By Randy Pierce
“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.”
–George Bernard Shaw
In 2010, we reached the summit of Mt Washington after a two-day journey loaded with learning and rewarding experiences. (Read about it here.) There was some disappointment in knowing we would not complete the trip with a hike down, but there was a confident determination we would return and fully complete the journey.
On July 7-8, 2012 we did just that and more in another experience-rich excursion which brought five people and one incredible (some might say mighty!) dog together to finish one leg of the quest.
Blame it on the Bacon
A Banker, Lawyer, Accountant, Author, Blind Guy and a Guide Dog walk onto a mountain adventure and the punch lines await!
Before the full group rendezvous, a car was placed several miles away where we expected to return in two days if all went well. We started just a bit after our intended 7:00 a.m. time. Our starting point was from the slightly further, newer trailhead parking lot rather than the cog railway shortcut used last time. The last call of bacon may have delayed the start, but our small group would need all that energy.
A steady pace allowed us to meander through simple stream crossings and the quiet trails we had all to ourselves. The boulders made travel a little slower than memories of prior hikes but within a short time we passed the plaque in memory of Herbert Young who died there in 1928–offering a quick reminder of the many perils of Mt. Washington.
Putting Gem Pool behind us, we began the steep ascent which would leave heat and humidity behind for the duration of the trip. It was there that our cloudy trail allowed the first hikers to pass us as we paused for the Gorge side trail that holds incredibly majestic pools and waterfalls for those taking time to appreciate the side journeys.
Scrambles, Chutes and Ladders
The mile stretch before the hut is likely the most challenging section of the trail. In past hikes my companions and I had lingered here a long time learning how to navigate such terrain. I had nearly forgotten that first ladder, and yet now learning to put my hands on the trail and use them as my eyes has become a favorite part of taking on the challenge of such hikes.
It is here that John Swenson showcased his guiding prowess as he described in a previous report. While Quinn and I can manage this, it is slow and considerably more taxing for both my marvelous guide and myself. As such, our time through the narrow scrambles and across cascades was not nearly as time consuming. It still required considerable effort and was probably our weariest section of trail. Likely we should have grabbed a more solid food break, but the siren song of the hut for lunch urged us to push a bit too long.
Lake of the Clouds
It was five hours to the hut and food was a delightful recharge. Packs were dropped and weather reports checked as the ominous cloud banks gave considerable concern. To the summit and back would be 3 completely exposed miles on the rocky ridge entirely above tree line. Lightning with our generally slower speeds would be a risk not worth taking. It was nearly 1:00 p.m. and in order to be at the hut again for the evening meal essential for the rest of our work, we set a turnaround time of 3:30 p.m. for our attempt. The hut provides a direct summit report that suggested we had an afternoon window with low probability if we set out immediately. With nonessential gear left on our bunks (we were staying the night at the hut), lighter packs led to quicker steps and much hope.
Nearly half way through the process, the blackness into which we were about to walk suggested a turnaround, but for only a few moments before it began to lighten in the fickle weather patterns for which the region is famous. Tracy took a round of guiding to help increase our speed and passed the job to John for the steepness of the final ascent. We reached the summit in 1.5 hours, although the promised visibility of 100 feet was apparently only partially true. Glimpses of views opened occasionally as the 45 mph winds were as steady as the 45 degree temperatures which felt cooler given the wind.
We had achieved the first part of our goal well within the time window necessary. Most of the group had not even felt a single raindrop! The summit buildings allowed for water recharge, a break from the wind, and a short rest as we celebrated the experience thus far and prepared for the final phase of the first day.
Climbing down over steeper rock steps is definitely much slower with a Guide Dog, so we put Quinn’s harness in my pack and he was free to roam with us as John led me. Almost immediately the weather took a major shift and incredible views began to open routinely through the cloud cover. While our entire journey up was within the clouds, the descent unfurled views of the hut and often the vast expanses of the southern presidential range and beyond. With the Alpine Lakes beside the hut in view constantly we had our destination in sight and realized our likely success becoming reality. Conversation was lively to describe and appreciate the views as well as planning for the dinner and celebration ahead that night. The promise of clear and sunny skies for our hike out on Sunday seemed more real as we saw the world from more than a mile high opening in a vast expanse of beauty!
Watch next week’s blog post for the second installment of our Presidential Range hike report!