Mount Washington, 2015

After a semi-disastrous trip to Pinkham Notch, I'd wanted to make another attempt on Washington. Plans for this weekend had shifted around a bit, and the weather forecast had included thunderstorms, but Cris and I decided to drive up on Friday anyway to grab overnight permits at Hermit Lake.

Friday August 21, 2015

Cris had called for a later departure so he could go to a show the previous night, so I had a chance to sleep in a bit and aimed to be ready for 10am. So of course Cris arrived early. :-) I poured my tea mug into a travel cup and hauled my pack and a bag of clothes to keep in the car downstairs. Vanessa had brought a clean change of clothes on our last trip and in anticipation of coming out soaking wet due to rain, I decided to emulate her. The rain was coming down now, so I had to dig out my pack cover and rain jacket from where I'd stuffed them in the top pocket of my pack and actually use them. I'd hoped that we'd avoid the worst of rush hour traffic, but the rain kept things slow, as well as a few bottle necks at the toll booths on I95 (luckily we didn't have to go through the area where a sink hole had opened up).

We made it to North Conway for lunch at a bit after 1pm and after crawling along in slow traffic getting into town, we took the first parking spot on the street by the TD bank. Cris grabbed some cash and then we walked down to the Stairway Cafe (after checking out Horsefeathers since we weren't sure exactly where we'd eaten before, been a while since we'd been this way). Lots of tourists despite the light rain, I think the train had just come in. I had huevoes verde and fresh oj, loading up on calories for the hiking.

From there it was a short drive up 16 to the Pinkham Notch visitor center. We left the packs in the car and went in to sort out the over night permits. They had lots of space, so we were able to do 2 people for 2 nights ($15/each/night) and were given a receipt to give to the caretaker once we got upto Hermit Lake. A last running water stop in the bathroom and we got our packs and poles and rain gear sorted out. The rain had mostly stopped, but I wanted my rain pants on just in case (hardest to don quickly), and kept my jacket on as well. I was soon stripping off my jacket, it wasn't raining, just a light mist, but it was so humid I was soon sweating as we made our way up the Tuckerman Ravine trail. We quickly passed the pretty falls and the turn off for Boot Spur trail but kept going, making our way steadily up for 2.4 miles to Hermit lake. We started at around 3:30 and took lots of breaks, I was soon soaked through with sweat. We had a few groups pass us going down, I assumed they'd summited earlier in the day, but it was mostly quiet. The trail was mostly enclosed with trees, but we got some glimpses of the ridge on the other side of the ravine as we loosely followed the river up. The trail was wide and well trammelled, with lots of big rocks embedded in the dirt. I was tracking the trail intersections to get a sense of our progress, we passed one blank sign that I think was the turn off to the Harvard Cabin that was only open in the winter, and lots of unsigned ski trails.

After a bit under three hours I finally spotted the shelters tucked in the woods just off the trail. Cris made a start toward one of them when he saw people hanging out, but I drew him back to continue on to the caretaker cabin in a clearing a little further along. We had a choice of shelters, so dropped our packs on the cabin porch and set off to explore the two areas with lodging. The path past the toilets (flush! and separate winter toilets) led to four 4-sided shelters (we'll be back in the winter), and the last one at the end was free but a bit cramped, and also a bit far back down the slope. We doubled back to the cabin and set off on the loop around Hermit Lake to check out the 3-sided shelters. We marked off number 4 as an isolated possibility after going past one right off of the trail, but continued on, saying hi to the big group (beyond a tricky rock scramble), the solo hiker, and the pair of guys who'd claimed others. We skipped the tent platforms since we'd left our tents in the car with the expectation of getting space in a shelter (they slept 10). Back at the cabin, we grabbed our packs and took them back to shelter 4, at around 6:30pm. We unpacked, and I did a skin out change. It was a lovely dry shelter not like the leaky one we had in Camden, though the picnic table was still damp. Cris set up his stove and I dug out the tandoori fish pasta dish I'd made for us. Bathroom up trail after A group of teens crashed by and took over the next shelter, next to the path, luckily ours faced away from theirs, the solo hiker said that their voices echoed across the lake. Another trio came through looking for campers, we directed them along the loop. It was quite misty as the sun started to go down, Cris pointed out the moon sliver behind the ridge, but it was gone when I came back with my phone to take a snapshot. We settled in for night at around 8:30 (sunset was around 7:40), and I found that I need a new candle for my lantern, the wick gets buried in wax and goes out. A flying bug was super attracted to my head lamp while I was reading, so I gave up and settled in to try and sleep after panicked batting at it. Thankfully it left me alone without the draw of the light.

