For the last couple of years we've really wanted to get up to the Alpine Garden during the spring bloom. We tried to plan weekends but things got in the way. It had also been three years since we'd stayed in the huts - way too long. This year we were determined. Back in the beginning of March we took a guess at most likely peak bloom time and booked a weekend at Lakes of the Clouds. Not just one but two nights. Sweet! Our daughter Jamie hasn't been all that interested in hiking with us the last couple of years. Go figure - a teenager that doesn't want to hang out with Mom and Dad. When we told her our plans she completely surprised us as said "I'd like to go too". Fantastic! We called the AMC the next day and they had one bunk left for the weekend and we grabbed it. Better yet - it was going to be Father's Day weekend. I couldn't wait!
As we got closer to the date I followed two things - the changing conditions of the alpine flowers as reported by our friends up north and (as I always do) the long range weather forecast. The flower situation was shaping up nicely. Two weeks prior to our visit the blooms were peaking and everything looked perfect. Then the "freak freeze" came. OK, in early June there's a chance of a freeze on any day but this one was pretty severe with everything being covered in rime. It apparently didn't make the flowers too happy. There were still going to be plenty left but not the multi-colored carpets of the week before. As for the weather it went through its typical cycle of up and down forecasts. As the weekend approached it looked like we were sure to get some rain but at least part of the time showed the promise of being nice. About all you can hope for in June in the Whites...
We headed up on Friday morning and somehow managed to avoid the typical Boston weekday rush hour traffic. It was an omen of good things to come. At noon we were packed up and hitting the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail. We'd never done the west side trails on Mt Washington and I was looking forward to a new way up the mountain. In about an hour we had negotiated the easy going on the bottom of the trail and arrived at beautiful Gem Pool.
Above Gem Pool the going get steep quickly but the trail was dry and the stone steps and ledges were easy to navigate. The many cascades of the stream over the ledges made for a beautiful hike up. Before long we were arriving at the hut.
The going gets steep
Waterfalls and ledges
Some steep climbing. Glad it's not wet
Lakes of the Clouds hut perched on the edge
Mt Monroe above the hut
Arriving at the hut we checked in and dropped our packs and then headed back out to do a bit of exploring. The skies had fully clouded up and the fog was descending. After a bit of poking around we headed in and settled in for a nice night at the hut and anticipation of hiking on Saturday.
Exploring the lakes
Quiet afternoon at the hut
The fog descends
Home sweet hut
During the night I half woke up and heard the pouring rain outside the hut. Perhaps it was going to be a less than perfect day for hiking on Saturday but no matter - we'd make the best of it. I closed my eyes and let the rain on the roof lull me back to sleep. I woke up again around 4:30 and peeked out the window from my sleeping bag. I was expecting rain or clouds and fog but all I could see was blue sky and sharply defined mountain ridges. Wow! I pulled my clothes on quickly and headed out to do the Mt Monroe loop before breakfast. I had visions of the flower display on Monroe Flats from a couple of weeks earlier and was hoping something was left.
First light on Mt Monroe with the moon setting over the summit
Undercast hanging in the valleys
As I reached the summit of Mt Monroe and turned back I was greeted by the most amazing view of Mt Washington and the first rays of the morning!
As I made my way down and around the loop to Monroe Flats I was greeted by a somewhat sad sight. The carpets of color were indeed gone as I had feared. The blankets of Diapensia were replaced by a few straggling (but beautiful) flowers and the remainder going to fruit (beautiful in its own right).
Diapensia going to fruit
Mountain Avens with the remnants of last night's rain
A last Diapensia hanging on
I arrived back at the hut at 6:30 - just in time for the morning wakeup call for breakfast. As we were sitting down to eat the clouds were gathering in the west outside the dining room windows. By the time we'd finished breakfast and everyone was getting packed up to head out the rain came - in torrents. We watched everyone putting on their rain gear and heading into the storm. I was able to check the weather radar on my phone and saw that the tail end of a storm system was just passing over the area. Perhaps we could wait this one out. We hung around for about 45 minutes after most everyone else had left and the rain stopped. Perfect! We grabbed our stuff and headed out for Mt Washington.
The guest harmonica player wakes up the hut
Breakfast among the clouds
Everyone else heads out into the rain
Good things come to those that wait
The mountains were still in the clouds but there is something about hiking up a mountain in the mist that has a magical feel to it. We enjoyed our trip up the Crawford path. Along the way we must have seen two dozen Wolf Spiders scuttle into the rocks. Jamie was patient enough to hang around and wait for a couple of them to emerge and get their portraits. As we approached the summit the clouds began to break. By the time we were on top we were in sunny blue skies and off to an amazing day.
AMC climate study gear near the hut. The thing on the right is a "cloud catcher"
Hiking through the mists on Crawford Path
Wolf Spider doing his best to look menacing
Clearing skies as we approach the summit
Looks like we climbed out of the clouds!
