Climbing Huntington Ravine on Mount Washington can be a serious undertaking for hikers, requiring some friction scrambling on steeper terrain and an awareness of the conditions there beforehand. Wet rock is not ideal.
This week, I thought I’d republish an old article describing a trip up Huntington with friends this time of year. It is a great way to climb up to the alpine flowers, found in the ravine and above it.
One Saturday in June of 2016, I went with friends Diane Johnson and Chuck Cook up the summer trail in Huntington Ravine on Mount Washington, a trail that has a reputation for being the steepest in the mountains.
Then we crossed over the Alpine Garden and went down Lion Head for a classic 8-mile loop hike. Neither of them had hiked up Huntington Ravine before, and we shared a glow of accomplishment after the hike.
The conditions were perfect with mild weather, dry rock despite a downpour the night before, and many of the alpine flowers in full bloom.
Because of the lingering fog that morning, we had doubts if the steep trail up the ravine would be dry enough for a safe trip.
That morning, I checked out the Mount Washington Observatory web cams, and saw that Pinkham Notch and above were not fogged in, and the direct sun had been drying the rock slabs in the ravine since sunrise. I also called the AMC trails information desk at Pinkham Notch to reaffirm this.
Later, when we arrived in the notch, we briefly pulled off the road across from Pinkham Notch Camp to look up at our intended route in Huntington Ravine. It looked dry. We would try it.
For many people, this spring has been like a slowly opening bud. So many springs arrive like a hammer with hot days and there seems no gradual transition to summer. This year, those who watched were able to witness the gradual arrival of spring, appreciated more so by the frequent flashbacks of winter as it progressed
The seasonally mild weather last Saturday brought many to Mount Washington. Parking at Pinkham Notch Camp was an eye opener.
Arriving late at 9:30 a.m., we had to park in the dirt overflow lot to the south out on Route 16 and walk over the Ellis River on the pedestrian bridge built by Friends of Tuckerman for high volume during spring skiing. Now, it is used all summer on weekends and maybe on busy weekdays too.
The whole hike was a continued revelation on the high volume of Mount Washington hikers today. Personally, I didn’t have a negative reaction to this. On the other hand, we made a point of avoiding the summit.
We left the crowds on the Tuck Trail by talking the lower section of the Huntington Ravine Trail. I had not taken this for years, as the Huntington Ravine Fire Road located further up has become the chosen route for many, and the standard way in the winter.
The lower Huntington Ravine trail is beautiful and quiet, crossing the Cutler River and ascending next to the brook that drains Huntington. We didn’t expect to see anyone, but a group of 10 young men from the Coast Guard in Portland caught up with us.
We spent some time with them at a rest stop, and they took off ahead. Later, they caught up with us near the end of our hike after they had summited, demonstrating their incredible fitness.
Climbing up into Huntington Ravine is slowly entering a massive rock coliseum easily visible over the stunted trees as you approach. We finally scrambled up a boulder at the base of the Fan, a long slope of boulders leading up to the steep upper ravine.
We had a snack. The ravine looked dry. Two groups of college aged boys or younger straggled upward by us, then we followed. I mentioned to Diane that we were the elders in the steep ravine that day, and we agreed that was something to feel pride about.
Then a middle aged man descended past us. He said he had climbed Henderson Ridge earlier, a rock climb and scramble on the right side of the ravine next to North Gully. Later I looked it up. It is a fairly easy rock climb first done by Ken Henderson and Miriam Underhill in 1929. I might mosey that way on a warm day.
We scrambled up the Fan. Behind me, Diane Johnson was enjoying the scrambling immensely. Our slogging up the lower trails was over.
We reached the first slabs of the summer trail, conservatively marked by yellow blazes. Using friction technique we climbed in a row, using our hands for balance or holds, yet keeping our vertical balance and feet flat on the rock. After that, the trail wound about, alternating with walking, friction climbing, and careful scrambling. My friends loved it.
We began to see alpine plants. The maroon flowers of Lapland Rosebay were especially striking, the classic white flowers of Diapensia, and the tiny pink flowers of Alpine Azalea.
Finally, we topped out on the alpine garden and finished our lunch in a nook on the edge of Central Gully next to our ascent route. We headed across the flat Alpine Garden Trail, intending to take the Lion Head Trail down. The profusion of flowers confirmed that is was a special year for them.
Countless Lapland Rosebay gave the tundra a maroon tinge over large areas, something I don’t remember seeing before. Large patches of Diapensia were just beginning to go by, yet were still vibrant, and Alpine Azalea filled in nooks with pink.
We passed a couple small groups of hikers, there to see the flowers. I joked afterward to my friends that one of the groups seemed to have the stiff upper lip of proper Bostonians doing their required nature observation.
Descending the Lion Head Trail, we looked down in Tuckerman Ravine, there was still a 50-foot patch of snow below the Chute that has some shush marks on it from die hard spring skiers.
Soon we were on the lower Tuck Trail, heading down to Pinkham Notch. Walking down in the procession with all the other hikers, I compared it to the feeling of walking on a pilgrimage route, like the El Camino in Spain, which I had never been to.
For most of us descending the trail, it had been a day long New England pilgrimage.
Note: Looking for an easier trail to climb up to the alpine flowers? The three mile Crawford Path up to Mount Pierce (4,312 feet) is the easiest ascent of a 4,000 footer. The parking lot is located off the Mount Clinton Road across from the AMC Highland Center north of Crawford Notch on Route 302.