Mount Washington has the dubious honor of being named the “most dangerous small mountain in the world.” But rather than serve as a warning, it only brings more people coming. After all, it is also the highest peak in the Northeast. Anytime anything is the “est,” people want to conquer it. But how long would such a feat take?
Hiking Mount Washington in New Hampshire will require a minimum of eight hours for the shortest trail (4 hours up, 4 down). But that is only if conditions are perfect and everything goes smoothly. The weather is notorious, so always budget for extra time and don’t count on the shuttle.
Over 150 human lives have been lost trying to hike Mount Washington. Unfortunately, going down can be just as treacherous, if not more, than going up, and the shuttle is not something a hiker can depend upon. Even those that consult weather reports still get caught out because they overestimate how fast they can do the hike. It sounds short, but it’s not easy terrain.
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Estimated Time To Hike Mount Washington
Estimated times to hike Mount Washington are usually based on perfect conditions and the assumption people are taking the shortest route. Even so, the estimated length of time is 8 hours. But many people are prone to thinking that the estimate doesn’t apply to them because they are in excellent shape and can do four miles an hour walking fast.
Fit and healthy people are precisely who the estimate is based on. This isn’t the popular roadside hike where the times are provided for the average RV tour group pulling over and shuffling off to see a waterfall .25 miles away. Instead, Mount Washington’s hike times are the best-case scenario for an experienced hiker who has done a few small mountains before.
Thus, it is advised that when selecting your route up Mount Washington, budget for doing under a mile an hour. So four miles up and four miles down will take around 8 hours and some change. Then plan your set off time accordingly, as, again, the weather is a murderer to those that dally. If you do manage to do it faster, excellent. But better to err on the side of caution.
1 – Tuckerman Ravine: Trails Up Mount Washington
Length: 8.2 miles
Time: 8.5+ hours
Access: AMC’s Pinkham Notch Visitor Center
The Tuckerman Ravine Trail, also known as Tuck or Tux trail, is the most popular route and one of the shortest. Unfortunately, this means it usually has the most people, and the crowd can slow hikers down.
Be aware snow and ice are common for all except the hottest parts of summer, making some mountaineering experience preferable. However, this also means for the brief window, when the whole route is defrosted, it becomes incredibly busy.
For safety reasons, it is highly advised that even if you go up this route, go down Lion Head, which is next on the list. Going down on this one is a nice and easy way to slip and fall.
2 – Tuckerman-Lion Head: Trails Up Mount Washington
Length: 8.2 miles
Time: 8+ hours
The Lion Head Trail is from the Pinkham Notch, considered slightly more manageable, especially in winter. It is also the advised route for descent if taking the Ravine up. It is more protected than the Ravine, but even so, if you are doing it in winter, you must have experience with crampons and ice axes.
3 – Boott Spur: Trails Up Mount Washington
Length: 10.8 miles
Time: 10+ hours
Boott Spur starts just short of a half-mile up from Tuckerman Ravine on the south (left) side. It’s more of a steep and strenuous puffer than Tuckerman’s gentler sloping start. However, some hikers like it because the grunt work means much fewer hikers use it.
4 – Huntington Ravine: Trails Up Mount Washington
Time: 8.5+ hours
Huntington Ravine is the East routes’ most difficult and most dangerous, starting near Pinkham Notch. It is the steepest hiking route, and advised to never use this for anything but going up. Other drawbacks are that it is also one of the most exposed. It is accessed just before the 7-mile mark on Mount Washington Auto Road.
5 – Ammonoosuc Ravin / Crawford: Trails Up Mount Washington
Length: 9 miles
Time: 9+ hours
The Ammonoosuc Ravin (Crawford) trail requires a permit. Access is from the West, from Base Station Road. People like this one because it makes it quicker to reach the Lake of the Clouds Hut and has some good views.
6 – Jewell / Gulfside: Trails Up Mount Washington
Length: 10.2 miles
Time: 10+ hours
Jewell Trail is also on the West and requires a permit. This is the way to go if you feel the others are too short. However, it is considered easier than the Amonoosuc and not as steep, although more climbing is involved.
Stay Alert To Mount Washington’s Weather
Mount Washington is placed in the top ten most dangerous hikes in the United States. Most of this has to do with its scary weather. It can be a pleasant 70 degrees on the base, but partway up, temperatures drop, and the wind comes howling. Visibility can go from clear skies to near nothing in a blink. Thus, most deaths on this mountain are due to hyperthermia.
However, the winds are not your typical “high wind.” The average number of times the wind pickups to hurricane strength is every 4th day. Its record is 231 miles per hour. Thankfully, the weather is pretty predictable, despite its hectic shifts. You can look it up via the Higher Summits Forecast. The hard part is believing it despite clear skies.
It doesn’t matter how good it looks; if you slept in and a dangerous shift is predicted, don’t try to gamble. Go home. The summit simply isn’t worth it.
Beware Of Depending On The Mount Washington Shuttle
Mount Washington’s shuttle is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it is there and can whisk people down. This not only cuts the hike time in half, but it also saves them from the (usually) hardest and most dangerous part. But, on the other hand, you can’t depend on it. Those that place all their bets on the shutte might not live to regret their error in misplaced hope.
The mountain’s shuttle works on a first-come, first-serve basis. The seats are incredibly limited, and the increasing popularity of reaching the summit makes seats even scarcer. Late hikers (anybody arriving past noon) are even less likely to catch a lift. Worse, if the weather turns horrid, the road is closed, and then the shuttle isn’t allowed to run (when you need it most).
Mount Washington is a challenge many are eager to tackle. However, you must leave yourself plenty of time to complete the hike, even if you are in excellent shape. It is best to estimate slightly over an hour for each mile on your route. Pack appropriately, check the weather and don’t depend on the shuttle. Most of all, we hope it is a memorable and rewarding day.