“Wow!!” I grinned, ear to ear, as I gazed up at the sparkling white, snow-covered summit of Mount Washington, set against the most amazingly clear bluebird sky I’ve ever seen in the White Mountains. It was hard to believe that just a few days before the winds had been blasting across the mountains at 171 mph with temperatures dipping down to -13F (-25C) since today the sun was shining, temperatures were rising into the teens, the winds were calm, and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. Not a single one!! I couldn’t have asked for better weather for me first winter overnight on Mt. Washington! (Trip report and gear list below)
New England’s 4000-footers showcase some of the most rugged trails and most spectacular views in the Northeast! So far, I’ve climbed 14/14 Maine 4000 footers, 35/48 New Hampshire 4000 footers, and 5/5 Vermont 4000 footers. As I continue hiking the peaks of the Northeast, I will post the links and pictures from my 4000 footer adventures here! If you have any questions about which mountains, trails, and hikes are my favorites, or if you have suggestions about additional information you’d like me to share, please leave a comment below!
All through the southern portion of the White Mountains I’d had decent weather and had gotten better views than I had ever had before. I knew that it was too good to last, but I enjoyed every second of it.
Even on my first backpacking trip through the Presidential Range of the White Mountains I knew that I needed to be prepared for bad weather. Mount Washington in particular is known for having the worst recorded weather in the world. I woke up on the morning I was planning to hike Mt Washington and was in the middle of a cloud, which wasn’t surprising, but definitely wasn’t what I’d hoped for. I then took a look at the forecast…
Severe. Severe definitely wasn’t the forecast that I was looking for. With the forecast and the cloud in mind I decided that hiking with a buddy and getting down off of the ridges before the afternoon thunderstorms arrived was a good plan.
As we climbed Mt Washington the visibility got worse and worse until it dropped to about 10 ft and the wind speeds increased, easily reaching 45 miles an hour. We didn’t realize that we were at the summit until we were within 10 ft of the first summit building. We battled our way through 60-65 mph winds to the observation building, excited by the idea of being somewhere warm. Other than the caretaker we were the only ones there.
We warmed up for a few minutes and studied the radar. There was definitely a massive storm coming, but it looked to be five or so hours away. Beerdra and I talked it over and decided that utilizing our buddy system we were comfortable traversing the ridge from Washington to Madison. The guy at the summit agreed that if we left soon, and together we should be all set to get to Madison. The visibility was really bad and he noted that people sometimes get lost on the ridge. He then asked us if we had whistles. When we said no, he fished some fluorescent orange ones out of his desk and gave them to us before sending us on our way.
We slowly made our way through the wind, the rain, and the fog across the ridge. Suddenly we heard a constant whirring/rumbling off to our right. Beerdra thought that maybe it was an alien spaceship coming to take us away, or perhaps machinery associated with the observatory. Suddenly train tracks materialized in the fog in front of us. The sound stayed the same, and I wondered how close the train would have to get for us to be able to see it.
I decided to wait to cross the tracks until I figured out if the train was getting closer to us, or further away. It was a good thing we waited because the train materialized out of the fog right in front of us before we had any sense of its imminent approach.
The passengers in the train waved to us as they went by. Somehow the train and its passengers didn’t quite seem real to us as we contemplated its mysterious appearance and disappearance. At least we knew what direction the train was headed now, so we could safely scramble up and over the tracks.
It was slow going across the ridge as we searched for the cairns marking the trail ahead of us in the fog, and tried to figure out the best footing on the wet slippery boulders they called trail.
Suddenly the wind driven rain started to sting more than it had been before. I looked around and noticed that the rain was bouncing off of the rocks. It dawned on me… Rain doesn’t bounce like that, hail does. I turned my back into the wind/hail and tried to fix my hood to protect my face a little bit better. I’d come to expect this kind of treatment from Mt Washington.
I explained to Beerdra that she would have felt let down if she’d come to the place with the worst weather in the world and hadn’t gotten to experience any of it. She said something in reply, but a gust of 65 mph wind buffeted us and I didn’t hear it. It’s possible that that gust of wind saved my life as we both had to fight against it to stay standing and it made it impossible for her to lunge at me *grin*.
