When I lived in Hawaii, I felt that my entire island was one huge playground. The White Mountains in New Hampshire gave me that same feeling with their lush green, cascading waterfalls, boulder fields, otherworldly views, pine forests, rugged peaks, steep summits, and Christmas-scented air.
While there are a lot of summits that I’ll sit atop of along my journey, there are a few peaks in particular that I am heaps excited to reach.
Washington was one of them.
But Washington, the highest peak in the Northeastern United States at 6,288’, was the first one on the list. The summit can get snow any day of the year, commonly has hurricane-force winds, and the most common cause of death – even in the summer – is hypothermia. Knowing this, I was happy to have a perfect-weather day in the middle of a stretch of less-perfect-weather days 🙂
The Whites are fascinating because the treeline (the point past where trees no longer grow) is at about 4,500’ elevation, which isn’t very high compared to other mountain ranges. Even in the Tetons, which sit at a similar latitude and experience winters and winds that are almost equally harsh, the treeline is at ~10,000 feet.
The reason for this, according to scientists, is the Northeastern’s short, cool summers that provide less of a growing season than other areas. (Because of this, some see the up-moving treelines in certain areas as proof of global warming.)
But regardless of why the Whites have such a low treeline, I think the fact that they do makes them unique and special and a treasure in the Northeast. Normally you would have to climb much higher to get the views, terrain, and foliage that can be found here at just ~4,500’.
This area is called the Alpine Zone, and along with having the worst weather in the country, it has an incredibly huge amount of beauty to offer.
I summited Mt. Adams and Mt. Madison the following day and got to experience some of the notoriously erratic weather the area is famous for, which made for a fun climb.
Climbing to any of the summits above the Alpine Zone in the White Mountains is both an empowering and a humbling experience – empowering because it asks a lot of a body, humbling because, when you stand on that summit and have 360 views of rolling earth as far as the eye can see, it highlights what a tiny drop you are in the ginormous ocean that is all creation.