5e and I shuffle past the sightseers at the Mount Washington Cog Railway Base Station. We fumble with our packs and trekking poles and make our way towards the Jewell Trail. First we have to cross the cog rail tracks and it was confusing because there were trains moving up and down the mountain so I asked a conductor nearby if if was okay to cross and he waved us on. Our first few steps onto the trail felt like being shot out of a cannon. Immediately after crossing the tracks we climb down a very steep ladder-like-staircase into a swollen creek teetering on some tiny stepping stones while the cog is blowing its horn. It was totally overwhelming. Within minutes we find ourselves at another fast flowing brook with a small log appearing to be the only way across. I was ready to turn back and hike something else. It was 9am and I really was not sure I could get across this water crossing. When I first stepped onto the small log my legs were shaking and my heart was racing and I had to step back off and like breathe and try to center myself before trying again. 15 minutes later we both made it across and with our adrenaline pumping we cruised up the trail humbled and reminded who’s boss when climbing the biggest mountain in the the northeast. We found our rhythm and before we knew it we were popping out of the trees and climbing along an exposed ridge towards the presidential range.
That tiny building in the middle is the Cog Base Station where we started our hike.The views could not be clearer and there was barely a breeze up top. We scrambled our way up the lichen covered alpine rocks carefully studying the cairns trying to stay on the trail as we made our way higher into the alpine zone. From this side of Mount Washington there is a loop that leaves from the Cog Base Station and goes up and around the Ammonoosuc Ravine. Typically hikers ascend on the Ammonoosuc Trail which is made up of long steep rock slabs that weave up various waterfalls and then descend on the Jewell Trail which is more gradual. We decided to switch it up so that we could leave open the possibility of bagging nearby Mount Monroe, also on the NH48 list which 5e is also working on. Mount Monroe is just .3 of a mile from the Lakes Of The Clouds Hut which sits perched along the ridge at the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the Ammonoosuc Trail about 1.5 miles down from the summit of Washington. We figured we would summit Washington and then hike down to the hut and see what time it was and how we felt and then decide about Mount Monroe.As we climbed towards the actual summit of Mount Washignton we discovered a long line of maybe 15-20 mostly cog and auto road enthusiasts waiting for summit pics. We had just hiked up thousands of feet for 4 hours and were not prepared to wait in line for our hard earned summit pic. We were shaky and cooling down so went inside the observation deck and ate our lunch, used the bathroom, refilled water and rested for a bit. It was a complete circus all over the summit given the amazing weather and clear skies. It was both entertaining and exhausting up there and we weren’t interested in lingering too long.We headed to the summit sign line and once we got our pic, we wasted no time getting back on the trail, heading south towards Lakes of the Clouds Hut. It was maybe 2PM so we dropped our packs and practically ran up Mount Monroe and back. We returned to the hut and took another short break before heading down. It was so beautiful and perfect on the ridge that I did not want to ever head down.
But we were doing this as a day hike which meant we had another 3 hr drive once we got back down to the base so even though there was plenty of light at 3pm, we quickly started our descent down the very steep Ammonoosuc Trail. We were well aware of its steepness because a couple of hikers that we had brief conversations with along the way had asked about our route and when we said we were descending the Ammonoosuc Trail we got some of that classic unsolicited and nonconsensual warnings about it.
This happened to Bear Bait and I a LOT on the Long Trail. We were Soouthbounders (Sobo). Northbound (Nobo) hikers were constantly “warning” us about upcoming scary ladders and hard scrambles. It totally stressed us out and then our experience was often really different than what other hikers would tell us it would be..mainly because we were hiking up things that they had hiked down and vice versa. We learned not to listen to this unsolicited advice. When NoBo hikers offered us a plate of fear we just looked at eachother as if to say “don’t even listen to this” We named this phenomenon a “Nobo-A-No-No” We learned to shake it off. But still it would be there in the back of my mind and the night before we had to climb up the chin of Mount Mansfield, neither of us slept a wink due to the many scary stories shared with us by NoBo hikers the previous day. It ended up being fine. It was descending the forehead that had us trembling and no NoBo mentioned that!
While the Ammonoosuc Trail was steep, it was fine. It was great actually and I’d descend it again. Sure we had to go slow and there was some butt sliding and swearing and squeaky knees but that is all just part of the fun of hiking as far as I am concerned.
We were back down at the cog base station by 7 pm and we were stoked. Perfect day.