As the weather gets warmer and the hiking season begins to attract more and more avid outdoorsy types, there's one mountain that avid hikers have on their bucket lists: Mount Washington. For those who are passionate about their accomplishments and determined to add notable landmarks to their list of hiking prowess, this mountain towers above the rest... although not literally.
At less than 7,000 feet, this might seem like a piece of cake for the experienced hiker who has taken on mountains of 14,000 feet or higher in the U.S. However, it's that exact attitude that has led to more than 160 people losing their lives in an attempt to summit this mountain. While this statistic is there to inform and educate, rather than cause fear, it's one that should be respected - and this is everything hikers should know before attempting to hike Mount Washington.
Being Ill-Prepared Is What Led To Many Tragic Endings
As with any hiking trip, packing well - and smart - can help a hiker to avoid many potentially dangerous situations. In the case of Mount Washington, there are many factors to consider:
- Dressing appropriately for the weather, both at the top and bottom of the summit.
- Wearing proper footwear with good traction that's also waterproof.
- Packing enough water to last at least eight hours or more.
- Bringing food that's full of protein and easy to eat on the go.
- Considering the wind at the top and whether head and ear protection is needed.
- Putting together a comprehensive first-aid kit for any potential accidents.
And these are only some of the most basic things to factor into what one should be bringing in their hiking packs. A more comprehensive list for hiking includes:
- First-aid kit. This will include the basics such as antiseptic and band-aids, but also things like ace bandages, gauze, and medical tape.
- Good hiking boots. This is not the time to hike in tennis shoes or sandals; hiking boots with good ankle support is a great option to prevent twisted ankles and loose footing.
- Clothing layers. While it might be a perfect 60 degrees at the trailhead, the summit can be a frigid 40 degrees. Bringing along something such as under armor, a windbreaker for windy conditions, and a raincoat are all good options.
- Enough water. Granted, this will not make for a light pack - but it will ensure that dehydration along the way is not an issue.
- Snacks. It's a good idea to bring more rather than less, and dehydrated foods that can be made by simply adding water is a great way to prepare for the potential of an overnight stop.
- Temporary shelter. For those heading out in conditions that are anything less than sunny, warm, and cloudless skies, a temporary shelter such as a lightweight tent is a great thing to have, just in case.
- Flashlights or headlamps. Starting the trail in the early morning darkness or attempting to come back after dark absolutely requires a light source.
- GPS or a compass or map. While trails can be downloaded on one's phone, they'll be useless if the battery dies - bring a map and a compass.
- Personal locator beacon. This is optional but can provide peace of mind to both hikers and their family and friends.
Additional things to consider are hiking apps that can report one's location to a specific phone number, as well as topography maps to help hikers prepare for the trail ahead.
Mount Washington Is Home To Some Of The World's Most Extreme Weather
Another major reason that hikers end up lost or stranded, which is only exacerbated by those who are ill-prepared for hiking, is the weather. Mount Washington has seen wind speeds of 231 miles per hour, which is the highest wind speed measured in the world. It's estimated that these winds may have even been more powerful, but the equipment measuring them stopped working after this gust registered. Additionally, the temperatures at the summit (6,288 feet) are far different from those at the base of the mountain. Hypothermia can arise quickly, especially for those who are not dressed for the occasion. Temperatures of -35 degrees have been measured on the mountain, which is comparable to those in the South Pole - in fact, Mount Washington has been known to be the second-coldest place on earth following Antarctica. This can lead to a wind chill of up to -100 below zero, which takes only seconds to bring someone's core temperature down.
Thunderstorms are prone to popping up sporadically at the top, so it's not only important to check the weather for days prior to hiking - but it's also important to pay attention to the weather conditions while hiking. If clouds begin to move in, it's a good time to call it a day and head back down.
- Remember: If it's cloudy, chances are that the view from the summit will be nonexistent, not to mention result in dangerous conditions.
On average, fog at the summit clouds the view roughly 300 days out of the year. This means that hiking conditions are rarely perfect, and the best views are likely to be seen on the way up rather than from the summit.
Crevasses, Steep Inclines, And One Of The Most Dangerous Hiking Trails In The U.S.
There are a number of reasons why some hikers never made it back down from Mount Washington. One of those is due to its landscape, which seems unsuspecting depending on which trail one takes. The Lion's Head trail is known for being one of the easiest, and it's recommended for most hikers. However, those who consider themselves in top physical condition and want the challenge usually opt for the Huntington Ravine.
- Fact: Huntington Ravine is the most dangerous hiking trail in the White Mountains, and likely in all of New England.
While the 20+ miles of the Presidential Ridge is one of the most dangerous hiking trails in the U.S., Huntington Ravine is a very close second. This trail starts off rough from the beginning, with steep inclines, rock scrambles, and stream crossings, and that's only for the first few miles. With a total of roughly nine miles to traverse, the trail picks up the technical difficulty at the exposed ridgeline. This ravine requires hikers to free-climb rock faces, one of which is fairly sheer and requires skill in finding foot and handholds to progress upward. As if this wasn't enough, basketball-sized rocks constantly threaten to come loose, and falling or slipping is not an option, lest hikers are prepared to fall down into the ravine. While it is a fun challenge for some, it should not be attempted by the average hiker, as indicated by the warning signs posted at the trailhead.
Consider Hiking Mount Washington With A Guide Or A Group
Those who are determined to climb the most dangerous small mountain in the world should consider hiring a guide or hiking with a group. This is especially recommended for those unfamiliar with the White Mountains and their weather conditions, as it could be a life-saving measure. There are many groups and organizations that offer free hikes, and it's easy enough to find guides who know the area and the terrain well.