While hiking the Osceola’s, I had been talking with Chuck and Cheryl about their experiences with hiking and they had told me about their experience bagging Washington (6288 ft.) as one of their very early peaks. I was amazed at the fact that they just jumped right in and got it. I was planning that one for last…. Originally. My logic was of course, the mountain is really big and I’m one tiny person walking up it. I had better get forty seven of them done first before I even think of it. Then, after talking with them, I got to thinking. Then I got to feeling a little more confident. Could I actually get Washington early? I was planning a first trip into the Presidential Range to get Eisenhower and Monroe so, I got to thinking and then I got back to researching. Things quickly changed throughout the week.
All reports were saying that the weather on Mount Washington for that Sunday in mid-September would be perfect. My planning for this trip was of courses originally going to only include Mounts Monroe and Eisenhower. I was not even considering Washington. To be fair, I had no clue how close or how distant the mountains were from one another and I had no idea how fast I would hike them. Let’s face it, my concept of a mountain range would involve visions of the Rocky Mountains… I had no clue about the presidentials. I was brand new to this hobby. I felt I was taking a big enough risk taking on Eisenhower and Monroe. And then I put it all together… Chuck and Cheryl had said they hit it as their second peak on the 48 list because the weather was perfect and like a friend of mine said, you’re going to be up there anyway… Might as well, right? Riiiigghhht. And then I thought about it. What’s stopping me from doing this? Well, there’s… Me. I’m stopping myself. I’m going to be up there anyway since it’s the same trail to get to the Appalachian Trail (Crawford Path) anyway. So, why not go right up the path to Washington instead of left to Monroe? I thought (for about a minute) and agreed to check the forecast and decide. The forecast was PERFECT for 6288ft up. It was going to be cold, clear, and low wind. I’m going!
“No you’re not.” My mother said.
“Yes Mom, I am.” I told her.
“No you’re not.” She said again.
“Yes Mom, I am and I’ll be careful.” I reassured her. I was going and that was all there was to it. I had to try at least. I could always turn back if I got in over my head.
I have to say that 4am was rougher than usual for that Sunday. I was so concentrated on the fact that I was going to complete Washington (potentially) that I forgot a few things. My vitamins that I take in the morning for one. Packing my second dose that I take at night for two. My trekking pole for three. And the most important thing, my memory card for the camera for four. Ugh! Most were unimportant and could wait or be done without. The memory card was a blow and I didn’t realize it until I got to the trailhead. After a quick plan rethink, I am on my way using my cellphones to take pictures. Knowing that the most important thing was to have enough battery left in one should something happen to me.
The trail started out easy enough. It was extremely muddy due to recent rains but it was nothing that was going to make me turn around. Quickly after a downhill slope, I am greeted with my first water crossing. A small one, that is flowing fast and heavy. My concern is of course, getting my feet wet since if I slip, and my foot gets submerged, I have no spare hikers. Socks yes but not boots. I make it across. Following the Ammonoosuc River to the gem pool (large crystal clear pool fed by a waterfall) was easy enough and I thought that so far the trails were kind to me as well as maybe to get to Washington, it would not be so bad. Some up and down hill as well as a few narrow passes and the usual roots and rocks. Again, not too bad and the I’m also thinking that the river crossings are getting easy for me. I’m not as nervous about this being Washington. It’s now just another peak on the list of 48. After the gem pool, I am confronted with my first stretch of vertical trail. Two miles before The Lake of the Clouds Hut, the trail is now straight up and able to be walked (I wish at this point I had my pole). It’s a tough cardio work out with many stops along the way. During one of these stops, I met up with a couple from Israel who didn’t seem to have the right gear for the trip. I worried about them. At a second stop, I spoke with an older couple and their schnauzer pup. Turns out they live in a town I use to live in ages ago and we agree to meet up at the Lake of the clouds hut at some point… Hopefully. Everything in these hiking trips is depended on ability and weather. So, if I am able and the weather is good, chances are good I will see them at the hut. I begin to get conservative with the water and pop a gluten free granola bar. I come to a level section of trail and breathe easy. As the trail opens, I am greeted with my first section of rock face. Not vertical but gently sloping. I follow it up about 50 or so feet to a water crossing. Again, the water is not a slow flowing water way. It’s moving fast and a little higher in volume than I want as well as flowing right over a ledge. A slip would probably just end it for me once and for all. I take it slow and find the way and make it across to the level trail. After a set of switchbacks and another water crossing, I come to a more vertical and smooth rock face for about another 50 feet. This is the type of trail you put your whole self into and rely on the angle of your boots and the grip of your hands to propel yourself to the next hold until you come to a ledge of sorts or a place you can stand more upright. Keep in mind too that it’s getting colder as I go up. Even with the heat I am generating, I can feel the temp change. At this point, I am in the Alpine zone and I see my first glimpse of rime ice…. In September.
