As a fresh transplant from Vermont, I had some learning to do when I arrived at the front desk of the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. There, I was to answer questions and make recommendations about local trails. Most of my hiking experience comes from the Green Mountains back in Vermont, where my comfort and knowledge covers much of the northern half of the state. Here, in the White Mountains, my trail knowledge stemmed from only a few previous visits. To say the least, I had to overcome a steep learning curve before I felt comfortable answering trail questions at the desk. Some time later, after hundreds of recommendations for the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, a score or more for Lowe's Bald Spot, and myriad others for the many trails on and around Mt. Washington, one trail managed to garner only two mentions in the few weeks since I arrived.
|Pinnacle Gully (left of center), Central Gully (right of center),|
and the Fan underneath
The White Mountain Guide forewarns the reader that the Huntington Ravine Trail is the "hardest regular hiking trail in the White Mountains." The hype I heard about the trail didn't fall short of this: descriptions ranged from "the most epic" to "super exposed," always mentioning the steep pitch. As someone with many hours in hiking boots, I usually ignore public opinion in favor of forming my own. As someone who also has an explorer's ilk, a trip up Huntington's was inevitable.
After breakfast, I started up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which starts just out back from the Pinkham Notch Visitors Center/Joe Dodge Lodge. After cruising the 1.2 miles up to the junction, I turned right on the Huntington Ravine Trail. Following the rocky, uneven single-track trail ubiquitous in the Whites, I slowed my pace, settling in for the uphill slog. Soon after crossing the Cutler River, the trail crosses the brook flowing from Huntington Ravine and follows its northern bank. After some glimpses of the upper ravine among the tree-tops, the trail emerged onto the Huntington Ravine fire road.
|The Huntington Fire Road, with view|
Suited for winter use, the road accesses both the Harvard Cabin (winter-use only) and the base of Huntington Ravine proper, providing quick access for both climbers and emergencies. From this point, the trail weaves around the road up to the first-aid cache, situated at the bottom of the boulder field.
Long grown-in, the base of Huntington Ravine is a mire of truck-sized boulders and stunted birch trees. Weaving among these, the trail requires high-stepping, chasm-jumping, and awkward moves reminiscent of Twister. After the last spread-eagle stance between two boulders, I moved onto The Fan, the boulder slide that "drains" rockfall from both the Central and Pinnacle Gullies on the headwall. Reminiscent of Mt. Washington's summit cone, the rocks here are much smaller than those below. Moving across the Fan, the trail snakes up the right side and affords incredible views of the ravine.
Reaching the top of the Fan, the "trail" ceases to be a defined path and becomes more of a route. Here, I left the boulders and rocks and started up a steep slab directly underneath Central Gully. Weaving up and right while following cracks in the slab, the trail continues in this fashion up the rest of the headwall,
|View from the Fan|
At one point, I could see clouds forming around me, filling the Pinnacle and Diagonal Gullies with a boiling fog. With the wind sweeping the fog and clouds directly up the headwall into my face, I felt like Han Solo making the jump to hyperspace. Eventually, the wind blew the clouds away, leaving the air clean and clear.
Greeted by a massive cairn, I reached the of the headwall top under a shining sun. From here, the terrain spills south onto the Alpine Garden like a rill of rainwater, cairns marching into the distance among the red and orange grass. What a fitting finish to one of the most spectacular trails on Mt. Washington.
If you feel adventurous, have sure feet, dry weather, and don't bat an eyelash at heights and exposure, I highly recommend the Huntington Ravine Trail.
Stay tuned to our trail reports as the trees are starting to turn! For
any general questions, conditions information, or trail advice, please
feel free to contact us here at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center front
desk. We are available by phone at (603) 466-2721 every day from 6:30 AM
to 10:00 PM or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To make reservations at AMC Lodges and Huts, please call (603)466-2727 available Monday through Saturday 9am-5pm. Be sure to check weather conditions before you come and call us here with any questions! We'll see you up here!
Backcountry Information Specialist
Labels: Foliage, hike safe, Hiking, Joe Dodge Lodge, Mount Washington, New Hampshire, Tuckerman Ravine, White Mountains