September 18, 2015.
The day has finally come for me to tackle the beast of the east, Huntington Ravine Trail. I have both excitement and trepidation about doing this hike but feel I am ready to tackle this baby. The AMC Guide states the following about this trail "This is the most difficult regular hiking trail in the White Mountains". The plan was to do this last year with the brothers but our schedules never lined up so it got put on the back burner. With the dry conditions we have been having I was all set to do it last week until Andy asked if I wanted to do Cannon. So postponing this one more time and today I am mentally prepared to go for it. Without further ado I bring to you my adventure as I hike this solo.
It's a Friday as I arrive at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center taking a few minutes to check my gear and remove as much weight from the pack as I comfortably and safely feel I can get away with. It's 7:45 when I pass by the sign and head up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. I have big plans as I always do when I come to this area. I need to redline not only Huntington Ravine Trail but also Boott Spur Link which comes down off of Boott Spur Trail to Hermit Lake Shelter. It is a short trail being only 0.6 miles long but it is in the middle of everything so a loop up and over Washington and Boott Spur then down the link to Tuckerman Ravine Trail for my return. Short mileage for the day but a lot of rock walking and elevation gain. Besides the climb up Huntington Ravine is a physical climb. Tuckerman Ravine Trail is the usual steady climb up but does not take long as I reach the junction with Huntington Ravine Trail in just forty minutes.
Huntington Ravine Trail immediately ducks into the woods and is a nice change from the wide old tractor road of Tuckerman Ravine Trail. It's a relatively flat trail until reaching the crossing for Cutler River. Now I am not one to believe in the paranormal or any of that stuff but standing at the river looking for the best path across and I swear a shadow went pass me on my right side. I looked around and there was no one there and shook it off as I crossed. On the other side the trail immediately starts climbing rather steeply. At the next crossing this time of the northern branch of Cutler River and the same exact thing happened except this time on the left.
The rest of the way is uneventful as I shrug off what I just experienced. With all the history in these woods I have heard noises/voices I couldn't explain and this goes in the same unexplainable folder. I soon reach the junction with Raymond Path and cross it noting it is "only" 2.6 miles from here to Mt Washington. A couple minutes up the trail and the first teases of the day as Lion Head comes into view and then across the way Boott Spur.
The next junction is with the Huntington Ravine Fire Road and I take a left onto it to go down to see Harvard Cabin. It is a winter use only cabin and is all closed up but ready to go as the wood is stored away in the vestibule.
At the avalanche advisory board I laugh to myself since there is a "General Advisory" for today. There is a picture also of what Huntington Ravine looks like in winter.
Undeterred by the advisory I return back to the trail and this next section is mild as I make my way up to tree line. It doesn't take long before I get my first look at the headwall. Instead of being intimidated by the ominous looking wall I can feel the excitement building. There are no thoughts of I can't do this but being the first time up here I am curious as to the path up it.
The trail sometimes coincides with the now small stream as I reach the Albert Dow Memorial First Aid Cache. He was part of a search and rescue team that went looking for two missing ice climbers back in 1982 and died in an avalanche. A more detail account of the events that transpired can be read here.
Passing another memorial to two other ice climbers who perished in a 1964 avalanche. This is where the big boulders also make their presence.
I can hear voices ahead of me but can't make out where they are. I scan the whole area trying to get some sense of where the trail is but can not find them. A video of the whole area in front of me.
Straight ahead is The Fan and I know the trail passes through that but where is an unknown and beyond that also unknown. The trail travels over and through the gigantic boulders before entering back into the scrub.
Reaching the bottom of The Fan and the trail leads across it to the other side. It is here that I finally figure out where the voices are coming from. They are not hikers but rock climbers and they are up on the face of The Pinnacle.
Across the jumbled rock field and the trail climbs up beside it on the right side. The yellow blazes make the trail finding a lot easier than I had expected.
I turn to get a pano shot looking down into the ravine from an open vantage point. The Fan is on the right and the large boulders I went through towards the center.
The trail keeps climbing up turning and twisting but I still can't tell where on the headwall it climbs up.
It cuts back to the left and then turns right heading up again. At a large slab that is chest high I reach my first difficult part. The slab has no grip or handholds and I don't have the strength to pull myself up. On the front side it looks doable but when I try that spot the slab is jutting out from where my feet are and there is no way to pull up. I end going around it following a herd path and come out just above the stubborn slab.
I turn around to get another shot down the ravine and in the boulder field below me I spy another hiker. Curiously this is the only time I see this person. Not sure if he was just visiting the floor or turned around realizing it was too much but he never came up over the headwall behind me. Finally as I get closer I can see a blaze on the headwall where the trail starts the more challenging climbing.
Reaching the small stream that comes down the crevice and on the other side is the slab that is supposed to be the hardest part of the whole trip. Once past this they say it is a bit easier.
I pause to take some pictures across Pinkham Notch and then I start in. Following the crack I scoot right up and make it to the next level (one power up please). A look back down that first pitch and then a look up to the next section which has a lot more grip.
Up the next section and thankfully the blazing does not follow this crack as it looked sketchy. Inadvertently I go to my right to avoid it and coincidentally the blaze is where I am heading.
I pause after every section just to take it all in savoring every inch of this trail. I have no feelings of intimidation, vertigo or feeling unsafe. Instead I am running on exhilaration and adrenaline as this is a fantastic climb. Perfect weather and conditions and even better I have the whole headwall to myself. The trail leads off to the right on a easy section and after passing over I look back again and my solitude is about to end. At the stream crossing before the first slab are a couple on there way up.
