Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mt. Washington Epic Adventures

Recently I saw a meme that said not to use the word 'epic' unless a sword is involved - I decided that an ice axe counts.

Our first view at the beginning of the hike

The trip started with some...erm...adventures in driving.  What was rain in Connecticut when we left turned into freezing rain in southern Vermont.  The entire freeway was covered in ice, and even thought it was a main highway it was really poorly plowed.  Luckily once we got to New Hampshire, it had turned completely to snow and was much less slippery.  We got in at like 11:15 and signed into the Bunkhouse and got our gear.  

Surprise #1: Mike met our two hiking partners before I did.  "You always seem to find matter where we go" was all he said when I got downstairs.  Turns out they were from Chesterland of all places.  Travel all the way to NH to find people who grew up 20 mins from me.  Who would have thought.  

Coming down!

Day 1 of the trip was a skills class.  We did a gear shakedown in the morning, and then went out and learned how to use crampons and an ice axe in the afternoon.  Our instructor was great, and we were soon duck walking, French stepping, and toe picking all over the small mountain.  I also got to be the object lesson for why you use special steps in campons - catch your feet on each other and you will fall face first down the mountain.  Luckily it was a flat section so I just looked like a moron but didnt get hurt.  Overall, it was really cool learning, and we got to check out some nice views.  Once we were back down it was self-arrest time. Sliding down and stopping on your back feet first - totally fine.  Trying it head first on your stomach and head first on your back - not so easy.  After the trip, we headed back to the Bunkhouse, drank some beer, ate dinner and rested up for the next day's climb.  

Here's where the adventures in driving continue.  We drove to the mountain-the first time we'd driven since arriving.  Remember all that freezing rain?  Yeah our wheel wells were so full of solid ice, we could barely turn.  Part way there, the car started shaking so badly we had to stop and attempt to break it up with the ice axes.  After much picking, stabbing, and scraping, we got enough off that we could drive without the car smelling like burnt rubber.  

The climbing gets steep

The day was so beautiful and the sky was so blue - like kids-coloring-book-unreal blue.  The winds were calm.  It couldn't have been more perfect.  Until we got off the approach trail which had been so nicely packed down by sno-cats.  A Nor'easter had come through a couple days before and dumped snow on the mountain and only a few people had gone before us, so the hiking wasn't easy.  But the day was so gorgeous that it cancelled out the extra effort.  The steep sections of the winter route up Mt. Washington are steep - really steep.  It's actually not open during the summer because you'd just be climbing a rock wall.  The summer route isn't open in the winter because of avalanche risk.  

All the way up the mountain, we kept meeting people coming back - saying they turned around because of deep snow just before treeline.  Eventually we got to the point where only one or two people had come through - and got to break trail through waist-deep snow.  It was exhausting.  Our guide when first making the initial break, and at times we just army crawled over on our bellies because it was just that deep.  At one point I sank in up to my chest when I stepped in a hollow created by buried trees, but we eventually made it to the wind swept area just before the tree line.  Clouds started rolling in as we arrived at treeline, but just light wispy clouds.  We stopped to each lunch and the views were incredible.   

After lunch, we hiked the rest of the way to Lion Head, a rock formation marking the 3/4 point of the journey.  The weather started to change quickly (something Mt. Washington is known for) while we were hiking this leg.  By the time we got up there, the wind had picked up considerably and the summit was completely socked in.  We took a short break here and met a French Canadian couple returning, saying they lost the trail across the Alpine Garden and had to turn back.  

The guys attempting to cross the alpine garden

Lion Head was where our trip ultimately ended.  The winds had picked up to 40-60 mph and the avalanche risk crossing the snow fields was too high after all the fresh snow.  It sucked that we couldn't make the summit, but it was still an amazing experience.  I had so much fun and learned new skills and we will definitely come back next year and try again.  The highest mountain in the northeast beat us this time, but maybe next year it will let me win.  :-)
Mike and I

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