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The Mount Washington Nightmare

I sat crouched down, alone, in the blinding lightning, crashing thunder, and torrential rain on the verge of truly shitting my pants next to a cairn .4 miles from the top of Mt. Washington. “30% chance of rain my ass,” and thoughts of my wife were looping repetitively in my mind. I did the equivalent of talking to God, knowing full well there would be no follow-up conversation outside of similarly frightening situations, saying only, “Hey, I really need to get off this mountain alive. Give me this.”

Only 24 hours earlier Co-founder Rik and I shrugged off that 30% chance of rain. We decided that wasn’t a bad enough forecast to deter us from hiking Mt. Washington for the first time with other Ridj-it adventurers. I even got a co-worker to join us, so I had to prove we could keep this hiking carpool going. Hell, this wasn’t even going to be the first time we would summit the White Mountain celebrity, and we were confident based on our previous hike a few years ago that climbing Mt. Washington would be no big deal.

Two cars headed out from Boston, and the company was great. Laughs, good conversation, and a sunny sky accompanied the small caravan all the way to the base of the mountain. Finding parking required some patience as our adventure took place in the middle of July. Everyone and her dog were hiking under the bright sky and 65 degree temperature, and no thoughts of 30% chance of rain made even a peep in anyone’s consciousness.

After only thirty minutes we realized that one of the hikers was not prepared for the mountain. She lagged behind, did not have hiking boots, and hadn’t hiked any of the White Mountains recently. I was the only one to blame, as I had convinced her (and myself) that she would be fine while ignoring my own biased desire to get more carpoolers. Hiking slowly is okay, but soon enough our group suffered the consequences.

We made our way up Lion Head trail, which is known for its incredibly steep but beautiful climb. Hundreds of tree roots covered the trail, sometimes acting as pests and at other times as helpful assists in climbing. A light, cloudy cover began to emerge, and towards the top a father and son were making their way down. “Yeah we’re heading back because there’s a chance of some rain.” “You mean that 30%?” I asked. “Dunno if that’s 30% anymore, bud,” he responded. We kept on, undeterred.

As we reached the intersection of Alpine Garden, lightning crashed. We crouched down with another group from MIT, trying to be the lowest objects in an area where we towered over the brush just by standing upright. For 25 minutes a dozen of us squatted, waiting for the rain to die out. One girl from the MIT group didn’t even have a jacket and began shivering in the pouring rain and by then high 50s temperature.

Misery is better in groups, so the nervous joking got us through what we thought would be the only storm. Only .7 miles from the top we saw the same system rounding back again, and with most of our group ahead of us, while Rik and I stayed behind with the slower hiker, all we could do was yell, “Run! Run!” Soon enough they were out of sight, but we were still a ways back. I went ahead to scout out the territory for us when that second storm truly hit. The clouds rose from below us and then enveloped the entire area again with lightning and thunder. I couldn’t see another soul on the mountain, even deep in Tuckerman’s Ravine, and only at 50 ft away from Rik and the other hiker, I felt completely isolated.

“Rik! Rik! Can you hear me!?” I strained my ears over the sound of thunder and millions of raindrops for even some semblance of a human voice beyond the increasingly panicked ones in my head. Nothing. “Rik!” Nothing. And there I was, crouched with very tired thighs making celestial pleas for survival out loud while spitting out torrents of water running into my mouth. “Give me this,” I said over and over, tricking myself every ten seconds into believing that the rain was subsiding.

I can’t tell you how long we were separated, but eventually the storm did pass. I knew the peace wouldn’t last long, so I ran down to Rik and the hiker, pumped myself up, grabbed the hiker by the armpits, and lifted her on top of a rock. “We’re getting the fuck out of here, now.” The rain, thunder, and lightning came back almost instantly without warning. I looked back at Rik with uncertainty after my strong statement. “We don’t stop - just go,” Rik said keeping his head down in a futile effort to avoid getting wet.

I pushed the hiker onward, lifted her repeatedly up rocks that she had otherwise been climbing under, and sometimes grabbed her backpack to pull her up. I was angry that I allowed myself to get carried away with wanting our business to succeed so much that I would invite someone who was not prepared for the hike. “Give me this,” I continued under my breath, becoming incredibly exhausted towards the last .2 miles. Lightning raged on, and in the distance I could see the blue coat of one of our fellow hikers standing out in the dark grey curtain of rain. 100 feet from the top he came running down, screaming, “Holy cow I’m glad you guys made it! We gotta go! The last van leaves in 10 minutes!”

We summitted - the lightning rod on the top of Mt. Washington was getting hit repeatedly, crashing and roaring nonstop. I ran to the lodge, entering and swearing as my completely soaked boots and clothing made me feel like a bumbling walrus on land. The rest of the party saw us, cheered, and we jumped into the van with the tickets one of the hikers had purchased beforehand. “How much were the tickets? Let me know and I’ll PayPal you,” I said. “$50.” It was there that I truly did almost shit myself on Mt. Washington.

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