View from the Summit of Mount Washington
Tidbits: Highest point in New Hampshire, Highest recorded ground winds in the world (about 240 MPH)
Summitted, October 22, 2004
Time Zone: GMT -5 hours
When to go:
Best to go between May and October.
Drive-up, cog-wheel train up, or 8.4 miles roundtrip hike with 4,200' of elevation gain.
Hotel and Climb Reservation:
No guide, permit, or trail reservations are required.
Emergency winter gear is essential...the weather can turn rapidly and kill you.
Rt. 16 North about 12 miles north of the Rt. 302/Rt. 16 interchange.
I decided to climb to the summit rather than take the train or drive up. By the end of October, the auto-road was already closed because of snow and ice and the train was operating for only two or three more days. There are several trails that you can take to get to the summit. I took the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, connecting to the Lion's Head trail. This combination creates a 4.2 mile trip to the top with 4,200' of elevation gain. Steep stuff.
Everyone warns you about the possible treacherous weather on the mountain. Mt. Washington has been known to reach windchill temperatures of 100 below zero with very little notice and freeze exposed flesh within seconds. The sign at the trailhead warns that "many people have lost their lives on the mountain". The sign at the summit reads that the mountain has "the most ferocious weather on the planet". To be safe, I carried moderate winter gear in my pack. The temperatures eventually hit about 12 degrees with the wind, which was mild that day.
After parking at Pinkham Notch Camp off Rt. 16, the trail starts with moderate elevation gain heading northwest. The well defined trail goes for 2.3 miles until it reaches the marked junction for the Lion's head trail (where you will make a sharp right). The trail becomes much steeper here. At about 3,200' in elevation, it started snowing. There was also a few inches of snow on the rocks, which made hiking slow and slippery. After reaching tree-line, the trail is marked with barely visible yellow blazes painted on the rocks (which can't be seen at all when snow is on the ground) and a series of rock cairns. There was heavy cloud cover I couldn't see more than 100' in any direction. At about 5,500', the cloud cover broke, offering spectacular views. I passed only two other hikers on the way up.
At the summit, there is a large weather station (open all year, but restricted in access), and a visitor's center with water and vending machines (open seasonally). There is also a notice that the cog-wheel train (when running) can take you back down for a fee of $35. The views of the White mountains and the Presidential Range are sweeping and impressive. The summit also has Rime Ice, which is an unusual formation where the ice "grows" sideways on various structures and rocks. This is due to the high winds affecting the way the ice crystallizes. I've never seen it anywhere else.
The descent took me a bit longer than I expected (4 hours), mostly due to the slippery conditions and steepness.
A view of the neighboring mountains from tree-line.
The path to the top in the fog marked by rock cairns
A view from near the summit looking down at the approach path