Today was Alex’s biggest adventure to date! Today, at 22 months of age, Alex summited Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast.
It started during last weekends Mount Washington Observatory’s “Seek The Peak” event. Last year Alex was only 10 months old during the annual fundraiser, billed as “The Nation’s Premier Hiking Event”, but I wasn’t ready to bring him above tree-line. I had planned a long solo hike of the Great Gulf and at the last minute discovered I was without a babysitter, so instead we enjoyed a short loop hike below tree-line on the low shoulders of Mount Washington. That trip report can be found here.
This year, after having enjoyed close to 200 miles with Alex on the trail, I felt summitting with Alex was possible if weather conditions were favorable. Plans were made for the scheduled Saturday hike with friends & family. Then, due to forecasted strong winds, large hail, and heavy rain, the MWOBS encouraged hikers to reschedule their summit bid for Sunday. So this past Sunday we started up the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail with our friend Lara and some visiting family from MA and NJ. Due to a variety of reasons we intended to only take Alex so far, and turned around after Gem Pool. It was a bittersweet day as I later realized continuing on would have been feasible. We decided not to dwell on the hiking day that could of been, and instead looked forward to the next good weather window to which we could attempt a climb. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long as today’s forecast was stellar!
We returned to the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, the shortest trail from the west side of Mount Washington. Leaving the trail-head we made quick time and in just 40 minutes reached “Gem Pool”, where we took a quick 10 minute break for snacks.
Here, the climb really begin’s as stone steps lead up 1,500 feet in elevation in one mile. After the steepest section views back to the east start to open up and multiple cascades and brook crossings make the trail more enjoyable.
Within 5 minutes of reaching the AMC Lakes in the Clouds Hut I heard Alex start to snore… a bit more than 2 hours into the hike and right on schedule!
After another 10 minute break we jumped onto the Crawford Path, the oldest hiking trail in the country BTW, to continue our ascent. Of course we stopped for the obligatory lake shot, which will be gracing this blog header soon.
As we neared the summit we braced ourselves for the enigma of Mount Washington. It is an amazing and confusing place. One minute you are hiking up one of the most rugged mountains in the country, and moments later you are being gawked at by hundreds of visitors clad in flip-flops and cotton who ascended the mountain by automobile or train. Before anyone thinks I’m about to complain, let me make it clear I LOVE this aspect of Mount Washington. It is a treasure of NH, and the east in general, and I am happy those who can’t hike (or shouldn’t hike) are able to see some of the beauty and raw nature that has had such a profound impact on my life. While some of my die-hard mountain friends may despise the “circus” up there, I feel it has its place here… and for the most part… come winter… the mountain is all mine again…
But I’m getting off the focal point here. Now’s a good spot I think to share our timeline:
9:20 – Left the trail-head at the Marshfield Station.
10:00- Arrived Gem Pool (2.1mi, 950ft gain)
10:10- Left Gem Pool to ascend to Lakes in the Clouds Hut
11:40- Arrived Lakes in the Clouds Hut (1mi, 1550ft gain)
11:55- Left Lakes for Summit
12:50- Arrived Summit, got in line to take picture at summit (1.5mi, 1,300ft gain)
TOTAL: 4.6mi, 3,800ft climb
1:10- Took summit photo (see below)
1:25- boarded Cog
1:30- started descent via Cog
2:15- arrived Marshfield Station
Some interesting statistics from our hike:
We spent 3 hours and 5 minutes actively hiking to the summit.
We spent 25 minutes “breaking” during 2 breaks, one at Gem Pool and one at Lakes Hut, for a total hike time of 3.5 hours. “Book” estimated time total is 4 hours 10 minutes, so we crushed that by 40 minutes.
Alex slept from just below Lakes to just before the summit (about 1 hour nap).
We spent 15 minutes in line to take out summit photo (no biggie).
Then, due to some serendipity, we were able to grab the last two seats on the Cog Railway train departing the summit right after our summit photo.
Alex LOVED the train ride down, but I need to make any readers aware of some potential issues relying on the train (or road) as a possible easy way off the mountain. First, it’s expensive. Like $45 per person one way. But financial cost is no where near as important as the other reasons to reconsider counting on the train for your descent. Priority is given to round-trip passengers, and most trains come up with a full boat, so you could be stuck for hours on the summit waiting for an open seat. 2nd, the train may cease service at any time due to inclement weather. 3rd, you may get into trouble trying to “push on” thinking the train (or auto-road) will safety get you down the mountain. Quite a few people have perished on the mountain pushing higher thinking of the illusion of nearby safety and the mirage that it is “just right over there”. Just last week a 30 year old from NY lost his life while hiking down a nearby mountain when he apparently succumbed to heat stroke.
DO NOT be lulled into relying on the summit facilities, Cog, or auto road, to provide any margin of safety during a climb of Mount Washington. If at any time in your hike you’re not confident that you could safely turn around and get back down under your own steam then turn around now! Pushing on gets people killed… If we didn’t get a seat on that departing train we had plenty of reserves, evidenced by our quick ascent time, to hike down the Jewell Trail to finish our day. Our only reason for using the train was Alex does not like to spend much more than 3 hours in the backpack. He would definitely get cranky during the descent. While I may be stressing this a bit strongly, I had multiple well intention-ed fathers ask me on the train how they could pull off such a great family hike, and it needs to be clear that everyone needs to Hike Safe, and be self-reliable in the White Mountains.
After getting back to Marshfield Station Alex enjoyed some time running around in the fields, picking flowers, and playing with a little German boy a year older than him.
This has been by far Alex’s greatest adventure to date, and I am thankful I was able to share it as a complete family. We are energized from this success to tick off what other White Mountain peaks we can this season with Alex before winter returns to the high peaks, so if you want to follow along, please follow the blog here or on our new Facebook page. Also “like” and “share” to your hearts content!