Friday, August 28, 2009

Not Always New York ...

Yes, at times one must get away, and "re-charge" one's batteries; get a breathe of "fresh" air; or simply just see somewhere else so that New York doesn't take up the entire canvas of one's life. So, Jake, my son, suggested that we take a trip again up to the White Mountains and Mt. Washington.

Again? Well, I think the first time we both went up Mt. Washington was ... let me think ... 1995? Yes, a while ago! I was excited and even surprised that Jake suggested it, because I don't think I ever thought of him as a hiker-type person - although at 10 years old he did very well for himself back then!

So we arranged to meet in Portland, at the airport there, because he drove up the previous Friday to see a couple of friends from college. I took Jet Blue - and boy, it took a while for that plane to get off the ground! I think the pilot said there would be a delay because, and I quote, the ground crew put the fuel in the wrong hole. Ah, what?!

But, I got there, and off we go to New Hampshire!

Our first night would be at the Joe Dodge Lodge at Pinkham Notch. We were assigned a private room, with a bunk bed for two. Although there was no airconditioning, and it certainly was hot and humid in the valley (which still was just less than 3000 feet elevation), once we slowed down, I was sure we'd be comfortable enough.

Meals are served communally at the Appalachian Mountain Club lodges but Jake certainly seemed hungry enough - but maybe a little too hot!

Everyone tries to help each other at these lodges, and so I wasn't surprised when one of the servers demonstrated her sympathy to Jake:

We got a decent sleep that night, almost in spite of the heat and humidity - we're so spoiled with city airconditioning, but we managed.

After the hearty buffet breakfast, we were off onto the trail at ... 740am. Certainly bright and early for us New Yorkers. The trail beckoned:
This is called the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. We're going to take it to the junction with the Lion's Head Trail, and until then we will be under timberline - but it would only be for about half the length of the trail. According to the trail map the whole trail for us from Pinkham to the top of Mt. Washington was about 4.2 miles, which would take us 4 hours 15 minutes. No problem!

It proved very early to be a very beautiful morning - with quite a lot to marvel over and admire. Here's Jake now, I thought: resting already?

It's not as though we had miles to go before we sleep - although that was true - but really, we took our time!

For those of you who aren't familiar with the White Mountains, or New England for that matter, one constant up there in the mountains is the weather. I first became acquainted with the Whites when I was at camp in Vermont. We would climb Mt. Washington in July - and every time we'd be in the clouds! In the rain, wind, and stumbling all over rocks - but we had the greatest time!

So, I've since discovered that August is the best time for a hike like this - and thunderstorms were in the forecast!

Here we are ... and I must admit I look at little peaked - but, I plead that it was hot and humid. That's my claim and I'm sticking to it.

We continued on after a little break.

Jake and I are getting up there, at least a little bit, for we can now see down the trail behind us. Soon ....
Yes, soon we'll be on the ridge and walking in the breeze - maybe even a wind! It will be cooler soon!

We can see Hermit Lake and the Shelter down in Tuckerman's Ravine. We are getting up there indeed!

This sign announced to us that we were entering the Alpine Zone - we were officially above timberline! And more than half the way to the summit. Here's were the fun begins - and where the true photos can begin to be taken.

I relax

(to be continued ...)

To the Summit and Beyond!

Yes, this is Part Two of my Mt. Washington climb with Jake, my son. And, yes, I know: it's not about New York - but it is about walking! That's the theme here - so read on.

You see, once above timberline the world is different. Breeze, clear skies, and views - well! What to see?
Jake ascends to the top of Lion's Head

We no longer watch for a clear trail through trees or brush, but, as Jake sagely points out, we look for those rocks on which the lichen has been "stepped" away. And, of course, the piles of rocks strategically place - the cairns - which, in the normal cloudy environment, would be invaluable.

But, no clouds for us!
The Headwall of Tuckerman's Ravine

We look down into Tuckerman's Ravine. We could have taken the Headwall trail, but I preferred the extended view from the top. But look at that slope: that's where skiers go - and they have to carry their skis up this trail in the snow! What am I complaining? No - yet, as a skier, would I like to take that plunge? Hmm.....

