Adjusting to “Normal”
I am embarrassed to say I was surprised at how busy Pinkham Notch was. It was nine o’clock in the morning and the parking lot was already full. Cars were swarming in search of parking spots along the road and in the overflow lots. As people searched for places to leave their cars, the crowds were massing at the trailheads. I began to question our decision to go to Mount Washington on that day, but with the promise of good weather and the following day off it was too good to pass up. I don’t know why I was surprised by the crowds; after all, the weather forecast was spectacular and, with it being Labor Day weekend, it was the last opportunity many would have to escape for the summer.
My surprise most likely stems from the retail schedule I have kept for the last decade. The truth is, most past Labor Days have been spent working in a store, not outside having fun. This retail schedule is something I am preparing to leave behind, and I will soon be joining the weekend warriors that flock to the mountains on Saturdays and Sundays. No longer will I have the luxury of spending quiet mid-week days in the mountains. Judging by the crowds at Pinkham Notch, it is hard to say if I’m really ready for the change. The idea of escaping into nature on a day like that is hard to fathom, as it seems that many leave behind the hustle and bustle of their daily lives to find similar trappings in the mountains. I thought to myself that I may have been spoiled for the last ten years, only having to share the mountains with a few other souls, and coming to them when I knew I would not have to share the experience with many.
Undeterred by crowds at the visitor center, we hoped to find solitude on this busy day with an ascent of Mount Washington’s Henderson Ridge. The Henderson Ridge offers just enough technical climbing to keep masses away, but not enough to lure the hardcore climbers. For us it was perfect, at least until we started dividing the gear. Hiking on Mount Washington is hard, and it is not made any easier by schlepping ropes, harnesses, and hardware uphill. After a summer of hiking with a light pack, I was not excited with the prospect of carrying substantial weight on my back but if it helped us get off the beaten path it was worth the effort.
In spite of the crowds heading up the mountain, we quickly escaped them as we worked our way to Huntington Ravine. It seemed that as soon as we stepped off the Tuckerman Ravine Trail (the main thoroughfare for that side of the mountain) and headed toward Huntington Ravine, the crowds thinned significantly and we found the relative solitude we were seeking. Occasionally we would run into a hiking party, and we could see multiple groups on The Pinnacle. As we made the bushwhack to Henderson Ridge, it appeared as though we would have the route to ourselves, an incredible achievement on a day the masses were flocking to the mountains.
In the end we had the route to ourselves, with the exception of letting a pair of climbers who were soloing pass us as we geared up. In total we climbed four roped pitches (next time it will probably only be three, the fourth pitch was more grass than rock) and scrambled another couple hundred feet. We chose to descend toward the Auto Road in lieu of heading to Mount Washington’s summit and down the Lions Head and the hundreds of people sure to be descending on it. Excluding occasionally closing in on the auto road, we never saw another party on our decent until we were within a half mile of the car.
I am now starting to believe I can survive my new schedule and life as a “weekend warrior.” The trepidation I felt about joining the “normal” people has begun to ebb. The past ten years have allowed me explore the mountains and find places that others have yet to discover, or choose not to go to. I am hopeful that my new schedule forces me to look for more of the less traveled places and continue to find the quiet spaces in the mountains.