenir shop. There was a long line to get our picture taken at the summit sign, we were joking that there needed to be a separate priority line for hikers.
From the summit

I was fascinated by the Alpine vegetation - plants and flowers in the most unexpected places.

We didn't spend a lot of time looking at the views from the summit - this was more about the journey than the destination. After some hot tea, a lot of water and a souvenir magnet, it was time to head back down.More about that in the next post.

The watermelon ! PC: fellow hiker