On my bucket list of White Mountain hikes is the Huntington Ravine Trail. Hailed as one of the steepest and potentially dangerous trails with some exposure that would be unnerving to some hikers, it was something that at one time I thought I would never hike. Older, wiser and with more hiking experience (and perhaps a few less brain cells) I’ve discovered that I actually enjoy these sorts of trails! While doing some trail work, a fellow trail worker and I got to chatting about trails and discovered we’d both wanted to hike this one. The seemingly endless monsoon we’d been stuck in finally seemed to be over, so with the weather cooperating, Saturday was the day. The only thing we needed to figure out was what we were going to do once we reached the top of the headwall of Huntington’s Ravine. Looking at the map, there were several options that did not include a trip to the summit of Mt. Washington. Neither of cared to visit the summit again, so we settled on on trip through the Alpine Garden and then down Tuckerman’s Ravine to get back to Pinkham Notch.
We arrived at Pinkham Notch at a reasonable time and set off among all the other people enjoying the nice weather and the Presidential Mountains. We quickly headed up the Tuckerman Ravine trail, making it to the junction with the Huntington Ravine Trail very quickly so that we begin the real part of our adventure, new trail and the ravine itself. Almost immediately after turning off the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, we noticed some differences. It was much narrower, less used and had quite a few less people. The lower section of the trail winds through thick spruce forest with dense mossy carpets and along side a branch of the Cutler River. The river provided several crossings and views of rushing cascades and deep pools along the way. All the while, the trail continued to go upward toward the floor of the ravine, but all with all the scenery along the way, it didn’t feel like a hard hike at all. We passed the first aid cache and came to a more open area and got our first views of the headwall. Every time we looked up, it loomed closer and closer. Soon the trail was not a dirt trail, but a rock hop over very large boulders complete with very large gaps that we did not want to fall into. Some of these little cave-like areas still had snow and ice!
On the ravine floor, the trail winds through scrub and boulders and through the fan area. Eventually we arrived at the top of the fan and at the base of the first slab. It was here we knew that once we got up the slab, we’d have to continue upward and could not turn back. It was an exciting moment, as we took a moment to look around and see exactly where we were. Everywhere we looked, there were amazing views of rocks and cascades on the headwall. We then started up. The first slab is the smoothest and steepest of everything on the headwall, but we easily climbed up, as there were plenty of cracks to follow for hand and foot holds. Once up this slab, the trail continues to go up the headwall in sections, usually a scrambling section followed by a ledge or somewhere to stand and take a look at the surroundings, then figure out the next scramble. Each time we looked out, the views just got better as we got higher on the headwall. We encountered plenty of steep slabs, chimneys and other rocks to scramble over and up. I never really felt in danger, and only had one moment of slight fear where I knew that if my hand hold and foot hold was not good, I might take a tumble. That was probably a good thing; too much confidence can be as dangerous as too much fear. A good deep breath and a big push and I was up and on to the next challenge. Almost too soon, we saw a cairn, and I knew that was the beginning of the end. I was a little sad, but tried not to think about it and just continued upward. The footing got easier, the grade eased a bit and we were at the giant cairn signaling the top of the ravine. There we were, standing at the top of the ravine, having enjoyed every minute of the hike up. Such a fun thing to do, and the day wasn’t over yet!
After a good break, enjoying the sights, taking pictures and eating some lunch, we started across the Alpine Garden Trail. We chose this route to connect to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail and to see if there were still any alpine plants in bloom. We knew the garden was past peak in terms of blooming, but were pleasantly surprised to find quite a variety of plants, some of which were still in bloom. It soon became a game to watch my footing and yet watch the side of the trail for unusual leaves or flowers. There were many plants that neither of us had seen and since my partner had brought along his AMC Field Guide to the New England Alpine Summits, we were able to identify them. In the 1.5 miles that we were on the Alpine Garden Trail, we identified about 20 different species of plants, either herbaceous, shrub, sedge or moss. I was really amazed at the variety of plants and plant communities in such a harsh environment. It is surprising that anything grows there at all, yet year after year, these plants tenaciously continue to grow and delight any that happen to take notice of them.
Nearing the junction with the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, we took another break at a nice viewpoint where we could gaze down into the floor of the ravine to the Hermit Lake Shelter area. Now it was time for the third part of the hike, the trip down through Tuckerman’s Ravine. This part of the trip was easier, as we were descending and enjoying even more spectacular views of the second ravine of the day and the multiple cascades streaming down the headwall. For some reason we felt that although far from being domesticated, Tuckerman’s Ravine had a different character than the more wild and remote feeling Huntington’s Ravine. At Hermit Lake, we took one last break, taking in the majestic views of the bowl and then headed back to Pinkham Notch.
What an amazing hike among some of the finest scenery in the northeast! We were immensely blessed with beautiful weather, spectacular scenery, strength and safety. Huntington’s Ravine is something not to be missed if you really enjoy steep trails and rock scrambling!
Special thanks to S. MacF. for being a great partner on such an endeavor!