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A Weekend In The Whites, Part I: Road To The Sky. July 5, 2010

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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Lizz (Frau B.) and I went to the White Mountains of New Hampshire the last weekend of June, with hopes of finding Mount Washington’s Alpine Garden in bloom.

I love the Whites, which sport many peaks around four thousand feet high:

…and a bunch of wild rivers cascading over beds of granite:

The mountains are rugged enough to attract technical climbers from around the world, with magnificent sweeps of granite like the thousand-foot East Face of Canon Mountain, which Lizz and I have each climbed countless times in both summer and winter:

…though sadly, never in each other’s company.

Perhaps one day soon we’ll right that wrong.

And while Westerners might scoff at the Whites’ paltry elevations, the confluence of several major storm tracks over this particular patch of real estate makes for some of the most extreme conditions on Earth.  Mount Washington, for instance, held the record for land-based wind speed measurements for many years, the Big Number being 231mph, at which point the anemometer blew away.

That’s windy.

Anyway, the prospect of finding arctic flora blooming on the wind-swept upper expanses of Mount Washington prompted us to put our prides aside and take the (expensive) Mount Washington Auto Road to a high point and commence hiking from there, something which we had both previously eschewed in favor of the long hike up, but at this point (and age,) it seemed like a better use of our time.

We drove up Saturday afternoon to scope out the parking, as we expected to be photographing in the wee hours of Sunday morning and didn’t want to have to nail the logistics in the dark.  I drove, and didn’t get very far before disappearing into dense clouds, windshield-wiper clouds, as the road wound steeply upward.  There wasn’t a guard rail in sight, not the whole way, just a sickening void to my right, no pavement markings (and for a ways higher up, no pavement) to differentiate the road to the summit from the road to hell, and each time a pair of dim downward-bound headlights appeared through twenty feet of atmospheric pea soup I pulled closer to the edge of this precarious lane-and-a half, recalling a time out West when such an encounter had removed both my and their side-view mirrors.

With the exposure to my right growing to three thousand feet, I didn’t relish a repeat performance, and I white-knuckled it to the summit and back down, with a break at the top to regain my composure and do a bit of wiping up.

These shots, taken on the way down on Sunday (when the weather was better,) give a little sense of what the drive was like.

A professional van bombs nonchalantly up an accomodating section of road, where widely spaced boulders would either keep one on the road or accompany you on your last tumble:

…with the requisite clouds rising up from The Great Gulf which separates Mount Washington from Mounts Jefferson and Adams.

And then, of course, there are sections where nothing but nerves divide you from eternity:

This was tons of fun with the visibility down to a couple of yards.  I didn’t envy Lizz’s powerless position as passenger, though our roles were reversed on Sunday when these shots were taken.

Higher up, at least on Sunday, we found ourselves above the clouds, with the gentler upper slopes belying the terminality of erring onto the non-existant shoulder:

That, my friends, would be a helluva role-over.

And across the way, rising above the early morning atmospherics, the insular Mount Adams poking at Heaven:

That last shot was taken from the trail; more on that to follow.