Today was supposed to be a recap of the South Shore Half Marathon, but due to high winds that accompanied another New England storm (complete with our first snow of the season), the half marathon was postponed until November 16. Instead, you finally (FINALLY) get my recap of our hiking weekend and what it was like to climb Mt. Washington. If you missed the recap of the rest of the weekend, you can check it out here.
To be completely honest with all of you, part of the reason it has taken so long to write this recap is that the entire experience was emotionally exhausting and somewhat anticlimactic. I guess I should start from the beginning though.
We woke up a little late on Saturday morning, well later than our plan of 5:30 anyway. We got dressed in our multiple layers and headed out to the Sunrise Shack for an early breakfast. There were several other hikers at the restaurant, which made sense given it was the only place we could find open so early on a Saturday morning. Joe got pancakes and I got an omelet. All of the food was super fresh, including the fresh squeezed orange juice. We were very impressed (so impressed I forgot to take a photo).
After breakfast we finished our drive to hiking club where we planned to park and start our trek. The day before we asked some local hikers what trail they suggested and were told Tuckerman Ravine had some great views. After some research we also learned it was one of the more difficult trails, but we were excited to give it a try.
The drive to the hiking club had afforded us some great colors and the start of the trail was no different. Just a slight incline as we found our footing on the initial trail.
It wasn’t long until we came across our first mini waterfall of the hike.
Joe held back to get my photo on the first wooden bridge we crossed on our way.
We also got a great view of the sun poking out over another mountain, which would help warm things up pretty quickly until we got up much higher.
Just a few paces further and we found the larger waterfall that was feeding into the mini one we saw at the beginning of the trail.
The trail was still quite easy at this point so we took our time enjoying the views and the colors.
A little further on and I shed my vest and hat as we started to climb over several large boulders and make our way further and further up. We met a few other groups of hikers, including a group of three guys (two of whom kept leaving the third behind and at one point were discussing whether to wait or just keep going, good thing Joe didn’t decide to leave me behind when I was slowing him down — yeesh!) and a group that was waiting on their friend who had gone back to find his camera that he had lost along the way.
As we pushed up a harder incline with a lot of boulders, Joe described it as Bunker Hill Street with big rocks. For those of you who don’t know, Joe and I live on the top of a big hill in Boston. He has been climbing it his whole life, so let’s just say that hills aren’t a big deal for him.
We paused at a break between some of the boulders so I could use the restroom and I was happy that I have been practicing my deep squat. Usually on our hikes I can avoid needing to go, but with the length of this one I knew I would need to go at least a couple of times so I embraced it early on.
After passing a couple more groups along some tough boulders, we saw a sign pointing toward our trail and the other direction toward the trail we were planning to take back down the mountain. I didn’t get a photo, but figured I’d get it on the way back.
Shortly thereafter we came to a clearing with the empty shelter and some restrooms (that were locked up and totally unhelpful). We did get some good views of things to come.
We decided to not linger too long and made our way back toward the trail. There was an absolutely beautiful clearing that gave me pause and got me thinking about future hikes (and maybe traveling even further than New Hampshire).
After that, it was back to the trail and up even more boulders. It was hard to get a sense of scale, so I decided to hang back and get a shot of Joe going up some of the rocks.
Speaking of difficult to gauge scale, the ground in the photo below is quite the impressive drop. Photos didn’t do the trail justice.
Looking up, there were tons of waterfalls that we didn’t realize at the time, but we would need to climb over and across to continue up the ravine.
As we climbed higher (and passed a few more hikers) we started to encounter some fog. Fog above, fog below, all we could really see were the sides of the mountain, which were virtually straight up in some places.
The fog cleared a few times and the sun poked out from behind the clouds, leading us to hold out hope that we might finish the hike before the rain in the forecast made its appearance.
