Saturday, November 1, 2014

Huntington Ravine (and Washington too!) - October 12, 2014

Route: Tuckerman Ravine Trail, Huntington Ravine Trail, Nelson Crag Trail, Crawford Path, Southside, Alpine Garden Trail, Lions Head Trail
Peaks: Mount Washington (6288', NH4K)
Mileage: 9.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 4450ft
Book Time: ~7 hours (actual 9hr 45min)

Caution: The Huntington Ravine Trail has a reputation for being the toughest "hiking trail" in the White Mountains. It is excessively steep above The Fan, with many tricky scrambles, some with a reasonable amount of exposure (drop-offs to the side, etc). Do not attempt this trail unless you are comfortable scrambling and using all hands and feet to climb as this is more a climb than a hike in many places. I would highly advise against bringing a dog on this trail, though there are known cases where dogs have ascended this trail. Once above The Fan, there isn't a good option for descent (and thus don't ever plan to descend the headwall!).

A month or so before this hike Theresa informed me that she was nearing her Trailwright's 72 finish, and that the plan was for the final peak to be on Mount Washington over Columbus Day Weekend. Talk then turned to a discussion about possible routes, and I tossed out the idea of ascending via Huntington Ravine, which was supposed to be by far the toughest "hiking trail" in the White Mountains. For years I had sworn off of this trail, but for about a year I'd been thinking about tackling it, and Theresa was immediately game to do it! As the day neared, the weather looked good, and we were also joined by two other Northeast Peakbaggers as Theresa posted this hike on that Meetup group (we both lead for this group). Tom was someone we'd both hiked with once or twice before, while Erin was new to the group but gung-ho to give this a shot (I'm not sure she entirely knew what she was in for though, but she made it just fine!). Thankfully the cold weather hadn't fallen low enough in elevation for ice to be a concern in the ravine (which would have ended thoughts of this route), and so off we went early on Sunday morning, under mostly cloudy (for the moment) skies.

Nice color in the sky in the morning at the trailhead

Crystal Cascade

We made the requisite stop at Crystal Cascade on the way up, which is an awesome waterfall just off the Tuckerman Ravine Trail about 0.3 miles up from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. After that, it was a steady climb up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail (road) until the Huntington Ravine Trail junction arrived. The first portion of the Huntington Ravine Trail is fairly normal trail-wise, with rocks, roots, and steady but not all that steep grades. It crosses a fire road at a couple points, and at one of them the exit off the road wasn't all that clear, but both get to the same point eventually. After it passes the first aid cache dedicated to the memory of Albert Dow, who died while helping in a Search and Rescue effort looking for a pair of missing climbers, the trail soon emerges near the foot of the headwall.

Here we go!

First Aid Cache near the base of Huntington Ravine

The headwall looms. The large boulder field in the center is known as The Fan.
The first major obstacle is the climb up The Fan, which is a huge boulder field at the base of the headwall. The marked route took us up, over, and around various boulders, fairly quickly gaining elevation at the same time. Early on in this section the clouds started to break up and the sun came out as forecast, so we were in for a great day! This section was tricky in a few spots, but nothing we hadn't experienced before, though it did last for a good while. But this was only the beginning, the fun was yet to come! At the top of The Fan is a good resting spot at the base of the first ledge scramble that signifies the beginning of the headwall assault.

Approaching The Fan

Huntington Ravine headwall

Climbing The Fan

Looking back as we climb The Fan

A fellow trekker looks ahead. Perhaps rethinking the decision to climb this?

We are headed roughly for the notch in the center.

The Pinnacle

This first ledge scramble is often said to be the toughest, and it certainly was tough but there were plenty of tricky spots yet to come. Once past that first scramble there really isn't any turning back, as getting down any of these scrambles would be quite dangerous. Tom had climbed this trail earlier in the summer and his knowledge of a few spots came in very handy as he scouted ahead for the easiest routes for the rest of us. Teamwork was frequently used, giving each other a hand here, a boost there, and slowly but surely we climbed our way up the trail. Some of the scrambles had pretty decent drop-offs on one side, while others were mini-chimneys. While usually there were sufficient hand-and-foot holds (granted some were quite small), there was the occasional spot where there was one missing that would have made it much easier, but we all found ways up. Pictures were only taken from a few spots on the way up the headwall, as we were all rather busy trying to ensure safe footing, but the views were stunning for sure.

The first scramble above The Fan. Note the painted white arrows. You head up to above the crag about 2/3 up this picture.

Looking back from partway up the headwall.

Nearing the top of the Headwall. Note The Fan in the right side of this picture.


A mini-chimney of sorts high on the Huntington Ravine headwall.
Once finally getting over the last scrambles and over the lip of the headwall, the hike immediately transitioned right back to a "normal" trek on Mount Washington. We were now well above treeline, and follow-the-cairns is the name of the game. First we had a small climb up to the Nelson Crag Trail, which we then took over Ball Crag and on to the rather busy summit. While I've seen it busier on this mountain, it was still quite busy due to the cog railroad and auto road bringing hundreds of people up. There was a fairly lengthy line of tourists that we would have to wait in to get our picture taken at the summit sign, and none of us really felt like waiting in this line, so we headed inside to get a bite and relax for a bit. We managed to find refuge in the hiker pack room downstairs, away from most of the hustle and bustle upstairs. Discussion turned to the exact route we would take down, as that hadn't been fully decided upon. Ultimately we opted to take the Crawford Path down a short ways to the Southside Trail, and then after a quick jaunt on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, we picked up the Alpine Garden Trail over to the Lion's Head Trail, which we took down to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail and back to the waiting cars. Yes, a few of these bits were redlines for me ;)

Huntington Ravine/Nelson Crag Trail junction

Nelson Crag

A tad wintry up here ;)

The top is in sight - from Ball Crag

Looks busy!

Cog heading down into a bit of an undercast to the West.

Another train heading down.

A line to get a picture at the summit. No thanks.
The Northern Presidentials from the Mount Washington Observation deck.

The Southern Presidentials

Two sides of Mount Monroe.

A conga line heading up the Tuckerman Ravine trail to Mount Washington. See them?

How about now?

Mount Washington from near Lion's Head

Wildcat/Carter range from Lion's Head
All of these trails above treeline were great, with relatively easy footing, up until the steep descent off of Lion's Head. As I recalled, the descent between treeline and the Tuckerman Ravine Trail on this trail was quite steep, with several scrambles, though they were naturally pretty minor compared with what we'd done earlier in the day. We ran into a lot of people along this stretch and on the final push out to the cars, but it was a nice hike out. This was an awesome climb with some great people, and a huge congratulations to Theresa for completing the Trailwrights 72! Also, a big congratulations to Erin for her first summit of Mount Washington, and via the hardest route no less!

One of the scrambles on the Lion's Head Trail

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