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August 16, 2013

It's easy to get up for big climb

The Daily Star

---- — “Wow!” Izzy exclaimed as she and her grandfather drove along New Hampshire’s Route 16.

The mountain loomed before them.

My buddy George and his granddaughter decided to do a marathon trip to the White Mountains last weekend. They drove for six hours Saturday so they could climb Mt. Washington on Sunday.

Now Mt. Washington isn’t just a stroll in the park. It’s the highest mountain in the eastern United States, reaching into the clouds at 6,288 feet.

Before that morning, the highest peak either of them had summited was South Mountain in West Davenport.

After having breakfast at the Pinkham Notch Visitors Center, they started up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. It was 7:30 in the morning with a temperature of about 60 degrees. It didn’t take long to warm up, though, as the heavily eroded trail continued going steadily up.

Having youth on her side, Izzy hopped from rock to rock and set a steady pace for her grandfather. It took them just under two hours to make it to Hermit Lake. They’d soon learn that they had completed the easiest part of the hike.

As they approached the cabin and shelters, Izzy said in a disgusted tone, “What’s that smell?” She thought maybe it was the people in front of them. It turned out to be the outhouses instead.

After a short break, they went back a few hundred yards and turned up the Lion’s Head Trail. There were some trees down and it was rather steep, but with many switchbacks and stone steps, they continued ever upward. They reached the top of Lion’s Head at 10:30 a.m.

As they stood there with the wind blowing out of the north, they could hear the whistle of the cog railroad engine that climbs the backside of the mountain.

“Grandpa!” Izzy exclaimed. “We made it. We’re almost to the top.”

She soon learned how wrong she was but continued merrily along. At that point, they met a woman with her daughter who was about Izzy’s age. The two of them hit it off and walked along together, even playing hopscotch on the rocks.

They had reached timberline and found that the next two hours of the climb was over large rocks and heavy boulders. They finally topped out at 12:30 p.m. It had taken them five hours to reach the summit, gaining over 4,200 feet in elevation. The temperature up there was 40 degrees with a strong wind, so the wind chill made it feel even cooler.

As I watched some video clips of their trip, I asked about a noise in the background.

“Just me,” George replied with a chuckle. “I was trying to catch my breath.”

Once on top, they had three choices. They could take the shuttle back down at $30 a person, try to hitch a ride with someone or hike back down the mountain. They chose the last but found that going down was somewhat harder than going up. It puts a lot of strain on your knees.

They decided to take the trail down through Tuckerman’s Ravine but were a little hesitant on the high, narrow section above the waterfalls.

The hikers finally reached their starting point — a mere four hours later. The up-and-down trip totaled nine hours. Both George and Izzy agreed that it was a wonderful experience, but it also was a long, six-hour ride back home.

When I talked with them Tuesday, Izzy was still excited about the climb. She can’t wait to do it again.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at