Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I Came Back! Mount Washington for Seek the Peak!

Seek the Peak was this last weekend and as many others did, I headed up to the White Mountains to try my hand at Mount Washington, 6,288 feet above sea level. I had climbed Mount Washington before, and if you’ve read my trip report from 1998, you know it was a very unpleasant experience for me. This time, I decided to take the same route up again, hoping that the 13 years in between trips and a much better state of mind, would yield a much better trip. With encouragement from my wife and friends, I believed I could do it!

At the Tuckerman Ravine Trailhead...I took Lion Head halfway up.

With a newborn at home, I didn’t want to spend too much of the weekend away so I decided to skip the STP kickoff party on Friday night and headed up to the trailhead Saturday morning instead. I hit the road at 3:30am hoping to get to the trailhead by 6am or so. Due to a little rain on the way and some slower drivers on Route 16, I made it to Pinkham Notch at about 6:30am. I was surprised to see the parking lot was already pretty full and I got one of the last parking spaces left. I signed in at the STP registration desk and was on my way.

Crystal Cascade - A beautiful waterfall!

The route that I decided upon was Lion Head via Tuckerman Ravine Trail up and backtrack the same trail down. I was hiking it solo since Jill wasn’t able to leave the baby, but my buddy, Matt, said he may head up later in the day to meet me on the summit for the hike down. He’s a much faster hiker than me, so I figured this plan would work out well.

The lower portion of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, pretty consistent for the most part.

Tuckerman Ravine trail is nothing like I remember it when I first hiked it back in 1998. I found the first portion to be pretty easy with a moderate, but consistent incline. As always, I determined all my milestones for the trip (trail junctions, brook crossing, etc.) in order to gauge where I was and help set little goals to get to the top. My first milestone was Crystal Cascade, which is a pretty high waterfall and was reached from a small spur path 0.3 miles from the trailhead. The water flow was perfect over the falls that morning and really gave the cascading affect that most likely gives it its name.

 The Doubleheads in the morning haze. I hope to hike these one day soon!

 After checking out the Crystal Cascade, I continued up the trail, past the Boot Spur Trail junction up a few switchbacks. The temperature was hovering around 70 degrees with a decent amount of humidity. The overcast skies looked like rain and it wasn’t long before it was doing just that…raining. Every now and then, a small breeze would push down the trail giving you some relief from the warm weather, as well as sweep away the annoying bugs with it. As time passed, more and more people popped up on the trail. It wasn’t uncommon to see a huge pack of fifty people heading up behind you. Rather than get mixed up in the high traffic, I would stand aside and let them all pass. With my slow pace, I’m sure I would have been in their way.

The sun trying to show itself over the Wildcat Ridge!

Somewhere after the junction with the Huntington Ravine Trail, I met a lady on the trail named Donna that would be my hiking partner for the rest of the ascent to the summit. She explained to me that she had done many Mount Washington EduTrips and this was her fourth Seek the Peak event. She was good company and kept great conversation which helped us pass the time on the trail. Most of all, she hiked at my pace, which was key!

The view of Lion Head pretty far up the trail!

Just below the Hermit Lake Shelter, we took a right onto Lion Head Trail. The trail narrowed quite a bit from the Tuckerman Ravine Trail we had just traveled on, and got steep pretty quick. Rocks continually got larger and your strides had to grow considerably. It wasn’t long until we started to get views of the southeast portion of Tuckerman Ravine, the Wildcats and the Doubleheads. 0.4 miles after Lion Head Trail started, we were above timber line and the sun came out to greet us.

From Lion Head, a view down into Tuckerman Ravine

The Lion Head Trail was relentless and the steepness was just not giving way to flatter terrain. Up ahead, we could see a massive, portion of the northern wall of the ravine where people were gathering for views and to rest. We assumed this must be the “Lion Head” which is apparently visible as a Lion Head when viewed from the north on Route 16. We finally made our way to the top of this massive rock, and found wonderful views into Tuckerman Ravine. You could see the head wall, Hermit Lake and even tiny little hikers over on the Boott Spur Trail on the southern wall of the ravine. At this time, we decided to stop for a rest, some food and water.

The head wall of Tuckerman Ravine from Lion Head

 If one is going to hit a mental wall about this hike, this is the place they will do it. You work very hard to get to this point. I’ve hiked much farther distances in the past and don’t recall a trail that is so demanding. Maybe I’m thinking this because I’m out of shape compared to last year, but really, this was a tough hike up to this point. Now, when you’re sitting up there on the Lion Head and you look up at the summit, it seems SO FAR AWAY! It really takes a lot to strap on the pack and continue on…which is exactly what we did!

View of the summit from Lion Head...so much further to go...mentally exhausting!