I was kind of enjoying the gusty winds and fog. As long as I had a buddy and there was no rumbling thunder in the distance I wasn’t worried about our safety. It also helped that we were headed someplace warm and dry that served hot food.
We eventually made it to Madison hut, where we spent the night to avoid the severe thunderstorm. 29 people had reservations for the hut that night, but only 6 people braved the nasty weather and showed up.
The next morning the winds persisted, but we got marvelously warm weather and could look back and see Mt Washington in all of its glory. Despite its beastly nature, it was stunningly beautiful.
The hike over Madison was beautiful, even though it is a great big pile of schist.
The White Mountains are stunningly gorgeous when you get them on a nice day and in nice weather. I was incredibly lucky to get phenomenally good weather for the southern portion of the white mountains.
Even when the weather is beautiful, the Whites can be beastly. Up and down the trail people tell horror stories about the White Mountains… The steep, rocky trails put fear into people’s eyes.
It is definitely true that the trails are both rockier and steeper here than anywhere else we’ve been. There haven’t been very many places where we’ve had to put our hiking sticks down so that we could use our arms to help pull our bodies and packs up and over the rocks.
The rewards have been amazing though. I got clear views from Mt Mousilake, the Kinsmans, the Franconia ridge (including Mt Lafayette), and from Eisenhower.
As I was leaving Hanover, I was faced with what I’ve been calling the Goldilocks Conundrum: the first shelter was too close, but the second shelter was too far. What I really needed to find was the place that was just right, about halfway between the two. I double checked my map, hoping to find a place suitable for camping, or at least somewhere with water, but there was nothing. I repositioned my pack and used that as an excuse to let out a big sigh. I’d figure out where I was going to sleep later, for now I just needed to hit the trail and start hiking.
As I approached the first shelter I met a SoBo (southbound) thru-hiker. We did the usual exchange of information about trail conditions ahead and I asked him if he’d seen any good stealth (unofficial) campsites between the two shelters. He thought about it for a few minutes before saying that he hadn’t seen anything. We started to go our separate ways when he remembered something, a bunch of NoBos (northbounders) had mentioned that they’d spent the previous night on the Ice Cream Man’s porch.
The Ice Cream Man’s place sounded intriguing. I asked the next couple of people that I saw about the Ice Cream Man. They confirmed that it was in the perfect location and that he lets thru-hikers tent in his yard or sleep on his porch. They also said that he got his name because he has free ice cream for thru-hikers and that he loves to play croquet. Ice cream, croquet, and a place to stay! That’s definitely where I was going to head for the night.
The Ice Cream Man had a sign up on the trail that read, “His ice cream brings all the hikers to the yard/ His water tastes better than yours/ Damn right, his croquet game is better than yours/ It’s all free yeah there’s no charge.”
I ambled over to the Ice Cream Man’s house, dropped my pack, and looked around. There was a big sign on the front porch welcoming hikers, a hiker book for us to sign, a bunch of chairs for us to relax in, and a freezer full of ice cream on the back porch. I signed the book and then helped myself to some ice cream. The Ice Cream Man wasn’t home, so I relaxed on the front porch looking forward to his arrival.
Out in the yard the croquet wickets were set, and there were mallets and balls enough for 6-12 people. I felt like I’d stumbled through the rabbit hole (down the trail) and was waiting for the queen of hearts (the Ice Cream Man) to get back so that we could resume a surreal game of croquet.
Eventually the Ice Cream Man returned home (he didn’t seem anything at all like the Queen of Hearts) and invited us to a game of croquet. He was very affable as he showed us the ropes while taking us to the cleaners.
Later that evening we decided to play another game of croquet before curling up and sleeping on his porch. Since dusk was approaching, he pulled his car up onto the lawn and used its headlights to illuminate the croquet field. The Ice Cream Man, the Fool, the Voice, Indy, Jungle Gym, and I proceeded to play croquet as the sun went down. Even without a Mad Hatter or the Red Queen, the spectacle of all of the thru-hikers playing croquet seemed worthy of a scene from Alice in Wonderland.