My family hiked to the summit of Mount Washington in late-August and learned some interesting things about the place dubbed “the worst weather in the world” and the highest peak in the Northeast.
• 1. Hiking up the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail — which features beautiful waterfalls — to the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Lakes of the Clouds Hut was hard but didn’t take as long as we thought it would. And despite two different friends telling us the Crawford Path (part of the Appalachian Trail) to the summit would be harder, the rock-hopping trail was not the same kind of challenge.
• 2. Clouds can be your best friend. We hiked from the AMC hut (aptly named) with nary a view of the summit observatory, then boom! There it was before anyone in our hiking party asked, “Are we there yet?”
• 3. When weather experts (and experienced hikers) say the weather changes quickly on Mount Washington, they aren’t exaggerating. We hiked in gray clouds all the way to the summit. Then a strong gust of wind blew by, and in an instant we had an amazing summit viewing experience.
• 4. Prepare to wait in line for at least 10 minutes before you can snap a photo of yourself with the Mount Washington summit sign thanks to all the visitors who drove or took the train to the summit. The upside is that there are plenty of people you can ask to take a group photo of your hiking party.
• 5. The summit has a cafeteria that feels like a mall food court. This, of course, means that the 15 year old will take your last $3 to buy a slice of pizza simply because it’s there.
• 6. There are individual plastic utensil dispensers at the summit cafeteria. The use of this contraption has now been marked on our list of “firsts,” right next to the notation about hiking a 6,288-foot mountain.
• 7. Bring a few quarters in your backpack for when your kid sees the binocular viewer at the summit and begs you for a quarter to make it work. Then expect she will be disappointed when you don’t have that quarter because she already spent all your money (see #5).
• 8. Actually, you will want to bring a bunch of cash with you when you hike in the White Mountains. My kids have been collecting AMC high hut patches all summer, and that means I need $9 for two patches (it’s more if you’re not an AMC member) at each hut. Then there are the occasional baked goods at the huts you’ll want to try that have a suggested donation (the warm chocolate chip cookies at Lakes of the Clouds were good, but the warm cinnamon buns we had the week before at the Mizpah Spring Hut were even better.) Then you’ll need $10 more because the kids will want the “I climbed Mount Washington” patch in the gift shop at that summit, too.
• 9. It’s handy to be able to wash the dirt off your hands with soap and running water before you have a celebratory snack (a mini chocolate cake jammed into a backpack that didn’t fare quite as well as your hiking friend hoped) at the summit cafeteria. The bathrooms are really quite nice for washing hands after eating a messy chocolate cake, too.
• 10. Be ready to consider the wisdom of the flip-flop wearing tourists shivering and complaining about the cold at the summit. You’ll wonder (while you are wearing your jacket and gloves) why they didn’t check the Mount Washington weather report, since the mountain has that observatory thingy for a reason.
• 11. You can’t enter the Tip Top House, a historic hotel at the summit, if you are wearing a backpack. Yes, give yourself a moment to ponder this before you come to the realization this summit is a unique experience for hikers.
• 12. Your cellphone will have an all-bars connection at the summit. You’ll be so surprised, you are likely to make the mistake of checking your work email and getting distracted for a few minutes before getting back into your this-is-a-day-off-and-I’m-hiking mode.
• 13. Taking the Gulfside Trail (part of the Appalachian Trail) down the mountain offers some of the best views of the west side of the mountain. It’s a much more enjoyable mountain viewing experience for hikers than the summit.
• 14. You have to walk over the cog railway tracks when taking the Gulfside Trail. This will temp you to want to simply walk down the tracks instead of the rocky, almost 4-mile trail back to the trailhead. But note: this is not a legal option.
• 15. When a couple friends tell you that the Jewel Trail feels “really long,” believe them. That said, it was definitely an easier way to descend than returning via the Ammonosuc Ravine Trail, a rocky trail with tricky footing that is often wet and slippery. It is more challenging to climb down that trail it is to climb up.
• 16. When hiking friends tell you it’s possible to hike Mount Washington in a single day and enjoy it — quirks and all — take it to the bank. They’re absolutely right.
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