We continue on toward the junction of the Tuckerman trail with ours, which would then leave us only about .4 mile from the summit. It's really smooth sailing now.

The first part of our climb, along the Tuckerman Trail, however, is called in the AMC Guidebook a "moderate but relentless climb," so if you should consider this trip for your summer vacation - keep that in mind! As you can see here, the "uphill" part of that climb is now accentuated on the Lion's Head Path and the final stage of the Tuckerman Trail. One must rest!

We had met some climbers earlier, but not more than two, I think. We were getting close to the summit now, so I expected to see some early climbers beginning their descent - but although I expected to see at least one, I was pleased to finally see a four-footed hiker!
I had seen other, smaller dogs on some of my previous hikes, and often they were hiking with their own little packs. This one travels light, however - and although I didn't ask the young lady I suspect this isn't the first mountain for her pet.
Jake gave a holler: "Not hikers!" He could see valley people, so we were getting real close; you get so close to the mountain the summit disappears, so any sign of its approach used to bring a shout among the leaders in my summer camp groups - when we hiked in July and invariably in the clouds. This time wasn't so mysterious of course, but it was nice to hear - we were ahead of the guide's schedule.
I had to admit to some surprise on reaching these stairs - is this "mountain climbing"? Well, at the top of the stairs was the parking lot and all the people whose heads Jake had seen over the rocks - we were getting very close to the summit

The summit of Mt. Washington has witnessed the highest recorded wind speed on earth (a gust of 231 mph clocked on Mount Washington on April 12, 1934* [see note at bottom]), and is frequently cited as the host to the world's worst weather, but August at least for me has always brought me my best experiences on the mountain and the clearest weather. Oh, and I made it too!We had reached the summit at about 11:30am, having left the base at Pinkham Notch at 7:40 with the expectation of reaching the summit in 4 hours 15 minutes, according to the AMC guide book, I was pleased that without rushing at all we had made it fully 25 minutes ahead of schedule!

So, we stopped at the mountain for about an hour, just enough time for Jake to have a bowl of chili, another bowl of clam chowder, crackers and a drink - I just had a bowl of chili and a drink - and to just chill out.

It's always a clash of cultures at the top: people who came by car and people who came by the world's oldest cog railway. The engines used to be all steam, but now only the first one of the day is steam; all the others now run on biodiesel.

We were ready to finish up the day's hiking at about 12:30pm, and hike the remain 1.4 miles, or 40 minutes, to our lodging for the evening at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut.
Jake looks down the path toward the Lakes of the Clouds hut - the light spot on the side of the ridge. Sited on the west side of the ridge, at 5050 feet above sea level, it is the highest hut in the White Mountains, and one of two (the other being the Madison Hut) above timber line.

We raced down! There were still clouds about, but the wind blew them over and away. Looking at the trail Jake is on I'm sure you'll agree that I'm right to call it a relative highway!

We were soon close to the Hut.

As we walked I remembered that this was the way Jake and I had first arrived at the Hut, back in 1995, I think; but it was different now. We had come up a different and more challenging yet rewarding way, and were there pretty early in the day so, as Jake had said the night before, he could finish his book in the leisure time before dinner. We shall see ....

And, here was one lake - but let's get into the hut and lay our stuff down. I was thinking of cooling my feet in the cold water of the lake - just what I felt they needed.

We entered the hut, and Jake, more enterprising than I would have thought, went to the desk and checked us in and found the room we would sleep in. For some reason I can't recall I didn't take a picture of that room - maybe it was too dark and bright - too many shadows, with the bright light from the windows? Anyway, it was as I remembered it, triple and quadruple bunks with army blankets and pillow; ladders to the top. I took a bottom bunk for sure.

The common area was bright, woody, and welcoming - lots of windows!

While Jake put his stuff under his bunk and got his book out, I changed into my bathing suit - heck: it's been hot, I'm warm, it just might be really refreshing to get some water on me. After all, and Jake wasn't happy when I told him this in New York, there are no showers at the Lakes of the Clouds. So, I went out to the Lake. (I lost track of Jake for the moment.)

