June 28, 2014 Mount Washington, New Hampshire
After leaving the comforts of the River Drivers Restaurant near Katahdin in Maine I drove through the day and arrived in Gorham, NH nearing 10pm. The drive from the North Woods of Maine down into the White Mountains of New Hampshire is spectacular. The route passes many heavily forested lake villages and quaint New England towns with a fair share of historical sites to see as you pass through. I stopped in at a restaurant in Gorham called SAALT (Salt - but with the initials of all the family members in the name they needed an extra "A") for dinner and to try to get some better information from locals regarding the best routes to the top. The meal and company were fantastic and the owner gave me the ins and outs of hiking the mountain. I had thought of driving up the auto road, camping at a turnout, and then exploring the trails higher up for good locations for sunrise photos but he told me it didn’t open until 8am (I’d miss the sunrise). I decided to hike through the night so I could be up top (or near the top) for the sunrise. He loved that and said it wasn’t normally done that way (which I can verify since it was a pretty busy time of year and I hiked and climbed from the bottom to the summit without seeing another soul (granted, I started around 3am and summited just after 6am). He told me about the climbing center at Pinkham Notch and was kind enough to fill all 4 of my water bottles for me. He also showed me a map of the mountain and trail. It was a similar situation to the hotel manager in Millinocket giving me her trail map and book – I actually just studied them and then left them in the room for her). Truth be told I had trail maps downloaded onto my phone but it was nice to review the different trails and get advice from a local who obviously knew the mountain well from top to bottom. I highly recommend this approach when you hike or climb in unfamiliar areas. Stop in to local cafes and chat with locals for the inside scoops on the different trails, routes and conditions. You can glean a lot from trip reports online, but, there is no good substitute to local knowledge (Beta, as climbers call it). I arrived at Pinkham Notch around 11pm after checking out the auto road – it actually wouldn’t even open at all the next day because there was a big rally race going on. I checked into the climbing center there (fantastic place open 24 hours for hikers and climbers - inside there are detailed trail maps, information folders, coin operated showers, etc.). I checked the map at the climbing center, chatted with a guy who worked there to find where the actual trail head was and hit the trail around 2:45am. It was an amazing hike – there is a ton of quartz in the rocks and everything glistens and shines as your headlamp illuminates it. I was a little bit wildlife spooked after my moose encounter on Katahdin the previous day so I talked a lot while I hiked to warn wildlife of my presence. Got to a small campground (Hermit Lakes Shelters) around 3:45 or 4am and talked my whole way through there (more quietly though- I was worried I’d wake a ranger or other hikers - none of which I actually ever saw). I was not quite to the top when the sun rose and I watched it come up over the Lions Head from near the top of the Tuckerman Ravine. It was amazing and to this day one of my favorite pictures is that sunrise on Mount Washington. The hike is beautiful and not overly strenuous except for the last half mile or so when you have a fairly significant amount of rock scrambling. There is some exposure as you climb the headwall towards the summit ridge and as you hike along and above the waterfalls. But overall it is brilliantly beautiful and – even though this is the mountain with the worst recorded weather in the world, I had a bright, sunshiny day on the hill. I didn’t summit until nearly 6am and I stuck around for quite a while taking a ton of pictures. Because there is both an auto road and a rail line to the top there is much to see and do. There is a weather observation center on top as well as a visitors center (go in and watch some of the crazy recorded weather - when they say this mountain has the worst weather on the world they are not lying. They have videos in the visitors center that will show you exactly what that means. And trust me, you do not want to be anywhere near this summit when bad weather hits). After some time I met some other hikers who came up (from a variety of different trails) and hung out for a bit. I actually wanted to see the rally cars come up to the race finish line. As I was not in a hurry to my next destination (Mount Greylock in Massachusetts) I stuck around and chatted with the CBS film crew as they set up and then sat with them as they filmed the racers coming through the finish line. At some point in the morning I walked over to the area where they parked their cars and mingled with the drivers. I actually got some selfies with Travis Pastrana who was very cool, friendly and not at all put out about a fan showing up in the middle of nowhere to ask for a picture. I did not end up heading down until around noon after the rally runs were done and the drivers all headed down. It turned out to be a fantastic day full of adventure and new experiences. I had no clue when I headed to New Hampshire that I would end up watching a rally race on top of a mountain with a fun CBS film and race crew or get to meet some of the world's top professional drivers. Again, I was exhausted and I was going on a couple days with very limited sleep. I headed from Gorham, NH over to Bristol, CT to pick up my buddy Jay. We were headed to Greylock for the next morning and wanted to get out to the town near there. Jay drove because I was literally running on fumes. Thanks to Jay I got to catch up on a bit of sleep while we drove. Got to a little hotel at 3am and faded off for a few hours of much needed sleep.
Keywords: climbing, hiking, mount Washington, new Hampshire high point, photography, state high points, vistas
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