Lakes of the Clouds via Ammonoosuc Ravine
On October 2nd I headed to New Hampshire well before dawn to hike the Ammonoosuc Ravine trail to Lakes of the Clouds on Mt. Washington. I have hike around Mt. Washington, but never has it been my destination. I really have no interest in hiking to a peak that others can drive to, although I’m very interested in the surrounding peaks and terrain. Having never been to Lakes of the Clouds, I found that the shortest route is via the Ammonoosuc Ravine trail.
The Ammonoosuc Ravine trail begins at a Forest Service parking area (3450 feet) before reaching the Cog Railway off route 302 in Bretton Woods, NH. Generally from the South head to Conway and take route 302 to Bretton Woods. Turn right at Fabyan’s Station Restaurant onto the Base Road and drive approximately 5.25 miles to the parking area. I came from Western Maine, so I drove route 2 to Gorham, NH following route 2 through Randolph to a left on route 115. Then to route 3 in Carroll and left onto 302 at Twin Mountain. Then left at Fabyan’s Station Restaurant onto the Base Road and drive approximately 5.25 miles to the parking area. Apparently you can pay a fee at the Cog Railway parking area an shave a few tenths off the hike, but I was there very early and the Cog was not open yet.
Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail
After the promise of a spectacular sunrise and paying my Forest Service fee at the parking area (It’s only $2 or $3) I headed out on the trail. The beginning gains elevation slowly through hardwood forests. The path is rough along the way with exposed rocks and roots, but if you pay attention to your feet, it’s no problem. After a mile or so, the trail meets up and parallels the stream that traverses the ravine. This portion of the trail is not picturesque as it follows the stream which is host to many downed trees as the result of one of the recent hurricanes. It passes by a plaque in memory of Herbert Judson Young.
From what I can gather Herbert was a member of the Dartmouth Outing Club. He and some other club members were hiking during a Thanksgiving vacation in 1928. They spent the night at Carter hut and were headed up to Lakes of the Clouds. They missed the hut and ended up coming down Ammonoosuc Ravine. He started getting hypothermic and they assisted him partway until about 2:00 AM when he collapsed, presumably near where the plaque is.
Two stayed with him (getting frostbite) while others went out for help but there was little to be found. They came back with a small sled and got him out, mainly carrying him on their shoulders, but he died during the carry out. Everyone else needed medical attention from their overnight ordeal.
From “Reaching that Peak” by David O. Hooke, the history of the Dartmouth Outing Club.
At about 2 miles the trail crosses the stream at the base of Gem Pool. This is quick a picturesque spot with a nice waterfall emptying into an emerald green pool. Immediately after the stream crossing, the trail begins the steep ascent of the Ammonoosuc Ravine headwall. It is extremely steep, but a fair portion of the trail is made up of nicely placed, stone steps. Make no mistake, it’s quite a workout! The trail crosses the stream multiple times. Keep your eyes out for short side trails to some other unnamed waterfalls. There are a couple of nice places to stop for a snack along this section. Lakes of the Clouds hut is (5012 feet) 3.1 miles from the parking area and the treeline is just below the hut.
On this day the further I hiked, the worse the weather looked. The temperature was dropping, the fog was rolling in, and the wind was picking up.
Lakes of the Clouds
I met a couple just before the Lakes of the Clouds Hut. Their destination was the top of Mt. Washington and were very disappointed when I told them that the hut was already closed for the season. When I reached the hut a short time after, the fog had really taken over. I still had hopes of doing a little summit hiking, but once I walked around a bit I realized that I could get lost very easily up here. I could barely see one cairn from the next. I was able to get a cell signal and got a weather reading. It was 30 degrees wind chill and pretty moist with all the fog. Deciding to play it safe, I took a few photos and cut the day short, heading back down the ravine. The couple that I met on the way up made the same decision.
This is a very steep trail that gets heavy use during the summer months as it is the most direct route to Lake of the Clouds. Fortunately I was there late in the season and very early in the morning, so I had some solitude. I would not recommend this trail in cold weather as it probably gets very slippery, but in better weather it’s a great hike with nice waterfalls and many lookouts toward the West and the Cog Railway.