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Down the Road

The garden at the end of the trail and edge of the cliff
By Milt Gross
Jul 29, 2012 - 12:17:09 AM

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Most gardens are in the back yard or somewhere else near the house. Some are on separate properties and are designed for visitors to enjoy.

The one Sarah Winne visited this spring was at the end of a 1.8-mile trail that has fantastic views, according to Winne.

The garden at the edge of a cliff, the Alpine Garden on Mount Washington. Photo by Sarah Winne.

The views are so good, because it is above treeline on the east slopes of Mount Washington. The trail leaves the Tuckerman Ravine Trail toward the six-mile mark of the Auto Road up New England's highest mountain.

As she crossed the trail through the Alpine Garden, she saw alpine flowers blooming.

Winne cautioned that, although the trail's footing is good and the rock structures, the cairns, clearly mark the pathway, it is still dangerous. It is exposed to the elements, and, in fact, the hiking trails up Mount Washington are posted with signs warning climbers to turn back at the first sign of bad weather.

"It was just really windy, so I had to stop and get my poles out for some added traction," she said of the walk across the trail to the garden. "I had on my down jacket, a windbreaker, and the a fleece. On the bottom, longjohns, pants, and wind pants. Felt just right."

At home here, I was wearing shorts and perhaps a flannel shirt.

Fog, snow, and blasting cold can descend quickly on Mount Washington. I recall on that trail one August day seeing patches of snow. The nasty weather is due to the mountain's being 6,280 feet above sea level. The garden is situated at the edge of a cliff that drops off to lower places, Winne said.

"That's the sort of thing I love about the Whites," she said. "Clear vistas. jagged cliffs. tundra plants. mist."

Winne left her Ellsworth home at 4:30 a.m. -- kind of early to visit a garden -- to meet the group in the Appalachian Mountain Club-sponsored trip. Let's see now, it is some five or six hours to New Hampshire the way I drive, but Winne found a way to do it in about four hours.

Her group of five carpooled up the Auto Road to walk to the Alpine Garden.

But they weren't alone on the mountain.

"Actually, there were quite a few people at the top - clearly they'd either driven up or taken the train, because they weren't dressed in the winter gear we had on," she said.

Flowers in Mount Washington’s Alpine Garden. Photo by Sarah Winne.

Winne said she saw no thruhikers, who generally don't make it to Mount Washington from Georgia until late August or September.

"But lots of people out looking at the plants, and many up on the summit taking photos, though not as crowded as last summer when I was there - around the end of June," she added.

I've always felt a little odd, having climbed on foot -- not car -- to the top of either Mount Washington or 1,534-high Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, because when I finally arrive, tired, a bit dirty and worn, I see these people from the other world, the world of autos and RVs looking strangely at me.

"What is that dirty looking, no doubt smelly, thing coming up that path?" they might ask each other.

They ask that while I look down on them for driving -- hey you can drive anywhere, such as down High Street in Ellsworth or on I95 -- instead of climbing the way God intended us to climb, wearing hiking boots and carrying a pack.

I guess it all depends on your view.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012

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