I am now beyond the vertical scrambles and able to walk without the aid of my hands. I reach the Lake of the clouds hut and look to the summit. What I see is breath taking and completely inspiring to me. I am about a mile away from my first destination. Between the Lake of the clouds and Mount Washington’s summit, is a field of stone which looks amazingly like another world or perhaps the surface of the moon. The Appalachian Trail is marked out by cairn which will lead me right to the summit. One would think that walking on these rocks would be a little like cobble stone and in some areas, it is. However, the stones are loose and laying on top of one another. You’re looking at a broken ankle if you step wrong. But, you’ve made it this far so, keep going for the next half mile. It feels like a death march in some of the flatter terrain. You start ascending again and you are greeted with rime ice and craggy stones to the summit post. During this section, I needed to walk about 10 feet and stop for a brief moment in about 4 successive sets both to get my breathe and bearings as well as my balance. While this was clearly what I needed to do to get myself there and spread out my energies, it prolonged the trip to the summit and made it seem as though it would never end. I would look up each time I stopped and it would feel as if I was not moving at all. I kept pressing on. I would dig down and tell my feet to get moving. I would convince myself that there would be a place to sit at the summit if I would just keep moving. Finally, in about 5 and half hours I summited Mount Washington…. Solo… 6288ft from base to summit.
Just before the summit post, as I was coming up over the ridge, I was greeted by a man wearing a jean jacket and that was about it for an outer layer. He had been watching me intently as I was making my approach. As I walked up, he tells me;
“Pretty good for a girl.” I was catching my breath partly from the walk and partly from the elevation.
“Humph.” I make an audible noise of disbelief given the statement. “Really? I’d say so. How did you get up here?”
“Oh, I took the bus.” He tells me and I suddenly feel really warm.
“Really? That’s amazing. I walked all the way up from the base on my own two feet. AND I’m heading to Monroe BEFORE I head back down. I’d say it IS pretty good… For a girl. And by the way where ya from? ” I shift my weight and start to walk away.
“Jersey.” I hear him say as I’m heading to the summit post.
“Figures…” I say to myself.
At the summit post, I was greeted by the young couple from Israel that I had met up with at the gem pool. They congratulated me and I them. When I saw them at the base, I was worried for their lack of gear however; they were bundled up and happy. They snapped a few pictures for me and I returned the favor. We parted satisfied with our respective hikes. I had moved down to stand by a sign about the Crawford Path and a woman had noticed me.
“Wow. Six thousand two hundred and eighty eight feet. Straight up. Amazing.” I say just lound enough that she hears me.
“It really is. Did you hike up?” She asked obviously referring to my appearance.
“Yes… Yes I did. And I’m getting a little emotional about it for some reason.” I was tearing up and she could hear it. “It’s only my forth mountain and it’s a big deal.”
“It really is. Congrats! Can I hug you?” I welcomed the interaction. “And would you mind if I took your picture by the sign?” I allowed her to do so. She never gave me her name and I never got any information. We just parted. I found myself tearing up at the thought of 6288… The day… The steps it took to get there… The support that some friends, family, and complete strangers alike have shown me on this and other climbs.
I collect my thoughts and head back down the trail the same way I came up. At the Lake of the clouds hut, I run into the older couple with the schnauzer. “Jaffrey?” They said. “Are you heading up to Monroe now?” Two things; they started a trend as everyone started calling me Jaffrey who was passing by and yes, I still had another mountain to climb.
Monroe was about 45 minutes to summit from The Lake of the clouds hut. It was a lot easier than Washington. Dirt path to a point then to rock stairs to a ledge and on to the summit. I hoisted myself up and stood next to guy from Boston and his friend from Virginia. He snapped me on number 5 gratefully. We chatted and it turns out there were heading towards Eisenhower and completing the presidential range. Again hiking west to east and having it a little easier except that they’d been camping for the past two days (Weather was cold Saturday). We parted due to decreasing day light. I began my decent.
Much the way I came up, I went back down. It always amazes me how much quicker decent goes. Nearly vertical climbs and scrambles become nothing more than slides. The uneven rock stairs become easier to manage. Switchback becomes something of a game to propel you down as you twist and turn through the trails. And then the next thing you know, you are back at the car with a head full of amazing memories…
Yeah, there’s a reason I get up at 4am on a weekend… And this is it.