Washington - The Peak Experience

Submitted by Nancy

Mountains: Mts. Montroe (5,384) and Washington (6,288)
Date: September 30, 2006
Time: 10 hours
Weather: Mostly sunny, temps ranging in 30's and 40's
Miles: 13.21
Elevation Gain: 4,202
Steps: 42,721
Trails: Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail - Crawford Path - Great Gulf Trail - Gulfside Trail - Clay Loop - Jewell Trail
Holy Shit Factor: High, very high - that one place could hold so much

Picture Gallery

Short Video Clips
Cog Railway from Observation Desk on top of Mt Washington
View from atop Mt Monroe

Do we think 4:30 a.m. is a sane time to set the alarm? Me neither. So I set it for 4:50, knowing I'm giving up gentle-wake-up snoozing for adrenalin pumping get-the-fuck-out-of bed NOW! Oh well, my backpack's in the car. I'm ready.

Dejah, my daughter's year-old lab, was thrilled to be awakened at 5 a.m., bounding down the stairs 6 at a time, her tail a wagging lethal weapon. Pat, Dejah and I are on the road at 5:30 a.m. in the dark. Breakfast at daybreak with the happy peppy people at the Hillsboro Mickey D's (see The Great McDonalds and Baxter State Park Switcheroo). We stop in Meredith for pee-pee and power bar purchasing.

For the first time in months, there are no clouds over the Whites as we enter Lincoln. The sun is out and the fall colors are florescent. Our euphoria is short-lived as we drive the last five miles to the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trailhead. Washington, dead ahead, is one big mass of grey mist. The summit forecast is for clear skies by 11 a.m. We set out on the trail at 8:30 a.m., so sunny has a few hours to get her act together.

There are tons of cars in the parking lot, a forbearer of the number of hikers we'll see today, a Saturday at peak foliage. The trail starts out on a gentle incline, always my favorite way to wake up the legs. I am grateful everyday these old legs are able to get me to the tops of mountains.

After the first few miles, the steep starts. The trail resembles a stone stairway meandering up into the clouds, alongside the Ammonoosuc River which is dotted with breathtaking waterfalls. As we climb, the brilliant colors fade and almost imperceptibly at first, turn to white! Frost laces the tree limbs and pine needles, ice covers the rocks. We meet a hiker coming down who says from the Lakes of the Clouds hut to Washington summit is sheer ice and the mountaintops are shrouded in clouds. Okay, thanks O Cheery One. Pat and I stay hopeful.

We reach the Lakes of the Clouds hut, now completely above the tree line (Yeah!) and take a right to bag Monroe. It is a short robust climb. It gets colder every step I take, so I don my fleece hat and gloves. On our way up, Pat says to me, "Nancy turn around." I turn and see the sparkling white summit of Washington framed in bright blue skies - NO CLOUDS! Oh my God. Sunny comes through big time! We are on the Monroe summit at 11:40 a.m. and WOW, I'm not sure I can convey just how full I feel on that summit. The colors - grey rock, green and yellow grasses, and bright white frost in the foreground, orange, yellow, red and green landscape, blue and purple mountains that go on forever fading in the far distance, backed by a brilliant blue sky. It feels like there is no end to how far I can see. So big, so vast and only Pat and I on top.

We climb down and across the saddle, past the closed hut and head toward Washington, joining a line of hikers. The sun has melted any ice on the rock, so footing is easy. The higher we go the more white the landscape, until we reach the summit, which is totally immersed in white frost.

Okay folks, I admit it. Driving to the trailhead that morning I said to Pat, "Please may I be able to do this." It was as if I was pleading to God to grant me steel quads, iron calves, and the knees and heart of a tri-athlete just for this hike. I was nervous. I still consider myself a newbie hiker and Washington is the highest mountain in the Northeast and fully a thousand feet higher than anything I've climbed. Yikes!

Arriving on the Washington summit at 1:15 p.m. in the windless sunshine, I take a huge breath of cold air and feel the pride fill my lungs. I made it! Whooo Hoooo! We climbed Mt. Washington and it didn't kill us!

The summit of Washington is marred by buildings and train smoke and WAY TOO MANY PEOPLE - lots of hikers from a dozen trails, Cog Railway riders and Washington Auto Road drivers. So, we don't spend a long time on top. We wait in line for a summit sign picture (a summit sign -- Halleluiah!) and then have lunch. I am cold and soaked through so I change into a dry set of clothes, take a moment to warm up inside and then off toward Clay with 500 of our closest friends in a long line from the summit of Washington all the way to the Clay Loop Trail. Before us is a stunning view of the Northern Presis - Jefferson, Adams and Madison, all in a row. We take the road less traveled, toward Clay, while everyone else continues down Washington, thinking one summit is enough for them. Not us girls!!!

Okay, now who the hell is Clay anyway? I thought I knew all the presidents. I have no idea who Clay is. But hey, it's a summit and it counts, so let's go! We get to the peak of Clay; well, we think we're there. We're about to celebrate and then have second thoughts. Do we high-five here? Looking at the map, we decide maybe it's not the summit and we better go over that next knob to see what we can see. Now here is a case where a summit sign would be really handy, folks (see The Case of the Signless Summit). I mean, did we bag the peak or not? And who the hell IS Clay? Come to find out Clay doesn't count as a 4,000 footer, it's just the northwest shoulder of Washington. Excuuuuusssse ME! Hey it's 5,533 feet high - WAY OVER 4,000 feet folks - and it's higher than Monroe and Monroe counts. What are ya thinkin'? It should count! (see If It's Over 4,000 Feet It Counts For Me) And Clay's not a President either. Big "L" on the forehead. Good ol' Henry ran fives times and never made it! LOSER! We bag the peak at 3:25 p.m. and the views are blow-you-away spectacular. Absolutely no regrets.

Pat says, "Let's boogie" as we turn to head down and my tired feet trip on a rock and I almost do a face plant, landing in prayer position, laughing hysterically, trying like hell not to pee. We head out toward the Jewell Trail, back in a line of hikers, making our way back down the mountain. The trail is a relatively graceful, gentle, downhill that brings us to the parking lot in the fading light of day at 6:30 p.m.

This experience for me is the epitome of why I hike. On the trail, I feel full with wonder each time I looked out into the world. Every second of the hike was filled with a kind of awe that could bring tears to my eyes if I paused too long. Getting into the car, Pat and I are euphoric. I'm happy tired, my toes are numb, knees are talking to me, body filled with the sensation that it has worked really hard. I will always remember this sunny clear day we summited Washington for the first time. I know there will be many more. But none more special.

Subs at Biederman's Deli in Plymouth and home at 10:30 p.m. - a long rewarding day.

31 of NH 48
33 of 67 in NE
34 of the NE 100 Highest