2/46 Mt. Monroe
3/45 Mt. Washington
Date(s) Hiked: August 22, 2004
Elevation(s): 5,384′ and 6,288′
Trail(s) Taken: Edmunds Path to Crawford Path and back the same way.
Weather: Sunny all day with only a few clouds
Total Miles: 13.0
Total Time: 11 hours and 20 minutes.
Mt. Franklin, Mt. Monroe, the Lake of the Clouds Hut and Mt. Washington.
Just before getting rained out during my hike to Mt. Eisenhower, I got to see some amazing views of the world above the treeline and I was hooked. Mt. Washington was looming in the distance like some unattainable jewel of the White Mountains. I needed to go back and hike Mt. Monroe and that was actually my goal for the day as I knew I would also be hiking Mt. Franklin to get there.
The hike up the Edmunds Path was pretty uneventful and fairly easy – as intended by the person who forged it many years ago – and the images and description of the trail all the way up to the junction of the Crawford Path are the same as my Eisenhower hike.
Getting to Mt. Franklin and Mt. Monroe was not hard, but the rocky footing was still new to me as this was only my second 4,000 footer. I have hiked on the rocky white dot trail of Mt. Monadnock as well as the granite slabs of Mt. Major and Mt. Chocorua. This is a bit different, and tucked in the back of my mind was always the thought, “what happens if I twist an ankle way up here?”. Of course, I did not, and enjoyed this hike and the perfect weather. The cairns are easy to follow and the grades are fairly easy to moderate. Mt. Franklin is 5,003′ so it is no slouch as far as the 4,000 footers go. It also does not count. To qualify for the official 4,000-footer list, a peak must rise 200 feet above any ridge connecting it to a higher neighbor, and Mt. Franklin does not. But it still counts as a mountain that I hiked. They do not all have to be official 4,000 footers. A quick picture or two at the summit and off to the short journey to Mt. Monroe.
Once reaching Mt. Monroe and looking down at the Lakes of the Clouds hut, I knew I had to go down there and check it out. I never spend much time dilly-dallying at the huts because I hike slowly and unless I need a rest break, stopping at the huts for anything longer than a few minutes for pictures is a waste of precious time. Besides, the area around the Lakes of the Clouds hut has a lot of unusual and interesting things to see. There are instruments checking rainfall, air quality, etc. and there are gadgets to look at.
Then I saw the sign that changed everything. It simply read “Crawford Path” and had the words “Mt. Washington 1.4” with an arrow pointing to the left, and “Crawford Notch 6.8” with an arrow pointing to the right.
Looking up at Mt. Washington and checking my watch, knowing that I made pretty good time getting to where I was, I decided to go for it. It was a gorgeous August day and there was hardly any wind. Days like this are rare in this area and the odds of getting another one this perfect were pretty slim, so I made the decision to continue forward and hike the tallest mountain in New England.
The hike to the Mt. Washington summit from the Lakes of the Clouds hut is not difficult in terms of being overly strenuous, but the serpentine trail does make getting there a bit longer than it may need to be as it zig-zags back and forth to make the ascent more tolerable. The views of the southern presidentials are breath-taking and well worth the effort of the hike alone. The adage “it’s not the destination, but the journey” certainly applies here.
Once you reach the summit of Washington, the tangle of buildings and equipment is sort of a letdown. The fact that it was also very crowded the day I hiked was not pleasant either. For hours, I hiked alone, enjoying the tranquility and relishing the accomplishment that I am hiking the tallest mountain in the northeast. You arrive at the summit sweaty, tired and with a feeling of triumph – only to find that the summit is packed with out-of-shape tourists who drove up the auto road in the comfort of their air-conditioned vehicles to visit the gift shops and buy a clichéd bumper sticker stating that “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington”. These people go home with the same images of Mt. Washington’s summit in their camera that you have, but they have not earned them. No physical expenditure was needed for the auto road and the only requirement is that they have enough money for admission ($29 plus $9 each passenger) and a vehicle that is capable of not breaking down for 7.6 miles in either direction. If their car cannot make it up the steep, winding grades – or if they just like the novelty of paying they can pay to take the cog railway for $69 per person.
Once at the summit, most pictures taken from Mt. Washington lack the peace, solitude and beauty that is sought after by many hikers and instead will include buildings, weather equipment, parking lots or tourists. Mt. Washington is a necessary hike, and one that I will do again, but for different reasons.