Many hikers climb high into the mountains just to stand on a windswept, rocky summit and gaze at the distant horizons. The White Mountains of New Hampshire has many such places that offer the adventurous climber with plenty of solitude.
However, for those who choose to make the 2000-foot ascent to Tuckerman’s Ravine, a very different experience awaits at the end of the ascent. Situated on the eastern flank of Mt. Washington, Tuckerman’s is much more than just a ravine. In fact, it is a glacial cirque naturally cut into the side of the mountain. Calling this place a ravine is a huge understatement, for the geological structure has vertical headwalls that tower a thousand feet or more over the hiker.
Tuckerman’s is usually approached from the open east side on a rocky trail that begins in Pinkham Notch. Here at the AMC Visitor Center, hikers planning to climb up into the ravine, can get the latest weather information at the center as well as any last minute supplies. Winter climbing is recommended for experts only as adverse weather conditions can create avalanche conditions or bring on a freezing, artic fog that can sear the lungs of unsuspecting hikers. Snowfields in the ravine often persist until the Fourth of July, so any climber should be prepared for changes in weather, as they gain altitude.
Before leaving the visitor center it is a good idea to check out the 8′ X 10′ 3-D relief map that takes up most of the floor space in the main room. This life-like creation is worth a good hard study in order to get a good idea of the kind of terrain you will be crossing.
After you leave the visitor center, you will pass a 75 foot waterfalls called Crystal Cascade. From this point, the trail climbs steadily all the way to the edge of the ravine. The forest begins with mixed-deciduous beech, maple birch, but gradually gives way to the spruce-fir-mountain ash mixture of the higher elevations. The trail follows a rocky path that become quite busy in the summer and fall months. After a couple hours of steady climbing, hikers will reach Hermit Lake, where there is a campground, ranger station and small store.
This spot serves as a good rest spot, where you can rest and observe the rim of the ravine. A hike to the base of the headwall will take only another 45 minutes, but more ambitious hikers can ascend to the top of the top of the headwall and walk along the precipitous edge. It should be noted that during April, May and parts of June this trail is filled with downhill skiers, headed for the steep sides of the headwall. When conditions are right, Tuckerman’s provides excellent downhill skiing for experts only. May is a great time to hike to the base of the headwall and watch the skiers make their way down the 50 degree slope.