Monday, August 13, 2018

Mt. Washington to Lakes of the Clouds

Mt. Washington to Lakes of the Clouds
Crawford Path and Appalachian Trail
Summit Elevation: 6,228 ft.
Lakes Elevation: 5,051 ft.
Distance: 2.80 mi.
Elevation Gain: 1,214 ft. (my GPS)
Start Time: 3:18pm
End Time: 4:32pm

Trip Report:
The hike up Mount Washington is a classic for anyone. It is perhaps the most iconic summit in America east of the Rockies. It has many enticing routes and the allure (or danger?) of crazy weather. When my wife and I flew into Manchester, New Hampshire for our anniversary trip we drove on up to Washington to enjoy the auto road to the top. Here, I had debated finding a hike to the top, likely on the Tuckerman Ravine trail, but time wouldn't allow it this time around. Instead, I had shared ahead of time that when we drove to the summit I would look for a short hike down from the summit and back up. That became the plan.

Crawford Path

When we made it up the road this day we were greeted with complete white-out conditions above treeline. It was even sprinkling lightly at times. This meant no views whatsoever. It would still work for a good hike though. The temps were in the 50s and the wind was fairly mild so things seemed stable. My wife was enjoying the museum and visitor center on top so I found my way onto the Crawford Path and began descending. I was intrigued by the signage for the Crawford Path, a trail I knew little about, and reading of it as the oldest mountain hiking trail in the nation. Combine this with the fact that I also learned that the Appalachian Trail rolls over Mt. Washington and I felt like I was walking in history.

Rock cairn with white quartz

The initial descent from the summit was very rocky and I would quickly learn my pace would never be what I was thinking it could have been. I was hoping to perhaps make it all the way to Mt. Monroe and back, just over 3 miles, in a little over an hour with some trail-running mixed in. This would not happen. I was careful and deliberate with my steps heading down not wanting to roll anything on the rocky path. On the plus side, in the whiteout conditions the trail was very clear to follow and had frequent, and large, rock cairns with white quartz to mark the way. Those are likely most helpful in winter.

The views on the descent never opened up and after just over half an hour I arrived at the first of the Lakes of the Clouds. It was a beautiful little pond and perhaps would have been moreso with more sunlight and a blue sky. I also had the AMC Mountain Hut in view in front of me. I wasn't sure if it was open to the public or how the hut system worked and I didn't proceed onward to check it out. I had myself on a time constraint to rejoin my wife on the summit and so I decided to turn around at the lake. I figured Mt. Monroe had to be at least another 30-40 minutes roundtrip.

Lakes of the Clouds

Below the lakes down into the valley some air was open to see below the fog level. Above was still white-out. I began quick work on the ascent. I had passed perhaps 15 folks on the way down and many I was bumping into again on the ascent with perhaps another 10 or so new folks on the descent. There were a handful of backpackers in the bunch and otherwise mostly dayhikers like myself. I found the ascending work to be about as quick as the descending given the rocky composition of the trail. The footing is always easy to work with on the uphill even though the climb is obviously more taxing on the cardio system. In the end, when I regained the summit of Washington my ascent time had been nearly identical to the descent. Not bad!

Someday I'll have to make the return for a more complete and official climb of Mt. Washington. I can't in good conscience take this little hike, even with 1100 elevation gain and call it a summit. That and starting your "summit" from the summit just has a wrong feel to it. Hopefully better weather can be had next time as well as both of my trips of the auto road on Washington have ended in cloudy weather. Some day...

Lakes of the Clouds

White-out back at the summit

Summit marker

I have a track and waypoints from the hike all contained in a KML file that you are welcome to download and use (at your own risk).  

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