As we headed up I remembered that the annual Mt Washington Road Race was that morning. I was happy for the runners that they hadn't had to do it in the pouring rain. It was something of a mob scene on the summit - crazier than on a Seek the Peak day! We wandered around for and looked for familiar faces but we didn't run into anyone that we knew. We watched some of the racers finish and then headed down the Auto Road to catch Nelson Crag trail to continue our hike. I had to marvel at some of the people that I watched cross the finish line including the person who set the all time record for oldest person to finish the race at 91! Amazing!
Finish line of the race
Extra big crowd - and nobody driving up the auto road today
Apparently a new device installed for collecting change from visitors as tips
Only way to get to the summit besides foot power on this day
Hiking down the auto road to Nelson Crag
Our plan for the rest of the day was to hike down Nelson Crag and the top section of Huntington Ravine trails and across the Alpine Garden and then some combination of trails on the other side back to the hut. While the Alpine Garden was no longer in full bloom the weather was gorgeous and there were beautiful small pockets of flowers all along the trail. Nothing lost here!
Starting out on Nelson Crag
Jamie capturing the views
The monster cairn at the top of Huntington Ravine
Jamie decided to summit the cairn. (I did not sanction this ;-)
Queen of the cairn
Still a few Diapensia hanging on
Alpine Garden stream
The beautiful Alpine Garden path
When we reached the Lion Head trail junction we decided that our path back would be via the remainder of the Alpine Garden trail, the Lawn Cutoff to Davis Path and finally the Camel Trail back to the hut. This proved to be a beautiful walk. A recent recommendation from friends had prompted me to try the Camel Trail and we were very glad we did. There were a number of other lovely little pockets of wildflowers lining the way.
Still snowfields in Tuckerman's Ravine
Not a good path when covered in snow and ice
Bog Laurel buds
Descending the Camel Trail to the hut
We were back at the hut by mid afternoon and the forecast was calling for strong thunderstorms so we decided to just hang our around the hut. I couldn't stand to just be inside though so I went out exploring around the fields above the hut and down around the lakes looking for more flowers. I ran into a group that was staying at the hut from the alpine flower society and got some tips on where to look as well as some help with plant identification. I really hit the jackpot here. There are some little hidden gardens that are apparently micro-climates near the lakes and I discovered a whole slew of species that I'd never seen or even heard of before. One of the best parts of the whole weekend was the couple of hours we spent wandering around a searching for these hidden gems.
Diapensia going to fruit
Fir Clubmoss amidst Bog Bilberry
Rosy Twisted Stalk
I should know this one but it escapes me...
Moss Heather (cassiope hyponides)
Some sort of moss? Amazingly bright colors.
Mounds of Bog Laurel above the upper lake
These appear to be unopened Alpine Bluets, but I've never seen them hanging like this. These are growing out of the side of a vertical rock cliff.
Friend or foe?
Alpine Violet in the stone wall in front of the hut
In the end we never did get the storms that were predicted Saturday night and instead were treated to a beautiful display of clouds boiling up from the valleys followed by an even more beautiful sunset. Just the perfect way to end a perfect day.
Looking very frosty on the summit
Moonset over Mt Madison
Last visit to Monroe Flats
After breakfast we got packed up somewhat slowly - not being in any hurry head for home. We were one of the last out of the hut again and had all our layers on as we headed out up the Crawford Path. The wind was biting but the views were spectacular and we thoroughly enjoyed our walk across the Westside and Gulfside trails. The southern Presidentials were spread out in all their glory and I wished mightily that we could just continue on across the ridge but that would have to wait for another day.
Jamie takes in the 100+ mile views
Bundled up against the 20 degree wind chills
On the Westside Trail
Southern Presidentials lined up
Cog tracks crossing the trail
Last mound of alpine flowers
Picture perfect day in the northern Presis
The kinder, gentler (cleaner) cog
Heading around Mt Clay
Looking down the Jewell Trail
We turned onto the Jewell and headed for home. What a beautiful trail this is! Spectacular above treeline views at the top followed by soft walking on tree and flower lined trail below. Aside from the inherent beauty of the trail we got one last gift on the way down. As we came to a trailside campsite at about the half way point we were greeted by a quartet of Gray Jays. We've had the pleasure of their company on several other occasions but this was the first time for Jamie. I think the expression on her face pretty much says it all. Even better, this was a family with two juveniles (which we'd never seen before). We hung out with them for quite a while before heading the rest of the way down.
One of the (big) babies
Dad keeping an eye on things
Watching the birdie
The rest of the trail was one long succession of trailside gardens. What a beautiful and fitting ending to our trek.
Blue Bead Lily gardens
On the way home we stopped and had lunch on the patio at the Woodstock Station - our favorite spot (other then on a trail, on a mountain or in a hut). I'm not sure what I had really expected when I started thinking about taking this trip (or something like it) several years ago. Now that it had finally happened it was more than I ever could have hoped for. Beautiful days in simply incredible places with the two people that I would most want to share it with. Life definitely doesn't get any better than this.
--- This post was slow in getting published as I had to first sort and process the over 700 pictures that Jamie and I took during the weekend. I ultimately managed to get that down to around 250. The ones that I used to tell the story you've already seen above. The rest are here: Lakes of the Clouds Weekend Album