In my new, late summer mindset of go hiking whenever the weather is nice, I decided to head north on Thursday night and get an early start on a what promised to be a fine weekend of hiking. On Saturday, I was going to accompany my friend Eric on his final 4000'er, South Carter, so for a warm up I chose Washington, via Tuckerman Ravine. Somehow, I had managed to avoid hiking on this trail until now. I woke up at 6:00, grabbed a slightly leaden meal at the Gorham McD's, hit the ATM, then off to Pinkham. After changing into my boots and filling my waterbottle I hit the trail at 7:05.
The great thing about starting early in the morning, besides not hiking out in the dark, is the solitude. Between Pinkham and Hermit Lake Shelters I saw only 4 other people headed up and 3 coming down. One group of 3 headed up were a father and his teenage son and daughter. The son was carrying a coil of climbing rope, I asked if they were going climbing in Huntington. No, they were going up Lion Head but the father was a little worried about the kids (high school and college aged) falling off the cliffs. When I assured them that there was no place on that trail where a rope would be the least bit useful the son gave his father a very exasperated look. On I went, my job was done. The hike went very quickly, probably because my most recent memory of this trail was of carrying skis. No one was at HoJo's either, just me and the Ravine. It was amazingly quiet, not quite like it was during ski season. As I climbed up to the Bowl I got a whiff of the Cog, I guess I wasn't completely alone. At Lunch Rocks I noticed two hikers near the top of the Headwall, headed up and not a soul behind me. How often do you get Tucks all to yourself on a beautiful summer day?
The climb over the headwall was a piece of cake, it was over before I knew it. There was quite a bit of water on and off the trail but nothing to cause any problems. At the Alpine Garden junction I stopped for a Cliff bar and my first real break, it was 9:15. I hadn't crossed paths with anyone since just before Hojos, but here were two hikers coming down after spending the night at Lakes of the Clouds. Between me and the summit I could see a few more hikers, mainly coming down. I headed up, hopping over rocks, and just before the road I could see the car and train people out for a walk. I got to the top right at 10:15, muhc earlier than I had expected. The parking lot was still pretty empty, and two trains were idling.
I'd never been inside the Tip-Top House so I took the opportunity to look around and talk with the park ranger. It was time well spent, the ranger was a great guy and we talked about all sorts of stuff for half an hour. I touched the summit sign, wandered to the Obs deck for the view, then ate half my sandwich on the picnic table. It was still shorts and t-shirt weather but the wind was picking up. Most of the car and train folks were bundled up against the wind. I'd had my fill of the summit and headed out at 11:00, headed for Boott Spur. As I dropped over the edge by the Auto Road I saw a hoards of hikers, a veritable wave of walkers running about 2 hours behind me. At the Lawn Cut-Off I was happy to go straight and head onto the empty trail.
The walk over to Boott Spur was great, quiet and peaceful, nothing but mountains and sky ahead of me. There were a few other hikers who had come up Boott Spur, and a group headed down the Davis Path from Lakes of the Clouds. It was a pleasant day to be on the Alpine Tundra. When I got to the junction with the Boott Spur trail I climbed on the highest set of rocks and ate my second lunch. I was already on my way down, so it felt really good to just hang out on the rocks in the sun. Only a few hikers came by while I was there, most didn't notice me up there and I was happy to let them pass without bringing attention to myself. After an hour or so I finally decided to face the rest of the journey and head down. The section of trail right below Boott Spur is very rocky and rough, and my legs started to feel the workout. But below that, near the junction with the Boott Spur Cut-Off, the terrain becomes much more mellow, it's one of my favorite sections of trail. Again, I stopped and just sat on a rock for a long while enjoying life.
The rocks were taking a toll on my legs and when I caught up to a father/son pair from Boston I gratefully slowed my pace a bit and hiked with them. It was good to have some folks to talk with, I enjoyed it after all that solitude. Though they were pushing to head out I convinced them to take the short spur trail to a lookout with perhaps the best view of Tuckerman Ravine. I could stay at this place for hours, but by now I didn't have hours. After many photos we reluctantly pulled our packs on for the final time and headed down into the trees. There's one last view, a small spot that pops out of the woods where you get a great view of Huntington Ravine, and of course there's Crystal Cascades. We hit Pinkham about 4:00, a nine hour hike for me. That felt about right, some fast hiking and lots of long rests. I took a 5 quarter shower at Porky Gulch and headed out to an early dinner in Gorham. Lots of good photos on this trip, with my new camera I took over 140 meg of images.
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