Hiking from base to summit of Mount Washington

Trip Start Aug 07, 2013
Trip End Aug 07, 2013

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What I did
Mount Washington Valley
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of United States  , New Hampshire
Friday, August 9, 2013

At 6,288 feet, Mount Washington is certainly not at high as some of the mountains out west, but it is the highest mountain in the Eastern US. Getting to the top also has a number of dangers: the fastest wind speed ever recorded by man at 230mph was captured at the top of Mt. Washington, and hurricane strength wind speeds greater than 75mph are recorded on 50% of all days.  As a result of unique weather patterns that converge here, it is extremely windy, which in turn makes the weather quite unpredictable.  On a normal day temperatures drop 20 degrees from the base to the summit, and in a storm that can be far greater.  As a result, hypothermia is the most common cause of death on the mountain, including 2 people earlier this year.  Anywhere I look, Mount Washington is ranked as 1 of the top-10 most dangerous hikes in America, and a few sites claim it is the most dangerous hike based on actual deaths and the unpredictability.

At 8.2 miles round trip, Mt. Washington is not nearly the longest hike we have completed, however with a vertical climb of over 4,000 feet in 4 miles, it is the steepest.  By comparison, when we hiked Guadalupe Peak in Texas, it was 8.4 miles (0.2 longer), with a vertical climb of 2,950 (1,000 feet less).  When we hiked rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon there was more of a vertical hike at about 4,500 feet, however that change occurred over about 10 miles, so it was roughly half as steep.  A final comparison is to Pikes Peak, the hike that we had to call off last year due to bad weather: the vertical gain is much higher at 7,500 feet, but that gain is achieved in 13 miles rather than 4.1.  My final conclusion about Mount Washington is that the intensity that it packs in a relatively short distance should not be underestimated!

Hiking Mount Washington is especially exciting for us because this is the first 'challenging' hike that Xiu has joined us on.  Xiu seems excited, but apprehensive, which is probably not helped by the girls continuing to tell her that she won’t be able to make it!  I am rooting for her to show them wrong, but I too am worried.  However, if all does not go well it is easy to turn around, and if one makes it to the top and can go no further, there are plenty of emergency options (for a price!)  I am proud of Xiu for her enthusiasm and her can-do attitude, although by the morning of the climb I have had to block out all of her questions:  do you have this, that, etc…

So on to the climb:  We departed the base at 8:45am with a temperature of 55 degrees and a very good forecast.  It is expected to reach about 75 degrees at the base, so my assumption is that it will stay close to 55 degrees for most of the hike as the temperature drops 20 degrees as we climb.  As we started,  were greeted with a steady climb over moderate sized rocks – the type where you do need to watch every step or risk a sprained ankle, but not anything that is technically challenging.  In the first half mile, the girls charged ahead with adrenaline pumping, and Xiu quickly fell behind and was gasping for breath.  I was in the middle yelling ahead to slow down, and behind to speed up!  After 1 mile, Xiu told us that we should go ahead, but I said we would not do that for safety reasons – we all just need to keep pushing forward together.  That we do, and the second mile actually goes better than the first as Xiu seems to be warming up!  We pass a number of streams and small waterfalls but nothing too impressive.  We make it to the half-way point (about 2 miles) in 1:45, which I think is pretty good time, however we will quickly learn that the climb will soon become much more challenging!

After a short break, we start the second half of the climb and are almost immediately greeted with more spectacular views of the summit.  As we continue to climb, we are now navigating smaller passages and climbing over boulders.  The third mile becomes more steep and challenging, but is fun with the great views.  We stopped for many photos on this section of the trail.

When we completed about 3 miles, everyone including Xiu was feeling pretty good as the end was in sight.  However, when I could feel a fast drop in temperature and when I turned around I could see a huge black cloud coming over the distant range.  There was no sound of thunder, but it was still intimidating!  The girls seemed unconcerned, but when one suggested a short break I said there was no time for that and pushed everyone ahead.  The last mile was definitely the most challenging as we were now using hands and feet to climb over 5 foot high boulders – 1 after another.  Also as we were told, the wind really picked up, but at only 40mph this is considered a very calm day.  In the last half mile the temperature also fell quite a lot – enough to have Katelyn complain that she needed gloves and Xiu complain that her ears were cold.  We ultimately learned that the temperature was 47 degrees, and the wind chill made it feel like 42 degrees – yes, chilly, but quite nice by Mt. Washington standards.

We reached the summit in only 3.5 hours (Xiu perhaps 3.5 + 10 minutes!), and with very little visibility as we were in the fog and clouds.  Fortunately there was no rain, but we all quickly moved indoors to warm-up!  We had plenty of food with us, but we opted to purchase some pizza and hot chocolate instead!  As we took off out layers of cloths, our bottom layers were soaked with sweat from the climb, but then were making is cold as the temperature dropped, which made it clear to see how hypothermia is possible in more extreme weather.

After about an hour of eating and going to the observatory, we went back outside and were greeted with sunny skies and much warmer air!  We took our photos at the top with hundreds of others who either rode the cog railway up or drove up the 8 mile auto rout that goes up the back of the mountain.  On the start down Xiu was feeling good and though we would be able to do it faster, however I warned her that down is actually harder on the knees and to get footing on the rocks, which she quickly learned for herself.  The girls actually had an advantage here as they were able to jump down from rock to rock while I had to be very careful with every step.  They stayed well ahead of Xiu and I for the entire trip down, and I just hoped that nobody took a wrong step and twisted something. 

Once we passed the 2 mile point it got much easier again, and the girls were practically running.  I tried to keep them in sight, with Xiu quickly falling out of sight.  After a bit some younger guys approach us from the rear and said, "There is a lady back there a way and asked us to tell you to wait.  It looks like she is really struggling."  We waited for Xiu who was doing well, but was not looking so great any longer!  Emma ran up and took her backpack, which she gladly gave up, and we all made it down the rest of the way.  We finally made it back to the base at 5:45, which was a 9 hour day, or about 7 hours of hiking accounting for the breaks.

Note:  the next day our calves and thighs are all pretty sore as a result of the steep up and down hill climbs, but other than that everyone is feeling pretty good!
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Trish/mom on

Great job all...especially Xiu! So glad no one sprained an ankle, etc. the pictures are beautiful and we're expecting to see some of them on your walls at home soon! What views! What's next??

Suzanne Weltz on

So glad to be along with you on another adventure! Thank you for the pictures!

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