“Caution: This is the most difficult regular hiking trail in the White Mountains”, reads the White Mountain Guide. With an elevation gain of 4,256 feet in 4.4 miles of trail from Pinkham Notch visitor’s center to the summit of Mt. Washington (6,288′), the description appears right on.
Here’s a shot of Huntington Ravine, on the right, with Tuckerman’s to the left.
The trail gets increasingly steep, starting as a normal trail, then enters a steep slope of broken rocks known as The Fan, where at one point it climbs 650 feet in just 0.3 of a mile, rendering it way beyond the usual steep Whites climbs.
It is at this point that the trail reaches the head wall and you are faced with an expanse of smooth steeply sloping ledge that is completed by jamming your feet into and clawing your way 30′ up a vertical crack, then skittering sideways to enter a less treacherous, but very exposed route up to the lip of the ravine. Here’s a shot of that exact point, with two other climbers in and above “The Crack” to illustrate! I found myself pulling my body up some tough sections, and was surprised how much upper body strength the trail demanded.
General Lee and I made it to the summit of Washinton at 11:10 AM, some 3 hours and 40 minutes after starting the hike, a time that was 1 hour under the formula established by the AMC.
Once on top we gave up waiting in the long line of people waiting to get their photo taken by the summit sign, 95% of them riding their car, motorcycle, ATV, or the train to get there.
We spotted a fellow walking by as we were eating our lunches while sitting in two chairs near the summit building. After our eyes locked, he came over and asked if we were thru hiking, which he was doing- Northbound. We gave him one of our steak sandwiches and another day hiker sitting next to us gave him a huge bag of most excellent gorp. then Lee and I went to the hiker station on the ground floor and talked and hung with the hikers as we brewed up some fresh coffee from Lee’s Jetboil.
Then we had to walk back to the car. Since descending the way we came up is considered a suicidal possibility, we decided on a more roundabout route. Or routes.
Lee ran up to the top of Mt Clay (5535′) , then ascended off the AT to the top of Mt. Jefferson (5716′). Unfortunately he swung back down the Six Husbands Trail to link back up with me, who was having my own challenges descending the steepness of the Great Gulf Trail. Lee said that his descent was even more treacherous than the Huntington Ravine trail would have been, even with the use of several ladders. Emeralds and crystals were the images that came to me as I wound my way northeast along the west branch of the Peabody River until I reached what I thought was the AT near the Osgood cut- off.
I walked for over a half hour until I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I was not on the AT. Why? No white blazes. Not one. The footpath certainly looked beat down enough to be the AT but where were the blazes?
I had the sun low in the sky on my right, it was past 4PM, so I was oriented in the correct direction- south. And I was climbing again. So I turned around, finally convinced I was not on the AT. After about a half hour of fast hiking, I eventually ran into General Lee who was coming up my way, either making the same mistake, or we were both really on the AT. He looked at my map and proclaimed that although he also had the gut feeling it was not correct, that it did look right to him, despite no white blazes. Lee is very good with maps, and counted contour lines to determine that we had to go up 550′ to 2850 in elevation before we would start the final descent. I was fact checking with the altimeter on my Highgear watch. We went back the way I just came from, now my third time over the same mile of trail.
Eventually we reached Low’s Bald Spot and soon the white blazes started up again, but now there were blue blazes right next to them, which appeared odd to me.
By this time, it was close to 6 PM and Lee and I were on unsteady feet as we reached the car in the nearly empty lot.
It topped out as a 15 mike day for me, including the toughest trail in the Whites, right after a day up those Wildcats. I’m taking a zero day tomorrow.
Now does anyone know why there were no white blazes on that 1.9 mile section of the AT? I really want to know.