“This Body Climbed Mt. Washington.” It’s a t-shirt I was so proud of wearing on my teenage body for years. It stood for everything I was able to accomplish when hiking up to the summit of Mt. Washington (all 6,288 ft. of it) when I was 13 years old.
I recall my father urging me to try hiking during the summer of 1989 when I went to sleepaway camp. I tried a “lead-up hike,” but never hiked the mountain, Franconia Notch, that the hike was supposed to lead up to. I was too chicken. I didn’t think I was strong enough. Plus, I wasn’t keen on sleeping in the woods. What a creep I was at the age of 12!
The following summer I did another lead-up hike. I felt stronger and thought I would be able to withstand the challenge of Mt. Washington. Besides, we’d be sleeping indoors at the Lake of the Clouds Hut so the camping issue was moot. I realized that I had no excuse… I had to do it.
I foolishly over-packed my backpack, putting 25 pounds of necessities (and some stupid items!) inside. Four of the other girls in my unit and I boarded a van on a gray July morning and headed for New Hampshire with three staff members. About two hours later we donned our backpacks and began climbing up the damp trails that led to the summit of Mt. Washington.
For about the first hour or so, I was sure I had made the wrong decision. The terrain was steeper than I had expected. However, when we came across the first waterfall, I knew I had made the right choice. The waterfall was breathtaking. We ate lunch there. I didn’t want to leave since I had never hiked and seen a waterfall before. However, I was told that I had to leave; there’d be more on the way to the top. The folks who told me that weren’t lying… there were quite a few more waterfalls along the way.
We spent the afternoon and evening at the Lake of the Clouds Hut, which felt like the Beverly Wilshire after hiking all day. There weren’t any showers, but there was running water and hot food, which tasted delicious. Lights out was at 9 p.m., but I didn’t mind since my body was exhausted.
The next morning we began our ascent to the summit of the mountain. It was cloudy. I was disappointed. I heard one could see all the way to the Province of Quebec on a clear day. With the way the weather was shaping up, I didn’t expect to see much farther than North Conway, NH.
However, once we reached the summit, the weather broke. The Home of the World’s Worst Weather seemed to be anything but… The clouds parted and gave way to a bright, crisp morning that allowed us to see neighboring states and, yes, even Canada!
We paused for some photographs and then descended on the rocky side of the mountain, which was much harder for me. Superman (aka: Iljan) assisted me by carrying my pack for part of the way down the mountain. For some reason, my toughness was diminished when I had to hike downhill. I felt badly that Iljan was carrying my pack part of the way, but I was so proud of myself for making it to the top independently. (You see, I believe this is why people take the Cog Railway back down the mountain after they summit!!!)
Climbing Mt. Washington became a metaphor in my life. It made me realize that I was able to achieve things that seemed impossible. That hike made me realize I was strong and could push my body to do things I deemed difficult. Finally, this hike helped me to see that when you take the initiative and possess a great deal of determination, you can accomplish great things.
(In case you’re unsure of which kid I am in the photo, I’m the one all the way on the left wearing the Stamford Sweatshirt.)
Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.