Too often, we find there's just too much to do and not enough time to do it. At à la Moto Magazine • Florida Edition, we'll explore real, once in a lifetime opportunities you can actually check off your own personal bucket list. Who wouldn't love to book a seat on a private space craft or drive through the streets of Monaco in a Formula 1 car? Realistically, for the vast majority of us, that's just something to read about others doing. Don't just be a cheerleader and watch others; get into the game.
Each month, we'll explore and give you 'how to' tips on true adventure that's within your reach.
Hemingway way once said there are only three real sports: mountaineering, motor racing and bull fighting.We like his thinking.
In the November issue of à la Moto, we'll explore Mount Washington, in New Hampshire. A morning's drive from New York City, and even closer from Boston, it's an accessible mountain. Yet, a mountain full of adventure and potentially life threatening hazards. Unlike Everest, it won't cost you the price of 5 Series BMW to scale. However, you'll have no shortage of stories to tell from such a hike. That is, if, you make it to the summit...
Don't forget to check out the video Travis Pastrana's record breaking ascent at the end of this article!
Adventure Guide: Mt. Washington
The Mount Washington Trek
My son and I had been planning to climb Mt. Washington for months. There was no doubt about it. We were moving the entire family to Florida that winter and had no clue when we'd have another chance to attempt it. However, the weather wasn't looking promising. Sure, the summit has some of the most volatile weather in the world, but it was already cold and raining at the trail head. Not a good start to the day.
The weather is the reason Backpacker Magazine refers to Mt. Washington as the most dangerous small mountain to hike in the world. They rate the weather as a 10 out of 10 on their danger scale. Gear Junkie Magazine rates Mt. Washington the 8th most dangerous mountain in the world. Ranked just before it at #8? Mt.Everest. Getting the picture how intimidating this mountain can be? How about this: At 6,288 feet, it once had a recorded wind gust of 231 mph. Hurricane force winds pound the mountain for over 100 hundred days each year. An average of nearly 25 feet of snow falls on the mountain throughout the year. On January 16th, 2004, a wind chill of −103 °F was recorded at the summit. And when it's not snowing or freezing, Mt. Washington gets nearly 9 feet of rain each year. Nearly 140 hikers have lost their life on the mountain since the late 1800's and as recently as this year. Climbing this mountain is no joke.
Though there are deaths from falls (the drop at the Tuckerman Ravine part of the trail is guaranteed death), avalanches, etc., the majority of fatalities occur from hypothermia. Climbers just aren't prepared for the extreme and unpredictable weather changes that can occur along their journey to the summit. Taking that into consideration, my son and I went to our local Dick's Sporting Goods to pick us some necessities. In addition to the months of physical prep (P90x, walking, swimming, biking), we also needed certain items in the event of an emergency on the mountain. We read the stories of hikers who started the day in 70 °F weather at the base trail, only to encounter snow and hurricane force winds when entering the Alpine Zone of the mountain; and that was in the summer months. We read the stories of hikers who simply twisted an ankle, but died while waiting for help due to hypothermia brought on by the extreme weather. We read the stories about how one misstep in the Tuckerman part of the trail can lead to an 800 foot drop with catastrophic consequences. We read all of this. Yet, we still were drawn to conquer this mountain.
Everyone has a bucket list.
Mt. Washington has a more docile, tourist side to it. There is an auto road that will take you, via a winding and steep road cut into the side of the mountain, all the way to the 6,288 foot summit. The views are absolutely glorious. The summit observatory boasts an informative museum and cafeteria (geared toward weary hikers) in its bunker type building; the structure is designed to withstand 300+ mph winds. The Cog Railroad even chugs up another side of the mountain. With the variety of ways to make it to the peak, it's a common site to see families step out of their minivans, while worn out hikers, soaked and shivering from their trek up the mountain make their way through the crowds of gawkers on their way to the refuge of the summit observatory. The relative ease (though the drive up has its scary moments or two) of driving up the auto road gives a false sense of security to many who consider attempting the hike. After all, cars don't drive up Everest. So, many believe, with the sight of cars heading up one side of the mountain that, "how hard could the hike be?" And that's why so many die in the attempt.
