More Whites and Mt Washington (Aug 8)

Beautiful views again today from up on Webster Cliffs.  I could look back and find Franconia Ridge, where I’d been only a couple days before.  It is always impressive to see a couple days’ worth of hiking stretch out behind you.

As I hiked higher up into the cliffs, I could see we would soon literally by hiking up into swirling fog and clouds.  Misty trail again, with some tough rock climbs.  On this day I was hiking near two middle aged thru hiker women.  It was really comforting to come upon them muttering directions to each other in the fog.  Motion said things like, “Okay, this is a tricky one, there’s a crack here for your foot” and Jacie agreed, “Oh yeah, yeah, I see it”.  I thought it was neat that they were working together to get through these tough parts.

Eventually the clouds and fog cleared, as I was descending from Mt Jackson.  So pretty to look across and see the wild unbroken beauty of rocky mountaintops over a flatter, boggier section.  Somehow even up here, there are still some sections of bog and wooden log bridges.  I could see how you could feel emotional just looking at it all, it was so raw and beautiful.  I continued my slow style of hiking- hike for a few minutes, then stop to take in the view ahead and behind, and the shifting clouds above.  I also kept stopping to take notes on my phone about what I see- a good way to try to process and record it all.

In the afternoon I walked to Lakes of the Clouds hut.  This stretch over the Presidentials was absolutely stunning.  Somehow each day is better than the one before up here.  I watched a rainstorm swirl around Mt Eisenhower as I approached, then move on as I approached.  Weather up here has been so dynamic, so unpredictable.  I saw several other rainstorms from afar as I climbed.  Eventually I neared Lakes of the Clouds hut and the base of Mt Washington.  I’ve heard so much about this mountain, it was neat to finally meet it!  Mostly the summit was shrouded in clouds, but sometimes the clouds parted and it was possible to see the summit.

 The next morning I put on all my clothes with my rain clothes on top, and set off to hike up Mt Washington (6288 ft).  It was pretty chilly at first- around 35 degrees F and windy.  Completely foggy up on top of Mt Washington.  At first I was disappointed- everyone hopes for a clear day on this mountain- but then I learned more at the visitor center.  Apparently Mt Washington is foggy 300 days out of the year!  Valley air rising up the side of the mountain often cools and condenses as fog at the summit.
I also learned more about the alpine tundra environment.  It’s a beautiful, but harsh environment- too harsh for trees to grow.  Robbins’ cinquefoil is one of the few flowers to be found- a tiny plant that takes 8-13 years to flower, and is “found nowhere else in the world”!

I continued down Mt Washington.  No views up there for me other than fog, but I had great views further north on the AT.  The fog cleared to beautiful blue skies.  The trail extends along ridge in a kind of circle around Mt Washington, so I was able to watch the mountain as the weather cleared.  Neat to see silhouettes of people on the far summits.  Amazing to realize we can get up there, the climbs look so steep and tough.

I think I felt more exhausted by the end of this day than ever before on this trip.  After a while, every step felt jarring and made me feel achy.  Difficult to descend for hours at a time, really requires muscle control.  Slept like a rock!
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