The trail continues up as I am having the time of my life on this trail.
I reach a large flat boulder sitting on a ledge and recognize it from so many other pictures and videos of this area. I stop and sit resting my feet upon it as I take in the view to where I have come from. Way down below past the ravine and I can see the entrance off of Route 16 to Pinkham Notch Visitor Center where I began my hike this morning.
After the next pitch and a look back at the rock I was just perched on. Ahead the climb gets steeper but again I never feel so exposed that it bothers me.
With all my stopping and taking in the moments the couple I spied down below catch up to me and I let them pass as I do not want to be rushed through this experience. The next section is the trickiest section of the whole headwall as I have read reports about this. It's a rock that juts out at chest height and you have to go around it. Problem is it is on a steep slab and lose your grip or footing and your are going down for a ways. I find a spot on top for my hand and swing around slowly testing the footing before committing. Feeling like I have the worse behind me the trail keeps up the relentless climb.
Don't worry that crack and steepness was not as bad as it looks. More fun scrambling as it gets better and better the higher I get.
Another look back and then I reach the chimney as the other two hikers just climbed it.
There is one tricky spot in the chimney that stretched my legs to the max as I planted one leg on a foothold and the other trying to push up but it was extended all the way. Between pulling and the little bit of push I could get out of my leg I made it and then to the top.
A couple minutes later and I spot my first cairn and I know this adventure is almost at the end.
Five minutes later (four and half hours after starting) and I make it to the cairn and trail junction with Alpine Garden Trail where I take a break reflecting on what I just accomplished, and some much needed food and water. I know that I will definitely be back on this trail again as it was a blast and in no way intimidating like I thought it would be. Besides, brother #1 wants to do this trail someday also.
After a half hour break and soaking in the views from my spot it is time to finish this trail as it continues up and over to the Auto Road near mile marker 7.
I had already done the very small section between Nelson Crag Trail and the Auto Road but I repeat it again just because. Across the road and there is a great pano of Jefferson, Adams and Madison.
The rest of this trip is a repeat of what I have already done as I needed to make my way all the way over to Boott Spur.
I could have gone the easy route of taking the Alpine Garden Trail over to the Lawn Cut-off then Davis Path to Boott Spur but what would be the fun in doing things the easy way? Instead I went up Nelson Crag Trail over Ball Crag to Mt Washington (hadn't been on Washington yet this year). After taking a lengthy lunch of hot dogs, chips and soda (another reason why I wanted to hit Washington) I headed down Tuckerman Ravine Trail. I marveled at how few people there were on this usually busy trail and then I remembered it was quiet at the food court also and had to remind myself that it was Friday. Hence no crowds! Making my way down to the Lawn Cut-off and then Davis Path and a short visit to Boott Spur. Starting down the Boott Spur Trail and I could hear voices behind me and saw three people heading my way. They did not come across the Cut-off as I was the only one on that trail. Not sure where they came from or where they are heading. Before taking off I look for the spot where I came up out of Huntington Ravine and finally spot the trail junction where I took my break. The arrow points to the sign and large cairn at the junction.
Down I go and slowly make way to the junction with Boott Spur Link.
At the junction I pause for a bit to enjoy the views and then as I start to head down the Link the group of three catches up to me. I say Hi and then take off hoping they are not following me as no one in their right mind should be coming down this trail unless they have to. Heck the only reason I am here is to redline this baby. So what is this trail like you ask, one steep mama is all I can say. Another reason someone should not be on this trail and just continue down Boott Spur.
I turn around after a few minutes and dang it wouldn't you know it they are following me down this trail. I am shocked and really don't get why they are heading down this mess. I slowly and quickly (yeah I know that doesn't make sense) make my way down to put some distance between myself and them. Below I can see my next destination as that spot in the middle is the caretakers shelter at Hermit Lake. The trail is relentless in it's steepness as I reach the treeline.
Even in the trees the steepness does not let up until almost at the end of the trail. Across the winter ski trail then the bridge over Cutler River and I pop out of the woods to the shelter.
As I am taking a picture of the trail sign signifying the end a voice behind me calls hello. I turn and say Hi back and turns out she is the caretaker for the night. We start talking and eventually the conversation turns to how unsafe some hikers are and the lack of common sense they possess. We share some stories and then I tell her about the three that started following me down Boott Spur Link and the last time I saw them was when I reached treeline. As more time passes I start to wonder where they are and if they finally turned back to continue down Boott Spur Trail. After a good twenty minutes from arriving at the shelter they finally come out of the woods. He gives me crap about never following me again which I kindly reply I never told him to follow me. Turns out they came up Tuckerman's to Washington and not knowing which way to come back down someone at the summit sent them down Crawford Path to Davis Path to Boott Spur. Well they missed Davis Path and ended up at Lake of the Clouds Hut (fitting example of the discussion the caretaker and I were having) and came across Camel Path to Davis Path. They saw me and decided to follow me thinking I knew what I was doing. Some people never cease to amaze me! Anywho, they eventually take off ahead of me heading down Tuckerman Ravine Trail back to PNVC. About fifteen minutes later I realize the time, 5:45, and know it is time to get down as there is just a bit over an hour of sunlight left. I beat it down the tractor road in record time catching up with my following as we joke with each other when I pass them. In fifty-five minutes I have made it back to the parking lot and this has been one of my best days in a long time. Can't wait until someone else wants to do Huntington Ravine.
Final numbers: 10 miles, 10 hours and 55 minutes.
Redline Miles: 3, Total to Date: 912.1