Saturday August 22, 2015

I almost reluctantly cracked my eyes open in the morning but was relieved to see sun shining through the trees instead of clouds threatening rain. We could try for the summit today! I got up at around 6:45am and headed back up the trail to hit the bathroom first. I had only brought hot cereal for breakfast and appreciate the warmth and solid calories of the couscous mix. I tried out pouring the boiling water over the mix in my bowl rather than heating it all up in the pot and that worked well, I can use that method to avoid scorching the bottom of the pot. We stripped down our packs to what we wanted to carry for a day out (double checking that I had my headlamp, rain and emergency supplies just in case, but I started out with my backup long sleeve hiking shirt (the one from the day before hadn't dried out over night) and long pants. We were ready to hit the trail just after 8am.

It took us until 11:15 to make it to the summit, hiking up via the Tuckerman Ravine trail. We wound our way out of the trees in the bottom of the ravine and finally came out onto the rocky slopes of the headwall, following a waterfall up the steep side of the ravine. Progress went slowly but we could see more and more of the valley below us as we climbed. The lip wasn't as dramatic as I recalled, there were a few trail intersections leading along the ridge and toward Lakes of the Clouds hut, but we kept following Tuckerman toward the summit of Washington. The final push felt like we were scrambling straight up a pile of boulders, it was dramatic and challenging. When we finally made it to the top, with quite a few rest breaks and commiserations with other climbers, it was a bit of a shock to come out on a road to a parking lot, with the cog railway train steaming quietly above us. There was a fairly long set of stairs leading up toward the peak proper, we stowed our poles and headed up with the crowds. There was a bit of a line to take a picture with the summit sign, but another hiker volunteered to take our picture for us and she bobbed around getting the best view. So different from the lonely mountain peaks I'm used to! Well, okay, reminiscent of Kilimanjaro but New Englad peaks without an auto road are much quieter. :-) We had lunch at picnic table looking over the other side of the ridge, Cris feeding me a bagel and apple and cheese in exchange for the supper food I'd brought for him. We saw two of the guys from Hermit Lake, they'd had the same plan as we did for their day. I'd put my rain jacket on as soon as we came up onto the windy area, but I started to shiver due to having soaked through my top on the climb. I had to run inside the cafe to grab a big mug of hot tea and to sit out of the wind sipping it for a while. We also topped off our water bladders from the tap there, though I didn't get myself organised enough to buy and send a post card. We went up on the observation deck for a qiuck look, it was neat to see the railway, road and hiking trails winding way into the distance. Clouds rolled in a bit, but the weather was still holding, with just a bit of wind.

We left the summit area just after noon, making our way down Crawford Path (oldest hiking trail in N.E.) and could see a line of hikers coming up from Lakes of the Clouds. We bucked the trend and went from Washington to Lakes so that Cris could check it out and I could grab more food to try and keep my body temperature up. I had a big bowl of gingery pumpkin soup, it really hit the spot. There were a few groups of hikers enjoying a late lunch and the composting toilets, but it was a lot quieter there than on Washington. We headed out at around 2pm to make our way over to Boot Spur to head back down to camp.

