Saturday, June 26, 2021
Start: Appalachia trailhead
End: Pinkham Notch
Elevation gain: 9275′
I started out from the trailhead at 4am, after a poor night of sleep camping at Sugarloaf 1. I was plagued by anxiety that I couldn’t seem to shake, but I hoped it would ease once I started. I headed up Short Line to get to the base of King’s Ravine. I then scrambled up to the top, maneuvering over and around huge boulders, and ascended Mt Adams. I dropped down along the Star Lake trail and took the right onto Buttress trail. The unmaintained nature of the trail soon made its mark, drawing blood multiple times. The terrain was very rough and slowed me down further. I started to wonder if I’d made a bad choice to try this difficult route so soon after my ultra; I’d thought I was recovered enough but I’d underestimated how challenging this would be. I dubiously followed Six Husbands trail over to the intersection with Great Gulf Trail, and turned right on the Gulf trail to start ascending towards Washington.
The trail followed the Peabody River, and often just walked up the river. The trail was wet and the forest, dense, though the frequent waterfalls were beautiful. The trail hit the long, loose talus slide not long after passing by Spaulding Lake. It was a steep rock scramble the entire way up to the lip of the bowl. I had to stop multiple times to catch my breath and let my body settle; it seems like two weeks wasn’t a long enough rest after my 75-miler to be doing this kind of effort. My heart rate wasn’t increasing appropriately to match my activity, and this was leaving me dizzy and lightheaded; I had to step backwards a few times to keep from falling, as I lost my balance due to the spinning.
As I climbed over the edge of the bowl, I stepped into the clouds. I started hearing the whistle from the cog train, but I couldn’t see it until I was almost on top of it. The wind was whipping by at 45-50 MPH, so I headed out at a good pace, happy to be on smoother terrain again and intent on the summit.
At the summit, I quickly headed inside to drop my pack away from the wind and refill on water from the outdoor faucet. I talked to an employee for a few minutes about the possible weather heading our way and decided I’d push onward to Pinkham Notch and continue my hike rather than turn around and head back, because to do that would involve a long stretch above treeline from Washington all the way to near Adams.
I walked across the Mt Washington parking lot with very minimal visibility, tucked into my rain jacket for warmth, and started descending into Tuckerman Ravine. I’d never traveled through Tuckerman’s before, and I found the terrain easier than I’d feared, though the trail was still very wet from melting snow so I had to be careful. I passed by two skiiers getting ready to head down the last remaining 500′ sliver of snow, and eventually arrived at the Hermit Lakes ranger cabin. I took the right and headed up the Boott Spur Link trail. The terrain became increasingly rocky as I climbed yet again up towards Split Rock. Once I made the top, with a socked-in view of Mt Washington and the Ravine, I took the left on the Boott Spur trail and headed back down towards Pinkham Notch.
My legs and hips had been cramping off and on all day in unusual ways, and my body was starting to break down, protesting my overly ambicious return to vigorous activity. I was feeling incredibly rundown and exhausted, in a soul-deep, cardiac-influenced kind of way. I’d been watching the weather and knew that rain was due soon with possible thunderstorms. I was very worried about climbing up Huntington Ravine, a notoriously difficult trail with long climbs up steep rock slabs that I hadn’t ever hiked before, in the pouring rain. As I descended from Split Rock, I weighed my options. Pinkham Notch was the best/only remaining reasonable place to bail. If I continued, it would be up over Washington, down into the Great Gulf again, and then up to Mt Madison before descending back to my car. From Mt Washington, bailing is extremely difficulty from Mt Washington and I was scared of getting hurt while climbing Huntington Ravine while wet and tired. And so I decided that discretion is the better part of valor, and threw in the towel after 10.25 hours on my feet.
On the way down, I stopped at the Crystal Cascade Falls and enjoyed the view for a moment, before continuing on, with thunder rumbling in the distance as it began to rain. I headed into Pinkham Notch, looked at the weather and radar again, and decided that ending here was definitely the correct choice. I talked to a few people to see about a ride, but ended up standing next to the exit sign and thumbing a ride. The second car stopped and Ron very kindly took me back to my car.