I've always wanted to hike the Huntington Ravine trail, which is always referred to as the hardest hiking trail in the White Mountains. In addition, the Alpine Garden trail was in bloom, a once a year occurrence that I'd also never experienced in my many years of hiking here. Brenda was in the same boat, and we were excited by the prospect of knocking off two trails from our list of things-to-do. The previous day we drove up to Tripoli Road and hiked up Osceola with some friends from Boston. We figured that we would be a good warm up without exhausting us for the next day's much bigger hike. We grabbed a room in a Swiss alpine-style hotel in Intervale, springing for a hot tub room, which was kind of a waste since it was so hot out. A fine dinner at the Red Parka (excellent Prime Rib) and we got a good night's sleep.
We woke up early and headed to Pinkham Notch to grab some breakfast before heading out. We got on the trail pretty early, which was a good thing. It was hot and humid, and we were carrying 3 liters of water each. The bottom of the hike is up the Tuckerman Ravine trail, which was still closed up the headwall, and we met a group of Boy Scouts who were headed over Washington and Clay, then down the Sphinx trail to camp. It like they were in for a long day, especially at the speed they were going. Then we branched off on the Huntington Ravine trail. It was nice getting off the tractor road, and there's more shade and cool water here, plus some tantalizing views of the ravines above. After a while, we came out on the Huntington fire road, and dropped down to check out the Harvard Cabin, now closed for the season. Back up to the Huntington Ravine trail as we got closer and closer to the headwall. Along the way we passed the Albert Dow Memorial safety cache, which had been knocked off it's stand and pushed 100 yards down ravine by an avalanche that winter. It's pretty amazing thinking about the force needed to do that. But we could now see where we were going.
Gradually, we worked our way up to the Fan, the large sloping talus slope of rock that has fallen down from the ravine headwall. On our way up, over, and through the rocks we found some patches of snow still holding on in the nooks and crannies. I took some snow and put it in my hat to help cool me off. It was hot in the solar oven of the ravine, and we were going through water at a pretty good pace. You can see up into the gullies of Huntington, where in winter the ice climbers play. It was hard to imagine the snow, being so hot as it was, but the streams ran cold and I drank some. Very refreshing. Above us we could see and hear some other hikers, who'd made it up and over the difficult sections of the headwall, so we could make out where the route went. It looked rather steep, but we were confident that we'd make it.
We stopped there for rest, food, and water. Above us was the fun part of the hike, steep slabs of rock with some cracks and handholds. The first move is definitely the crux move, because you do get 20 or so feet up before you get your feet back underneath you. It was exhilarating but we made it up without too much gnashing of teeth. There are several more sections of scrambling after that but nothing as bad as that first one. The trail climbs very quickly, so the views across to Tuckerman and base of the ravine are below you for the entire trip. Eventually the terrain started leveling off and we came out to the intersection with the Alpine Garden trail. We'd made it up Huntington!
We met a group of folks who'd hiked over from Lakes of the Clouds and they reported that the flowers on Alpine Garden weren't as spectacular as they had hoped for. But hey, we were there and we definitely were going to see for ourselves. We paused at the trail junction, taking some photos and just relishing in the fact that we'd made it up. From here there was a possibility that we'd just cross the Alpine Garden then descend, but I doubted we'd go for that. Once on the Alpine Garden trail it was a big difference, a nearly flat trail after the steep climbing in Huntington. The flowers were indeed in bloom, but not quite as spectacular as we had hoped, funny that. But the hike across is wonderful (movie), a floating on air sort of feeling. There were of course lots more people once up top, including folks who'd driven the summit and were taking a loop around. We reached the junction with the Lion Head trail and ate our lunch. It was around 1:00 and we knew we still had a bit of work to do.
Once above Tuckerman Ravine, the trail is all rocks, but the view is worth it. There were lots of people climbing, so we had to occasionally wait in line for difficult sections, but we were already in fast hiking mode so the summit got closer and closer. We passed the Boy Scouts that we'd seen way down low, still chugging along but not moving too fast. I wonder where they ended up that night, and when they got in? Soon we could hear the cars and the train, plus the buzz from people up top. We crested to the road and parking lot, climbed the steps and wandered onto the summit itself, then spent some time on viewing platform. The view towards the Northern Presidentials was spectacular as expected. We went into the Sherm Adams building to use the bathrooms and get some Gatorade. After some well deserved rest, I wandered out to where the Cog RR comes up and took some photos and video of the trains reaching the summit. Although I really don't enjoy hearing or smelling the Cog, the engineer in me is still amazed. We spent about an hour up there, filled up our water bottles, took a little Ibuprofin, and headed back down the Lion Head trail.
The trip down, as usual, was less exciting than the trip up. We were taking our time up top, no need to twist an ankle on the rough rocks near the summit. Eventually we made to past the closed Tuckerman Ravine trail, over the short scrambles, and back to the easier terrain above Lion Head. Tuckerman Ravine still had a big patch of snow, where someone had been killed skiing just a few weeks earlier. The rocks below Lion Head itself were begining to make our legs ache, and we finally re-entered the trees after 5 hours above treeline. The section of Lion Head from treeline to Hermit Lake, with its ladders and scrambles, is draining. Finally, we hit the shelters and the Tuckerman Ravine trail and just put it on cruise control. The trail seems to go on forever, just like hiking out the Wilderness Trail at the end of a long day. We made it out to Pinkham around 6:00, nearly nine full hours for the hike. We took advantage of the showers in Porky Gultch, which made the drive home much more enjoyable.
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