The Final Leg!

December 7, 2021

I hiked Mt. Washington. A lot of people have. The thought of it never came to mind, then suddenly it was there; but, it seemed hard. Then, I thought, “I CAN do this. There’s no reason why I can’t do this! It also isn’t Everest, so it may be challenging; but, it’s realistic. At least it’s free to do, and I don’t need to bring an oxygen tank!” It was just a decision I made. This was something I could achieve, and that I may enjoy doing. Extra motivating was my boyfriend (now husband), also wanted to do the hike. Having someone to do this with, supporting me, (who I could get to go on training hikes), was key. Not having anyone else with the same interests would likely have hindered me. At this point, you know the rest- the hikes we did and the hurdles they presented. But, the point is, I had a goal; and, I lined up smaller goals to help me along to my final achievement. It made me ready for the end game, the biggest hike of my life. It made me see that I would get to meet my goal because I hit all the other ones on the way there.
In the meantime, I actually had to hike the thing! I had an even loftier goal of hiking on a particulary long trail that was very scenic; but unfortunately we had left a bit late and needed to stick with the most popular trail, “Tuckerman’s Ravine.” Round- trip the hike was expected to take 8 hours or so, on average. We were staying overnight at the AMC lodge below the mountain, and we had to be back in time for dinner- so it was time to haul ass! The hike steepened quite a bit right away changing from more of a wide, packed dirt path in the woods, up into a rockier path that challenged our legs and footing. I have an issue with rolling my ankles, and the last thing I wanted was to get a sprain and need assistance back. Hiking poles were invaluable here and particularly later on the way back down! It was early August and it was hot closer to the base of the mountain. We were pouring sweat… early. We were drinking a lot of water…early. By the time we reached the top we had run out of water a while back (and I prepare well, safety first)! The terrain changed each mile up. We suddenly came up a bit further and it felt…cooler. It felt like a true Alpine ascent. There was a small pond and a fresh water station which came just in time to refill the camelback. Trees were shorter, and more needle-like, and while the path continued up, we finally felt like we were getting somwhere.

Make no mistake about it, the hike was already grueling. There are lots of people on the trail- athletic, young, old, families with little children (who were not happy hikers), and scruffy people whom I wondered if they were on the AMC trail all the way to Maine. I saw people in sneakers, expensive hiking boots, and Tevas with no socks. People with huge packs for camping, and people with not a bottle of water or a hiking stick. I can’t say who, out of all these people, made it all the way to the top (not the ones with little kids, that’s for sure). But, I can tell you, WE were determined. We were both beat; and my husband hikes like a little squirrel getting to a bird feeder. But, we were fine, despite the burn searing our quads. It was mind over matter. It was a beautiful day and we were in a beautiful place pushing our bodies in an incredible way. We were not on a slow pace. Remember, we had to be back for dinner!

The rest of the way was just… steeper. Heavier. Bigger. I think I’m average height (5’3″); but, just barely. Big boulder steps take everything out of my legs. It’s simply not efficient for me to take a step equal to half of my height (see where step-ups are valuable in training?!). So when signs read, 1 mile (or something less), “I thought, we’re almost there!” No. Wrong. This section easily took the longest. I felt like I was climbing Mordor to throw in The Ring. Luckily, the views were really opening up here. So one could, say, stop to take in the amazing view; but, really just stop to keep your legs from actively catching fire.

I had always heard how volatile the weather on Mt. Washington can be. We had a nice day, but scattered storms were predicted. As we neared the top, a fog came in. Actually, it wasn’t “fog”- we were in the clouds. Then I felt it…rain drops. There is no where to hide after you work past the pine trees. You are the tallest object on the mountain. I, again at 5’3″, was fortunate other people were taller than me on this mountain when it dawned on me that a storm may be moving in. I have zero interest in being struck by lightening (although, I watch a lot of the “weather channel” and I had a plan). I overheard a hiker nearby tell his teenage kids to stay close in case they needed to seek some cover. He advised them to keep their eyes open, scouting out rocks to crouch next to. While I too was employing this method, it heightened my nerves. Thankfully, that was the extent of it. Some sprinkles, and some nerves.

I’ll spare you the rest of the grueling details, but basically getting to the top felt like you had to have gone another mile, but really it was like 5 big rocks and 45 seconds later you had to rest. Mumbling, “fuckkkkkkk” under your breath was precious wasted energy. It. Was. Not. Easy. However, I can not tell you the sense of accomplishment I felt when we hit the pavement. That feeling was dimmed slightly by the additional lengthy set of wooden stairs necessary to climb to the tippy-top. The top of the mountain of course has the observatory (and a delightful cafeteria), and the Cog-Railway Train, should you opt for a way out back down. A fellow hiker, that had joined his buddies on a last minute invite, opted for the bus. We saw him later, relaxing in an Adirondack Chair, after our descent on foot. Was I jealous, yes. But, hikers definitely feel like REAL hikers for not cheating their way down! (But, since that’s how I got down Cannon Mountain, I wasn’t too judgy). 😉

It’s cold up at the top. We had lost weight in sweat, we ran out of water. And now, we were shivering. So, it was time for a photo opt with the elevation sign (after a bit of a line); and then, some cafeteria chili! We gingerly shared that bowl of chili, likely each wanting the whole thing for ourselves. It made our hearts warm and restored some needed energy. Now, fatigued, downhill would likely be horrible. But, WE DID IT! The feat had been accomplished

Downhill was hard to control, and I was worried I’d roll an ankle. That would also affect my ability to work (at full capacity); so, I had to be careful still to avoid injury. I would plant my hiking pole a bit out in front and lean into to to hop off a boulder or use it as leverage to scurry down a few smaller rocks at a time. It wasn’t over yet. We took a slightly different initial path down the mountain, but it ran back into our original trail. As we descended into our first trail, we recognized the terrain, and new what to expect. It allowed us to keep up our pace, and before we knew it- sweet relief! It was done! We checked-into our lodge and could NOT wait to shower. Bathrooms were a bit like locker rooms; but, I didn’t mind. That was the best shower I think I’ve ever had. I put on my jean shorts, a white t shirt, and birkensctocks, and carefully walked to the dining hall. Our buffet dinner, that we were just in time for, was one of the top 10 dinners I’ve ever had (1 best shower is one thing, but I can’t pick just 1 best dinner)! 

I can not recall a time that my legs were that sore. My feet had blisters I was unaware of. My big toenail was purple. Those were my battle scars that would soon fade (although, the new toenail took a bit and a few good pedicures to hide). It took some planning, some motivation, and yes, some training. The conditions were just right. Nothing makes me more proud than to say, “I did it.” I hiked Mt. Washington.

Now, time a new goal.

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