Right after the Lion Head, the trail did level off quite a bit for a few tenths of a mile. It traversed the northern wall of Tuckerman Ravine and gave fantastic views the whole way. However, as you’re hiking this portion, the view of the summit is just taunting you…reminding you that you still have quite a few vertical feet to climb. The trail passes the Alpine Garden and then quickly discards you into a boulder field.

The boulder field was tough. Lots of hand-over-hand climbing over large rocks and at times, the trekking poles make ascending more difficult. I’m assuming this part of the mountain is where the term “The Rock Pile” came from. Every time you made your way over the upper most ridgeline in view, another pile of rocks emerged giving you less hope of making it to the top. However, it wasn’t long until one of the towers made itself visible and then a few headlights from some parked cars could be seen too. 

 We finally made it to the top of Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which meant only 0.4 more, grueling miles!

We made it into the lower parking lot on the summit and found the worst part of the hike still ahead. We had to climb the stairs. I’m not kidding! There’s a set of deck stairs at the top that you have to climb to get the summit area and I feel this was probably the toughest part of the hike. I recall being so exhausted. My legs felt like jelly. This made those stairs near impossible! We finally made it to the top and found our way to the end portion of the Crawford Path to get our picture taken with the summit marker. We stood in line, as most people do on Mount Washington, waiting for cog passengers, mini-van visitors and other fellow hikers get a picture of their moment of triumph. After standing and waiting for 20 minutes in 50mph westerly winds, we got our chance too. I stood proudly at 6,288 feet!

 Mount Monroe, Franklin and Eisenhower looking over Lakes of the Clouds Hut!

Donna and I parted ways and my next business to tend to was to find my buddy Matt. He left the trailhead 2.5 hours after me and I was sure he probably made his way onto the summit while I was waiting to get a picture. I went into the cafeteria area and found him sitting, waiting for me. He made it to the summit in only 2.5 hours. He’s a mad man!!! It took me 5 hours and I was proud of myself for that time since book time is 4.5 hours. I can’t imagine someone getting up that trail that fast. I was happy to have him there and knew the descent would be a lot more fun and tolerable with him hiking with me.

Very cool clouds forming over Wildcat!

After eating some food and checking out the gift shop (I bought Lylah a Mt. Washington shirt), we headed outside and made our way around the summit, checking out the beautiful views. The views to the north are my favorite. Jefferson, Adams and Madison stand so prominently and are so magnificent. I can’t wait to stand on their summits one day too! We decided we had spent enough time up on the Rock Pile and started heading back down the way we had hiked up earlier. I thought the Lion Head Trail was tough coming up, but I think it was even tougher going down.

Me, proudly standing at 6,288 feet!!!

Matt and I worked our way through the now crowded decent. I believe we were pretty courteous for the most part, but a few hikers really stood out as being obnoxious and rude while they pushed through people and trampled fragile vegetation to get by others. This kills me, because you have to expect crowds for a hike like this. It was a beautiful, sunny day, on a Saturday during Seek the Peak for Mount Washington. It’s obviously going to be very crowded. Why even hike it if you’re going to get aggravated at the crowds!

The Cog!

Matt, eating pizza and drinking soda after his 2.5 hour hike up a tough hike...He's a MAD MAN!

We made pretty good time down to Lion Head from the summit, but at that point, I think most of the damage to my body had been done. My two large toes were on fire from jumping down on rocks, my legs were toast and my thumb had been smashed on a rock. It was hard to believe that we had only gone a quarter of the way down at this point. Matt and I took a quick break here and had another hiker take our picture on Lion Head with the summit and head wall in the background and continued on. The rest of Lion Head was grueling and painful for me. We dropped below tree line and the temperature rose a good 10 degrees and the breeze disappeared. We finally reached the lower portion of Tuckerman Ravine Trail and knew the worst was behind us…however, we still had 2.2 miles to go.

Mount Jefferson, Adams and Madison over the Cog rails and Auto Road. I love the Northern Prezis

The Baldfaces, over the Wildcats. I'd love to hike the Baldfaces one day too!

Even though this portion of the trail was easier than what we had already descended, my legs, feet and toes were in tough shape for it, so it was still difficult. Matt and I kept a pretty decent pace heading out only stopping to rest twice. Each time we stopped, getting back up took a ton of effort. Thank God for Matt, because without having someone to talk to, to get my mind off the pain in my feet, making it down would have been damn near impossible. We reached the Pinkham Notch visitor’s Center in three hours, which was longer than we had expected, but we were safe with no real bad injuries…that’s all that matters. We parted ways in the parking area and I headed down Route 16 for my 2.5 hour ride home.

