The Right Direction

“What’s in store for me in the direction I don’t take?” –Jack Kerouac

The other day, while scrolling through Facebook and avoiding the growing pile of work on my desk, I stumbled across photos of a friend’s trip up Henderson Ridge on Mount Washington. Over the past few weeks, I have had the urge to climb Henderson Ridge, but the opportunity hadn’t presented itself, as unpredictable weather, the lack of a proper partner, and the aversion to making the long drive up to Pinkham Notch have conspired to keep me away. Perhaps inspired by the photos I saw on Facebook or just the planets finally aligning to deliver me the right partner, the right weather, and enough motivation for the drive to—and slog up—Mount Washington, I found myself on Henderson Ridge this weekend.

Henderson Ridge is an incredibly fun rock climb with the pitches all going at 5-easy which allows for carrying a light rack, a skinny rope, and moving quickly. Even better, it delivers all this while in the spectacular setting of Huntington Ravine, and the long approach to the ridge (and the seemingly longer schlep back to Pinkham Notch) keeps the crowds at bay. While the walk up and walk down keep the crowds to a minimum, I have come to the realization that I enjoy the approach, as it adds an activity that I like, hiking, to an activity that I love, climbing. Combined, the two make for a fun day and great training for any trip that involves moving upwards with a semi-heavy pack.

My partner and I were motivated and moved quickly, and we made good time to Henderson Ridge. Digging out the rack and roping up, we stopped and watched a party climbing the Pinnacle on the other side of the ravine. Simul-climbing up the ridge, we occasionally stopped to take photos and watch the opposing party’s progress upward. Finding ourselves at the top of the ridge sooner than expected, we decided to summit Mount Washington, something that we generally forego on trips to Henderson Ridge, and something I have surprisingly done little of in the summer months.

After summiting, we were working our way down the Lion Head trail when we encountered the party that had been climbing on the Pinnacle. It’s funny how climbers stick out among the hordes of casual hikers on the flanks of Mount Washington. It’s hard to say if it was their scruffy look, Guide Tennies, or the ropes slung over their shoulders that gave them away, but we quickly recognized the two people we watched climbing the Pinnacle earlier in the day on the trail. For their part, they easily recognized us as the party that was on Henderson Ridge. After exchanging some casual climbing talk, we both headed our separate ways. The pinnacle group to the summit of Mount Washington, and us toward the car at Pinkham Notch.

Heading down the Lion Head isn’t difficult, but the slog factor is extremely high. After a full day in the sun, a lot of elevation gain, and rugged trails, by the time you begin to descend your feet are tired, you’re ready to drink something not from your hydration bladder, and the thought of eating something not in gel form becomes very appealing. Because of that, I was very excited when we reached the parking lot in Pinkham Notch. As I eagerly made my way to the car with thoughts of cold drinks and warm food in my mind, I noticed an unusual smirk on the driver of a car pulling past my partner and me. As his car pulled past us, it revealed the snickering faces of the climbers from the Pinnacle. They obviously managed to hitch a ride down the auto road and were delighted to have beaten us down the mountain.

Remember when I mentioned earlier that I enjoyed the hike and feel like it’s an integral part of the experience? Well, at that moment I was more than a little jealous of our fellow climbers’ easy and rapid descent of Mount Washington. Despite the Pinnacle climbers jealousy-inducing descent, I was happy to have had a great day on the old rock pile and was happy to provide a few fellow climbers with a little humor, even if it was at my expense. Ironically, the following day while taking a second look at the pictures that originally inspired me to go to Henderson Ridge, I noticed in the headline a mention of the “Euro” approach. My friend had driven the auto road to the top of Henderson Ridge, hiked down, climbed the route, and then drove off the mountain.

While I like full day of hiking up to the climb and descending under my own power, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t envious of skipping the traipse up or slow march down the mountain—but I am left to wonder if skipping the hard work makes the experience less satisfying in the end. Either way, I devoured a milkshake, some fries, a bunch of chicken nuggets, and a large pizza later that day guilt-fee, knowing that I had earned it.