Brave the Tuckerman Ravine Trail | Hiking news
Looking at an upbeat general weather report last weekend, a friend and I planned to hike up to Tuckerman Ravine on Tuesday. But as often happens, the weather that day in the valley was mild and generally clear, and the weather on Mount Washington was not. That morning at the summit there was visibility of 50 feet and winds of 50 to 60 mph, increasing in the afternoon as a front approached.
However, in Pinkham Notch it was fine that morning when I called. We said to each other, we might as well go see. We would be in the protective trees of the lower Tuckerman Ravine Trail, and if we only got to Hermit Lake 2.4 miles away, that was okay. My friend had some winter hiking experience but was new to Mt Washington in the winter.
As we entered North Conway, a huge curved cloud hovered over the presidentials, one of the largest I had seen. Later we went up Route 16 towards the notch. I had not been to AMC Pinkham Notch camp since the pandemic began. I knew it was closed during containment, and even the ravines were closed. Tuesday, it was good to dress up and enter the trading post.
We donned microspikes on the porch and headed for the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. As we passed a new reconstructed bridge over the Cutler River that I had never seen before, it reminded me of how long it had been since I had been there. We stopped to look at Crystal Cascades, which was hidden by snow except for a small opening at the bottom.
Continuing up, I watched the clouds above Wildcat and the blue sky above. I told my friend about the “Pinkham Window”. This is when the westerly winds accelerate over Mount Washington, then curl towards Pinkham Notch, creating a sunny opening in the clouds above the notch.
About halfway up the trail we encountered the Forest Service tracker, which had actually passed us earlier near the bottom. They had stopped to cut down a tree leaning in the path. They were snow rangers Chris Wu and Jeff Fongemie. We stopped to chat.
There, two other people stopped next to us on the way down. One was Maury McKinney from North Conway and a friend of his from Tamworth. McKinney is a longtime mountain guide and swim instructor. They had started earlier with the intention of climbing Pinnacle Gully in Huntington Ravine. But the wind increased as the morning matured, and they thought about it better.
We continued up, the wind from the mountain above starting to say hello to us. I stopped and thought about this trail that I had climbed several times. How long had he been there?
The Glen House was the first tourist center in the Notch. An equestrian trail leading to the Tuckerman Ravine was first constructed from part of the new Mount Washington Carriage Road, built in 1855. This trail leading to the ravine later became the Raymond Path.
It wasn’t until 1879 that the AMC arranged for a trail to be built directly from Pinkham Notch through Crystal Cascades to Hermit Lake. Improvements were made to it in the 1930s, and later to accommodate mechanical snowplows. It was probably this second round of forest service improvements – literally clearing a primitive road – that shocked AMC Huts manager Joe Dodge.
But since then, it has functioned admirably as a top-to-bottom mountain conduit for hikers, skiers, security personnel and lifeguards.
We passed the bridge over the Cutler River 1.6 miles away. By this time, we had passed two groups of skiers coming up the slope with their large touring skis. They had probably left the sunny valley in the hope of skiing the ravine.
As we went up the wind calmed down as we walked under the shelter of the steep ridge above the one that went up to Lion Head. Only an occasional burst of sun appeared as we walked through this large cloud cap covering the mountain.
Just before Hermit Lake, I warned my friend that we were going to briefly go out into the wind unobstructed as we made our way to the porch, located on the east side of the AMC building.
On the porch, we had a brief lunch with skiers. My friend, who is actually a certified instructor in the relatively new westward pursuit called “forest swimming”, loved the sound and feel of the wind blowing around the building.
I don’t know if any of the skiers made it to the head wall. It might in fact have protected them from the formidable explosions. But the visibility was only 50 feet. Most of them went straight down the John Sherburne Ski Trail from Hermit Lake. This wide ski trail is located a few hundred feet south of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail and was built in 1934.
We returned by where we had come from.