Hiking Mount Washington: A Tale of Positive Proportions

When I was in college, I had an extraordinary group of guy friends, who could convince me to do (almost) anything. They’re the most fun, loving, and outdoorsy guys I know, and routinely could be found making ski movies in New Zealand, hiking through backwoods in Vermont, or eating six slices of pizza in one sitting.

I lived with several of them for a few years. There was an epic adventure, which I almost said no to, that turned out to be the journey of a lifetime. Seriously- why would anyone who had NEVER HIKED A REAL MOUNTAIN BEFORE EVER chose to hike the highest peak in the Northeastern United States on her first actual hike?

Oh, right, because I didn’t chose to, I was asked, and because I was great friends with all of these amazing folks:

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a party of epic proportions

Plus, they made me. Well, they didn’t MAKE me, but they said please. It sounded like a party weekend, filled with drinking, shenanigans, and, what I thought would be a wee bit of hiking, before coming back to Vermont, feeling totally refreshed and upbeat.

The men organized the troupe, and Andie, my solo girlfriend on the journey, and I went along for the ride. We stayed over at our friend’s condo (thanks, Orne!) in New Hampshire and did a little sightseeing in the town. I was amazed by the beauty of the mountains all around us, specifically, the peak that would challenge us all, Mount Washington.

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unreal beauty

It was a break from school for us, so the Burlingtonites decided to venture down on a Thursday, and return on a Monday. Or a Wednesday, something like that. On Friday, we began the hike, choosing to fill the fridge and our backpacks with food and beer, load up on water and snacks, and lace up our hiking gear before getting started. The best dog to ever live, Hunny Bear, came with us, and she was just a peach, keeping on the trail the whole time and never leaving our sights.

(Until she climbed up the most steep and dangerous part of Tuckerman’s Ravine and one of our friends had to drag her down, but that’s another story!)

The men started preparing for this before I joined up, so I relied on the wisdom of their experience to guide the way. A friend’s father had done it before, and had described the journey to Tuckerman’s Ravine as feeling like you were ‘kneeling and standing at the same time’.

Gulp.

I was finished before we even began; I had a headache, I was hungry, I was tired, I felt fat and out of shape, and I didn’t know what I was up against, and yada, yada, yada. The articles I’d read online said that the journey should take around 6 hours, but it took us longer, as we took our time to enjoy the bowl, once we arrived in it, grilling and having snacks.

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one of my many breaks

I was constantly encouraged by my friends, whose enthusiasm drew me out of my withdrawal, funk and lack of sleep. I was slowly making my way up an elevation of 4,300 ft., but my heart knew it wouldn’t be the last time; it was just the beginning.

Because, you know, we had to come back down. Really grounding, looking down an elevation of 4,300 ft., and wishing you were already at the car park, but I digress.

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my friends hiking (with boards and skis on their backs) up Tuckerman’s Ravine

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the ‘bowl’; Tuckerman’s Ravine

8.4 miles, a ton of water, and a few hours after we arrived, they packed up the grill and the remainder of the hot dogs, and we hiked back down. I’ll never forget the sight of the bowl, seeing it after hiking for 6 long hours. It was glorious, but looked like it would kill you if you lost control.

We made it back down, and the men were already talking about hiking it again. “Awesome,” I thought, relaxing against the deck railing of the base lodge, “We’re going to make this an annual thing!”. That was not what they were talking about.

They said Monday, as in…this Monday, like two days from now?! Ah! How could we, my legs were already sore and blisters were already bothering my feet. Plus, I wanted to sleep! I was screwed. I had no choice but to laugh it off and do it again.

We were going to do it again- that same weekend.

Only two things could be worse than hiking the most treacherous, dangerous, and thrilling mountain experience of my very juvenile years: hiking it a SECOND time, and then a THIRD.

Thankfully, only one of these fears came true, and we did hike Mount Washington a second time that weekend, with one complete day of rest after our first hike. It’s amazing to me the incredible feat that was accomplished that weekend. For me, it was an emphasis on the strength and agility within my reach and how to not let myself down.

I entered a place inside my head, before the trip, where I became cranky at the thought of gearing up and getting started, because it seemed too hard- too hard to look up at everyone’s feet passing me by, to go slowly on the trail because I was afraid to slip, to make my friends keep up with me, to stop and sit when I needed to, to try not to cry, to ice my sore hamstrings afterwards- okay, I thought, there had to be benefits, too, right?

Yes.

To look at the sky, the see the beauty of the mountains, to bathe in the pure exhilaration of the open air, to wander around the fresh snow in mid-March, to eat the berries and snacks the boys brought, to have my friends with me on one of the most unique experiences of my days, and so on- it was thrilling and beautiful all at the same time.

And I was forgiving, of myself, for my lackluster hiking abilities and sloppily braided hair, and of my men, for being so excited and ready to push their limits when I was ready to drop dead. I loved them for it, but I couldn’t see them any longer, so it was time to speed up.

I couldn’t believe my eyes, gazing up at the bowl for the second time in two days, all because of my own willpower and perseverance- man, oh, man, what a sight!

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If I could climb Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast, TWICE, in one weekend, after actually having NEVER HIKED A REAL MOUNTAIN EVER, I could totally do anything.

So I did.

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