#20  Mount Washington, New Hampshire  (6,288 ft.)

Mount Washington is the pinnacle of the White Mountains and an icon of hiking in the Northeast. It is also legendary for its changeable, often forbidding weather. The AMC hut nestled below its summit cone, Lakes of the Clouds, is the flagship facility of the AMC hut system. Your first stay at Lakes is an unforgettable experience; mine certainly was, but perhaps not entirely for all the best reasons. 


One my first-ever hike in the Presidentials we slogged all the way from Highland Center to Lakes of the Cloudsabout 9 miles and 4,000+ feet of elevation gainon a roastingly hot day in July. And I did it with a hangover. Memorable, yes; intelligent, no. Clem and Steve were the faster hikers and went on ahead; I was medium, and so toiled along by myself, but perhaps pushing a little too hard for the conditions and my conditioning; Verna and Thomas were behind me, going slowly but at a pace that suited them. The result was that everyone made it, some feeling better than others, and some later than others. For my part I arrived in Lakes in time for dinner, which had been my greatest worry, but the effort of making up for the late start cost me a little heat exhaustion and, I'm guessing, some excessive hydration as well, because I was definitely getting a little loopy. I met some folks on the trail who noticed this and passed word down the ranks of hikers. "Have you seen the guy in the red hiking shirt? He's in bad shape." Actually, it wasn't THAT bad, but I admit I really don't do well in the heat, and it didn't help matters that I had sucked down a bunch of hiking energy food (Goo, Cliff Shots) that I learned that day just make me sick. From then on I swore to stick to real food, and by God it's worked for me ever since. Tuna is now my go-to trail snack. Smelling like Eau de Chat is a small price to pay for not barfing en route.

cog railroad stereoview large

Stereoscope of the Mount Wasington Cog Railway Engine 

The real low point for me on that inaugural White Mountains adventure was encountering two old ladies (card-carrying spinster aunts) who offered their advice. Granted, these women could surely have hiked circles around my scrawny butt back in the day, so all props to 'em, but hikers with miles to go before they sleep do not appreciate hearing "Ooh, you better hurry along." Lie to me next time, ladies, LIE TO ME!

I woke up early at the hut, before breakfast, and hoofed it up to the summit. Why? Because we had decided to head down the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail shortly after breakfast and meet the hiker's shuttle, and in order to do so we need to leave just after eating. I wasn't about to miss the summit on a fine, clear day. And in going up that early I caught a good view of the sun hitting the summit of Monroe before reaching down to the hut.

Illustration of the Summit of Mount Washington by Winslow Homer, from Harper's Bazar (July 28, 1870)

Most would agree that the summit of Washington is pretty alien as far as terra firma goes: breathtaking, yes, but overburdened with buildings and by the crowds who either drive up the road or ride the cog railway (above). But at 6am the joint is not yet rockin'. I was alone for most of my stay at the summit; no one had driven up yet, and the train hadn't pulled into the station. Still, as a hiker you take the summit spectacle with a grain of salt: grab a few pictures and appreciate the experience of one of America's original tourist meccas, as you can see in this illustration by Winslow Homer from 1870 (above). Did I feel a certain timeless communion with these climbers, those corseted and necktied ladies and gentlemen of yore? Not really, but I do like the fact that you can see Tip-Top House in the background of the print, and that it's still there. 

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