I reached upward to a protruding rock, perfect for helping keep my balance on the wet granite slab that served as my gateway to the highest point in New England. Huntington Ravine — a cirque formed by glacial activity nearly 50,000 years ago — was enshrouded in a thick fog, hindering our ability to see much more than 30 yards in any direction.
My hiking partner and I continued upward, carefully finding solid footholds among a sea of steep granite. Suddenly, a crashing sound reverberated against the ravine walls, leaving us in a state of confusion as to what and where it was coming from. But before we had a chance to say anything, we heard a shout from above.
The exclamation echoed off the rocky walls, mixing in with a crashing sound that seemed to have no end.
A few seconds later, a refrigerator-sized boulder, dislodged by a hiker above, whizzed by us, reminding us that, although we weren’t scaling high peaks in Alaska’s remote Brooks Range or the Peruvian Andes, New Hampshire’s high summits were no joke.
By East Coast standards, the White Mountains have the most rugged terrain. Some might dispute this, pointing to Katahdin’s glacial cirques, hidden deep in north-central Maine’s Baxter State Park, or the soaring cliffs and steep slide paths of Vermont’s Smugglers Notch. But with 48 peaks over 4,000 feet and more alpine ecosystems than any other state in New England, it’s difficult to make a legitimate argument otherwise.
At the heart of New Hampshire’s rugged, technical and spectacular terrain lies Mount Washington, a summit that towers nearly 4,300 vertical feet above its base at Pinkham Notch, yielding views of the Atlantic Ocean, Adirondacks and Canada on the clearest of days.
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There are a number of trails of varying difficulty leading to the summit of New England’s highest point, from the relatively straightforward and moderate Jewell Trail, which often is hiked with the Gulfside Trail and Crawford Path to form a 9.3-mile loop that starts at the Cog Railway, to the Huntington Ravine Trail, which, although shorter, includes steep and semi-technical sections of fourth-class scrambling requiring the use of hands and tolerance to exposure.
At 6,288 feet, Mount Washington’s summit is the highest point in the Northeast. Drivers boasting a “This Car Climbed Mount Washington” sticker often pass through the nearby town of North Conway, proud of their adventurous feat. But able-bodied hikers looking for even more of a challenging adventure choose to ascend the mountain by foot, which, with a baseline level of fitness, can be done in a day.
One of the most exciting and challenging routes to the summit is through the steep Huntington Ravine, combining the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, Huntington Ravine Trail and Nelson Crag Trail, to form a 4.4-mile ascent to the summit. It isn’t recommended to descend via the Huntington Ravine Trail, unless extremely comfortable with heights and travel in technical and consequential terrain. A better option is incorporating the Lion’s Head Trail for the descent.
The Huntington Ravine Trail, while exhilarating, should only be attempted during dry conditions in the summer. During the spring and fall, winter often takes over in the ravine (even when it’s warm and sunny on the valley floor), requiring technical gear and expertise to climb (although if going the technical winter route, many opt for the nearby Pinnacle Gully ice climb).
The trail is best used by experienced hikers who are comfortable traveling in exposed and technical terrain — a slip in certain spots could be highly consequential. But for those whose comfort level allows, the terrain can offer some of the most exhilarating hiking and spectacular alpine views in New England.
Hikers can pick up the Huntington Ravine Trail from the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which starts behind the Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center.
Josh Laskin can be reached at [email protected].