Huntington Ravine Trip Report – August 24, 2008
Huntington Ravine had been on my tick-list for awhile. About 3 or 4 years ago some buddies of mine used it as a training route for the Mountaineer’s Route on Whitney. Ever since they showed me some pics from their training, I’ve been waiting for the time when I could spend a day scrambling up Mt. Washington’s flanks again.
My only other experience with Mt. Washington was nearly 8 years ago, when I was about 30 pounds heavier and had basically no outdoors experience. A friend of mine had recommended the Six Husband’s Trail leading out of the Great Gulf, up to the summit of Mt. Jefferson, then over to Washington, and making a nice, 3-day loop out of it. I was not prepared for what I got into, and I suffered through the 2nd and 3rd days, and for about a week after. I vowed to stay away from Mt. Washington and AMC’s trails, which unlike the trails out here in California, tend towards more straightforward approaches, rather than switchbacks.
Times change, however, and lucky for me, I came back to Washington much more prepared to take on the mighty mountain with the “worst weather on Earth.” My original plan was to execute the entire Presidential Traverse in a day, but none of my hiking buddies seemed really enthusiastic about the idea. (I told them next summer it is going to happen!). With the traverse out of the picture, I quickly reverted to my #2 option: Huntington Ravine.
Although I would be on the East Coast for nearly two weeks, work schedules and a wedding obligation would reduce our available dates for the pilgrimage to New Hampshire to just two days. As it turned out, one of my hiking pals had a recurring injury due to his marathon schedule, and my other friend who was scheduled to come along was flying in from British Columbia on one of the two days I had available for hiking. Despite the injuries and conflict of plans, my buddy Jarrod and I planned on leaving Rhode Island early the morning of Sunday, August 24, 2008, and making a one-day ascent of Mt. Washington, followed by the long return drive back to our home state.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
We both woke at 4am on Sunday morning, piled our stuff in the car, and were off by nearly 5am. By 9:15 we entered North Conway and were on our way to Pinkham Notch. The parking lot was only partially full, which we though was pretty surprising for one of the last weekends in summer. Someone on the trail told us the day prior it had been mobbed – lucky for us.
After a quick stop by the restroom, we quickly made our way up the Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail and past the first waterfall. Our plan for the day was to take the Tuckerman’s trail to the Huntington split-off, ascend Huntington’s Ravine, summit Washington, then return via the Lion Head Summer Route, which branches off to the right rather than descend the Lion Head Ridge that the winter route does.
About 30 minutes after leaving Pinkham Notch, we headed right at the trail break-off for Huntington’s Ravine. The trail immediately closes in around you. The first river crossing was probably the trickiest. Not difficult, but just before you cross the river it looks the trail MIGHT follow the riverbed up along the left side. This is incorrect. Also, if you were to follow the trail directly across and follow it in a straight line, it also dead-ends. The correct trail actually crosses the river and bears up and to the left. It sounds much more confusing on paper, and really isn’t as confusing as I’m making it out to be.
Looking up the Huntington Ravine Trail
Before the Fan
After that first stream crossing the trail gets steeper and you pass over some smaller boulders and multiple knotty root systems. You kind of criss-cross back and forth across the river a couple of more times, until you end up at the old road, which you follow for a short way to the left, and then head right and up and out of the trees. From here is where you start to barely break through the tree line and get your first views up into the ravine.
Good view of Huntington Ravine
Coming Into the Fan
About 1.5 hours after leaving Pinkham, right around 11am, we got a pretty good view of the Fan, which we would have to make our way through to get to the funner scrambling of the day. At the bottom of the Fan you immediately start balancing and using your hands to navigate through these large, talus blocks. There are yellow blazes that mark the way, and overall it’s not real difficult to follow the route. Right near the beginning of the Fan we passed a father and son taking a look into these caves between some of the talus. They asked us to put our hands in towards the shadows. When we did, the air seemed almost air-conditioned. Probably 20 or 30 degrees cooler than the outside air, maybe more. I remember the father noting it seemed like ice was inside the cave (out of view).
