Washington and Monroe: Summit Hatred Turned Redemption on the Rock Pile
Updated: Aug 2, 2019
I. Hate. Mount. Washington. This may be an unpopular opinion, but if you've ever hiked with me you'll know that I rant about the rock pile just about every chance I get. Last time I hiked Mt. Washington I was super excited. I had decided to do the Presidential Traverse, my first time hiking any of the Presidential peaks. Not only was it the most difficult hike of my life, when we got to the summit of Washington after eight hours of hiking there were so many people that I couldn't get my picture with the sign or sit and rest my throbbing legs in the cafeteria. It was absolutely infuriating and utterly disappointing after all of that work.
Ever since that day I have had no desire to summit Mt. Washington whatsoever. Even last week when I hiked Huntington Ravine trail I purposely avoided going to the top. You may ask, "who hikes the most difficult route up Mount Washington just to avoid the summit?" Me that's who. I can think of 47 other NH 4,000 footers I'd rather hike (okay that's melodramatic maybe not Hale). I've had beef with this mountain for a year now, but little did I know my attitude was about to change.
Let me be clear, I know my resentment of Mt. Washington is a little bit uncalled for. I didn't have some sort of dangerous accident or other complication, and a crowded summit is usually just a simple annoyance. It was this simple annoyance magnified by a lack of sleep, a summer cold, some personal issues going on at the time, and a long and difficult hike, that made me detest the summit of this mountain with such a fiery passion. It's not the whole mountain that I dislike. I loved Huntington Ravine and look forward to exploring the Great Gulf area. I just cannot stand all the people at the top that are fighting you for a picture with the sign or a seat in the cafeteria after you've just busted your ass to get there.
When my friend Kim asked me to hike today I jumped at the opportunity for a quiet weekday hike. I've had some weekdays off recently, so I've been spoiled with the lack of crowds and summits to myself. We were planning Flume Slide to Liberty, but with the torrential downpours in Franconia Notch last night we decided to go for an alternate route. After exploring many options, I hesitantly said, "well we could do Washington and Monroe," and her face lit up. And there you have it, folks. I was about to face my nemesis, the summit of Mt. Washington.
The day started with a nice jaunt up Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail. I loved every step of this gorgeous trail from the parking lot to Lakes of the Clouds. It was lined with striking cascades and pools with water so clear you can't tell how deep the rocks are at the bottom. The premier spot along the way is Gem Pool with its beautiful cascade and clear green water. There were more and more waterfalls as we climbed, and the grade went from gradual to moderately steep after Gem Pool. Luckily the footing was easy below treeline and the rocks weren't too wet from the rain last night.
When we reached the treeline there were a few scrambles that proved tricky because of the slick conditions. We proceeded with caution and were very surprised when the Lakes of the Clouds hut snuck up ahead of us. Visibility was only a few feet in the clouds, so we didn't have many views of the ravine and we did not expect to get to the hut so quickly. With the weather report showing clear skies later in the afternoon, we took our time snacking on some homemade cranberry nut bread and looking at maps at the hut. I've been fond of the AMC huts ever since my dad brought my sister and me up to Lonesome Lake when we were small children, so it was a nice break.
After about a half hour the skies started to clear and we made our way up the short climb to Mt. Monroe. Monroe is one of my favorite summits in the Presidentials with its precarious looking cliff jutting out towards Mt. Washington. When we reached the summit the wind was whipping the clouds around us. For a few seconds we would be completely engulfed in fog and then the mountainous views would peek out for a bit. We crouched between a few boulders to shield ourselves from the wind until the clouds moved on leaving beautiful views of the skyline around us. It was a crazy feeling being dragged through dense clouds over and over, again reminding me of the power of mother nature in these mountains.
After hanging out for a bit we descended back to the lakes and continued our trek to Mt. Washington. We took our time here soaking up the views now that the clouds had lifted. The ascent up the summit cone was difficult but typical of the northern Presidentials with the signature jagged granite terrain. It seemed less steep than going up Adams last weekend, so that was a bit of a relief.
When we made it to the top I braced myself for the mob scene that it had been last time, but to my pleasant surprise there were very few people. The first thing we did was get our picture with the sign. I was still frustrated by the fifteen minute wait, but it was bearable and gave us time to catch our breath. When it was finally our turn we took our time snapping pictures of each other. I got a death glare from the guy behind us because we took a solid minute or two to get all of our pictures, but I didn't feel bad in the slightest. We worked hard for this view and now we were sure as hell taking advantage of it!
When we went into the summit building I prepared myself again to sit in the basement, but to my delight we got a table easily. We could even see the view out the window from where we sat! After a steaming bowl of chili and some relaxation, we decided to refill our water and be on our way. When we started our descent I couldn't believe how tolerable the whole experience was. Another reason to appreciate the rare weekday hike.
After having flashbacks to a chunk of coal hitting me in the face from the Cog, we were cautious about our proximity as it crossed but got some great views down the tracks after. On the way down to Jewell trail we only saw a few other hikers ascending. I realized we had only seen about twenty hikers all day. Usually these trails are a long conga line reaching from every parking lot to the summit on a nice weekend day. I was falling more and more in love with weekday hiking with every step!
I loved the views of the Great Gulf to our right with the Great Gulf headwall staring out at us. It was taunting and endearing making me really excited to come back for the challenge. I have this great backpacking trip in the back of my mind for Labor Day, so hopefully if the weather is good I'll be able to ascend it sooner rather than later! After a careful descent to the Jewell trail junction, we followed the ridgeline down. Jewell was a gradual but steady descent relatively easy on the knees compared to Tuckerman Ravine last week. It was rocky until treeline where it became composed of cushioning dirt. It was the perfect texture, soft because of the rain last night but not muddy.
There were a few bridged crossings over babbling brooks and tributaries before the trail leveling out for the last mile or so. The green moss in the forest gave that enchanted look I've been talking about all summer. I think it might be due to the heavy rains we experienced this spring. We were careful to take a right at the junction for the trail to the Cog parking lot so that we would end up back at our car at the WMNF lot. It felt like a short walk out even though it was four miles, and we ended up back at the car before three.
To my surprise I actually loved today's hike. It's safe to say it has changed my mind about Mt. Washington's bustling summit. I no longer hate the summit it's more of a mild distaste. I now know that my reasons for despising the Mt. Washington summits are valid on the weekends but toned down to the mild annoyance during the week. And I finally got my picture with the sign! Will I come back on a fair weathered weekend? Most likely not until there's a few feet of snow on the ground. But I'm much more likely to hike New England's highest peak on a nice weekday in the future!
Mt. Monroe and Mt. Washington via Ammonoosuc Ravine Tr, Crawford Tr, Gulfside Tr, and Jewell Tr [11.87 mi, 4330 ft, 7:45].
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