Saturday, July 29, 2000
We arrived at the cog railway parking area around 7:00 am. There were a few people milling about either waiting for the train to start running or to enjoy a nice morning hike. We were not sure where the Jewell Trail started so Susan asked one of the Cog railway workers to direct us to the trailhead. He motioned to a bridge just across the tracks, which lead up to Mount Clay.
Our friend Ron was not a seasoned hiker, so we started out slow so as not to lose him immediately to our quicker pace. The trail was easy at first without any spots that might cause a delay for Ron as we headed up towards the ridge. The trail continued slowly up the ridge as it crossed several footbridges before starting a moderate ascent.
Either Ron was having a good morning or he wanted to impress upon us that he could in fact hike, for he took the lead and began to quicken his pace. At first I was happy that he was not having any problems hiking, but I soon realized that if he didn’t slow his pace he would burn out well before the summit.
The trail continued to ascend moderately towards Mount Clay as we began to approach tree line. Once we emerged from the tree line, we could see the summit of Mount Washington. The Cog was heading up the mountain with it black smoke billowing in the morning sun. The sky was relatively clear except for a bank of clouds that were forming to the west and which would eventually engulf the summit.
Once above tree line the ascent began to get steeper as we negotiated the large rocks that made up the trail. Ron, as I had predicted, began to lose his steam as he slipped behind us as we headed towards Mount Clay. Susan slowed her pace to allow Ron to remain within sight so we didn’t have to call the mountain rescue team to retrieve him. Just below the summit of Mount Clay we came across two female hikers heading toward the Madison Hut. I think the sight of two attractive females motivated Ron to serge forward so as not to appear too long in the tooth.
After passing just below the summit of Mount Clay, the trail headed east towards the summit of Mount Washington. The trail became much steeper as we headed towards the tracks of the Cog railway. The train was coming towards us as we approached the tracks and we could wave to the passages that were heading to the summit. We continued our climb as we followed the freshly painted markers that signaled our path to the summit. About a hundred yards below the summit the wind began to pick up as the temperature fell at least 10 degrees. Hikers who were coming down from the summit were wearing foul weather gear so we knew we had to quicken or pace to escape the elements before they worsened.
About a half and hour later we reached the summit which was a sign the marked the exact spot. A number of tourists (non-hikers) were taking photos of themselves for posterity. We ventured into the Observatory for some hot soup but were informed that the soup was not quite ready. We sat at a table and took off our wet shirts and replaced them with dry and warm sweaters.
Initially the Observatory was deserted but soon filled up as the train and cars approached the summit like locusts looking for an afternoon meal. Our quiet repose quickly turned to horror as the maddening crowd advanced towards our location with screaming children and unruly adults. Our satisfaction of climbing Mount Washington soon turned to sadness knowing that anyone with a car or the price of a ticket could reach the top. There should be some places that are only accessible by hiking. Unfortunately, Mount Washington is not one.
After enduring several more trainloads of unruly people, we decided to begin our descent. The wind was whipping around the summit as we headed down towards Mount Clay. We could see in the distance several groups of hikers heading towards us in the afternoon sun. Most looked like seasoned hikers while others were well beyond their ability and were having a hard time. I’m not sure why some people believe Mount Washington is a leisurely stroll in the woods, for a number of hikers were totally unprepared with little or no water to speak of.
We arrived at the Cog railway around 1:30 pm in good spirits knowing that we actually accomplished sometime other than buying a ticket. The people who were waiting for the trail looked at us as though we were insane. “Don’t they know they could have rode the train up to the summit” they asked themselves not understanding why that question would never even enter our mind. Some people just don’t get it!
Submitted by Richard Kipphut
Mon, 6 Nov 2000