It was "only" 2.8 miles back to our shelter at Hermit lake, but we decided to skip the detour to bag the peak of Monroe as it would add 400 feet of elevation gain to an already tiring day (plus: coming back down). We followed the cairns along Davis Trail to turn left on Boot Spur. That was even steeper than I remembered it being (I got hit with vertigo twice) but the views were great since we were above tree line. It only got worse once we hit Boot Spur Link to drop down to our camp. It suuuucked, I did so much butt sliding and turning around to climb down facing the rocks, and stopping to rest and stretch. My legs were shaking with fatigue by the time we got to somewhat level ground after dropping through some trees to get to the ravine floor. I think the link was only 0.6 miles but it was the hardest part of the day. We ran into the solo hiker at Hermit Lake and he said that he did the reverse of our route, climing up the link and down Tuckerman and he wouldn't have wanted to come down it.

We made it back to camp at 5:30pm and I immediately headed out with two handfuls of our water bottles to fill them up at the pump. Going alone was inefficient, when I'd stop pumping to swap out bottles the water level would fall again and I'd have to do the 15 pumps to get it flowing again and hope that I'd put the bottle at the right spot to get the flow. I got them filled up eventually, and despite being told that it was potable without treatement, Cris and I agreed that we should use the Steripen just in case. Cris boiled up our servings of cowboy pasta and we ate to the irate sounds of a chipmunk angered at our intrustion into his home. :-) We still had a bit of time before sunset and I was hoping to catch the show from the deck at the caretaker's cabin, so I brought my book up there to read for a while. A father and son duo were debating if they could make it back to the trail head before the sun went down, or if they should try to get a space in one of the shelters. I think they decided to go for it, hiking after sunset to get out that night. I don't think I lasted quite to sunset, though I got a lot of gentle stretching in, I was tired out and headed back to the shelter just before 7pm to bed down. A jet flew by above us, so low that I was convinced it was going to crash right into our shelter. I made my peace with dying, the summit of Washington ticked off from my to-do list, but breathed a sigh of relief when the plane passed on. :-)

Sunday August 23, 2015

Cris was up at 6:15, but I stayed in my sleeping bag until 7:30 or so despite my pillow having deflated again in the night. Back to the bathroom first off for a quick babywipe bath, using my hiking pole as a crutch - my hips were really sore. I had more hot cereal and tea for breakfast, using up as much water as possible so as not to have to pack it out (my pack was over 10lbs lighter by the time I got home, food + water weigh a lot). We got our camp broken down and were packing up as we listened to some hikers on the just out of sight trails around the shelter. A guy came into our clearing looking for friends and we directed him back up toward the caretaker cabin. One last bathroom stop and we were on the trail at 8:45am. We ended up having a long discussion about zombies and the cold to pass the time hiking down the mountain on the rocky path. There were lots of people coming up, with many stopping for rest breaks so I didn't feel so bad for needing a lot of time to get up on Friday with my backpack. We took advantage of the lodge bathroom to clean up a bit for the drive home, and were back at the car just before 11am.

I didn't feel like I was starving, but I enjoyed our stop at the Stairway Cafe again. I devoured my blueberry pig in a blanket (blueberry pancakes wrapped around turkey sausages), grapefruit juice, and lots of tea. Guess I was hungry after all. We also stopped in at Boootleggers for Cris to finally get new sandals, and at the Army Barracks for me. I had no luck finding pouches for my Furiosa cosplay, ah well, always fun to poke around (though the new pink camo and girly fit stuff is disheartening to see). I was really thristy however and asked for a stop at Hannaford for some Vitamin Water that disappeared in a flash, and a splurge on a bottle of Voss water. We walked across the parking lot to the Irving for tea and to use the bathroom there, dodging trucks and SUVs in the parking lot/race course. We made one last stop at the NH liqor store, but they didn't have any Maraschino liquer for me. Heavy rain (so glad it didn't hit while we were in the mountains!) and traffic slowed us down a lot, I got home at 5:30. I just threw my pack down and jumped right in the shower.

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