As I approached the lake, I thought I saw someone on a rock. That's good, I thought. Someone to trade stories with. Let's see ...

Well! A swimmer! This is good news. So, I talked to these men, and asked them why they don't get in themselves. Hmm. Various stages of ... chicken? Not quite ready?

Others seem curious - look! Yes, indeed, the water was really nice and comfortable. Everyone who was there began to get into the swim of things - did I just say that? Oh, well, one gets carried away, I guess. Just look! There's a guy here swimming all the way across the lake!
Global warming? Well, maybe so, but years ago this lake provided drinking water for the hut. Thank goodness they have drilled a well for water now.
Jake has abandoned his book, and is in the center, above, in the dark bathing suit with white stripe at his waist. It was a delightful afternoon.

Dinner was the usual communal madness, with everyone getting to know their neighbors and trading stories of hikes and nights in various huts. Some are taking 8 nights in a hut - one in each one. Most seem to be taking two nights in huts, so we, with just one, seem positively like city folk.
We had a great time, and even won the clean-and-stacked plate contest so that we could get the first cut of the Special Dessert - a cake baked in the shape of the Lakes of the Clouds hut! Silly? Certainly! And, oddly enough, this big piece fed all of us!

Even though it was a little warm that night, even with the windows open wide, we both slept well - and were awakened delightfully at 6:30 to the sound of a guitar strumming and a soft male voice singing in the hallway outside our doors. Ahh, just like home ... not!

We were ready to go at 8:00 sharp - and off we went!

The morning was cooler, and there were clouds blowing over the summit, but we had clear hiking all the way that morning.
Here I'm showing you all Tuckerman's Ravine from the other side - I'm pointing to where we hiked the day before; above my head and a little to the right is the summit of Mt. Washington.

I spread a split rock apart, and Jake monitors the trail - we're comfortable with the mountain. We've adopted it!

The rest of the trail is with even better views than the day before, because more of it is above timberline.

There's one more brief installment - so stay tuned - and then I'm back to New York and the walking I do there.

We're soon below timberline - but not before more spectacular views appear. For almost the last time, we see the headwall of Tuckerman's Ravine before Jake leads me below timberline to the forest below. Will this be the end of the views?

Not quite, see?

But it's considerably more cluttered with undergrowth and overgrowth as we plot through the branches and over the rocks to reach the bottom. And lo, and behold, just as we needed one at the top, so too have the trailcrews installed another to help us down:
When I did this path before (in ah, 1963) there was no ladder. So, the trails are considerably more "civilized" these days, and even though we have seen but one couple so far coming up that path, I believe that most trails in the Presidential Range of the Whites are similarly "accessible."

Almost at the bottom now! Here is the Crystal Cascade:

Just a short walk from here and we're back at Pinkham, and off in the car for ... The Mount Washington Hotel at Bretton Woods! Talk about a karmic change!

Well, not exactly roughing it any more, are we? But I thought we got a decent TravelZoo deal, including the pool and a four course dinner so, there we are - and Jake hits the pool - and we both have the meal ... but the enthusiasm of all the walkers at dinner at the Lakes was so much more!

AND we didn't need to wear a jacket up there!

But, as we used to say at camp oh, so many years ago: all in all we had a great time!
* FOOTNOTE: According to the Mt. Washington Observatory: The anemometer used on Mount Washington in 1934, known as the Number 2 Heated Anemometer, was tested in 1933 in two National Bureau of Standards wind tunnels, creating a calibration curve that allowed the Observers to calculate the wind speed immediately. After the record wind of April 1934, the anemometer was retested, to determine if there had been any change in the performance of the instrument since the earlier tests. The second tests indicated that the rotor was turning slightly slower (generally less than 3%) than in the first set of tests. This means that if past records were corrected on the basis of the second tests, the true wind velocities computed for the record would be somewhat higher than previously claimed. It was recommended by the U.S. Weather Bureau that it would be both conservative and best for future observations to be calculated from the original calibration data.