Mount Washington is known as one of the most dangerous mountains in the world. It’s certainly one of the deadliest in North America. When I began planning my trip to The Whites this past September, a friend recommended the Ammonoosuc Ravine trail. As I researched it, I quickly became aware of how close it was to Mount Washington. I said to myself, “Self, how cool would it be to summit Mount Washington while I’m there?” So, as nearly an afterthought, I tacked ‘summit Mt. Washington’ to my To Do list for that weekend.
What I failed to realize, because I was more focused on another hike I really wanted to do, Franconia Ridge, is that Summiting Mount Washington is simply not something you ‘do on a weekend.’ Of course, you physically CAN summit the mountain because of the variety of ways to reach the top, but it is that very ease of access that aides in this particular mountains death toll.
The region known as the White Mountains, so named because they sparkled like diamonds when first seen by European explorers, sits right at the epicenter of several major storm tracks carried west to east by the jet stream, and storm systems moving up the Atlantic coast. The long and short is, 137 people have died on Mount Washington as a result of ill planned summit attempts.
This is all something I learned the hard way as I looked out across the White Mountains State Park from a 4,700ft high waterfall. By the time I had reached this elevation, the weather had changed from a pleasant 70°F and clear skies, to about 20°F with storm clouds blanketing the summit. I was nearly a mile away from the summit when swaths of people began coming down the mountainside. I continued on for a while, but as more and more people passed me going down, not one had said they made it to the summit, and even more said that it was way too windy to keep going. So I made the call to turn around and follow them all down.
I found out later that night that at the time I had turned around, the summit conditions were 24°F with 55-75mph winds, and gusts of up to 95mph. Needless to say, I was glad I turned around.
The next day, determined to summit Washington, I looked in to driving up the mountain. One of the great things about Mt. Washington is the Auto Road. If you are brave enough, you can drive up a narrow road with no guardrails all the way to the summit. Or, you can pay a bit of cash and take a tour up. Since I was way too sore to try climbing Mt. Washington for a second time, I figured this was my best bet to reach the top. After a rather terrifying bus ride to the top, I was in complete awe of the surroundings. The wind was still blowing around 40-50mph, and the temp was nearly 20°F, and the view was maybe 100ft. But it was incredible. I honestly don’t know if it would have been any more amazing to be there with clear blue skies and 130miles of visibility. Just have a look for yourself in this short film recapping the trip.