I began raising money for the Mt. Washington Observatory back in February of this year (2013). Out of a desire to give back to the mountains that had in a sense given me back my life, I embarked on this adventure. Now, a week before the hike, I had two “thyroid attacks” that really threw me for a loop. I literally felt like I was back at square one health wise and wondered if I would pull it off. I had decided to take a different route than my usual trip up the Ammo trail. This time, I was going up Tuckerman’s ravine on the other side of the mountain and I was bringing the pup with me. As the week before the hike moved on, I tried to take care of myself and correct whatever health related issues I was having. Nightly, my heart was racing and I was just feeling miserable. I caught an extra break from the weather and postponed reluctantly until Sunday. I had an extra day to at least get myself physically healthy. I was waiting for the mental fog to clear right up until Sunday morning.
I had stayed at Heather’s (AKA the Heather Hostile) Saturday night after going to the kickoff party and grabbing my goodies. At 6am, I found myself at Pinkham Notch visitor’s center, I was getting my gear situated and getting the pup ready to head up the trail and already, everyone wanted to pat her and talk about her. I had a mountain to climb and I was dealing with a trail I knew very little about. I was actually nervous and was trying to get underway and just enjoy my hike. I was becoming aware of how this day was going to go. The trail was as wide as a heard path and was really rocky. It started climbing shortly after it started away from the visitor center. I kept a good pace and seemed to pass a lot of people on the trail and most seemed to have little experience hiking. I took a detour to the cascades and Isis jumped up on the stone wall. She seemed to watch the waterfall with as much marvel as I was.
It was a pretty straight forward 1.9 miles up to the Hermit Lake Shelter. It held a decent gain to it and as we reached the shelter, we took our first break. A small group of hikers were at the picnic table. One was a caretaker for a shelter in the Catskills. Isis had some snacks and I had my PB&J for breakfast. We also took a quick side trip to Hermit Lake and it was beautiful. Looking up to the summits, I saw exactly what I was in for. Starting from this side had way more elevation gain than the Ammo side. I looked down at the pup and hoped that she had it in her. I was not so concerned about myself. We made it back to the shelter and got underway again. A short time later, we came to the Tuckerman’s Ravine Shelter which was bustling with activity. We walked through and made our way to the bowl. No need to fill up at the water pump however, it was noted that it was there.
Once past the shelter (maybe about a half mile), I was faced with the actual ravine and as I looked up, I felt just how small I was. Towering over me was the ravine and the impressive headwall. I was still far enough away that I could not make out the details but, I knew that I was going up it. The trail was still a mix of rocks and sand in places and the bugs were out. Every once and a while, I would stop for a break and chat with some fellow Seeker. Most of the chat centered on Isis. People were concerned for her and marveled at what the little dog was doing in a big place. AS we made our way up, we passed bigger rocks and water cascades. The headwall providing the best challenge and the best view out of the ravine. I was in awe of this place but I failed to see the notoriety. It seemed like a decent hike to me but nothing legendary. I enjoyed my time in the bowl however; I was looking forward to the summit. People were starting to struggle on their way up and most would stop right on the trail. I kindly suggested that they move aside for those that wanted (needed) to keep moving. By now, Isis’ popularity was growing about as fast as the cloud cover over the summit.
As we entered into the rocky section of the Tuckerman’s Ravine trail with .6 left to the summit, I concentrated on my footing and making sure that Isis could also navigate the large sharp rocks. We were heading into the cloud that blanketed the summit and this offered us some cooling from the sun in the ravine. Again, we were stopped a lot on the way. People wanted comfort on the trail (those that seemed to get in over their head). Isis was that comfort. Some though would just let us pass as they saw the determination on my face. The .6 seemed to pass slow as we leapfrogged over hikers resting on the rocks. Suddenly, we crested the rocks and were greeted with…. A parking lot.
I had forgotten that this was the side with the auto road. It seemed disappointing that I was greeted with this sight. It was a big difference from the Ammo side and coming up the Crawford path by the Lakes of the Clouds Hut. I tried to not get hit by the cars coming up the auto road as I made my way to an already crowded summit. I was already proud of my little girl. The last set of stairs were really felt in my legs as we climbed them. Enwrapped in clouds, we heard people cheer for Isis the little pup. We had our summit picture taken and then settled in for some much needed doggie trail mix and water. I had Gatorade and a granola bar. My other sandwich had gotten soaked with water from my cooler. So, I was low on food. We watched car after car come up and people claim the summit that didn’t put in nearly enough work. The cog let off another group and I was getting the itch to leave before it got too crowded.
We made our way back down being stopped again along the way. I assured people that the pup had done 13 summits above 4000 feet and she was a pro and I threw in that I had done 83 summits above 4000 feet and I too would be just fine. Going back down Tuck’s was really crowded. It was congested with hikers I had passed on my way up. Most were winded but proud that they were going to make it. I veered off at the junction for Lion’s Head which was a much quieter trail as far as people were concerned. I hiked for a little while with a woman from my town. Turns out, she would run right by my house daily. We all helped one another because Lion’s Head was significantly more rocks to go over. And they were bigger too. Once we cleared the rocks, we had a beautiful ridge to walk that reminded me of the Bonds. This of course lead us out the Lion’s Head point that over looked the ravine and the surrounding area. Again, I was struck by how small I was. We were going straight down from there. The cairns looked like they were literally going down in a straight line. I smiled at the challenge and the pup just put her head down and one paw in front of the other and lead the way on her leash. We ducked back in to tree line and began leap frogging again over more novice hikers. I had stopped talking to a lot of the groups because I didn’t want to rest the pup for very long because she may not want to keep moving and I was not interested in packing her out. Lion’s Head was a great choice for me and picking up two red lines for the day in addition to adding to my grid, and fulfilling my obligation to Seek the Peak was well worth it. I didn’t mind the notoriety that the pup brought but I did just want to hike and take in this new trail. It had a lot of down to it and some steep sections. We came to a ladder that I was sure I’d be carrying the pup however, she just powered down it and I actually had to pull her back a little so I didn’t fall. Soon the trail was less rock and more dirt and we seemed to be leveling out. Suddenly, we were back at the junction of the Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail and almost back to the car.
The rest of the hike was quick back down the Tuck’s trail to the visitor’s center. Isis and I checked the time by the trail head… 8 hours. I knew this was a record time for me. Given that I had been sick and out of sorts the entire week and not sleeping fully and deeply to be rested, this hike was one for the record books for sure. We sat on the porch of the visitor center and chatted with some of the staff. Isis rested finally next to me and I let out a sigh of relief. I had set out to accomplish something that completed my goal. So many of my friends, family, and co-workers had donated to the Observatory or had just encouraged me to keep going and go get what I was after, that this one was for them as much as it was for me to count. Peak sought and attained. I am humbled by the entire experience as well as by hiking in general.
What’s up next? A little state called Maine…. Among some other surprises.