Mount Washington, White Mountains, Presidential Range, New Hampshire, USA
Length: 14.5 kilometers round-trip (Tuckerman Ravine up & Lion head summer trail down)
Difficulty: YDS Class 2 (Tuckerman Ravine)
Elevation: 1917 meters
Elevation gain: 1318 meters
Moving time: 5 hours 45 minutes
Date: November 12, 2015
Mount Washington is the highest peak in Northeastern America, and is also the most prominent mountain east of the Mississippi River. The summit sits at 1917 meters above sea level, and the winds are renown to have recorded the fastest surface wind speed (372 kph). The mountain is also famous as it is part of the Appalachian Trail. The trailhead is just by the Pinkham Notch visitor center. Since Mt Washington is a strenuous hike (YDS Class 2), it is strongly recommended to consult the visitor center staff before starting the trail. They give valuable advice, including weather forecasts. There is also a nice 3D map of the park inside the center, with some of the main trails identified. The Mountain forecast website is always a good place to start to plan your hike, as well as the Mount Washington website and the Appalachian Mountain Club website.
We visited the Pinkham Notch visitor center the day prior to our climb. The staff informed us that the forecast was calling for wind building up to 80 kph by the afternoon, at which point they strongly suggested we turn around. The day after would be worse, so we decided to attempt the summit as planned. As we were heading back to the car, we were stopped by a very friendly local mountaineer that overheard us talking to the staff and gave us more advice for our upcoming hike. The following map represents the GPS reading of the trails we used.
When we arrived, we checked for updated weather forecast - no changes - so we set our turnaround time at 1 pm to clear the summit before the wind gets too strong. It was foggy but fairly warm. The first part of the trail is in the forest, and goes quickly... except when you stop all the time to take pictures... There is a shelter 4 km from the beginning of the trail - the Hermit Lake shelter. This location marks the crossroad between the Tuckerman Ravine and the Lion Head trails. It is a good location to stop for a bite before continuing to the summit.
From the Hermit Lake shelter, the Tuckerman Ravine path slowly transforms into a mix of dirt trail and big rocks and becomes much steeper. It began to rain and the fog was becoming really thick. When the ravine is cleared (about 1.5 km from the shelter), there is a last very steep part (slightly less than 1 km) before reaching the crossroad to the Arctic Garden where the landscape transform into rocks and boulders. Cairns marks the steep 1.5 km path to the summit.
The wind started picking up shortly after we started climbing the last section. By the time we reached the summit, the wind was so strong that it was making my whistle blow and pushing me slightly off the ground. We would've turned around, but we were just about 20 meters from the official summit, so we kept going. We stayed there long enough to put on or change a few layers and snapped 2 or 3 pictures - the mixed precipitation made us pretty damp and cold, visibility was poor and the wind was too strong.
We carefully made our way down across the very slippery boulders field, with the wind so strong that it was preventing us to keep our eyes fully open. Bringing ski googles would've been a great idea. At the crossroad, we followed the Lion Head summer trail all the way back to the Hermit Lake shelter. The trail follows the ridge of the mountain and is fully exposed but mostly flat for about 2 km.
When we returned at the visitor center, we learned that the wind picked up earlier than mid-afternoon as forecasted. Around the time we reached the summit, the wind was at an average of 80 kph gusting at 105 kph. The temperature also dropped considerably. Some advice: listen to the visitor center staff and bring extra clothing, it is very cold up there when you are wet. Waterproof jacket and pants are necessary... even if you find your car keys in a puddle at the bottom of your jacket pocket at the end of the day!
For more photos, visit my White Mountains gallery.