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Failure at Raymond Cataract December 1, 2010

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, White Mountains.
Tags: , , , , ,

I bushwhacked a short distance into this blowdown zone and said to myself, "Nope!"

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of the Ravine of Raymond Cataract.  It is a shallow ravine on the east side of Mt. Washington, located between two much more famous neighbors, Tuckerman Ravine and Huntington Ravine. You can see it quite clearly from the upper slopes of Wildcat. In the photo below from the Brad Washburn collection, you see the RoRC on the left and Huntington on the right.

Upstaged by its neighbor, but still interesting

Early editions of the AMC White Mountain Guide give directions for navigating up the ravine, while a 1992 edition in my possession says,  “Raymond Cataract falls through a series of wild and beautiful cascades in the Ravine of Raymond Cataract, but brush has covered a former footway, so the cataract can only be reached by those intrepid explorers who are skilled in off-trail travel.” Editions more recent than that make no mention at all of travel up the ravine. (Recent guidebooks are so much more sensible than older ones.)

So, how on earth did I decide to give it a try on a late November day? I had just one day available for hiking in northern New Hampshire, and I was having trouble picking a destination. I’ve done all the 4000 footers in winter—although I should add that November, coming before the winter solstice, doesn’t count in the AMC’s official winter peakbagging rules. In some ways November is easier than winter (warmer temps, not much snow) and in some ways it is harder (lots of ice, tricky stream crossings, daylight hours shorter than Feb.-March). I was having trouble mustering up enthusiasm for anything, until I looked at a map, noticed the RoRC, and thought, “Aha!” Somehow the idea really grabbed me. I knew I wasn’t going to get all the way up the ravine (it would be stupid to try that solo in cold weather, anyway), but I thought I could get up to the lowest cascade. It was a climb of only about 300 vertical feet from the trail.

Just to make my hike even more peculiar, I decided that rather than going to the RoRC by the shortest route (Tucks fire road to Huntington Ravine trail to Raymond Path), I would start at the very beginning of the Raymond Path, which I had never been on before. So I set forth from Pinkham Notch along the Old Jackson trail to make a long zigzag route.

Since it’s been nearly two years since I’ve experienced the White Mountains with ice and snow, I enjoyed things that would probably seem pretty ho-hum otherwise.

I liked the contrast of the stones under the stream with the ice

The Old Jackson trail is part of the A.T., becoming used as a cross-country ski trail in winter. But despite the diamond-shaped metal ski markers on the trees, I would say Old Jackson has a ways to go before it’s skiable.

Not quite ready for skiing

I took miscellaneous “nature shots.” That’s the term you use when there’s nothing very exciting in the picture.

Lumpy ice

Peeling birch

There were quite a few footprints on Old Jackson, but when I made the sharp turn onto the Raymond Path, I saw that only one person had been on the path since snow had fallen. I was actually surprised to see even that set. Surely no one else would be doing the same thing I was. Perhaps it was an ice climber heading to Huntington who had been dropped off at the Auto Road? But that doesn’t make sense. Someone “redlining” all the trails in each month of the year?

Raymond Path

There were open places along the way, probably old avalanche runouts. I could sense the presence of towering heights around me.

Lion's Head ridge in the background

Crossing this stream was a little difficult---but it was pretty

Scrub spruces in avalanche zone

So I crossed the Huntington Ravine trail and continued on to the RoRC. And I started bushwhacking through the scrub and the blowdowns (pictured at top). After doing this for about fifteen minutes and traveling an exceedingly short distance, I thought to myself, “You know, I think this would be a fine day for going up into Tucks and taking some pictures!” And so I ignominiously retreated.

When I arrived at Hermit Lakes, it started to snow. Pretty hard. Not good weather for photography. So I trundled down the Tucks fire road and back to Pinkham Notch, where I had a fine bowl of chili. Forget about chili from Texas or the Southwest or any place like that. Mt. Washington has the best chili.

Oddly enough, I enjoyed my outing. I’ll try RoRC again—I think in summer. I suppose I should feel bad about not going up Lion’s Head or all the way to the summit, except that I’ve done it a number of times before.

This is the kind of riffraff you run into on the Lion's Head route


1. kaslkaos - December 2, 2010

I like your ‘miscellaneous’ shots. Lumpy ice, peeling bark, and rocks under ice. Such things appeal to me.

Jenny - December 2, 2010

I feel the same way, but I also realize that not everyone shares my enthusiasm! It was my mother who taught me to appreciate the small things in nature, the things that are not dramatic but nevertheless beautiful.

2. Stan - February 3, 2011

Sounds like a good adventure anyway. When I was a kid, we had a 1966 AMC White Mountain Guide that I read obsessively, and I remember being intrigued by the section about Raymond Cataract. I even got to do it once, back in 1981, and it was very nice. Sadly, I have only two pictures from that day:


Jenny - February 3, 2011

Fabulous! Thanks so much for sharing those pix… whets my appetite even more. Was there any trace of a trail in 1981?

3. Stan - February 3, 2011

Not really. Which wasn’t surprising, since the 1966 guidebook said that the former trail was very faint. But it wasn’t a difficult bushwhack. Really just a matter of following the stream up until you come out at the Alpine Garden Trail. And as I recall, from there I just headed straight ahead up the rocks to the summit.

Jenny - February 3, 2011

Looks like a choice between rock scrambling and krummholz as you go along. I’ll take the rock scrambling. Probably safest done in low water conditions, but prettiest in high water conditions.

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