Matt and I on our descent. This was taken on Lion Head, against the head wall of Tuckerman Ravine

It was great to climb Mount Washington a second time. I was able to hike it this time, enjoyably and without hitting a mental wall, unlike back in 1998. I appreciate and respect the White Mountains a lot more now than I did then. It was really great day even though my legs and feet are still paying the price…even as I write this trip report they hurt. And I was able to raise $185 for the Mount Washington Observatory, which I was happy to do. Thanks to everyone who supported my trek to the summit by donating to my hike. Big thanks to both Matt and Donna for hiking with me. Without them, the day would have been ten times longer and a little less enjoyable.

One thing I can honestly say after hiking this mountain is that Teddy Roosevelt was right when he said, “Believe you can, and you’re halfway there…” This quote held very true to me throughout the day when I made my way up to the highest peak east of the Mississippi and north of the Carolinas!



  1. Awesome hike, Karl! Thanks for sharing the outstanding views. One of these days I'll try tackling a mountain...

  2. Great job. Love the pic of the lenticular clouds over Wildcat.

  3. Awesome Job Karl, great trip report and the pics are phenomenal!

  4. Great trip report and photos! Congrats

  5. Great report and congratulations! I did that same hike last year but got up there too late to hike back down so had to take the shuttle instead. And I am hiking it again this Saturday (7/30) with the Army of Change to help raise funds for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Diesease research and care giver support. We are planning an earlier start and will hike back down. Your report has been very motivational for me. Thank you!

  6. Hi Casey - Thanks! I highly recommend trying a smaller mountain as your first. This was my first back in 1998 and I swore off hiking forever...didn't last, but still.

    Jill - Thanks hunny!

    Chris - Yeah, that cloud was cool. We watched it start out small and then just grow massively as we approached the summit. Always some cool clouds in that area.

    Chris D. - Thanks very much!

    Two Brother's - Thanks very much!

    Kris - I'm glad you're hiking it soon for a great cause. My grandmother passed away from Alzheimer's, so I sincerely thank you for raising money for it. I'm glad I could help give you a bit of motivation. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  7. Great report and awesome photos Karl. You'll have to guide us up when we make it up that way at some point in time. Little Miss Lylah is absolutely adorable. Love the shirt. That's awesome.

  8. Congrats - what a great hike for you - the photos are amazing! Just being up there is a big thing and hiking for a good cause is great, too. Thanks for posting that photo of the lenticular clouds, they're spectacular close up. I've got a photo with those clouds in it from another viewpoint on the same day. Love your last photo - she's so adorable in her first (but probably not last!) Mt. Washington t-shirt!

  9. enjoyed your review- we too did STP but as first timers with dogs attached to us we took the Jewell Trail/ Gulf Side Trail to the Summit.

  10. enjoyable review and stunning pics

  11. Karl, glad to get up there and hike with you on your 2nd Mt. Washington
    Ascent...Glad that you enjoyed this one better than the first one and that you
    didn't only have to eat a tuna fish sandwich after your long climb this time
    (Yuck). Another spectacular trip report as well! You are quickly becoming a
    goto source for information about hiking in the White Mountains! Thanks for
    letting me be a part of you blog! I'm famous!!!

  12. Tim & Robin - Thanks! Not sure you'd want to go up Washington when you come up or not. There are many other beautiful peaks with a little less effort and certainly a lot less traffic. Washington is like a little city at the top. Not to say it's not awesome, but certainly not a "peaceful" place to hangout for the day.

    Summerset - I read your trip report from Carrigain on the same day. Those clouds were certainly cool that day.

    Megan - I just checked out your blog. Two huskies??? I think we crossed paths at some point. I recall seeing them. Maybe at the summit. Thanks for stopping by!

    Ben - Thanks.

    Matt - Thanks Matt. I did enjoy it much more this time. Thanks for the props on the blog. Can't wait until NHAdventurer is up and running!


  13. Karl . . . sorry I'm so late in responding!

    Your report and your photos are first-rate! In my estimation, two photos particularly catch my eye. One is the awesome picture of the lenticular cloud. But, that particular picture is no match for the absolutely delightful photo of your daughter Lylah!


  14. Congrats on your second to Mt. Washington and to help raise monies during the Seek The Peek! I hope to do that next year! I'm a slow. but steady hiker and made my first solo hike last month and LOVED it! I'm hooked and hope to make my own solo trek to MW via the Ammonoosuc Ravine/Crawford Path trails. Thank you for a wonderful post, you're an inspiration! :)

  15. Thanks for this wonderful account of your climb. I haven't been in the White Mountains since the 80's and I'm glad to see they are still there :) Keep up the great hikes and the great blog.

  16. Great Blog! I was also there that day and experienced the crowds on the trail. Started a little later than you did and took the same route up and down as you. Perhaps we passed each other on the trail.

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