Mount Washington (March 2013)
Mount Washington Winter Ascent
Pre-trip report (2/28/2013):
Excited to head out to New Hampshire around 1:00AM tomorrow morning to start my trip with my girlfriend/hiking partner. It should take us a little more than four hours to drive it to the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, where we will gear up and head out on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail hopefully around 6:00AM. Neither of us have hiked mountains outside of the Adirondack State Park in New York at this point in time, so this is a pretty big endeavor for us. Mount Washington will be our first White Mountain and our first Ultra. We started training for the hike in late January of this year by hiking around eight Adirondack High Peaks to get used to inclement weather and practice some winter mountaineering skills.
We will start at Pinkham Notch (2050'), were we will take the Tuckerman Ravine Trail for 2.3 miles. We will then reach a junction for Lion Head Trail
(3825'). We will take this trail for 1.6 miles as an alternative to climbing the actual steep, avalanche prone ravine (Maybe next year). We will hit the
Tuckerman Ravine Trail after summiting the Lion Head and continue .4 miles to the summit (6288').
We are extremely excited about this trip, but not so much about the weather we may face!
According to the Mount Washington Observatory, we expect weather at summit of around 15F, not including the wind chill factor, with wind NNW around 20mph and about 1 new inch of snow. I expect this to change since it's a forecast, but hopefully it won't change too much. We handled 80+ mph gusts last weekend on Wright Peak in the Adirondacks and on our way from Algonquin Peak to Iroquois peak, forcing us to turn around, so hopefully the wind gusts won't be terrible on this climb.
Getting my gear together, relaxing and getting a good nights sleep is all I have left to do today... may be hard to sleep with all this anticipation though.
Left Plattsburgh, NY around 11pm on Feb. 28th and drove out to the White Mountain National Forest in NH. The drive took about 4 hours and seemed longer as I was running on an hour of sleep. We got to Pinkham Notch around 4am, geared up, and ate breakfast in the visitor center.
We left the visitor center and headed out on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. There was a good foot of snow, but luckily the sno-cat vehicle packed it down for us the day before. We took our time on this trail since we were the first start the hike in that day. We were going slow enough that a large group of about 18 Canadian soldiers in a guided group caught up to us and passed us. We continued on the route until we got to the Lion Head Winter Route trail. At this trail we caught back up to the Canadian/guide group and stuck with them, letting them lead and break the trail for us.
The Lion Head Winter trail was gradual in the beginning, but quickly became a 70-75 degree slope mixed snow and rock climb in certain sections. It wasn't evident how steep the trail actually was until you looked back down from where you came up. We needed our ice axe picks in these steep sections to be able to continue. We finally made it to the top of Lions Head around 8am and took a long break with the troops before pushing onward to the Lion Head.
We then proceeded to the Alpine Garden junction as a heavy fog came in from behind us, which persisted the rest of the day. As we continued we had to trudge through at least 2 feet of snow in some parts. We then ascended the exposed snow field and its slopes, zig-zaging our way up with the troops, mostly following their packed footprints. While we made progress we could hear the roaring of an avalanche in Tuckerman Ravine to our far left. This is fairly common especially since the advisory for the day was 'Moderate to Considerable' for both ravines.
It took at least an hour and a half to make it to Split Rock, where we continued for about another 40 minutes to the summit. I should also mention that visibility was severely limited the entire ascent (less than 100 feet) but the weather was otherwise calm and the wind never picked up heavily as is known to in the winter. (2 out of 3 days the wind reaches 80+mph in the winter)
After taking a few pictures at the summit, we proceeded to descend going back down the way we came. We lost sight of the Canadian soldiers on the way down near the Alpine Garden junction, as they were going much faster than us. We retraced the groups tracks and made it to the top of Lions Head in about 30 minutes from the summit. This is where it got tricky. The way up the steep parts of the Lion Head trail was easy, but going down was another story.
We slowly made our way down these steep, rocky sections with loose snow. I led and packed the snow down most the way. At one point the snow gave as I was packing it and I slid about 50 feet down a 75 degree slope after my ice axe failed in the soft snow while I arrested. I was only able to stop myself by grabbing onto two small tress as I fell, breaking them in half and landing waist deep in snow. I was able to get myself out of the snow and didn't suffer an injury. The last steep section on way down was also tricky, and I slid down at least 25 feet and was able to stop myself by grabbing hold of an exposed tree root. After these close calls we were lucky to make it down uninjured, which we wouldn't have if there wasn't so much snow to break the falls we took. If we come back next year we're definitely going to rope off on these steep sections, it's not worth risking injury.
After the Lion Head Route we made our way to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail and headed back to Pinkham Notch and arrived there around 2:30pm. Cold, exhausted, thirsty, and hungry, we were very happy to be back where we started 10 hours earlier. Our winter climb up Mount Washington was quite the experience, one I will definitely remember. It was great chance to enhance my alpine skills, also.
UPDATE: Same day we climbed via Lion Head, a solo ice climber was killed by an avalanche climbing in Pinnacle Gully in Huntington Ravine http://www.boston.com/news/local/new-hampshire/2013/03/02/ice-climber-dies-avalanchel-mountain/yYW5KUgjrMvLgZyn9a9IEN/story.html
Going back Jan. 2014, with much nicer gear!