You see, other than the physical demands, (and trust me, there are! Even after months of training, my thighs burned for a week after the hike!) unlike a vehicle, you're completely exposed to the elements. There is no car heater to turn on or windows to roll up. It can go from 70º F and sunny to 35º F, pouring rain and hurricane force winds in minutes during the climb. If you aren't prepared, you can die. That simple. To add to the danger, there is zero cell phone service the entire hike. I lost signal at the trail head and was able to get just enough signal for a moment at the summit to let my wife know we had made it to the top. That means, if you twist your ankle, depending how far you are from the top or the bottom, you'll need a climbing partner to go fetch help. So, while waiting, you'll need shelter from the elements. It could be hours before help arrives. And if you have the bad luck of becoming immobile, hypothermia can rapidly set it if a fast moving storm sweeps across the mountain.
In order to prepare as well as possible, my son and I purchased a variety of items: two Space brand emergency blankets, water proof matches and a small first aid kit. In addition, we brought along a couple of pocket knives, flashlight and some bug spray, a few plastic bags for wet clothes and inexpensive ponchos. For food, it was carbs and protein. We packed beef jerky, granola bars and bagels; along with several Poland Spring bottled waters. However, about halfway up, there was a well with a hand pump. It provided the most absolutely pure, freezing cold, hydration I've ever had. Our clothing was non-traditional. First and foremost, unless you bring a Sherpa to carry your belongings, one simply couldn't carry the amount of gear and clothing necessary to prepare for any condition on Mt. Washington. Therefore, we went by this simple formula: prepare for a worst case scenario and go comfortably. What does that mean? The first is obvious. I wasn't going to be stitching up any wounds on the mountain or making a shelter to survive in for a week. With that said, I wanted to ensure if either of us were hurt, we could survive long enough for help to arrive. As for food and clothing, we brought enough food to keep up our energy to make it up the mountain and/or enough to keep up fed while we waited for help if needed. We wore clothing that was functional and we were used to. Didn't want blisters or chafe. It was amusing, at the first “rest area” along the trail, to encounter a group of hikers talking up their pricey hiking gear. Brand name this and brand name that. Hours later, we'd pass them. Except we were heading down the mountain after already making it to the summit and they were still only two thirds the way up. So much for their designer hiking gear. My broken-in running shoes, Underarmor shorts and hoodie, a light weight back pack with snacks, water and emergency supplies was enough get the job done.
Before you start your hike, leave an extra set of clothes and shoes in your car at the base lodge parking area. You'll be glad you did. The combination of exposure to the elements and perspiration from the hike will leave you absolutely soaked.
We woke early the morning of the hike as we had an almost two hour drive to the trail head. Failure to reach the summit was not an option.I wanted to eliminate as many of the issues (within my control) that I could before we even began. Timing was one of them. I didn't want to have to abort the attempt because we were running out of daylight. I knew, in September, that we'd need to make it to the top by 2 P.M. or risk turning back before we reached our goal. I did not want to be trying to make it down the mountain in the dark. We passed through North Conway, New Hampshire and the rain started to hit the windshield. As we continued and started to make the assent toward the Pinkham Notch visitors center (where the Tuckerman Trail begins) the rain became more steady.
The entrance was just ahead on Rt. 16 and I asked my son as I put my left turn signal on, “Are you sure you want to do this? We can drive home. There's no shame in that.” He replied, “No Dad, I want to do this."
Regardless of his opinion, it was my job as the parent to ensure his safety. It was ultimately my decision if we went or not, but it made my decision easier that he had the confidence to continue this journey. We were in this as a team. My son, at 13, was already full into his teenage years. I knew this was a once in a lifetime bonding experience. We had trained and prepared together. Now, we'd reach our goal together. But first, we needed this rain to stop. We sat in our Ford Explorer for nearly 30 minutes. I anxiously twisted my wrist to gaze at my watch with great frequency. Time was of the essence and we needed to start soon. The rain became a drizzle but the skies were still overcast. It was now or never. At just about 2,000 feet above sea level, the start of the Tuckerman trail seemed like any other trail I hiked; nothing particularly challenging. However, the first thing I noticed it was very rocky, and rocks are very slippery when wet. It was 2.4 miles to the Hermit Lake Shelter (where we'd meet our 'stylish' counterparts I mentioned before), where the first rest area sits at 3,875 ft. A minor accomplishment in itself.
