Emilie Phillips updated August 28, 2019
Formidable clouds topped Mount Washington the day we hiked up to the Lakes of the Clouds hut. At Hermit Lake, the ranger warned a large gossip of teenagers to turn back from the summit if it started raining because thunderstorms were coming. We looked better prepared, so he didn’t say anything to us.
Cheri and Turner had organized this trip for British friends of theirs — Rob, Anita, and their two kids — who were visiting the US for their first. Cheri invited some local friends, including us, to make the trip more fun. All told we had eight adults and three kids. We had reservations at the hut. The visiting family wanted to summit Mount Washington since this was their once in a lifetime trip to the US.
We hiked up the Tuckerman Ravine trail from Pinkham Notch. With the other two kids around, Isaac bounced up the trail. I learned that the British play “I spy with my little eye” not by specifying a color, but rather by specifying the first letter of the object. We stopped at the Hermit Lake deck for lunch. It was still sunny on this side of the mountain. Above the headwall, We could see dark gray clouds. When we hiked into the bowl after lunch, Tyson and I challenged each other to identify landmarks from skiing. The bowl looks very different without 45 feet of snow. I hadn’t realized the headwall is a series of cliffs.
The trail zigzags around the headwall cliffs. As we started up, the clouds pushed over the edge of the ridge. I felt several fat raindrops hit my bare arms. “Rain jackets!” we hollered back and forth across the group, “storm’s comming.” I started pulling stuff out of my pack. Isaac just stood there.
“Mom look at the cloud,” he said pointing behind me.
“Mmm hmm,” I answered not looking.
“Mom!” Isaac insisted, “the cloud is coming down.”
I turned around to see the whole sky black, the ridge line gone, and spectral fingers reaching deep into the valley. We all raced to put on our rain jackets and pants.
We got to the top of the headwall without it raining. It still hadn’t rained when we reached the Alpine Garden trail. Instead, we hiked into a dripping wet windy fog. On a clear day, the giant cairns along the path every hundred feet apart seem ridiculous. Today we needed each one. Turner and the kids scampered ahead. We lost sight of them immediately. Not long after, the wind erased their voices too. Over dinner, they described watching ghostly figures surrounding them in the fog. Tyson’s and my world in the rear group was more mundane. We focused on finding safe footing in the rocks and spotting the next cairn on the Tuckerman Crossover trail.
The Lakes of the Clouds hut sits high on the ridge above Amonoosuc Ravine with windows facing west. At first relaxing in the dining room, all we could see was fog. After an hour, we started seeing glimpses below the clouds down into the valley. During dinner, all the fog blew away. We could see clear to the sunset over Vermont. After dinner, Rob encouraged his kids to go outside. Wherever they went, Isaac went, so I came along to supervise. The evening was so nice that Rob and his older daughter decided to jog up Mt Monroe to watch the sun set. Isaac went too. We reached the top just after the last red sliver of the sun had disappeared beyond Vermont. In the orange west, the lights of civilization stirred. To the east, Oakes Gulf turned a silent purple.
That’s how Isaac bagged Mt Monroe, his third four thousand footer. Tyson was jealous we changed plans and didn’t invite him along.
Photos from day 1
GPS track from day 1
The next morning, the fog was back. The wind still battered the mountain. And the temperature was down to 40F. The British family really wanted to summit Mt Washington, since this was their once in a lifetime chance. The rest of us locals decided to wait for a nicer day. Battling the wind and rough terrain to stand in the middle of a cloud surrounded by tourists didn’t seem worth it. We concocted a plan for Cheri to lead the Brits to the summit while the rest of us remained at the hut. We would coordinate by text to meet back up at the junction of Lawn Cutoff and Davis Path. I’ll let you know now that the plan didn’t work.
Isaac spent the morning at the hut earning his AMC junior naturalist badge. At 10AM we decided that, even though we hadn’t heard from the summit crew, we needed to start down. We again traversed the Bigelow Lawn in the fog and wind. The Camel Trail, like the Tuckerman Crossover from the day before, was indistinguishable from the tumbled rocks everywhere on the lawn. Only the cairns let us know we were on the path. If we veered too far off to the side, we risked loosing the path entirely and having to navigate by compass.
Turner, in the back, was first to notice a break in the fog and a small view across the Bigelow Lawn. My head was still bobbing between watching my footing and watching the cairns so I missed it. Quickly, the wind pushed the fog back around us. Then another hole passed us and we got a view in a different direction. By the time we reached Davis Path, we had seen windows of views in every direction and even down into the valleys. We exclaimed and pointed out each ephemeral view. When we reached Boott Spur Trail, maybe around 11AM, the clouds had risen above the lower presidentials but still surrounded the cone of Mt Washington.
Unfortunately, along Davis Path, one of our party took a tumble on the rough rocks. We bandaged her knee and rested. After that we hiked slower to prevent any more injuries, either hers or someone else falling.
I loved the Boott Spur trail. It’s wild and rugged; exposed out on the ridge. We found great views into Tuckerman Ravine and Gulf of Slides. Later in the afternoon, the clouds lifted off Mt Washington and we saw the Cog trains on the summit. For parts of the descent, we were protected from the wind, but in other places it came howling off the mountain right at us.
The other family successfully summited. It took them longer than expected, and then they explored the museum up top. After the summit, they decided to take the shorter and easier Tuckerman Ravine trail back down. They got to the bottom shortly before us.
By halfway down Boott Spur, Tyson and Turner were done with the trail. Too many uneven rock scrambles and ankle twisters. Tyson grumbled that he is not coming back to Mt Washington until all the rocks are smoothed over by snow.
All photos from day 2