Week 34: My Traverse (3 of 3)

[for the beginning of this saga, start with “Week 32: Wham! Oof! Splat”]

Everyone told the inventor of the Mt Washington Cog Railway that he was crazy. Maybe he was, but I’m glad he ignored his nay-sayers and built his impossibly steep railway up to the top of the tallest mountain in New England with the worst weather in the world. Thanks to him, I was able to join up with Dorian, Elanor and Kira in pursuit of my own crazy goal of finishing the Presidential Traverse with my family.

The train ride was both spectacular and festive, thanks to several people celebrating birthdays and our warm, funny, and very informative guide. She told us this was one of the best three days of the summer Mt Washington weather wise, and that we could see for a hundred miles in every direction.

The track ran parallel to the hiking trail as we neared the summit, and lo and behold there was Kira jumping up and down and waving to me! (It turned out that she didn’t know which train I was on, so she waved to all three that went by. Elanor had been waving, too, from further up the trail). My coach-mates were surprised and delighted to find out she was my daughter.

The top of Mt Washington was packed with people – those who had driven up the auto road, or taken the train, or the much smaller number of hikers. I didn’t care. My usual snootiness about “earning” a summit by hiking up was gone. I was just happy that so many people with so many different physical circumstances were able to enjoy it on this glorious day (including me!).

The “trail” to Mt Washington summit, with Kira and Dorian approaching
Elanor on the trail, with a view of the mountains she had hiked already that day

I found the “trail” that Dorian and the girls would be using to get to the summit – trail in this case meaning some cairns placed on a field of boulders, and very slowly and carefully clambered down to meet them. They were tired, hungry, but very happy. We took our picture at the summit then went to the nearby café to get pizza. I was feeling good, and told the train people that I would NOT be using my return ticket back down the mountain.

My indomitable family at the summit of Mt Washington (after standing in line for a photo!)

Dorian has written eloquently and extensively about the Presidential Traverse in his own blog, including lots of photos and a description of the trail. I encourage you to read it! I won’t recount everything again here, but can’t help myself from sharing and gushing a bit.

We hiked down to the Lake of the Clouds hut, arriving 20 minutes before dinner. The 1 ½ miles was much rougher in practice than I had imagined when considering contingency plans, though the rest of my family insisted that it was way better than what passed for a trail on the summit north of Mt Washington. I’m really glad I didn’t end up needing to hike back up that trail with a screaming back.

It is hard to describe just how gorgeous the view was, and how many layers of mountains were visible in all directions. So I’ll show you instead:

The descent to Lake of the Clouds, visible along the ridge line to the right. This was the gentler section.
Lake of the Clouds

A geophysics professor from Trinity College told us all about glaciers and the mountains while Kira photographed the sunset. He was terrific, and explained why the rocks and terrain were so different above 5300 feet (way more bouldery and flecked with mica, with rocks significantly older than the 12,000 year-old limit of lower elevations). He and Elanor set up a telescope when the stars came out, and we saw the moons of Jupiter and rings of Saturn. We had to drag Elanor back inside well after lights-out, as she gazed at the gazillion stars overhead and the clear swath of the Milky Way.

Near sunset
The afterglow
Jupiter above Mt Monroe, as seen from Lake of the Clouds hut

My back held up okay through the rest of the trip. I avoided sitting for too long, or bending over to pick things up, and felt stiff and took lots of Naproxen, but I felt good when I was walking.

The hike south along the ridge line the next day was five miles long and glorious. The footing was good (being under 5300 feet) and the layers upon layers of mountains were still beautiful. None of the summit ascents were too steep or too long, but they were steep and long enough to be satisfying to me! Dorian hurried us along, but we still lingered a bit to soak it all in, and took lots of photos. The kids were terrific and clearly enjoyed themselves.

Looking back towards the Mt Washington summit the next morning
Our trail south along the ridge (below 5300 feet), looking towards Mt Eisenhower and Mt Pierce
Still some rocky bits
Waiting for slow parents
Exactly where I longed to be

We arrived at the Mitzpah Springs hut 10 minutes before the rain started and we spent much of the afternoon playing cards. Our hike out the next day was full of sunbeams filtered through trees and a good, steady, not-too-hard-on-the-knees two mile descent back to the Highland Center.

Jill was right. I belonged there with my family. I know we were incredibly lucky, as if Providence were smiling upon us. But what about the soggy souls who came into the Mitzpah Springs hut part way through dinner, cold and drenched after summiting Mt Washington and hiking the ridge in the rain, and the folks who had planned to reach the summit the next day amidst sleet and hail?

The will of the universe is beyond me. I am just very, very grateful and glad that I listened to my heart this time rather than my fears, and that my back and the weather held long enough. I will remember this hike for a long, long time.

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