What a day.
Rainbow and I planned to meet at the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trailhead at 9AM. I left my house at 6:30AM.
The forecast for town was light rain in the morning (leftover from the night before) and in the 70s during the day. The forecast for the summit was light rain until around 9AM, then “some clouds” and 20MPH winds. Temps at the summit expected to be around 45F. And just for added context, it was forecast to be around 80F at home.
I arrived 15 minutes late to the trailhead, Rainbow was already there. It was indeed lightly raining. And very misty/foggy. It was warm enough though, and we’d be hiking mostly through the trees, so I stuck with my usual summer hiking attire, bike shorts and a hiking skirt with a tank top. This will be important later and probably not for the reason you might be thinking.
The two miles of the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail are lovely. Fairly flat, a small water crossing here and there, following along the Ammonoosuc River. As usual in the Whites, the trail lulls you into a sense of “oh this is delightful, don’t know why I ever complain about difficult hikes”.
There was one sketchy, wiggly bridge we had to cross. Rarely do the log crossing have hand rails. This one had one, but it MOVED. I’m not sure if it was better or worse having it.
At 2.1 miles you come to Gem Pool. Very pretty and would have been amazing to dip into on a hot summer day. Alas, this was a cool, rainy summer day.
From the trailhead to Gem Pool, the trail is 2.1 miles and gains roughly 1,000 feet of elevation gain. Gem Pool to the summit is 1.4 miles and gains 1,900 feet. Nearly double the elevation gain in less distance. So yeah, the trail gets a bit tougher at this point.
There were also lots of water crossings. I’m not a fan of water crossings, but these were mostly of the “I hope I don’t get my socks wet” variety rather than the “OHMYGOD I MIGHT FALL IN AND GET SWEPT AWAY AND DIE” variety.
Rainbow: “I’m feeling a bit sluggish”. Me: “ok”. Her:
The rain and the water crossings did make for some great photos though.
The rain however was not clearing up as the forecast had said it would. As we ascended, it was also getting windier. We saw a few parties coming down that were bundled up in rain gear and hats and gloves. I run hot. Even in winter, I will sometimes hike in just a tank top. I am also an over prepared hiker, so even though I was hiking in a tank top and skirt, I had a jacket and pants in my pack (as well as another dry shirt and sports bra). I was warm enough, and was keeping all those clothes in my pack so they would stay dry and I could change into them at the summit, where I would likely need the warmth. All that said, they were all bundled up and I was wet in a tanktop and skirt, so I can see how some people might have thought I looked like an unprepared hiker. Add to all of this context for what comes next, I am not skinny, nor am I young. I don’t look like your typical hiker.
As I said, we were ascending, the trail is very steep, it’s raining, and windy. A party of hikers was descending, all bundled up. As often happens when standing aside to let others go, there was an exchange of pleasantries and trail conditions. However, the trail conditions update from the descending party seemed to turn to concern for our attire. I assured them I had a jacket in my pack and I just run hot. They then seemed to further assert that it was really windy up there. Now I get it. I see people that don’t look prepared and I worry about them. Sometimes I ask where they’re headed and let them know what’s ahead. But this conversation seemed to keep going, and they seemed to be saying we shouldn’t go up. I told them we were heading to the hut, and we would turn around before the summit if we didn’t feel the weather was good enough. (The trail to the hut is mostly protected by trees, it’s only the short hike from the hut to the summit that is fully exposed). The final kicker was when one person told me “The mountain will always be there”. I had to respond and say “We’re good, we know, I’m a trailhead steward”. They finally seemed to back off after that and went on their way.
However, they got in my head. I began to doubt myself. I began to doubt that the sun would come out. I began to doubt that I could ever get up this mountain. Up to this point I was willing to get to the hut and then decide, but now I wondered if we should just turn around. I asked Rainbow what she thought. I don’t remember her exact words, but she said exactly what I needed to hear. That group was underestimating me. Either because of my clothes or my physique or both. She was right. We know what we’re doing. We know what we can handle. We are well-prepared (some might say over prepared) in terms of gear. We had a smart plan that took bad weather into consideration. So we continued on.
