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For most teenagers, waking up at 7:00 am to drive an hour and a half for a hike in the mountains is not the ideal Saturday morning. Today, however, I was willing to make that drive. Today was the day that my dad, my brother, and I would hike Mt. Washington. Ever since I was in 4th grade we started to cross off mountains on the NH 4,000 footer list. Every summer, my dad, brother, and I do a hike. We had done all of the Presidential Range except for Mt. Washington and so we decided in early August of 2017 we would do it. This was one of my goals: To hike the 2nd tallest mountain on the East Coast. Now I would finally have the chance to climb it. 

We arrived at the Jewell Trail trailhead. It was a rainy day with a slight breeze that we knew would intensify as we reached the top, but we wouldn’t let that stop us. We got out of the car dressed in windbreakers, waterproof hiking boots, hats, and gloves. This would be an overnight hike. At the start of the trail, we were gliding. “We’re making great time!” my dad said as we finished the first mile in just over 20 minutes. I was feeling good and full of energy. Then we reached Gem Pool, a small waterfall. It’s here where the hike really starts to get tough. The first part is mostly flat, but at Gem Pool, the incline increases and the footing gets worse from soft dirt to slick rocks. 

The steep, rocky terrain combined with the rain would make the rest of the hike tough. Slowly we worked our way above the treeline. The fog was so dense we couldn’t see anything in front of us and into the valley below. We continued on. We turned a corner and out of the fog, a structure appeared. We had reached the hut. Only then did we realize how windy it was. The hut shielded us from the wind until we turned a corner and were immediately hit by an intense headwind. The visibility already made me wary of us being able to summit, but now the wind made me realize how terrible the conditions were. We walked towards the entrance and were immediately hit by another gust of wind. We opened the door and entered the hut into safety. My dad checked us in, found our bunks, and filled our water bottles. 

We now had a decision to make. It was 3:30, dinner was at six, and it was about a 2 hour round trip to the summit. Staff at the hut were going to lead a group to the summit that would leave at 3:45. We all sat down at a table to discuss if we should go with the group. The wind and rain had intensified. In my mind I thought that we may be able to hike to the top. “Boys, we’re not going to the top, it’s too windy and I have no idea what it’ll be like in 2 hours,” my dad said. Just as he finished talking, a huge gust of wind hit the hut and we could hear it creak. The staff now declared it unsafe and no one could go. I was crushed. 

The next morning we started our descent. I was within a mile of my goal and with every step I took, I moved further away from it. With the summit out of sight now, and the school year coming up, I would have to wait until next year. When we reached the car, however, I realized this wasn't for nothing. Mt. Washington is one of the most difficult mountains to climb. On any other day I would’ve made it; now I knew that I could.

© Max Leahy. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.