Easy and fun, Henderson Ridge offers a way to get away from the crowds in Huntington Ravine. It is on the opposite side of the ravine from the popular Pinnacle Buttress, and the trail.
Start at Pinkham Notch, and hike up the Tuckerman Ravine trail to where the Huntington Ravine Trail diverges right. Follow this until you get out into the open in Huntington ravine. The Huntington ravine trail is a nice secluded trail through sprucy forest, and it has one water crossing that can be tricky to navigate without getting wet if it has rained recently. You can also take the snow-cat path up into Huntington Ravine, which goes right from the Tuckerman Ravine trail at about 3,500 feet. It later rejoins the Huntington Ravine Trail. Once you are in the open, you want to head to the rocky rib of rock that is the furthest to the right on the main headwall of the ravine – just to the right of North Gully. We traversed right from the bottom of the Fan, but you might do better to go up from further below.
Head up the crest of the ridge (5.4) for two pitches (there is a good belay to the right at a bush.). From there, scramble up some slabs and bushes, punctuated by a few almost vertical steps. It generally looked harder towards North Gully, and trivially bushy away to the right. About 2 rope lengths later you want to be right at the edge of North gully where there is a neat rock sticking about 15 feet out over North Gully. Scramble past this on class 2 or 3 terrain, and head up a corner (5.4) to the right for 15 feet to get to the top of the ridge. From here it is a 3rd class scramble – either up North Gully, or to the right of the gully, or as we did, actually cross the gully and climb up the slabs and vegetation to the left of the gully.
From the top of North gully, the Nelson Crag trail is a few hundred feet to the left, which will take you to the top of Washington. You can also continue following the lip of Huntington Ravine around to the left to the Alpine Garden Trail, which will take you down to Lion head.
We did fine with a small rack of mostly small and medium hexes and stoppers. The route is well protected.
"How do you distinguish between being off-route and putting up a first ascent?"