Washington Solo

Submitted by Nancy

Mountain: Mt. Washington (6,288)
Date: June 19, 2010
Time: 7.25 hours
Weather: BEAUTIFUL! warm, sunny, light breeze, clear blue skies
Miles: 8.6
Elevation Gain: 3,800
Trails: Up the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, Crawford Path, down Trinity Heights Connector, Gulfside Trail, Jewell Trail

Picture Gallery

You know how you hear about older people being set in their ways? As I get older myself, I am realizing that that is not it. They are not set in their ways. They have had a lifetime of discovering who they are -- what they like and what they don't like and now they know! And once they know for sure who they are, why do anything that doesn't fit into the "who they are" scenario? If your Aunt Matilda doesn't eat anything but chicken pot pies, is she set in her ways or was she forced to eat Brussels sprouts and other veggies ad nauseum throughout her life and now that she is finally living alone and can do whatever she wants, she chooses to eat her favorite meal. Once you know who you are, you are free to stick with what holds meaning and delight for you and let all the rest go. And since we only have this life...the sooner we figure out who we are and what we like and start living from there, the better.

It really boils down to "time is of the essence." Why do anything for even one second that isn't truly who you are? Now it takes years to figure it out. Years of trying things and testing this and that. At least for me. It has taken years before I finally figured out what I like and what I don't, and even more delving into me to realize that there is a pattern to it all. What I like to read reflects on where I like to hike, which also says something about the work I like to do, and how I like to do it. It's really all the same.

I bet the same is true for you; it's probably true for everyone. How you play your golf game is also how you work and raise your children - how you live your life. It sure feels like a whack up the side of the head when it all comes together and makes sense. Now, I'm not advocating that you change anything. On the contrary, I'm suggesting knowing who you are and then living who you are with no deviations. By now you are probably wondering what this has to do with hiking.


I know I am supposed to hike on Saturday. I know it from the inside out. That happens to me. A moment comes and I know something for sure that I didn't know before. And once I know that I am supposed to do something, there is no sense in trying to talk myself out of it. I have to follow my heart.

It's Saturday at 7:30 AM and I am driving on Rte. 302, heading to the Presidential Range of the White Mountains. My plan is to climb Eisenhower and then hike over to Monroe. I remember the views from Monroe to Eisenhower when Pat and I did our Presidential Traverse. They were incredible and I want to see them again.

The sun is out and the sky is blue; it is a perfect day for hiking, except Pat is not with me. She is concerned about her breathing problems that have been manifesting on our hikes and made the difficult decision to take a weekend off. I miss her already.

As I am driving I begin to question my plan. It is a perfect above tree-line day and we don't get many of those. Why not go for Washington instead of Eisenhower? Why would I climb the 12th highest mountain in the state when I can climb the highest? This is part of who I am. There is really no middle ground with me - it is all or nothing. The biggest, the best, all out, or why go?

So, I change my mind and decide to climb Washington. As I pass Clinton Road, which goes to Eisenhower's Edmunds Path trailhead, I see that the road is closed. I couldn't climb Eisenhower even if I wanted to! I continue on, arriving at the Ammonoosuc Ravine trailhead. By 8:07 I am starting my ascent of Washington. I remember the trail. It starts out at the Cog Railway, and is not too steep in the beginning, walking along the Ammonoosuc River. But soon the staircase begins. Really, literally a stone staircase, back-breakingly forged by trail workers, takes you up the mountain.

I love the waterfalls at the Gorge, about halfway up the mountain. I remember being spellbound by them the first time I saw them. Today, I chat with other hikers as I walk along the falls, instead of the awed silence that accompanied me the first time I laid eyes on them. I dip my bandana into the cold water and put it on my head to keep me cool. I love the feeling of the cold water, dripping through my hair and onto my scalp then down my back. And I love looking at the falling water...but it doesn't blow me away. I have been here before.

There are lots of people on the trail, so even though I am alone, I am not alone. I miss Pat's presence, and there are plenty of kind people around to chat with as they pass me or I pass them. It is the perfect day to climb Washington. Even halfway up the mountain it is still hot and there is a light beautiful breeze. It is a bit hazy though, so you can't see forever. Still, I know I am incredibly lucky to be this high up in a sleeveless top, loving the temperature.

Dejah keeps me company and seems happy to be climbing. She runs ahead of me often - a sign that she still has lots of pep. I arrive at the Lakes of the Clouds hut, and keep on going. Dejah takes a quick dip in the pond near the hut and then we head up the last mile and a quarter to the top.

