Joined by Livin’ Deliberately contributors Matt Wojciak and Colleen Geaumont, along with new friend Alyssa Baldino, we set off before sunrise on Tuesday to hike the southern end of the vaunted Presidential Range in The White Mountains National Forest.
There will never be any hiking trip , or any kind of trip, that will ever cause me to be excited to be awake at 2:30 in the morning. However, I can say in all honesty that as I sit here now after 13.3 miles in the Presidential Range on the most beautiful autumn day I’ve ever seen, I’m glad I went.
As is the tradition in my hiking career, the plan for this trip was conceptualized, planned, and finalized only hours before we were to set out. Colleen and I would meet Woj and Alyssa at the Crawford Notch Highland Center at 5:30, leave my car there, drive around to the Ammonosuc Ravine Trailhead, and get going around 6:00. It took Woj and I maybe a dozen texts to iron out the details, and we were good to go.
Surprisingly, things went relatively smoothly and we set off on the ascent to the Lake of the Clouds Hut, our first landmark of the trip. Hiking up the west side of the range in the early morning, we were amazed by the winter wonderlands we encountered on the way up. Winter hits early on this sun-starved side of the mountain, resulted in the most picturesque winter scenes you can imagine, all while the temperature hung in the 40s or 50s. It was like, as Colleen put it, a storybook.
We reached the hut after almost exactly two hours of tramping below treeline, and after this point, we wouldn’t drop out of the alpine zone until we started our descent hours later. The hut was beautiful, as they all are. Nestled right next to the little Lake of the Clouds with sweeping views of northern New Hampshire, I couldn’t imagine a better place to spend a night. We all agreed it was very hut-y and moved on.
We linked up with the Crawford Path here by the hut. The Crawford Path, which forms part of the Appalachian Trail in this area, is the oldest continuously used mountain trail in America. Walking on history like that makes a hike that much more special, to me at least.
From the hut we went a little over a mile up the backside of Mount Washington, the tallest mountain in the Northeast and a rock pile responsible for around 150 deaths in the last 160 or so years. Luckily, we had perfect weather and didn’t have to worry about dying from exposure today. Woj and I have talked about a winter climb of it, so maybe we’ll get our bad luck then.
Washington’s summit is kind of surreal. Every mountain I’ve ever climbed consisted of some kind of summit marker and…. that’s it. Some have big groups of people lounging around, getting their picture taken, that sort of stuff. Some hadn’t been visited in months and it was just me and myself sitting next to a pile of rocks or an old wooden sign. None of them had a gift shop, a museum, a weather observatory, a historically preserved hotel, a train stop, AND a parking lot. So you sweat your you-know-whats off all morning, grinding out miles before the sun even comes up so you can stand on top of this huge pile of rock, and you finally get there and are greeted by… some overweight couple unloading themselves from a Chevy Malibu wearing jeans and slippers and exclaiming that they’re a little chilly up here.
It’s bizarre! You feel jealous, disgusted, amazed, all at once. Woj was the first of our group to hit the summit, and the first hiker of the day up there, and as he held the summit sign for support and sucked wind to recover from our climb, two fellas from the observatory crew said “I take it you didn’t take the road up here,” to which he replied simply “sure f*ckin’ didn’t!”
We visited the gift shop, checked out the outside of the museum, balked at the $5 admission price to the museum, refilled water, and took off back on the trail.
With the holy Mecca for people who like mountains but don’t like actually climbing them or sweating or touching trees in our rearview, we retraced our steps back down to the Lake of the Clouds Hut. From there we went up the big bump directly south of the hut named Mount Monroe. After some steep climbing, we stood at 5,372 feet and all collectively checked off yet another New Hampshire 4,000 footer, my 13th, Colleens 2nd, Alyssa’s 30somethingth, and Woj’s 40ishith.
We went down, and then back up, and over Mount Franklin, which is 5,000 feet tall and thus qualifies as a 4,000 footer. However, it doesn’t have the required +200 feet of prominence from its nearest peak, so it doesn’t make the official 48 4kers list.
From there, we walked across a beautiful flat part of the ridgeline that had the same vertical grade as a city sidewalk, except at 5,000 feet of elevation. We reached the 4,780 foot Mount Eisenhower a little before 1:30 and enjoyed its views. We agreed that we liked Ike, and started down for the approach to Mount Pierce.
Once we reached the 4,310-foot summit of Pierce, Colleen and I agreed that we were good on hiking for the day and split up with Woj and Alyssa who continued 2.5 more miles to check Mount Jackson off their list. Coll and I stayed on the Crawford Path down the mountain and were spit out of the woods right at the Highland Center parking lot. On the way down I showed Colleen one of my favorite things about the White Mountains and taught her how to get a Gray Jay to land on her hand. These birds are incredibly smart, and this one hustled us with his cuteness for about seven handfuls of peanuts. He’ll be living large this winter thanks to our pantry.
Overall, it was one for the books yesterday. We didn’t see anybody else on the trail till around noontime, but when we did the passing hiker banter only consisted of exclaiming how beautiful the day was. Temperature staying in the 50s and 60s, just a whisper of a breeze, and not a cloud in sight, Colleen proclaimed it the “best October 11th ever” and nobody disagreed. It was an epic day, a photographer’s dream, and a great time spent with good people doing good things with our day off from school.
13.3 miles, 4 4kers (Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce), 10 hours.
Special thanks to Woj for planning the trip and making me eat his dust for a dozen miles as he showed that the student has surpassed the teacher in a big way.
Here’re a few of my favorites from the 300+ photos I took yesterday. Follow me @TylerNeville207, Coll at @colleengeaumont, or Woj @nhwoj for more hiking pictures.