There haven’t been a lot of hiking blog posts this year as there simply haven’t been a lot of hikes. Similarly, there haven’t been a lot of waterfall visits or posts either. Life sometimes has other plans for us. So imagine my delight when I could combine two 4000 footers with one of the highest rated waterfalls in New England. You might day we hit the trifecta, but we didn’t stop at three amazing experiences. On a spectacular October day after a day of heavy rains, we were set up for quite a day in the White Mountains.
That heavy rain factored in to where we parked and which trail head we started from. The easy button on this day was to pay the fee for parking at the Cog Railway parking lot and hiking up the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail. This is a relatively easy trail to warm up on, until you hit the gem pool and begin a steep incline. This was a workout for this author, recently celebrating long streaks of 10,000 steps on flat land and thinking that translated into better fitness, but it was a small price to pay for the spectacular views of falling water and, once above tree line, the vistas from Mount Monroe and Mount Washington. Ironically, my Apple Watch died halfway through the hike and my streak of 10K steps “ended” on a day I did far more. Go figure.
The Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail offers plenty of opportunity to see falling water. The Gem Pool is a lovely spot with a 35 foot waterfall right on the trail and impossible to miss. Further along, there’s a side spur that features a more stunning view of a 600-700 foot cascade that was roaring on this particular day. Some blown-down trees partially blocked the spur trail but it was a small investment in time for an incredible view. Talking to one hiker as we came back to the main trail, I mentioned that it was totally worth the side trip. He politely ignored me and continued his hike up to Mount Monroe. I wondered, how many incredible moments do we miss out on when we’re so singularly focused on a goal? To use Pico Iyer’s phrase, we abdicate possibility in such moments.
The trail eventually brings you to the AMC Lakes of the Clouds Hut, closed for the season when we arrived, but offering a warm sunny spot to take a break before continuing to summit Mount Monroe. This is where serendipity stepped in, and we bumped into the two sons of a close friend as they descended from Monroe just after we’d done the same. A few minutes for either party and the encounter would never have happened. Life is full of such chance encounters when we put ourselves in a position to experience them.
The hike to Mount Washington from Mount Monroe looks relatively simple, but that’s the White Mountains for you. The reality is a hike up a boulder field one deliberate step at a time. Some trail runners make quick work of this, for me it was an opportunity to pace myself. The two sons were soon summiting Mount Washington while I took my sweet time. My hiking buddy Tom was kind enough to wait for me now and then. Getting back in hiking shape after months away from it takes a few hikes. Resuming my quest to complete the 48 4000 footers on the highest peak wasn’t reckless (Washington is relatively easy compared to some lower peaks), but it was bold.
On this particular day, the Mount Washington Observatory was celebrating its 90th birthday with tours of the weather station. This was a wonderful opportunity to see what happens behind that door, and literally top the experience off with a climb to the weather observatory itself, the highest point you can stand on in New England, and have a look around. Opportunities like that don’t come along often, and it was another moment of serendipity on this day of days.
If this all sounds like it was too good to be true, well, I still had to pay penance for the audacity of hiking two of the highest peaks in one day. That price was paid in the form of a pair of boots that weren’t up to the task, making the descent rather painful, and with some cramping in the thighs as the finish was just in sight. There were lessons learned on this day: Don’t ever go on a hike unprepared for the things you’ll put yourself through, and always have the best boots available to help finish the job. If there’s a positive lesson, and you’ve no doubt picked up on it already, it’s that putting yourself out there pays dividends in experience both challenging and inspiring. We may live a grander and more full life simply by moving towards it.