America's Scariest Trails: Mt. Washington's Phantom Crowds

Never let your guard down on this deadly peak, where the weather–and spirits–are unpredictable.
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Never let your guard down on this deadly peak, where the weather–and spirits–are unpredictable.

New Hampshire's tallest peak is not very high–6,288 feet–by mountaineering standards. And the ascent is not particularly technical; you can walk up on the country's oldest mountain trail. But don't be fooled: Wind gusts up to 231 mph and temps as low as -50°F have been recorded on Washington, and more than 130 people have died on the mountain since 1849. The most recent: a solo hiker who died last summer; he likely lost his way in a storm and succumbed to exposure.

At least some of those souls have stuck around. They're known collectively as The Presence, because there are too many ghosts to name just one. Some are apparently friendly, like Red "Mac" MacGregor, one of the early loggers who helped build Carter Notch Hut and managed it in the 1920s–before settling in as the resident ghost. And at Lakes of the Clouds Hut, visitors will see a pair of boots nailed to the wall; legend has it that the boots had to be stopped from walking around by themselves after their owner died from a fall while hiking (shortly after serving on the hut crew in the late 1970s).

But not all of the spirits are so benign. In 1900, William Curtis and Alan Ormsbee died in a storm while pushing toward the summit. Now, if hikers criticize the duo's decision to pursue the peak, an invisible force pushes or strikes them. And in Haunted Hikes of New Hampshire, Marianne O'Connor relates the tale of an Appalachian Mountain Club member known only as George who went to open the Lakes of the Clouds Hut, alone, in the AMC's early years. Standing in the hut, with the windows still boarded up, he sensed something watching him. He turned and saw a crowd of grotesque faces leering at him, the ghouls filling each of the boarded-up windows. The faces pushed toward him, through the glass, bearing down on him. It was the last thing he could remember. When searchers found him two days later he was huddled under a sink muttering, "Get me the hell out of here."

Hike it
Bag the peak via the classic 7.8-mile route up Tuckerman Ravine. backpacker.com/hikes/20773