Climbing Mount Washington “The Rock Pile” (N 44.270621 & W -71.304242)
Mount Washington at 6,288' in Coos County N.H. is the highest peak in the U.S. Northeast and the highest peak in New Hampshire and the highest mountain in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains. Mount Washington is home to some of the world’s worst weather and has the highest wind speed ever recorded by a human at the summit at 231mph on April 1934. Darby Field of Exeter, New Hampshire, was the first man known to have reached the mighty summit of Mount Washington in 1642. The average annual snowfall on the summit of Mount Washington is 177 inches with an average annual wind velocity of 37 mph. The lowest recorded temperature at the summit was -49°F. The highest was +74°F. The temperature on the summit falls below 0°F more than 65 days a year.
This is one of the most beautiful areas in the northeast and a great place for the entire family. Our adventure started at the Dry River Campground in Crawford Notch State Park, which is about 10 miles from the Bretton Woods Marshfield Base Station (built in 1994) & The Cog Railway Station on Base Road. This is where the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail starts for your hike to Mount Washington at an elevation of 2,700 ft. There’s also plenty more activities to do and many more fun places to see in the White Mountains area. So instead of mentioning them all just visit these 2 websites for further information. Visit White Mountains.com N.H. State Parks.com
The day before our big hike we visited some local waterfalls with my brother, aunt, uncle and cousins. First was Arethusa Falls near the Frankenstein Cliffs. This 200 foot waterfall has a 3 hour 5 mile hike round trip with an elevation gain around 1200 ft. Next was the 100 ft.
Ripley Falls right down the road which is a horsetail & slides waterfall at a
60-degree angle. Trail Length is about 0.6 mile with an altitude gain of over
400 ft. You can also hike to Ripley Falls from Arethusa Falls if you don’t want to drive to the other trailhead. The trails were muddy and I could not believe the number of people hiking in their sneakers and even one girl hiking in her dress shoes. I also saw a lot of different mushrooms along the trail and people walking their dogs too.
The next day on Sunday the 10th of August 2008 at 10:30am my brother and I started our hike. The hike starts out easy in a beautiful forest straddling the Ammonoosuc River, but you are soon reminded of how treacherous and unpredictable this climb is as you pass a marker of Herbert Young, a student from Dartmouth who ran out of gas on that very spot one December evening in 1928. The trail then turns into an almost 60-degree angle rock trail up the Ammonoosuc ravine wall. There are plenty of false trails that shoot off onto ledges and down into mini flumes so be careful. You have some great views along the way as well as some beautiful pools and falls in the Gorge, like Franklin Brook & Gem Pool. On a clear day, the view from the summit includes the Atlantic Ocean, Vermont, New York, Maine and Canada. After hiking for 1.5 hours the trees start to become smaller and smaller like scrub trees as you approach the sub-artic environment. After 2 hours & 3.1 miles of hiking we reached the AMC Lakes of the Clouds Hut at 5,050 ft. where the landscape is treeless. A Croo maintains this hut with sleeping areas and food for hikers. The Lake of the Clouds is said to be the highest body of water in the eastern part of the United States. This is where we had our lunch and filled our water bottles for our final ascent to the top of Mount Washington, which was clearly in view from the hut. But I soon found out that it was deceptively not close enough. We did not take the Crawford Path from the Lakes of the Clouds Hut, which is 1.5 miles to the summit, but instead we hiked the trail towards Tuckerman Ravine then hiked up the pile of rocks from there, which added some more distance to our climb.
My brother and I both used trekking poles which I highly recommend. It helps with your balance and also saves a little leg strength by using some of your arm strength to go up and down steep terrain. Plus my trek pole or Hiking Pole doubles as a unipod for my camera that I used to take some flowers and shrooms photos along the trail. I didn't hear to many birds or see any wild life on our hike but I did see the black bear warning signs at the campground.
The entire hike was amazingly bug free since it was mostly raining for 2 weeks before our arrival. It rained on us 3 times during our visit with one of the times during our hike near the top of Mount Washington. I was hiking steep terrain over large granite boulders while it was raining. The only thing that kept me oriented on the trail were the piles of rocks markers you see. We put on ponchos but I did not bring a belt or string to keep it tight against my body, which would have been a good idea because when the wind blows the poncho was blocking my view of where my next step was. Near the top I was so tired and fatigued I pretty much went in baby steps since I didn’t want to take any chances on slipping and falling like countless others have done before me. It’s amazing how tired you can be climbing, but some how you just keep going. That’s one of the things I like the most about hiking, not giving up. Don’t get me wrong, I do take breaks, it’s just at those moments in your hike when you think that if you stop you might not have the energy to start again and die like 137 others have since 1849 on this mountain. After 3.5 hours of hiking I made it to the summit where my brother has been waiting for me for 20 minutes. Well I did stop to take photos. Luckily on the summit the rain had stopped long enough to take some photos.
After an hour rest, eating and drinking water, my brother mentioned that he always wanted to take a ride on the Cog Railway. I reminded him that I did not hike with any money, but to my surprise my brother did bring money. Very smart because you can buy food at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut and at the Mount Washington summit. So instead of hiking the Gulfside Trail & Jewell Trail down to where we started, which is a longer hike down making it a 9 mile round trip, we took the Cog Railway down. We also thought about hiking along the Cog Railway tracks because they just installed an underground electric line to bring electricity to Mount Washington summit which made a nice path, but that was not recommended even though that would have been a shorter hike down. Taking the Cog Train down turned out to be a good idea because it started to rain and continued to rain for most of the night when we reached the parking lot around in 1 hour and 15 minutes later.
Cog Railway Photos and Video
The Mount Washington Cog Railway, open year round, was founded in 1866 and was the first mountain climbing railway in the world, and is the only one still in operation that runs entirely on coal-fired steam. First trip to the top of the 6,288-foot peak was in the summer of 1869. The Trains toothed cog gears travel 3 miles skyward to the top and takes approximately three hours, including a 20 minute stop at the summit. Each trip to the summit on the Cog Railway uses 1 ton of coal, and 1,000 gallons of water. The steepest part of the track, with a grade of 37.4 percent is known as Jacob’s Ladder, and is the second steepest such track in the world. Each train stops a couple of times on its journey to the top and on its way down to allow other cog trains to pass and also to take on water. The passenger car can disconnect from the cog train and has its own breaking system for added safety. The Mount Washington Cog Railway was named a National Historic Engineering Landmark on June 26, 1976.
Howard Polley ©
Video of Driving up the Mount Washington Auto Road