As we lounged in the warm sun drinking our summit beers, I reflected on how different this top out of Mount Washington was from the last. I had previously hiked Mount Washington two years ago on a three-day hut to hut adventure that started on the other side of the mountain at Crawford Notch. We went from beautiful summer sunshine one day to knock you over wind and rain the next, forcing us to take shelter in Lake of the Clouds hut and barely eek out an early dawn summit the next day in winter conditions (It was June).
Although this time around we would crank out the knee punishing ~9 mile, 4300-foot elevation gain and loss in a single day, you could not ask for better conditions. Our route to the summit took us up Tuckerman Ravine to the Lion Head Trail, starting and finishing at Pinkham Notch.
The night before we camped under a clear, starry sky at the Barnes Field campground, complete with bonfire stories and night shooting lessons from the extremely talented Shane Black. Our luxury camp setup was fully furnished by NEMO–tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, pillows–with gourmet food made by Chef Jen Scism of Good To-Go foods.
The Gear You Need
(1) Eddie Bauer IgniteLite Reversible Hooded Jacket–you need to carry an insulation layer in the bottom of your pack just in case. (2) Columbia OutDry Extreme rain gear–weather changes rapidly on Mount Washington. Rain gear is a must to keep as backup in your pack. (3) Hydro Flask 24 oz vacuum-insulated water bottle. (4) REI Flash 18L daypack. (5) Snacks and lunch. (6) Sunscreen. (7) Leki Micro Vario Poles–your knees will thank you on the way down. You can get away with just one. (8) Micro spikes–early season hiking means snow and ice-covered trails. (9) Five Ten Access approach shoes. (10) Farm to Feet Damascus hiker socks. (11) Sunglasses. (12) Black Diamond Dawn Patrol LT–my favorite do-everything hiking and climbing pants. (13) Arc’teryx Atom SL–a windbreaker with light insulation. The most versatile midlayer you can get. (14) Base layer–you need something that quickly wicks away moisture so you don’t get cold if the weather turns. (15) Hat.
A note about the Five Ten Access: Hiking in the North East always catches me off guard–you won’t find no stinkin’ switchbacks here. The Tuckerman Ravine trail starts rocky and steep and basically turns into a scramble once you hit the Lion Head Trail. Approach shoes are the name of the game here and the Stealth Rubber soled Access make the perfect choice. I was a little worried when we hit some snow patches along the route, but the snow was soft enough to kick in and get some footing. The Access features a more cushioned and form-fitting midsole compared to Five Ten’s bike shoes, which makes for comfortable all-day hiking and scrambling. These are the perfect shoes for technical hikes or lower angle climbs such as Mount Sir Donald.
In addition to summit beers and a lazy lunch of the latest Good To-Go offerings, we were treated to a tour of the Mount Washington Observatory before hiking back down to Pinkham Notch. If you are a super data nerd or weather geek, check out the monthly Mount Washington weather archives. They are fascinating. Average temps rarely above 50 degrees F, even at the height of summer, and winds consistently 25-50 mph with 100+ mph hit often.
A couple of days after our bluebird hike, this is what it looked like at the summit. One of the weather observers told us they all aspire to be part of the “Century Club.” It involves walking around the entire perimeter of the observation deck without holding on to the railing in 100+ mph winds. This guy obviously made it into the club.