My missing link on Mt. Washington June 8, 2009Posted by Jenny in hiking, White Mountains.
Tags: alpine flowers, Boott Spur, Mt. Washington, Tuckerman Ravine, White Mountains
I’ve been up all of the trails that lead to the summit of Mt. Washington, but there is one trail called the Boott Spur Link that I had long ago noticed on the map and wondered about. It connects the floor of Tuckerman Ravine at Hermit Lake with the trail that leads to the 5502-ft. elevation shoulder of Washington called Boott Spur. Yesterday I did a circuit going up Boott Spur Link and up to the Davis Path, then over to the top of George, and down the Lions Head trail. The headwall section of the Tuckerman trail is in its usual seasonal closure now because of lingering snow and ice.
I was feeling energetic and did the 2.4 miles, 1860 vertical feet to Hermit Lake in an hour. As I sat on the porch of the shelter, a few shaggy-looking guys were wandering around, talking about the skiing in Tucks. The season is not by any means over, by the way. I saw these skiers partway up the climb out of the ravine:
Before I started my climb, I gazed across the ravine at a slightly frightening-looking gully that I thought must be the Boott Spur Link. As it turned out, the trail angles up to the right of the gully. But it was still steep. After meandering in the woods for a bit, it goes pretty much straight up. Here is a view looking down from near the top.
After reaching the ridgetop, I started the stairlike climb to Boott Spur. Along the way I met a woman who was on a quest to find alpine flowers in bloom. Right where we met, there was a cushion of miniature flowers with a tiny wind-carved bonsai birch growing next to it.
She told me I would see Lapland rosebay further up, and she was right:
It just fascinates me how this plant is a miniature cousin of the rhododendrons growing in our yards, which seem almost coarse and bloated by comparison. These survivors live in the harshest possible environments. These were next to a screefall at about 5200 feet.
The summit cone of George was beginning to loom larger as I turned onto the Davis Path and passed numerous elegantly constructed cairns. Many of them had blocks of quartz carefully placed on top for better visibility in the whiteout conditions that sometimes trap unwary hikers. (I remember one hike on Mt. Jefferson with my brother when visibility was so bad that we had to take turns searching for the next cairn, calling out to each other because we couldn’t see each other any more than we could see the cairns.)
I stopped at the Tuckerman trail junction for something to eat (three large chocolate-chip cookies) before starting the final push up the steep summit cone. I noticed how the rough, sandpapery texture of the rocks on the upper Tuckerman trail was worn smooth from hiker traffic. You could actually tell when you strayed off the course just by the feel of the rocks, without even looking around you.
The summit had its usual full spectrum of humanity—hikers, auto road people, and cog people. Some people hate the cog because of its puffs of soot, but I am too much of a railroad fan and admirer of 19th century technology to dislike it. Some thin, high clouds were moving in, and the tourists were clutching their sweaters around them in the stiff breeze. I always like the view of the northern Presies from the top.
I thought about having a bowl of summit chili, but in the end I stuck with my usual Irving convenience store sandwich (this was one of their better ones, with “Southwest mayo,” whatever that is). After resting a bit and refilling a water bottle, I headed back down the upper Tuckerman trail. From the vantage point of halfway down the cone, the headwall of Tuckerman has a remarkable dropoff.
Then it was down the Lions Head trail. I don’t use that trail very much in summer (like most winter climbers of George, I have used the winter Lions Head route, which uses a slope that is less avalanche-prone than the summer route). I’d forgotten what a pain in the butt sections of it are—eroded with annoying little scrambles. But you do get some good views into the ravine.
As usual, the wind was stiffest right around the Lions Head itself—much stronger than on the summit, though obviously some unstable weather was starting to come in. I made my way down the trail section that switchbacks down toward Hermit Lake, passing a sweaty woman who was descending with a full pack. I tried to give her words of encouragement, but I could tell she was in that state of mind of “This is just one aggravation after another!” Actually, I was pretty sweaty myself, and starting to get tired.
Finally down the Tuckerman fire road. Something dawned on me that is probably pretty obvious: that this was a great hike with spectacular views but not a hike to take if you just want to enjoy being in the woods. The fire road is such a wide swath of rubble that you hardly notice the trees around you, and everything above the fire road is at or above treeline.
The sky was looking very strange when I got down to Pinkham, but there were only a few light showers as I drove home. The hike took me seven and a half hours from start to finish.