Sunday Hikes: Mt. Washington

The highest peak in the northeast United States is has been called “the most dangerous small mountain in the world” and “the home of the worst weather in the world”. It boasts 6,289 feet above sea level (489′ higher than the second highest peak in the White Mountains) and claims the highest wind speed officially recorded by man (231 mph) outside a tropical cyclone. With all that being said it doesn’t sound like something most people would want to climb to the top of much less alone. However that is what I found myself doing at 8am on October 15th. I pulled into the Pinkham Notch State Park visitor center parking lot and quickly found a spot despite the lot being nearly full. I put my backpack on and headed for the trail. The Tuckerman Ravine trail is the most popular way to climb the mountain and at 8.2 miles round trip with about 4200 feet of elevation change (Most of which is in the last 2ish miles), it is a bit of a workout. The trail starts of wide and rocky and is very slightly uphill. It was a warm morning (in the mid 40s) and with my fast pace I got hot pretty quickly and ended up taking off my jacket after 15 minutes. The trail usually continues up the rocky path for a while longer but the trail detoured into another ravine due to construction (with a $5,000 fine if you go past the tape) so I descended into the ravine, crossed a creek, ascended the ravine, hiked on flat ground for a little, descended again, crossed the top of a waterfall, and finally ascended the ravine again. After all that the trail crossed the original trail but then continued into some new growth evergreens. The detour trail then met back up with the real trail and continued past a side trail the goes around the other side of “the bowl”. I stuck with the Tuckerman and was quickly at the ski rescue house. With that being somewhat of a halfway point, I sat down on the large porch and had some granola bars and water (and wished I had coffee). I chilled out for about 10 or 15 minutes and then hit the trail again. This is where it got real steep. With ice melting from the top there was a nice stream and many small waterfalls flowing down the bowl. It was all very pretty and soon I could see out at the mountains. The trail was steep and in some place much more of a rock scramble than a hike. I made it to the top of the large plateau called the “Alpine Gardens” (A couple signs had informed me that I was now in an alpine zone). I took in the view for a moment and carried on.


This last mile or so wasn’t a trail at all. Large rocks climbing straight up to the summit. There were some blazes and you could kind of follow the worn down rocks but this was really just trying to find the best way up without tumbling down the mountain. I started getting tired but kept on going anyways and found myself only .2 miles from the top. The smell of gasoline filled my nostrils and the loud horn of the cog railway train sounded, reminding me of the thirty dollar toll road to the top and the bumper sticker I saw in the parking lot: “Who needs a car to climb Mt. Washington”. I soon pulled myself over the last rock and found myself in a full parking lot bustling with the kind of tourists you would find at the top of the Grand Canyon, surrounding Ol’ Faithful, and waiting to ride It’s a Small World. It was weird. Despite the large amount of people that were on the trail I felt isolated in a way. It was the same feeling I felt as I sat on a bench at the top of the Grand Canyon having just hiked it while everyone ran around me. I looked out at the mountains the went for miles with the clear blue sky above them. It was the perfect weather in a place famous for horrible weather.


I wandered around and took my picture at the summit and wished I had brought a couple bucks for hot chocolate in the Mt. Washington State Park visitor center atop the mountain. I had a snack and after about 30 minutes on top I began my descent at 11 o’clock. I ended up hiking alongside a father and daughter for a little while that were hiking all the northeast high peaks for the daughter’s senior project (which I thought was the dopest senior project ever). After getting close to the ski rescue house I parted from my new friends and carried on back down the trail. As I was coming up out of the detour ravine I passed a woman who had somehow broken her leg and was wrapped up in a space blanket while two rescue EMTs trying to figure out how to get her out. After I passed them I carried on and watched my step a little better and about twenty minutes later I was back at the trailhead and visitors center. I bought a sticker for my car and then drove back to my hotel room and passed out for two hours. The hike wasn’t too physically demanding on my muscles but I was tired as all get out. I would love to hike Mt. Washington again one day (this time with a friend) and perhaps on the Lions Head trail. Despite the high volume of people this is one of my favorite hikes I have done, the views just get increasingly beautiful until you reach the top and the rock scramble was difficult but loads of fun! If you are in the White Mountains area I would highly recommend a day hike up the mountain! Thanks for reading 🙂 – Josh