And wouldn’t you know it, the sun started to peek out and the rain stopped.
As I said, the trail was steep.
Image credit: Rainbow
We had to cross quite a few sketchy granite slabs, but we finally made it to the Lakes of the Clouds hut.
Once inside, we had some lunch and watched the clouds move in and out. At times able to see the summit of Monroe then watching it disappear.
On one of these water crossings coming up, I got water in my shoe. I think it may have even been the first time I’ve done that on a hike. Since it wasn’t super cold, and I knew there were likely to be more crossings, I didn’t immediately change my socks. Once in the hut, I changed from tank top and skirt into a dry tank top and leggings. I put on my DRY jacket. I only changed the one wet sock, keeping my other clean, dry sock in reserve in case I got it wet again on the way back down. Lunch done and clothes changed, we headed up to the summit.
It was definitely windy. Now the one thing I didn’t properly pack was my hat. It’s summer and I run hot, so I only had the hat I use for sun and wearing a bug net, which would have immediately blown off and down the mountain. However, I always pack several bandanas, so I did my best impression of Grandma Gatewood in order to keep the wind off my ears.
Returning to the hut from the summit, it was really cool to watch the clouds pass. At one moment, I could actually the lakes from the “Lakes of the Clouds”.
A quick stop in the hut just to use the facilities, and then it was time to descend. The clouds had really moved back in and it felt almost dark. It had taken us a lot longer than I planned to ascend, and with the clouds, I began to worry we wouldn’t get back to the trailhead before dark. Now we’ve both hiked in darkness, and were prepared with headlamps, but I was really starting to worry about the granite slabs and the water crossings. I had a moment of panic, in which Rainbow reassured me, we’d be fine. Spoiler alert: she was right.
The sun started to shine through a bit.
The sun really started to come out and I’m on my fourth costume change of the day (I just took off the jacket).
We got across the granite slabs (many of them via butt scooching) and water crossings that I was most worried about. And I was able to relax a bit.
Brief stop at Gem Pool on the way back and we saw this guy.
Then it was just a matter of getting back to the car. Amusingly, I find I hit a point in the hike where I no longer can control where my feet land. I’m just sort of flinging my leg forward and hoping my foot lands somewhere good, heavily relying on my poles to keep me from falling over.
The sun continued to be out enough that much of the trail was dry, and we made it back to the trailhead around 8:30, JUST before sunset. I was home at 11PM. A long day, but a great one!
- Distance: 7 miles
- Elevation gain: 2,900 feet
- Total time: 10 hours, 37 minutes
- Moving time: 7 hours, 23 minutes
Random shoe/physical ailments/nutrition sidebar:
Knee tape – Last hike I taped my knees and while not scientifically proven to do anything, my knees actually felt better AFTER that hike than they did before. I taped them again for this hike and they feel great, especially considering the steepness of this hike. Several people asked about the tape and I had to admit, I don’t know if it’s a placebo or actually helping, but it’s light enough that I don’t care, I’ll likely keep using it.
Shoes – I’ve gone through several styles and brands of shoe looking for the perfect hiking shoe for me. I was wearing Men’s Salomon X Ultra 3 Low Aero Hiking Shoes, but one winter started wearing (non winter) Women’s Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Hiking Boots. The boots are waterproof, so I started wearing them as my regular hiking shoe. However, they give me blisters on my toes. Typing this up, I’m thinking it’s because they’re women’s and have a narrower toe box. Anyway, on this hike, I reverted back to the low shoe, which was great from a comfort perspective (no blisters!), but is also why I got water in my shoe since the entire front is mesh.
Nutrition – this hike hit home the lesson of “If I start to hate hiking and wondering why I’m doing this, stop and eat something”. I definitely started to feel that way, especially after the people got in my head. We stopped for a snack and that went away. More importantly, the end of the hike is always the worst. I get really cranky. Likely because I never want to stop to eat, I just push through to get to the car. This time I snacked at the gem pool and was in a MUCH better mood on the way out.