SAFETY FIRST—The headwall section of this trail is very
steep with substantial exposure. Slips or falls will likely result in injury or death:
• Never descend the headwall section
• Ascend the headwall section if the rocks are dry, the weather will be good for at least 2 hours, all hikers are comfortable with exposed heights and rock scrambling on ledges, all hikers are wearing boots or shoes that grip rocks well, and shorter people are escorted by taller people who can help.
This amazing trail is considered the most difficult hiking trail in the northeast USA. The lower "approach" section and upper "alpine" section are not difficult, but the middle "headwall" section is where the route will test your mettle.
The lower "approach" section begins at the Tuckerman Ravine
Trail and ends at the rescue cache in the floor of the ravine. This section is a gradual ascent on a rock-strewn path through the forest, paralleling and repeatedly crossing the stream that drains Huntington Ravine. Sights include many waterfalls, one cave, and distant views of the "headwall" section.
The middle "headwall" section begins at the rescue cache in the floor of the ravine and ends at the Alpine Garden
Trail. This section begins with scrambling around, over, and under giant boulders in the floor of the ravine, then ascends a giant talus slope called "The Fan" before ascending the steep and dangerous headwall itself. Note that the headwall portion is so steep and sheer that it's basically rock climbing. Features include scrambles on large exposed ledges with limited holds, traverses across ledges, hugging a hanging boulder, and a narrow chimney.
The upper "alpine" section begins at the Alpine Garden
Trail and ends at the Auto Road. Just before reaching the Auto Road, a left turn onto Nelson Crag
Trail leads to the summit of Mount Washington. This section involves a gradual ascent on rock steps, following cairns and scree walls through the alpine environment. Note that there is no shelter from the potentially brutal weather, and the terrain blocking the typical strong northwest winds may lull hikers into underestimating the conditions. If there is any doubt about the safety of the conditions, and knowing that descending the headwall is dangerous, retreat must follow the Alpine Garden
Trail either south to Lion Head Trail or north to the Auto Road.