Downeast roadtrip day 8 – Mount Washington

Following a 6am alarm and a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, we pulled into the carpark at Pinkham Notch at 8am and were on the mountain by 8:15. It was a sunny day, already quite warm amongst the trees, and there were a surprising number of other people around as we set off along the Tuckerman Ravine trail.

beginning the hike up Mt Washington

A couple of hours later, we branched off up the Lions Head trail, and soon realised why this was a less popular path. Scrambling up stretches of rock face, this was as close to actual climbing as I care to get, and it was quite hard going in places –  so much so that I completely forgot to be scared about bears lurking in the trees.

scrambling up the Lion's Head trail

Above the treeline the views (both up and down) were spectacular, and a fresh breeze kept us from getting overheated.

the Lion's Head, with the White Mountains in the distance

The ascent from the Lion’s Head to the summit looked pretty short and simple, but it turned out to involve clambering over rocks – not so much a path as a scramble – and it was extremely hard going.

up to the summit of Mt Washington

Finally we found ourselves in the summit carpark, and joined the line of people waiting to have their photo taken next to the signpost. Cheesy, yes, but sometimes you just have to, and at least we had got there on foot. (As you can see from our photo, it was a little breezy up there.) It had taken us just three and three-quarter hours to make the ascent, which we were rather proud of.

at summit of Mt Washington

By this point it was cloudy and the wind was cold, so we retreated indoors to eat our packed lunches, to warm up with a cup of coffee, to purchase the obligatory souvenir fridge magnet from the gift shop, and to look at all the people who had arrived there by car or by train.

Crawford path from the summit of Mt Washington

Suitably fortified we set off down the opposite side of the summit on the Crawford Path. The Crawford is “the oldest continuously used and maintained hiking trail in the Northeastern United States”, and now forms part of the Appalachian Trail. Both of these factors drew us to choose it, but the best thing about it was that it is actually recognisably a path. Rather than rock-hopping we were able to walk normally (if steeply) down the side of the summit, and I’d encourage anyone thinking of making the ascent to choose this option too.

looking back up Mt Washington

We had decided to return to Pinkham via the Boott Spurr trail, a longer but allegedly easier option, and traversing the hill on the first section of the trail was extremely pleasant. getting down to the tree line was somewhat more challenging, with sections of steep descent in places, but overall it wasn’t too bad, and the views were just spectacular.

Mt Washington from Boott Spur

Once back in the forest, things took a turn for the worse. Getting tired, and with about another three miles to go, I was a little ahead of Tom so stopped to wait for him to catch up. As I stood there, catching my breath, something growled at me from within the trees at the side of the path. Not loudly, but unmistakably, and it was more than enough to send me hurtling back up to where Tom was. The next mile or so was taken at a crazy pace, as we chatted loudly and inanely about anything we could think of – if we couldn’t scare whatever it was away then at least we could bore it into leaving us alone, and thankfully that was the last we heard of it.

I was also quite alarmed by how alone we were on the trail – a few people had passed us an hour or so previously, but there was no sign of anyone else in either direction – and the fear of one of us falling and having to be left alone with whatever was out there whilst the other went for help was enough to encourage a more sensible pace. We still made excellent time, however, and arrived back at Pinkham at 5:25pm, with a descent time of four hours.

We made it!

We walked a shade under 10 miles in total, and a little over 4000 vertical feet each way – not a bad achievement, really, especially since (our two mornings in Acadia notwithstanding) it’s been ages since we did any serious walking.


Back in Gorham, it was extremely tempting to just shower and call it a day, but having freshened up we dragged ourselves out for a gentle stroll along to Mountain Fire and a restorative dinner of pizza and wine.

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