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On Saturday morning, we assembled at Jonathan's home to form a convoy. Present were: Jonathan, dressed for the occasion in camouflage shorts and brimming with Weekend Warrior spirit; Rich, looking tanned and exuding confidence; Sue, even more tanned and ready for any challenge; David [the author of the first part of this tale], his physical beauty matched only by his humility; and Charlotte, charging toward her first adventure in the U.S.A.
The hike itself began at Pinkham Notch, a bit later than expected due to automotive breakdowns. After some shuffling of pack contents (notably, we realized that we were carrying an excess of tents and left one behind), we set out along the trail around 4:30 PM.
We had hardly begun when a distraction presented itself: a scale on which backpacks could be weighed. It took some clever engineering to balance some of the packs on the scale, but eventually all who desired to were able to bolster their sense of machismo by measuring their burden in pounds or kilograms.
The packs, by the way, provided the first indication that, in terms of preparedness, Rich and Sue would make the rest of us look like amateurs. Charlotte carried an ordinary school backback; David's was an unwieldy (and uncomfortable) contraption to which two sleeping bags had been tied with string, with water bottles precariously wedged into unreachable pockets; Jonathan's pack was nothing to sneeze at; but Rich and Sue wore a matched pair of titanic blue-and-black packs that could have been designed by NASA. They were so large that, seen from behind, Sue was promptly dubbed "backpack with legs." Somewhere in one of those packs was a five-man tent; the rest of their contents were, for the moment, a mystery.
As we began the ascent we passed at least a dozen hikers who were making their way back to the foot of the mountain. One of them loudly referred to us as "sunset seekers"; while we liked the sybillance of the name; our pride was slightly offended. It just didn't carry the determined ring of "weekend warriors."
In any case, it was soon obvious that we wouldn't be seeing much of the sunset that night. Clouds were covering the sky and thickening rapidly. Also, the humidity was rising, and the temperature was beginning to drop. As inevitably as the sudden appearance of swarms of mosquitoes, it began to rain.
The Warriors demonstrated quick thinking and teamwork as those whose packs and clothing were not already waterproof were provided with slickers and slipcovers improvised from garbage bags and nylon jogging pants. The garbage bags, as attentive readers may have anticipated, came from one of the many smaller compartments in Rich's portable armoire.
As we continued to climb, the rain eventually ceased and silence descended upon the mountain. The mosquitoes and other insects remained in retreat, perhaps because the wind had increased and the temperature had dropped to about fifty degrees Fahrenheit, and we were unmolested as we enjoyed the freshly-washed appearance of the trees and rocks (and each other).
By the time we reached our campsite at Tuckerman's ravine, there were enough breaks in the clouds to bathe the rocky walls of the ravine in a rosy glow. Most of the mountain remained cloaked in mist, creating a mysterious, romantic, yet slightly forbidding impression.
Photography sessions cut short by chattering teeth, we assembled at the ranger's hut to seek directions to our camping spot. We were informed that no campsites were available, and that campfires were forbidden, but that several shelters had space. These shelters, we discovered, were wooden lean-twos with space for about nine sleeping bags, a shelf for backpacks, and pegs from which to hang food out of reach of animals. Or that was the idea of the pegs, anyway; the animals would prove more resourceful than the architect had imagined.
After several misadventures in map-reading we found a mostly-unoccupied lean-to and deposited our packs and sleeping bags. Then we returned to the ranger's patio to cook and eat our meal, not wishing to set fire to our lean-to or litter it with crumbs that would attract animals.
To everyone's surprise, the result of pooling our efforts was a meal fit for a king.
The stove and most of the utensils came from Rich and Sue's arsenal of supplies, but that was only the beginning. In those enormous packs was a selection of four kinds of soup (extremely welcome given the cold and wind). Tea bags emerged from somewhere. There were vegetarian hot dogs. David had brought fresh corn on the cob for roasting on the embers of a campfire; but it proved quite good taken off the cob and boiled. The piece de resistance, however, once again came from the portable blue-and-black pantries: garlic asiago cheese ravioli. And tomato sauce. It was better than many meals we'd eaten at home.
And did I mention the fresh red peppers? And did I mention the onions and ketchup for the hot dogs? Yes, Rich and Sue carried spices and condiments up a mountain.
We kept the sausage, tuna, trail mix, granola bars, marshmallows, hard-boiled eggs, and other food in reserve for breakfast and lunch, and went to bed satisfied.
For some of us, though, the night proved restless. Not only was it cold and windy and some of the sleeping bags too thin, not only was the wooden floor uncomfortable, not only did our shelter-mates snore loudly enough to drown out the nearby bullfrogs, but the night-amplified scratchings of mice and squirrels literally climbing the walls (to reach the food) proved too much to ignore for at least one of us. On the plus side, it was a beautiful sunrise.
In the morning, having re-packed our bags amidst a cold drizzle, we continued our march after a ritual clasping of hands and raising the cheer of "because it is there." After a few minutes' ascent, however, your author, fearful of the combined effects of exhaustion and exposure, feeling quite ill, and concerned about the time it would take to return to Boston with an engine that was overheating at any speed above 45mph, turned back.
Reaching Pinkham Notch not much later, we glanced upward and, for the first time, saw the summit, in fact the entire mountain, bathed in bright summer sun. Jonathan takes up the tale of those who persevered to the top:
Climbing Mount Washington was absolutely incredible. Despite rumors of impeding avalanches, blizzards, and the occasional Presidential Range Big Foot, the Weekend Warrior crew fought their way up past 6,000 feet. The climb was tough, but the beauty of Tuckerman Ravine more than compensated for the harsh pounding that punished the legs and backs (40 pound packs containing enough food to supply the whole army of Luxembourg for 2 weeks can really weigh you down) of these intrepid souls. A beautiful meadow, nourished by several small yet impressive cascading waterfalls, colored the climb. Once past the tree line, the landscape gave way to rocks, rocks, and more rocks. Nevertheless, with eyes turned towards the summit, the crew, inspired by the vision of Ace, our mountain goat mascot, made it to the summit with glory and celebration and was rewarded with a majestic view of New Hampshire's White Mountains in all their glory.
Woe, to be a knee. Here a rock, there a rock. Do I have any
cartilage left? That was the story of a descent that was harder than the
ascent. The beautiful views continued to dominate the scene, but after five
hours downhill momentum, it was wonderful to finally get to the car. Next
time: we ski down!!!