AT NH Day 9: Mount Washington or Bust

Maine Central Railroad – Mount Washington Summit
12.9 miles
Boy howdy, today was a doozy. It did not start well. First off, we somehow slept through our alarm for 30 minutes, so we did not get the early jump on the Presidential Range that we were wanting. But we were at least well rested. The trail went briefly downhill on a road before crossing the highway at Crawford Notch and heading uphill into the mountains.
I’m not sure what it was, but this climb up Mount Webster was one of the hardest we’ve had so far, at least for me. My calves were once again very unhappy at being made to start clubbing uphill first thing in the morning. They screamed at me to stop with every step. It was the kind of pain that made you feel like you should panic. My legs felt like lead. Every step felt like tossing a thousand pound bag of flour another couple feet up the mountainside. I felt so weak. I thought there was no way I could make it to Mount Washington like this. Every time I turned a corner and saw more steep uphill, panic seized my chest.

Feeling much better after a breakfast break

When I finally dragged myself up to the first view point where Gummies was waiting for our breakfast break, I completely broke down and cried for a few minutes. But after a long hug and some deep breaths, I felt better. Gummies asked me if I wanted to turn around and go back to the road, but I said no, I wanted to go to Mount Washington. I wasn’t going to give up on that.

View of the rest of the Presidentials from Mount Jackson

After breakfast, the hiking became MUCH nicer. The trail alternated between flat and relatively gentle and steep rock scrambles. But the scrambles were short and fun and I found myself enjoying them immensely. I listened to a couple podcasts to get my mind of the morning, and then listened to a couple Panic at the Disco albums which got me super pumped up. I felt so much better and was enjoying the hiking so much. Plus, it was an absolutely beautiful day to be in the Presidential Range, with sunshine and blue skies. Of course, this combined with the fact that it was Labour Day weekend meant there were day and weekend trippers everywhere, but it honestly didn’t feel too over crowded.

Lunch break on Mount Pierce

It was a pretty easy climb up to the summit of Mount Jackson, where we got a glimpse of the rest of the trail ahead, winding through the Presidential Range to Mount Washington in the distance. It was so exciting to see, and the summit of Washington looked completely clear, which is a pretty rare event. We descended to the Mizpah Spring Hut where we used the toilets and filled our water bottles. Even though thru hikers can’t really stay in the huts, using the facilities is still pretty luxurious.

After that we climbed up to Mount Pierce, where we had a quick lunch break a bit back from the main view area to keep our distance from the crowds of tourists. We still had an amazing view of Washington and the other Presidentials as we ate. After descending off Pierce, the official AT skirted around the peaks of Eisenhower and Monroe. There were side trails to go up and over the summits, but the trail was beautiful enough as is and we decided to focus on making it to Washington and skip on the peak bagging. We would later find out this was a very good idea.

This section of trail was absolutely the most beautiful hiking we’ve done so far. We were above tree line for a lot of the day, and it just felt familiar and like home, after doing so much above treeline hiking on the PCT. The trail was mostly gentle and well graded, so we could just walk and take on the views. It was wonderful. We made one last bathroom and water stop at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut before starting our final climb up Washington. Some guy at the base warned us that it would probably take us at least 1.5-2 hours to make it to the top. It was already 4:30, so I was hoping that wouldn’t be the case.

We started climbing, and it was honestly one of the easiest climbs we’ve had all trip. The rocks were nicely arranged in a flat, fairly gradual climbing surface. We probably could have climbed the whole thing in one go, but took some small breaks to take in the amazing views as we climbed. Of course, as we began approaching the summit, clouds began moving in and fog began to surround the summit. It became incredibly windy and cold as we approached the top, but at last we made it! And it only took us 45 minutes (take that, guy at the bottom)!

View heading up Mount Washington!

It was super exciting to reach the top, but also also super weird. We had just done a hard day of hiking and climbing mountains to get here, and the top was absolutely swarming with tourists that had driven up or taken the train. It was a bit disorienting. We had to stand in line to get our photo with the summit photo. But it still felt absolutely amazing to have walked up, and all the way from Vermont! Unfortunately, the clouds had completely overtaken the summit by the time we got there, so there were no views, but the amazing views we’d got on the way up and the feeling of accomplishment were more than enough.

Our plan had been to try and hitch a ride with someone driving down the mountain, so we headed down to the parking area. As soon as we got there, we found a giant NO HITCHHIKING sign. There went that plan. We started walking back up to the main summit area to reevaluate, and then saw another sign saying that all cars must leave the summit by 5:45. It was currently 5:35. With ten minutes to find a ride, we just started randomly approaching people who were heading to the cars in the parking lot. We got super lucky when the second person we asked agreed to drive us down. Even luckier, they were going right through Gorham and offered to drop us off right in town! They were a lovely couple from Delaware and we had a nice time chatting with them as we drove down the incredibly steep and winding road down the side of the mountain. We got some amazing views from the car on the way down too.
They dropped us off in the middle of town, and we set about trying to find a place to stay. Unfortunately, the fact that it was labour day weekend meant that almost everything was completely booked, even the hiker hostel. We must have called every place in town, getting rejection after rejection. I was starting to get pretty stressed, thinking we might have to sleep outside somewhere, when we finally managed to find an available room at a cheap motor inn. The guy said it was his last available room and I’m pretty sure it was the last place available in the whole town. Lucky again.

We walked over, dropped our stuff and took a a quick shower before heading over to Mr. Pizza for food. We had cheesy breadsticks, nachos, and pizza, plus really yummy beer. It felt so good to finally relax, now that all the boxes of our plan had been checked. We got really lucky in several ways today, and it’s kind of freaky thinking how easily our plan could have failed. But we made it, and now we can rest in town tomorrow while it rains. So ready to collapse into our real bed and get some good rest. Today was an amazing day.

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