Saturday, June 5, 2010

On Top of the World!

It took us way too long to accomplish, but T and I have now hiked to the top of Mt. Washington! We hiked it from the western side, which I think was very appropriate since this is the side we gaze at from Vermont on a clear day. It was a magnificent hike! Though the summit left something to be desired, since we both appreciate more of a back-country experience than is provided by the developed and highly-accessible summit of Washington.
We parked on the Base Road at the bottom of the cog railway and took the Ammonoosuc Trail up the ravine and to Lakes of the Clouds Hut. T and I have often felt this hut system does not align with our thoughts on how the backcountry should be used, be we were immediately greeted by friendly people and a beautiful place to come in from the fog and relax. Though I can't see us doing any hut-to-hut traverses in the near future, we were both surprised to not dislike the hut as much as we thought we would. And I will stand by my argument that making the wilderness somewhat accessible means that a greater portion of the population can visit the wilderness and hopefully will become stewards of what they find there.

On the topic of accessibility, the summit of Mt. Washington may take this all too far. In watching the crowds envelop the summit as they got off of trains and out of cars, I wondered how many of these people, if any, really appreciated what they were seeing and experiencing. For the most part, they just took a picture of themselves next to the sign and then went inside to buy souvenirs and eat food. Not really a mountain experience, in my opinion. I don't think I saw a single group that arrived via train or car go out and do a little hike around - and there are plenty of options to do so.
At any rate, T and I ate lunch at the top and noticed a few other hikers. You could pick them out easily because they had gaiters, or hiking poles, or some other backcountry gear and a look about them that was part removed and part condescending towards the gawkers getting off the train. As we ate and checked out the various parts of the summit, the clouds lifted. We were granted with a beautiful day on top and beautiful views in all directions. The most moving view for me was immediately to the northeast, looking at Mts. Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison. Our next foray into the Whites will definitely take us to these undeveloped high peaks.
From the summit, we took the Gulfside Trail over to Mt. Clay, from where the Jewell Trail descends back to the base of the cog railway. We stopped many times to take in the beautiful views, and got to spend another mile or so gazing upon Mts. Jefferson and Adams.

The Jewell Trail was beautiful hiking as well, some of it still above tree line, but most of it in the trees. The grade was very gentle and the trail was smooth and had good footing. It was a very nice way to descend, as it was easy on the knees, and would be a good way to approach Mt. Washington for people that want to avoid rocky ledges, steep ascents, and gushing stream crossings.

In all, T and I enjoyed a classic hiking trip that will stay in our memories forever. It was wonderful time spent together in the mountains and left us feeling uplifted and inspired; for us, this is what life is all about.
Happy trails!

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