Saturday-Sunday, September 18-19, 2021
Start/End: Appalachia Trailhead
Elevation gain/loss: 15,433′
Total time: 20:51
Moving time: 18:42, 2:10 water stops/pauses on treacherous wet rocks
I woke up at 3am on Saturday morning, after getting set up in one of the lean-tos at Moose Brook State Park on Friday evening. I was at the trailhead by about 3:30am, and on trail shortly after. In the dark, I headed up Airline, over to Shortline, and then up King Ravine. The trail was hard to follow by headlamp amongst the boulders and scree and this slowed my ascent. I made the edge of the ravine by 6:15am and Adams summit by 6:35am. Just shy of the summit, I was able to see a beautiful sunrise, before ducking into the cloud cover over the summit. I sharply descended Star Lake trail over to Buttress trail, dropping into the Great Gulf Wilderness as the sun came out and started burning off the clouds. I followed Six Husbands trail until I crossed over the Peabody River and then took the Great Gulf Trail all the way up the steep slide, where wayfinding was very challenging due to the trail basically following a river/creek. I felt strong thought and made the clear and calm summit of Mt Washington by 10:45am, filled up my water bottles at the outdoor spout and then descended by the Tuckerman Ravine trail. By 11:45am, I was passing by the Hermit Lake cabins and took the Boott Spur Link trail up to Split Rock and then descended Boott Spur trail to Pinkham Notch (which felt like it took forever), arriving by 1:30pm. I felt pretty good, and the sky was looking a little cloudy but pretty clear, and I was hopeful that perhaps the rain would hold off long enough for me to ascend Huntington Ravine.
I took perhaps 20 minutes to bathroom, grab water (which smelled and tasted like shit), reapply body glide, have a snack, and change out of my wet tshirt and socks, and then headed back out. I climbed up the main trail until the split for Huntington Ravine Trail. I climbed for a while, and was feeling good about the terrain until right around 3pm near the Harvard Cabin when the sky opened and rain fell hard for 45 minutes. It soaked me to the skin, leaving me with no dry clothes to speak of, and drenched the Ravine. This made for incredibly treacherous and terrifying conditions, so I had to slow down and climb up the long class 4 route. It ended up taking me 3 hours to go the 3 miles and 3400′ gain from Pinkham Notch to the top of Huntington Ravine, arriving at 4:45pm.
Nelson Crag was completely socked in with perhaps 20 MPH winds blowing by. I traveled cairn to cairn, crossed over the auto road, and descended by Wamsutta trail, back into the Great Gulf. The descent wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined and I made the bottom by 6:15pm. The ravine was getting dark and I eventually pulled out my headlamp, as I tried to make some good time along the Great Gulf Trail. That trail section seemed to take an eternity. I made the Madison Gulf Trail by 7:10pm and pushed onward up my final long ascent. I was very glad that I’d taken this trail before, because I would have struggled even harder if I didn’t know where I was going. That trail was mostly herdpath, and the creek/waterfall that was the trail was flowing strong. I was sweating heavily but didn’t want to take off my rain jacket since it was protecting my skin from scratches and chafing. I filtered a liter of water from the creek as I ascended, since I was very thirsty and the Pinkham Notch water was nasty. I avoided knocking myself out on any rocks or trees but it took me until 9:15pm to make the edge of the headwall and travel along the Parapet and Star Lake trails to get to the hut.
The wind and cloud cover as soon as I made the top was intense; it was the thickest fog I’ve ever experienced. Again, I was very glad that I was familiar with the trails, or it would have been extremely disorienting. I made it to the hut by 9:25pm, filled up one of my water bottles as someone chatted with me, and then pushed on to the last summit. I made Mt Madison by 9:50pm, and then had a hellish time descending via Watson Path, since the few cairns aren’t more than small piles of rocks which weren’t visible in the thick nighttime fog. My headlamp was also starting to fade and I hadn’t brought extra AAA batteries, having no extras at home and assuming this would take me less time than it did. I feel like if I’d had a bright headlamp, I could have made better time, though everything was covered in a layer of water droplets, so everything was slippery. I made my way below treeline, finally, and then did my best to pick up some speed. Snyder Brook was running high, and the number of herdpaths splitting off from Watson Path messed with me a few times. I made my way to Brookside trail and rocketed downhill as fast as I could manage. I made the intersection with Valley Way by 12:15am where I nearly tripped over two guys and their small barky dog straight up camping in the dead center of the trail. I wanted to stab their tent with my trekking pole but managed to resist. I arrived at the parking lot another 15 minutes later, for just under 21 hours of hiking the most technical trails in the northeast.
I was disappointed that I didn’t make better time, but the conditions were pretty bad and I was very impressed with my ability to keep moving and in relatively high spirits, despite the challenges in the second half of the day. I ended up with some significant chafing, despite body glide useage, due to being completely saturated for the entire time, first with sweat then with rain and water runoff. My hydration and nutrition game was fairly strong, until the last 4-5 hours when I was feeling too tired to want to do anything ‘extra.’ At least gels felt manageable and I still had a few, which kept me from fully bonking towards the end. All in all, a grand adventure; perhaps I’ll try it again next fall if I can hit a perfect weather day.