Monday, April 13, 2015

Mt. Washington Climb

This March, I was fortunate enough to get another chance at climbing Mt. Washington in the winter. Last February, we planned the trip but NH ended up getting a big blizzard 2 days before.  Long story short, we had to break trail and it made the trek far harder and we hit our turn around time without getting to the top.  This year I was determined to make it.
Mt. Washington

  We drove up on a Monday night, and on Tuesday we did a refresher climb of a smaller peak that looked out over the Presidentials.  It's called 'Imp Face' and I don't know where the name came from but the view is INCREDIBLE.  It's one of the '52 with a View' which are 52 peaks under 4000' with a great view in NH.  Definitely check it out if you're in the Whites.  Here's a panorama.
 They're hard to distinguish, but there's Mt. Madison, Adams, Jefferson, and Washington.

The morning of the climb, we woke up early to get everything ready.  One of my biggest pet peeves is feeling rushed.  Unfortunately, I also highly dislike waking up early.  I think you get where this is going...we woke up a bit late, so we were rushing around to make lunch, fill bottles, get our bags packed with all the gear, and get in the truck.  The bunkhouse didn't have hot water upstairs, so in my hurry I just filled it with the cold tap water rather than going down to the basement (mistake).  Once we had packed up our ridiculous amount of layers, ice axes, trekking poles, crampons, and food, we were off.

Snack break!

It was a pretty chilly day, but when you are doing a strenuous climb the issue is often overheating rather than being cold.  You don't want to sweat because then you have wet layers.  It's a constant cycle of layering up when you stop and then taking them back off before you get going again.  We took the winter route of the Lion Head trail which goes up some really steep terrain which meant ice ax and crampon time.  Well in reality, the whole trail is really goddam steep except a small part after you hit Lion Head.  It's really worth it though.

After treeline, the wind really gets going.

Once you get past tree line, the real fun begins.  I first want to say it is absolutely gorgeous.  I mean it takes your breath away.  Unfortunately, so does the wind.  When we went, it was about 50mph sustained with 65mph gusts.  I had to brace myself with the poles quite a bit.  I know the don't look the coolest, but you really need the trekking poles.  Trust me.  It's brutal but you hike up alongside Tuckerman Ravine and a side peak named Bootspur and it's just amazing. 


The worst part of the climb (in my opinion) was the summit cone.  It is really steep, really rocky and goes on for what feels like an eternity.  The phrase 'embrace the suck' came to mind.  This part was extra crappy, because I was getting horribly dehydrated because my water bottles had both frozen solid thanks to my cut corners that morning.  I should have boiled water, put it in my bottles and then put them inside a wool sock in the center of my bag.  I didn't and I paid for it.  Not drinking made me not want to eat.  By the time we summited, I was running on fumes and felt kind of terrible.

This is what it looks like from Lion Head...not so bad...I can climb that.

However, this is what you see while climbing and it makes you want to cry (but don't because your tears will freeze...)

Once you make it to the auto road, it's just a short climb until you're finally standing victorious at the top.  It really is an awesome feeling to have accomplished such an epic climb, and I was so thankful mother nature let us do it this year.  Unfortunately, many days the summit is socked in by clouds and you can't see these amazing views from the top.  If you can plan the trip around the weather, do - you'll be thankful you did.  We got lucky.  Even with the amazing viz, we still didn't stay on the top long.  It was -30 with the windchill.  We didn't even take off our balaclavas for the pic.

One word of advice tho - if you go in the winter, make sure you are with a guide or someone with equal experience.  There are many areas that pose avalanche risks, as well as the usual dangers of winter hiking like getting lost and freezing to death.  People die in the Whites because of being ill prepared, and not paying attention to (quickly) changing weather conditions.  Make sure you know what you're doing, or are with someone who does.  

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