Mt. Washington Part III - The Summit

In the beginning Mount Washington was an afterthought. The original plan was Franconia Ridge, an eight mile hike along the spine of three mountain peaks. But after being forced down Mt. Washington on day one, we were determined to somehow reach the summit.

We were way too sore from the first attempt to try climbing back up again, so we weighed our options for day two. The option of Franconia Ridge was still there, we could forget about Washington and do another full day of hiking, or we could try a smaller hike, and see about driving to the top of Washington. 

There are three ways to get the Mt. Washington’s summit. You can hike various routes, you can take the Cog Railway which goes straight up the mountain, or you can drive the long and fairly dangerous Auto Road to the top.

The Cog preparing for its journey back into Oblivion. Once we saw it we were very glad we did not take this method to the Summit.

The Cog preparing for its journey back into Oblivion. Once we saw it we were very glad we did not take this method to the Summit.

The weather was not really any better on Sunday than it had turned Saturday evening. The clouds still rolled through the sky, and the wind at the summit was holding around 50-70mph with the temperature dropping to the mid 20’s. After chatting with Nick at breakfast, we decided to do a small hike before looking into Washington’s summit.

There were several options we could do. Nick mentioned that Arethusa Falls was a short relatively easy hike and after weighing a few other options with other things we wanted to do, like visit North Conway and drive up Washington, we decided it was a good choice. 

When we were finished with Arethusa Falls, we visited North Conway for a brief moment then head out to the Mt. Washington Auto Road. When we went to visit Acadia over the summer, we wound up driving up to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point in the park. So we felt Driving up Washington, only a thousand more feet, would be an easy enough task.

As we approached the Auto Road a sign was posted at it's entrance. To summarize, it stated that if you had any sort of discomfort from heights, the drive would be extremely unpleasant. It also noted that guided tours up to the summit were offered. It didn't take long for us to decide that a tour to the top might be the best option.

Along the way up the tour guide discussed the history of the road and the mountain, as mentioned the fact that Travis Pastrana had set a world record driving up to the summit in a Subaru WRX.

If you watched the above video, you can understand pretty quickly why we chose to take the tour.  Once we did reach the summit, however, it was quite impressive, regardless of the fact there was maybe only 100ft of visibility. The wind was whipping around at about 50mph, temperature was about 24F, and the water droplets forming from the clouds froze to our faces instantly.

One of the most interesting things at the summit is that the original weather observation station is held down by massive chains drilled into the summit. The chains wrap from one side of the structure, over its roof to the other side. Watching them sway in the wind was quite impressive (as you can see in the film below).

The Ammonoosuc Ravine trail, as we would later realize, may be one of the most direct routes to the summit, but it is also one of the most difficult. The Falcon Guide book I purchased calls it, “Moderate, but shading toward difficult.” As you reach the point some 4500ft up where you are actually crawling hand and knees over wet rocks with a steep and sudden drop just feet away… I’d say “shading on difficult,’ is a bit of an understatement. I’d like to go back someday and try one of the other trails to the summit.

No matter your method of reaching Mt Washington's summit, you will certainly enjoy the experience. You can see some of the trails and views from the trip in the film below.