We started at a steady, yet careful pace. I didn't want to twist an ankle on the wet rocks and ruin the day before we even made any progress. The heavy foliage above us was providing cover from the majority of the precipitation. About 20 minutes into the hike, the leaves thinned and we were starting to get soaked. At that point, we were both just wearing our tee shirts so we reached into our backpacks and pulled out the ponchos. I find ponchos to be disgustingly hot, so it really wasn't an option I was enthusiastic about. However, being soaked this early into the day wasn't any better so I opted to put our “trash bags” on, as I sarcastically referred to them.
Our first mistake was realized in the purchase of inexpensive ponchos. This brand seemed designed to be worn during something like a sporting event while sitting in stationary bleachers. The rugged terrain and our body's employing the use of all four limbs in negotiating the trail led to constant stretching and tearing of the ponchos. As luck may have it, the plastic rain wear reduced itself to tattered threads around the same time the rain stopped. Though the precipitation stopped, our shirts were soaked from the combination of rain and sweat from the heat induced by the ponchos. As not to litter the pristine mountain and for possible use later if the need arose for a shelter, we placed what remained of our ponchos into a pocket in my backpack. We then placed our soaked shirts (luckily, our shorts remained comfortably dry) in bags and placed them in our backpacks as well.
We donned our hoodies and continued the hike. The trail felt a bit more open at this point and we upped our pace to just short of a jog. This part of the hike seemed a bit monotonous and boring; not unlike any other hike I'd ever done. Soon, we'd make it to Hermit Lake which had a covered deck and “bathrooms”, as well. I had made the mistake of consuming sushi the night before and the bathrooms, regardless of their condition, were a welcome sight. To my surprise, they were kept up and clean. Or I was just desperate. Regardless, I joined my son at the porch area in a clearing just off the trail. We dug into our beef jerky and each consumed a bagel. Though slightly tired from the first stage of our journey, we decided it best to keep moving and stay loose.
At this point on the Tuckerman trail, the environment became more of what I envisioned while planning this adventure. The scenery and the views became quite breathtaking. Just past Hermit Lake, we came across the water pump I mentioned and refilled our empty Poland Spring bottles with the most quenching water I'd ever tasted. Then, we worked our way up the mountain. The terrain became more challenging and steep. We had entered the Alpine Zone. The consistently brutal weather conditions in the Alpine Zone cause the plant life to significantly change from just below us on the mountain. The trees are sparse and smaller and sightings of wildlife are intermittent. There is a distinct impression you aren't in Kansas anymore. We pushed on.
A little over a mile from Hermit Lake, we came upon Tuckerman Ravine. Magnificent in the winter, it is equally as breathtaking during the greener months. The bowl that makes up the ravine ranges from 40º to 55º degrees. Steep by any measure. This is where the trail became the most scary, in my opinion. There were a handful areas where a slip would have lead to certain death. Therefore, though a teenager, I held my son's hand with a grip that only a father can employ. I would either save him or go with him. There would be no other outcome. Of course, the rain that had saturated the area earlier wasn't helping my confidence. Regardless, the views were absolutely incredible in all directions. It was a welcome distraction from the anxiety of falling. Our distance to the top was just about a half mile. We felt optimistic now. Not a single hiker had matched our pace. We were just a short way to thetop. The weather was remarkably good and our conditioning left us with abundant energy. Then the terrain changed....
