My hiking buddy and I try to get to Mt. Washington (6,288 feet) yearly. It’s almost mandatory. Washington is the icon around here, the top of the heap, the granddaddy of them all. By now, I think we’ve taken nearly every route to the summit. Most recently, we determined that we were going to try the Huntington Ravine Trail (3.8 miles, via Tuckerman Ravine Trail). We’ve talked about trying this trail for years. There’s a website that lists the Terrifying 25 — the 25 scariest hiking trails in New England. I’ve done several of them. Guess which one tops that list? This one, of course. At some point, we simply had to go.
I’ve not found any of those other trails “terrifying,” so I was hoping not to be disappointed here. I was not. Being honest with you, this trail’s reputation is well deserved. This trail is nasty. We had ideal hiking conditions that day, but this trail should never be hiked with any kind of precipitation on it. Signs at the entrance to the trail warned off casual hikers: “People have perished,” read one. Comforting.
I already knew we were in for it starting out, but I had a sense of foreboding as we hiked deeper into the forest without any major elevation gain. That meant, when the real climb came, it was going to be all the more intense.
So it was. Once the climbing started, it didn’t let up. At one point, this trail ascends over 1,200 feet in about a quarter mile. That’s a lot. I had a full body workout scrambling over some of the boulders further up the trail. As the trail grew incredibly steep, it became unnerving to look down, so I decided not to do that anymore. Instead, I found it helpful to keep total focus on my next movement, whatever that happened to be.
Then we came to The Wall, roughly a 35-foot section of nearly vertical rock. This section was no longer hiking. This was rock climbing — climbing, by hand and by foot, up a narrow seam in the rock face. My buddy chose a bad direction in one spot. I looked up to see him free-climbing about 4 feet above my head. It was only for a moment, but it occurred to me that this was distinctly unsafe. I kept following the seam, which was somewhat better.
Above that, we came across a lady sitting to calm her nerves. One of her hands had slipped free during that climb, and she was badly shaken by the fright. We stayed to talk until we were sure she would be fine. She told us she was a very experienced hiker, hiked all over the world. In case I’ve not been clear thus far, I’m trying to tell you that this trail is definitely not to be taken lightly. Next time I go, I’ll be wearing a helmet.
Minutes after finishing that chore, we reached the ridgeline. The summit was a short distance away. Congratulating ourselves on a job well done, we took a hard-earned break. Then we started down again — a different trail this time, Lion’s Head (6.9m). Still steep, but a breeze relative to Huntington. We met a volunteer park ranger on the way. He was funny. Said his job every weekend entailed collecting samples for scientific studies and talking to park guests – but he liked to get the sample-collection out of the way quickly, he said, so he could spend the rest of his time gabbing. He asked which trail we climbed and acted astonished when we told him Huntington. Not too many folks going that route, I guess.
But if the view from the mountain is about anything at all, it’s about getting a change of perspective. Ours came at the end of the day. Conquering heroes, we left Pinkham Notch headed north and stopped in Gorham to find food. A quick Google-search showed a well-rated restaurant nearby, so we found ourselves at a place called SAaLT Pub. Highly recommended, if you’re in the area — homemade gnocchi soft as a pillow. It was impressive food at a reasonable price. The bartender was a fit young lady whose bare shoulders had muscle tone. She told us she was a rock climber. Naturally, she asked us which trail we hiked that day. Huntington, we replied.
A faint smile flashed across her face before she said, “Oh nice. I first hiked that when I was 15.”