I reach the summit of Washington at 11:15 and it is packed. It is the day of the Mt. Washington Road Race where a thousand people run up the auto road 7.6 miles to the top. The summit is covered with runners wrapped in mylar blankets. I go to the summit sign and wait my turn for a picture. Someone kindly snaps a couple for me and then I head down away from the crowds.

Dejah and I find a hot rock on the way down to sit and enjoy lunch together, looking out at the view of the northern presidentials.

As I eat my Lost Pilgrim wrap (turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce), I notice how I am feeling. I wouldn't say I feel let down - it is too beautiful up here to be anything but awed by the beauty. But it is not a new awe for me - I have been here before, seen this exact view. It feels familiar. It is a repeat for me. I realize as I am eating my lunch, how being familiar takes some of the glitter off the experience; having been there before takes the sequins off the moment and makes it feel more regular - like today is a day that will fade from my memory instead of stand out as being a moment to savor forever. I realize that I like the thrill of new, first ever, once-in-a-lifetime moments.

I wish I could be satiated, fully happy climbing the same mountain every day. I have a friend who climbs Monadnock a few times every week. I love that about her. I wish that I could do that. Then I would feel secure in knowing that it is always there, will always welcome me, and I wouldn't have to wonder what the next mountain will be or deal with the uncertainties of new territory. It makes me realize how well suited I was for Pat's and my goal of climbing the 67 4,000-footers in New England. It was a new mountain every hike. I never knew what I would see or what challenges would greet us.

I know I could climb different trails, in different seasons. And the experience would be different. You never know who you will meet or what you will encounter on any hike. So I get that each experience is new, even if you have been there before. But it is not new enough for me. I like the surprise and thrill of every hike being a first time hike.

Don't get me wrong - I hope to climb Washington again and again. But my essence is about new experiences, and it is the totally new unchartered moments that thrill me completely. When I reach a tree-line on a mountaintop where I have never been and I am confronted with a never-seen-before incredible view of the world. That is what I love. And if I am going to hike - why not go for a new experience every time?

After lunch, Dejah and I head down the Jewell Trail. The first third of the trail is rocky and the rocks are rough for dog's feet. I wonder how Dejah is doing, since she hasn't been hiking in a while. It is hot and it gets hotter and hotter as Dejah and I get below tree-line and the breeze is blocked. Dejah is panting and I give her the last few drops of water from my nalgene bottle. Luckily we reach a stream three-quarters of the way down and she and I both cool off in the water. Refreshed, we hike down the last mile or so to the Cog Railway at 3:15.

Dejah and I find a nice soft patch of grass near the parking lot and I take my backpack off and lie down on the soft sod. Ahhhhh. The moment of complete relaxation after a hike is the best! I lift my head to check on Dejah and she is right beside me...sound asleep. With Washington behind us, we rest in the sunlight for a while before heading to the car. People walk by us on the road to the parking lot and I notice they glance in our direction and smile....an exhausted hiker and her dog taking a well-deserved rest.

It is bike week in NH and me and a million bikes head to Keene after a long day. Dejah is asleep in the car in no time and stays that way until we get home, when she gingerly gets out of the car.


My first solo hike up Washington and I realize more completely than ever before that climbing a mountain for the second time lacks the luster of the first experience. When I was sitting on top of Washington, 6,000 feet up, I was surrounded by magnificence, yet I wanted it to really dazzle me, to feel more tingly, more effervescent. It is the same incredible view that took my breath away the first time I saw it. I remember feeling like I was on top of the world then. This time on Washington I felt like I was on top of Washington.

I am not a repeater. I have realized this before, but perhaps not this clearly. And I realize that this is true about me across the board of my life. How I live is how I hike is how I work.

I won't read a book twice. I won't watch the same movie twice. I won't watch a TV show rerun and I hate those recap shows where they review what has happened so far in a TV series. I even hate it when a reality TV show comes back from a commercial break and repeats the last few moments of the show. It drives me crazy.

This same theme shows itself in my work life too. I am not a good maintainer. I don't do status quo very well. I like new. I like not knowing what I am going to encounter in the next new project. What I don't expect is what makes me jump up and down inside myself with euphoria. So, in my work life I have found that I move into a challenging position, bring what is in me, out, and then I move on to the next challenge. And when I work on a project, I am always trying to create something new, different and surprising. I want to bring something into the world that no one expects, that no one has even thought of before. It's amazingly cool that what I love to experience is also what I try to bring into the world. Who knew that life made so much sense?

I will never take the beauty of the White Mountains for granted. But I have seen it, I know it now. It is a part of me. I want to be exposed to different beauty -- a new mountain, a new experience, a new thrill, a tingly moment. Bring on the glitter and the sequins in life. Why be a repeater when there is a world of new out there?