Mt. Washington: A Surprisingly Easy Hike with the Best Winter Weather Ever!
Yesterday was simply the most gorgeous day in the Presidentials I've ever seen. Mt. Washington is known for having some of the worst weather in the world with winds this year reaching 171 mph back in February. It's one of the most dangerous mountains in the world with several deaths recorded every year. It can be a relentless, unforgiving place, so there's a good reason why many people are fearful of it especially in the winter. There are very few days where the weather is perfect in the Presidential range, and yesterday was one of those days.
When a few friends invited me to join them for a hike up the rock pile I was skeptically excited. Excited because I've wanted to hike Mt. Washington in the winter for a while, but I was a bit nervous because it was my first above treeline winter hike. So many things can go wrong in the Presidentials in the winter so it seemed like a big undertaking. Luckily the crew that I was with had a lot of above treeline winter hiking experience which made me feel much more comfortable with the whole idea.
When we met in the Cog Railway parking lot I knew immediately it was going to be a great day. We were blessed with bluebird skies and not a gust of wind anywhere to be found in the balmy 25 degree weather. We were a group of seven and I had never hiked with anyone in the group before, but once I met them I knew it was going to be fun. They were all interesting and playful, so there was never a dull moment all day. After a lot of solo hiking it was great to be with a group that was such an interesting mix of people unafraid to have fun doing the thing we all love.
As we started the trek up the Cog, we were met with a steep trail from the start. With the whole hike only being about six miles with almost 4,000 feet of elevation gain it was a steep trek to say the least. I was feeling very out of shape in my post-pneumonia state so that made things a bit more challenging. We went at a slow and steady pace to start until we got to the three small huts where the Cog brings people in early winter where we took a break before ramping up the pace.
When we got to Jacob's Ladder at about 4,700 feet the trail got to its steepest point at a 37% grade. I was huffing and puffing up this difficult section trying to catch my breath with every step. Luckily, we all had snowshoes with televators to lift up our heels and make walking on the steep path much easier. The views started to get more and more expansive as we went, first showing Mt. Clay and Monroe on either side and then revealing the rest of the northern Presidentials as we climbed. All I could think about was how perfect this day would have been for a Presidential traverse. Soon the summit building was within sight and before I knew it we had made it to the top.
It was a busy day on top of the rock pile, but there were only hikers there so it wasn't infuriating like it usually is in the summer. Mt. Washington has always been my least favorite summit, and although it was redeemed for me earlier this year I still have a little bit of disdain when I think about it because of my first experience up there. This time, the only people at the top of the peak had worked hard to be there, so I was happy to see us all enjoying ourselves atop the tallest peak in the northeast. We saw a few people we knew and made a few new friends making for a great time at the summit.
It was still sunny and warm with no wind, and after constantly checking the observatory reports I was still baffled by the brilliance of this day. It was so peaceful and calm I couldn't believe it. I snuck away from the group for a minute to take a quick picture, and looking out at the 130 mile view I felt like I was home. The Whites have felt like my sanctuary for the past few years, so gazing down at them from the highest point was so rewarding. After my moment of reflection, I rejoined the group and we started heading down the way we came.
Yesterday was a rare perfect day in these mountains, one that we only see a few times a year. The route was surprisingly straightforward and although it was steep in some spots, it was much easier than I anticipated. I foresee that this type of hike would be the only way Lucy would be able to summit Mt. Washington, so I'm excited for another beautiful day like this to take her up the rock pile. I'm so grateful that I was invited by a group of experienced hikers to come out and play in the Presidentials, because I wouldn't have done a hike like that solo. It was so much fun getting to know a new group of hikers, and I'm so glad to have made some new hiking buddies! It was a great day all around and I can't wait for our next hike together!
For more information on what kind of gear I brought with me, check out my winter day hiking gear list and winter layering post. I'm working on an above treeline winter hiking gear list so keep a look out for that too! Also, stay tuned for a guest writer posting about his experience hiking a winter Presidential traverse as well!
Mt. Washington (6,288 ft) via the Cog Railway [6.40 mi, 3735 ft, 5:30].
Follow me on Instagram @lexi.brocoum for more pictures.