Mt. Washington "Expedition"

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 44.77060°N / 71.3033°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jul 15, 1998
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Summer

Mt. Washington Adventure

As my wife, Suzanne, went off to the Longaberger Basket Bee (an annual event for her, every summer during our marriage), my children, Emily (12) and Derek (5) joined me for a three-day "expedition" to climb Mt. Washington. Dustin (9), had flown to spend a week with his grandparents in Santa Monica, CA. Emily was to be the expedition photographer (she carried the camera) and Derek our expedition doctor (he carried the box of bandaids). 

We drove in the rain to Pinkham Notch, NH, east of the summit. When we arrived it had stopped raining and we started our hike to Hermit Lake up through the foggy and dripping forest. As I slipped on a wet stone and cut my hand in catching my fall, Derek dutifully applied a bandaid to my wound, fulfilling his important role in our adventure. It had started to rain by the time we arrived and we pitched our 2-man tent on the available wooden platform. Derek had become unhappy in the wet, but the coziness of the small tent, with wall to wall soft cotton sleeping bags brought excitement and eager anticipation of a cooked dinner. 

The next morning was cold but clear as we packed up and headed for the steep trail up Tuckerman's Ravine. Derek became uneasy from the exposure along the rude trail up the broken granite headwall. Giving Derek the job of "route finder," helped tremendously. Without any difficulty he enthusiastically located and pointed out each successive large cairn marking the trail to the top of the plateau above the ravine. Arriving at the plateau presented more difficulty: rising out of the ravine we faced a cold strong wind coming from the West. I wrapped Derek in all the cloths we had brought for him, including a rain suit with a hood and we continued scrambling over the broken granite rocks that defined the plateau. By the time we reached the AMC Lakes of the Clouds Hut Derek was pretty unhappy and ready for the warm refuge. From the hut we could see the summit weather station, 1400 feet above, but below the overcast skies. Emily and I cooked our dinner outside on the lee side of the hut. We were fascinated by the supply helicopter that hovered in the strong wind blowing up the western slope while it lowered supplies and a WW-II era PT-17 Stearman biplane flying in the strong lift along the slope to the north below the summit. All the bunks in the hut were already taken by hikers that had arrived earlier but the caretakers offered a cozy place in the bunk room for Derek. Unfortunately Derek was too uneasy being away from family, so we brought him back to sleep in the dining room with us.

The next morning Derek said that he wanted to go back: across the plateau, down the steep headwall, and down the long trail. The summit was no longer visible, now lost in the clouds that had descended. I told Derek that if we continued to the summit we could take the shuttle bus that would bring us back to the car. That is what Derek decided that he would prefer. It was blowing hard and in the 40's by the time we arrived at the summit, but Derek was happy. Neither I nor Emily had long pants, but the climb to the summit had kept us warm. I had given Emily my extra pair of wool socks to wear as mittens. Another hiker offered to snap our summit photo for us, making a picture I have treasured ever since. I told Derek to grab on to the sign so he wouldn't be blown away.

I hadn't expected that the conditions would be so extreme during the summer and felt worried that I had pushed Derek too hard for his age, but it is a fond memory that I treasure, having turned out alright. As a child Derek had always been a joy for his enthusiasm. Emily was a trooper too: uncomplaining despite our being somewhat unprepared for the cold and wind.


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