I had driven up the auto road of Mt. Washington several times in my life. When looking down upon the trail system visible in the Alpine Zone from the car it always appeared from afar to be covered in a layer of granite. Relatively smooth and walkable. I thought this would be the 'easy' part of the hike. From a distance, what appeared to be walkable granite, were actually thousand and thousands of boulders strewn along the top of the mountain. The last .8 mile was hands down, the most difficult physical test of my life. We were strained both mentally and physically. The summit could be seen, but it may as well have been a hundred miles away. We were using our hands and feet to scale the boulders; testing them for rigidity before scaling them. The weather changed and the fog rolled in. We were so close...
Finally, we had made it! Now, my son and I were the weary hikers wading through a sea of tourists in mini vans. As we made our way through the crowds, we reached the actual summit with pride in the fact we climbed our way to the top. Our faces beamed ear to ear with a smile so large, well, it was evident we were ecstatic. Yet, the irony was, I couldn't even contact my wife to tell her of our triumph. We were on top of the world but out of cell phone range. We wandered into the bunker like cafeteria and sat down at the table. I told my son we wouldn't be staying long. Prolonged sitting would cool us down. It'd make us not want to get back up. So, we made our way to the cafeteria line and each of us grabbed a couple slices of pizza, cookies and a Gatorade. We enjoyed the irony of finding the food at the highest peak east of the Mississippi. Fast food over six thousand feet above sea level and here I was complaining about a lack of cell phone service. Ah, first world problems. The meal was eaten ravenously. I don't think I've ever been quite that hungry. After a very brief rest, I signaled to my son it was time to go. It was 12:06 PM. We'd made great time. How do I know exactly what time it was? I still have the text saved in my phone from my wife. It read: "WOW!!!!!! I'M SO IMPRESSED!!!!!! GOOD JOB FROM ALL OF US!!!!!!!!!!!" I finally had signal. As I walked through the building on my way to start our decent, that text came through. It meant the world to me. For weeks, my wife had discouraged our attempt. It wasn't that she doubted our ability, it was everything she read about the mountain that scared her to death. The fact we had no cell phone service the entire ascent only made it more stressful; for both of us. Wherever I happened to be walking or had my body positioned allowed for that moment of cell service. For that, I was thankful.
My wife knew we made it the top. My three younger daughters, at home with my her, knew we made it as well. We were ready to make our way home. My son walked ahead as I took in the panoramic view just before we started to head down the trail towards where our day began. It was simply beautiful. It's an image that cannot be accurately depicted in a photograph. It's one of those times you just, “gotta be there” for. As difficult as reaching the summit was, the trip down would prove just as challenging. A different group of muscles were being used, as I found myself frequently doing a pseudo crab crawl to navigate the boulders. With my competitive nature seeping into the experience, I found it gratifying to pass people on the way back down, who were still ascending, that we had already passed on our way to the summit. We had not only made it to the top, we did it with speed. As time passed and we made further progress, more and more hikers would ask,"How long till the top?" To get a judge of their pace, I'd ask when they started. And each time I'd say, "You should probably turn back, you've got a really long way. It won't leave you time to get back down." I didn't want to ruin their day, but I felt the responsibility to give them some solid advice that may have saved them from some serious issues. What they did was their decision from there.
I turned my attention back to our own journey. I was really proud of my son. Heck, I was really proud of me. I'd be 40 in a little over a month. And I'd gone from being out of shape and working my way into middle age, to conquering one of the world's most dangerous mountains. By the time we had reached the Pinkham Notch visitor's center, where our car was parked, we had traveled nearly 8 and a half miles round trip with 4,250 of elevation gained to reach a peak of 6,288 ft.
"Not too bad", I told my son. “Not too bad.”
Before attempting to climb Mt. Washington please visit www.mountwashington.org for more information. For more information on visiting Mt. Washington, driving the auto road, or staying in the Mt. Washington Resort Bretton Woods, please visit www.brettonwoods.com.
What's the fastest way to get up Mt.Washington?
Watch this amazing video of Travis Pastrana
racing to the top in record time. Keep in mind, it takes the average tourist 30 to 40 minutes to drive the auto road. Check out his time at the end of the video... Unreal.
© à la Moto Magazine
© à la Moto Magazine
© à la Moto Magazine