From the Top Down
Generally speaking, when one sets a goal, they initiate their journey from the bottom up. This is mainly in order to accustom oneself to the strife for that goal, so as to get in the habit of the attempt to achieve it before tackling the most difficult aspects toward the end of its fulfillment. One would argue that this scenario is the rule when it comes to achieving goals. But what would life be if one had to conform to each and every standard that society laid out for you? Booooring. As somewhat of an adventurous individual, the exposition of the story of the ascent of the White Mountain 4000ers had to be a memorable one. And thus, my two best friends, Jon-Scott and Curtis, accompanied me on my first hike since pledging to complete the 48 4000 footers in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. On the tallest of the 48. Mount Washington.
Having completed Mount Flume, Liberty, Lafayette and Lincoln of the Franconia Ridge, my White Mountain hiking prior to Washington was just as exhilarating and challenging as my intended target. As alpine summits, each one is completely exposed and offers a 360 degree view of the surrounding landscape. Case and point, the views are magnificent, almost ethereal. And the trails themselves aren’t too shabby either. Between Lincoln and Lafayette, the Franconia Ridge traverses, with a bit of scrambling and near-perfect views of the Whites. Flume and Liberty are the same, and the infamous Flume Slide trail is used to reach the summits, one of the steeper trails I’ve ascended in my life. But the trail that we would be taking to the summit of Mt. Washington was like none I have ever done before. They call it, the Huntington Ravine Trail. It runs parallel to the densely crowded Tuckerman Ravine Trail, and offers some of the best solitude on one of the most crowded mountains in the Whites.
My friends and I began on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which eventually links up with Huntington in a little over a mile. We saw ten times as many people on that short stretch than on all of Huntington, a clear indication of Tuckerman’s popularity. But after reading an article in Backpacker magazine, we were told to avoid Tuckerman on the way up. And boy was this a great suggestion. Regarded as one of the toughest trails in the Whites, Huntington Ravine possesses class 3 scrambling with some scary off-trail climbing that Curtis and I participated in. Curtis, a lover of all things pertaining to climbing, is not much of an exerciser due to his occupation as an engineer student and worker, but was so far ahead of me at times that I could not believe it. It was as if he had superhuman strength, climbing up some difficult boulders that sometimes necessitated the use of solely upper body strength, a department that I clearly beat Curtis in. But for whatever reason, a light flicked on for him, and he was performing at a higher level than I climbing up Huntington and the boulder surrounding it. JS on the other hand, was following the trail, so as not to do something stupid, which Curtis and I did a lot of on the way up. When we reached a stretch where we could only continue by following the trail, things got interesting. The Fan, as they call it, is a class 3 climb where if you take the wrong step, you can tumble down the mountain. But so long as you’re careful, there is no worry. Of course, we weren’t careful, and were trying to ascend in a place where we weren’t supposed to. As a result, The Fan was one of the most challenging and intimidating climbs we had done on a mountain thusfar.
Eventually, we reached the summit, and were graced with a whole bunch of clouds and cars. No views, and the constant din of industrialization. As Curtis deemed it, it was one of man’s greatest travesties to nature. The top of Mt. Washington is home to an observatory that hosts a gift shop, food court, and countless tourist attractions. For a group of hikers, this was blasphemous, and we couldn’t believe that we were sitting amongst people who had driven or taken the railroad to the top of the mountain. But as a product of America’s obsession with mountains in the 19th century, roads began to pop up that led to the mountain, including the Cog railway that can be taken to the top. If I were lazy, I would appreciate the luxury of being able to get to the tallest point in the Northeast. However, it wouldn’t be as much of a feat, and not nearly as satisfying. We had ascending the highest point in all of New England, but it was quite anticlimactic. Even the views were skewed as we headed down because of the heavy traffic of people on the trails. All in all, it was a trip well worth it up the Huntington Ravine Trail, but the summit and the descent of Tuckerman were nothing to dwell over.
Morals of the story:
Climb up Huntington if you aren’t afraid of heights. You will be graced with perfect solitude.
Try to find a different route down, as the Tuckerman is crowded.
Don’t get too fed up with the tourists on top. There are plenty of other opportunities in the presidential range that are off limits to such high traffic.