The highest peak. The worst weather. The fastest wind speed. Mount Washington, New Hampshire. Photo: Robert J. Kozlow

Mount Washington is often described in such superlative terms, and whether you are planning to climb it for the first time or the fiftieth, there are a number of important things to keep in mind as you prepare.

Mount Washington Summit and Trails
On a clear day, the 6,288 foot summit will give you a view that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean in the east, across Vermont to New York's Adirondack Mountains in the west, to Canada in the north, and to Massachusetts in the south. The summit boasts a day-use visitor center and museum, and the AMC's Lakes of the Clouds Hut is located just below the summit.

There are numerous short and long day hikes in the area. Many include spectacular views, impressive cascades, and tiny mountain ponds; all include a walk through beautiful woods. Trails in general are rough and rocky and many are steep and exhausting. The White Mountain Guide, published by AMC Books, is a valuable resource that provides detailed trail information, as well as safety guidelines, historical and geological notes, and information on facilities, recreation, and camping.

Be sure to take a map of the area with you when you go. Maps, guidebooks, and information are also available at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. Additionally, consult AMC or Forest Service personnel on seasonal changes in trail conditions.

Remember, the alpine plant life is hardy enough to withstand the fierce winter environment, but can easily be destroyed by a misplaced footstep. Always stay on the trail. Understand Leave No Trace principles and techniques to minimize impact on the trail.

In good weather, fabulous views abound from the summit and slopes of Mount Washington, but don't count on it. Because the Presidential Range is in the pathway of several major storm tracks, Mount Washington is known to have a severe combination of wind and cold. The average annual temperature is 27.1°F, the summit temperature has never risen above 72°F, and the mountain holds the world-record for a wind speed of 231 mph, recorded on the summit in 1934.

Hurricane-force wind, dense fog, driving rain, and snow occur even during the summer months, and sudden and extreme weather variations are common. Although hazardous conditions do not occur daily, it is important to be aware of the weather before you begin your hike.

For weather information:

Facilities and Transportation for Mount Washington, New Hampshire
The AMC operates three overnight facilities in the Mt. Washington area:

Pinkham Notch Visitor CenterJoe Dodge Lodge at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center on Rt. 16, a 15-minute drive north from Jackson, N.H., is where family-style meals and dormitory-type lodgings are available. Check real-time availability online for Joe Dodge Lodge, or call 603-466-2727 for reservations and current prices. A hiker information center is also located at Pinkham Notch, open daily 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Tuckerman Ravine — Two and one-half miles up the eastern slope of Mt. Washington in Tuckerman Ravine are the Hermit Lake Shelters, approximately a two-hour hike from Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. The eight open lean-to shelters can accommodate 86 people. Due to the fragile vegetation, camping outside the shelter and wood fires are prohibited. Shelter tickets are sold at the visitor center on a first-come, first-served basis.

Lakes of the Clouds Hut — Located just below the summit is Lakes of the Clouds Hut, approximately a five-hour hike from Pinkham. The hut provides bunkroom accommodations and meals for up to 90 people. Check real-time availability for the hut online, get current prices, or call 603-466-2727 for reservations.

Additionally, daily bus service from Boston to Pinkham Notch is available on Concord Trailways. The AMC operates a hiker shuttle service between Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and most major trailheads within the White Mountain National Park. Get schedules and rates online or by calling the AMC at 603-466-2727.

Flora and Forests of Mount Washington, New Hampshire
A hike from Pinkham Notch to the summit of Mount Washington will take you through a wide variety of plant communities, ranging from lowland deciduous woods to alpine tundra.

As you ascend in elevation, the northern hardwoods give way to a mixed spruce-fir boreal forest. Higher up, the trees begin to thin out and become stunted. Dwarfed trees and dense, low mats of vegetation called krummholz (a German word meaning "crooked wood") are evident as you approach treeline.

In the alpine zone itself, low-lying sedges, grasses, lichens, and mosses predominate, alongside spectacular mountain flowers. The meadows of Mount Washington flower in late June, attracting many admirers. The mountain floral display often continues in mid-summer. Some of these plants are endemic (meaning that they exist in a small geographic area) and are quite rare.

Camping Guidelines for Mount Washington
Unless otherwise posted, camping is permitted throughout the White Mountain National Forest. However, due to concerns about overuse, the U.S. Forest Service offers guidelines to choosing a camping spot in the Mount Washington, New Hampshire area:
  • Below treeline (where trees are 8 feet or taller).
  • 200 feet from the trail and water sources.
  • A quarter of a mile from any road or facility.
  • Check "Backcountry Camping Rules" brochure, annually updated by USFS.
  • No tenting or wood fires permitted in Cutler River Drainage, including Tuckerman and Huntington ravines.

Packing Suggestions
Even day hikers should wear sturdy, broken-in boots. Remember that the weather around Mount Washington changes suddenly and varies greatly between the base and the summit. Prepare yourself by packing the items on the following list, but turn back if the weather deteriorates.

While hiking Mount Washington your pack should contain:

Wool sweater Trash bags (Please carry out all your trash!)
Windbreaker Whistle
Spare socks Rain gear
Knife Long pants (avoid cotton)
First-aid kit Wool hat and mittens
Extra food Flashlight and batteries
Sunscreen and insect repellant Waterproof matches
Map, compass and guidebook Water (at least 2 qts./person/day)
Photos: Robert J. Kozlow, Sharon Hirsch