After celebrating Darby’s birthday with the cupcakes we had brought with us, it was time to get down to the main business of the day – a hike up Mt Washington, the tallest mountain in the north eastern US, known less for its gorgeous views than the fact that is has what is considered to be the worst weather in the States. Although the mountain is equipped with its very own cog railway up to the summit, we were determined to earn our views the hard way.
Although we didn’t know it at the time, the mountain was a very appropriate choice for Darby’s birthday as it was first scaled in 1642 by someone named Darby Field, thought to be have been born in Boston, England.
There are a number of routes up the mountain, and we had initially planned to take the Tuckerman Ravine route, but after consultation with the owners of the campground changed our route to follow the Ammonoosuc Ravine. This turned out to be a better idea than we first realised as we heard once we reached the top that the Tuckerman Ravine route had been closed.
The first part of the trail up to the Gem Pool was hardly more than a gentle stroll, the only slight challenge being a couple river crossings and a few patches of snow along the way. Very excited by the snow, we stopped to photograph every patch, little knowing that further up the trail we would see far more snow than we could have ever bargained for.
Once we left crossed the Gem Pool, life got harder very quickly as we hit a stairway of rocks. Ready for a breather, we were pleased to see a couple heading downwards and stopped for a chat. Worryingly, they told us that they had planned to walk to the summt but had been stopped a little further up due to difficult river crossing. As they turned out to be regulars on the route, this was a little concerning, but we decided to carry on and see what we found. Worse yet, after continuing a little while we saw someone else coming down towards us – an extremely well-equipped looking guy who had passed us earlier. He also had turned back because he was concerned about getting through the snow just beyond the river crossing. Apparently not someone to take life easy, he was planning to go back down to the trailhead and find himself another mountain to climb! Despite being a little daunted by all the experienced looking hikers giving up we were determined not to quit so easily, and deciding we had both numbers and youth on our side, decided to continue.
The next section was pretty hard work, every time we thought we were clear we hit another patch of snow which, given the steep gradient, was tough to clamber up. Still, the occasional view we had, when the trees thinned a little, was superb. Finally the path evened out a little and we emerged from the obvious trail into a more open area, thinly scatter wereed with trees. Now a challenge – where on earth did the trail lead? Blue markers, which had been reassuring us so far, were woefully absent. We looked valiently for footprints through the snow, but it seemed that no-one else had got this far. Just as we were starting to think we might have no option other than turning back (really not a pleasant thought!), we heard voices. After waiting a couple minutes, a group of people slowly emerged from the trees, looking expectantly up at us, as if we had all the answers. Between us we managed to find a blue marker and carried on as a large group through the trees and finally, up to the Lake of the Clouds Hut, our first major landmark after the Gem Pool. Now the summit was finally in sight, although there still remained a good climb ahead of us.
The final part of our ascent had the great advantage of being above the treeline, so we could see our target as we slowly climbed. The downside to the open landscape, though, was a brutal wind which caused my eyes to stream constantly. We were very quickly glad of our fleeces, despite the sunny day. Not for nothing is New Hampshire called “The Granite State” – the last part of the hike up to the summit is nothing but rocks.
An hour or so after leaving the Lake of the Clouds, we reached the summit and, extremely windswept, clambered up the last pile of rocks to be photographed at the summit. Sadly my hat wasn’t able to withstand the strong winds, and rescuing it a couple times, I finally lost it out of my pocket! Our hard work was rewarded – for once the summit wasn’t eveloped in cloud, and we were able to enjoy the fantastic views. Flushed with our success, we smirked at the people climbing out of the steam train which had just reached the top and rushed to the cafe to beat the queue for a well-earned cup of tea.