Looking back where we had hiked, I spotted another hiker and hoped it would be a great photo for scale. That would be the case if the hiker didn’t look like a speck. Then again, maybe that’s the best scaling possible. Suffice to say, we were covering a lot of distance and quite a bit of elevation.
We turned and continued up, passing a hiker coming back down the mountain just before we crossed (ever so carefully) across some small waterfalls and a lot of very slick rocks. I mentioned to Joe that the guys who had suggested Tuckerman Ravine had also been on a rescue crew and that I wondered if they suggest the trail to tourists to have something to do on their day off. Luckily, we made it over the falls without incident.
At this point it was getting very cold again and we were using our hands quite a bit to climb, so I stopped taking photos. Lucky for me, Joe got a few good ones of the rocks we had to climb at the end.
Speaking of the end though, I felt like a mountain goat by this point. We were climbing from rock to rock across scenery that was never changing. Each rock looked just like the last and there was almost no vegetation at this point, though it had started a very light sprinkle of rain. The markers were mounds of rocks and you could generally only see from one to the next, so it was hard to tell how much further we had to go. There were also no other hikers around for most of this portion so it was a bit eerie and kind of surreal.
The most surreal thing, however, and the part that was so emotionally draining was climbing over the final rocks, four hours after our hike started — and into a parking lot.
We both knew that a Mount Washington Auto Road existed (after all, we had seen the bumper stickers), but what I don’t think either of us realized was that the auto road goes all the way to the top of the mountain. Hikers come out of a long hike, through all sorts of obstacles and narrow trails, and into a parking lot where they’re surrounded by the cars of people who have driven up the mountain.
It took us a few minutes to get our bearings and realize what was going on, then we spotted a sign directing us to the Summit building. We climbed the stairs along with people who had just gotten out of their warm cars, and it was all I could do to lift my leg each time. Not because I was physically exhausted, but because I felt kind of cheated. When we did finally reach the top of the stairs, we saw a sign pointing to the summit and a line formed for photos.
We skipped that at first and went in the summit building to find a restroom and get warm. I signed the visitor register for posterity and Joe and I looked around to take it all in.
In addition to the restrooms and visitor register, there was a cafe with nachos, coffee, chili, hot dogs, and pizza to name a few. Across from the cafe was a gift shop. It was like we hadn’t just hiked up a mountain. In some ways, it took away from the experience on the whole. At this point it had started to sleet a bit along with the rain and we noticed people buying tickets for a train down the mountain as well as shuttles for hikers who wanted to ride back to their car.
Wet, cold, and feeling disappointed with experience, we bought tickets for the shuttle and headed to the summit to get a photo because it just felt like that’s what we should do. Standing in line with people who drove up did little to make us feel better. One couple remarked that we must have been there before since we knew to dress warm and we shared that we had on layers because we had hiked up the mountain. “You hiked?! Wow!” was the response. We smiled for our photo and waited for our shuttle by looking around the gift shop and reading some of the info near the summit.
When we got inside the van, we were with two other hikers who had come up Tuckerman Ravine and they were feeling like we were about the experience. We listened to our driver explain the different levels of the mountain terrain as we drove down through the rain, which was now heavy at times, and realized it was a good decision to take the shuttle after all.
Back at the foot of the mountain we got to the car, drove back to the Glen Oaks Inn, and after a quick shower went out for food and well-deserved drinks. After dinner we came back, popped open our bottle of champagne, and watched Family Feud, laughing at the contestants (not with them, at them) until we fell asleep.
Not the most exciting of nights, but somewhat appropriate for the day. Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy that we completed the hike. It’s nice to be able to say you’ve climbed the tallest mountain in the northeast, but our hike up Mount Monadnock was much more satisfying in a lot of ways.
I could see myself doing the hike again in the summer sometime because at least then we’d know what to expect, but for now we’ll probably stick to mountains that are a bit less touristy and a bit closer to home.
Stay tuned for Joe’s recap of the hike. It’s sure to be a good one!