When my brother went to school over in Plymouth, I remember him remarking about this place called the “Polar Caves,” which he said stayed cool through the summer. I wonder if this is a similar phenomena? Anyway, when starting out of the Fan you generally bear left at the very beginning, then swing to the far right of the talus field, all the while gaining elevation. At only one point did we venture off the path. There was a spot where it looked like the trail might bear left, but there seemed like a pretty accessible waterfall-like area right in front of us. We started heading up the waterfall-like area, only to find a large down-arrow pointing at us. At first we thought it might be a blaze marking an escape route for people socked in during a storm or fog, but we decided to backtrack a little and found a yellow blaze on the trail that led left.
Just over 2 hours from our start we finally got out of the talus field and hit our first exposed rock face. It was just about 11:35am, and at this point we noticed some clouds skirting the top of the ravine. The weather seemed to be holding up, however, and so we ventured on. This part looked a lot more daunting than it was, and I was relieved we were not ascending the waterfall to the left, which I originally thought we were going to have to scramble up.
First Scrambling Section
Jarrod scrambling to the first ledge
From here is where the real fun began. The scrambling was all very enjoyable, and you just kind of make your way from ledge to ledge, and the views keep getting better and better. It has a kind of way of making you think, “Wow, some of that was a little exposed.” Then you get a little higher and the next part gets a little steeper and more exposed and you do it all over again. If you’re comfortable on rock, you’ll have a blast on this section. Great handholds and places to put your feet for the entire route. I would definitely head the warnings about not ascending/descending if it was raining, as some parts, especially the beginning, tend to be rather slabby.
The Alpine Garden
It took us just about an hour to ascend the ravine above the Fan, and that was with ample time shooting video and taking pictures. We finally broke over the top into the Alpine Garden, or “rock pile,” and started following the cairns to the summit. You’ll see the mother of all cairns just before the trail junction. One note: On the top of the ravine, there are two signs that point to the trail you want, both indicating 0.2 miles away, but remember you want the one to your LEFT, otherwise you’re going to add distance to the last leg of your trip to the top.
Mt. Washington Summit
From here it took about another 30 minutes to reach the top. Basically just about a mile of rock-hopping, cross the road, cross the traintracks, and into the mayhem that is the Mt. Washington summit in the summer. I would say this is the one downside to hiking Washington, and that would be sharing the summit with literally hundreds of your “closest friends.” Despite there being people all over the place, you can go inside the station and snag a pretty hardy bowl of chili. So I guess it’s kind of a trade-off.
Mt. Washington Summit
Taking a Break....
After filling up my water bladder, I came back to the table where my buddy Jarrod was sitting at the table, and he had fallen asleep. After laughing for a little while, and snapping a couple of pictures, I woke him up and we were off after spending about 45 minutes up on the summit.
Descending the Lion Head Trail
For our descent route we had opted for Lion Head, as Tuckerman’s seems to get more traffic. Coming off the summit, clouds swooped in and our visibility diminished to maybe just over 100 feet.
Clouds Coming In
We followed the cairns down, over and around all the huge blocks and finally bore left on the Lion Head Trail, which skirts the top of Tuckerman’s Ravine. I was hoping to get some good views into Tuckerman’s, as I’m used to seeing it from the bottom and covered in snow. Luckily the clouds quickly abated after we went through the mini-forest that goes along the top of the ravine. Right before the Lion Head Trail starts steeply descending, there are some great spots where you can get a full, sweeping view into the ravine, so we stopped for awhile and took in the views.
Taking in Views from atop Lion Head
Back to the Car
We then hopped down the Lion Head Trail and were on our way back to Pinkham Notch. It amazed me just how fast we got down the trail, especially without rushing. Total time from the summit all the way back to the trailhead took only about 2hrs 15minutes! Seems almost impossible when you’re sitting in the parking lot looking up at the top.
I was glad to have been able to do Huntington Ravine. The weather turned out perfect, and the trail itself was just really exciting. After packing up our stuff, we headed into North Conway for some Tuckerman’s Pale Ale at the Muddy Moose, which should be mandatory for anyone hiking/climbing in the area. Although I was disappointed we had to leave so early, three 20 ouncers of Tuck’s Pale Ale, followed by a shot of Yukon Jack, sent me off in a happy mood for the nearly 6 hour drive back to Rhode Island. (Lot’s of traffic leaving NH on Sunday night, and even more traffic around Boston). Lucky for me, I could indulge a bit as my buddy Jarrod was driving. Next summer…. The Presidential Traverse in a Day!