Last fall, back when winter in the Northeast was looking fairly promising, I decided upon a nice "pre-season" climb. My climbing buddy Adam, who is the Webmaster for the Mt. Washington.com website, had decided against going earlier in the week, as the weather would be too "wimpy". However, a couple days before I was to depart, he decided to go after looking over the computer models (he has a meteorology degree....fairly helpful in a mountaineering partner :) ). He wanted to climb the west side of the mountain, but I wanted to climb Nelson Crag, since I have never been up that way before. So, he decided to do his thing and I decided to do mine.....
A day before the climb, I was carousing through Ragged Mountain Equipment, since there was a big tent in the parking lot with a sign that read SALE. Picked up a few things, in addition to the Patagonia Capliene shirt that I got earlier at IME. Adam happened to be at Ragged Mtn., and we ran into him (had the fam with me). He mentioned that the day I wanted to go, it would be a little breezy (up around 100 mph), but no snow or anything. He was planning on going the day after, as a winter storm was predicted. It took about 5 seconds to decide that one.....winter storm seemed like the way to go.
We started out early on Oct. 7th, 2001....I got to the base of the Cog railroad before the sun came up, and Adam was getting ready......since Adam knows everyone at the Cog, he stays at a camper there for free. I've stayed there, and once you get past the smell and the boarding house where the bathroom is, it's bearable. The boarding house is something out of the 1920's, and it looks as if it hasn't changed much. Anyway, we got our gear together, got his camcorder ready, and drove up to the parking lot. Needless to say, outside of the people getting the trains ready (it was the last day of the season that they went to the summit), there was nobody in sight.
The beginning of the hike was typically uneventful, as is the Jewell Trail on the lower stretches....a little snow/frost here and there, but not much. At this point, was just wearing summer hiking pants, and I think a t-Shirt (can't remember, will have to consult the video at some point).....it was a chilly, perhaps in the upper 20's, but not too bad. About midway up the scrub area, rime ice had begun to coat everything and started to get a little windy. This seemed like a good time to add some layers, so I threw on my shell pants and a very lightweight flece shirt, as well as my hat and glove liners. The clouds were also fairly thicker, and up towards the Jewell/Gulfside junction, it was starting to look a lot like winter. Just below the junction, we broke out the shell jackets, and I put my shell gloves on as well. Since I had planned on climbing the previous day (with no snow), I did not bring gaiters or plastic boots.....only had my summer hiking boots. No matter, the rocks were more icy than anything, and my feet were warm. Just past the junction, we saw two guys coming from Mt. Clay and heading towards Mt. Washington.....said a quick hi and bye, and they were off. We trudged on towards Mt. Washington....I've been on this area of the mountain several times, and it's one of my favorite spots. Visibility was maybe 100 to 200 feet, and then it started fading. Further along the Gulfside, the winds really began to pick up, the rime ice began to stick with greater intensity (to us and the rocks), and the temp began dropping a little. There was now a little bit of snow mixed in, but barely falling at this point. Up towards the section of trail where one wrong step will send you tumbling down into the Great Gulf, Adam took off up ahead....at the time I wasn't sure why, but I've been hiking with him long enough to expect it....usually has something to do with a photo/video opportunity. I was right......he heard the train coming and (literally) ran up the rocks to get video. I was lagging behind about 10 minutes, and took my time....I climb at my own pace. I found him up at the railroad tracks shooting video, and checked out the light rime coating on the railroad trestle, which was kinda neat, although nowhere near what it will get to in the middle of winter. We followed the tracks up to about 150 yards from the top of the track, where the McAdam's/Chadwick Memorial is that Adam and I had rebuilt in July, 2000. The cross was still standing strong, although you could rock it about an inch. Guess the 25 pound bucket of cement, some steel rods, and the cairn of rocks around it wasn't quite strong enough for the extreme winds that pound the mountain reguarly in the winter (up to 143 mph in Dec. 2000). We then crossed over the railroad tracks, and climbed up the rocks to the summit.
Ascended the summit, and then stood out on the Observation Deck to observe the weather (around 20 degrees with 45 mph winds, freezing fog and blowing snow), and got to observe stupid people, which is a given sight on most any winter (or summer) day up there. Saw people hiking in jeans, no jackets, no hats, shorts, corduroy pants, etc. These were HIKERS, not people who took the train up.....some people just have no clue. In fact, there were two guys that were rescued off Mt. Jefferson the next day in shorts....wonder if those were the same two guys I saw....most likely. Their legs were nice and bright red in their grey cotton shorts. Got to see some real weather pros in action, estimating the wind speed at 70 mph (sorry buddy, only 40-45 mph....the 70 to 100 mph winds were the previous day)......then some people in the same group started screaming for joy, plopped down on the observation deck and started making snow angels. We then headed down to the doorway of the summit building, and kinda sat down on the benches for a little bit, got organized, and watched the hordes of Cog railroad riders funnel into the summit building. There were 3 trains up, which is a lot of people. Got a lot of "Aren't you cold???" Not at all....then I'd get a weird look. The questions I like are "you WALKED up here???". It was only 19 degrees out....not like it was cold or anything. Geez. After gathering up my gear, we proceeded indoors, got lunch (a couple hot dogs, tuna sandwich, and a few bottles of Gatorade), and waited around an hour an a half for Adam.
We began the descent in the early afternoon....I think around 1 p.m. It had begun to snow rather heavily, and the ground was now covered in the amount of time we were in the building. DEFINITELY looking like full winter conditions up there now. Visibility was greatly reduced at times (particularly when my goggles started freezing up on the outside), and the wind picked up to perhaps 45-55mph. We descended via Crawford Path/Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, which was rather interesting. Saw some other people who didn't belong on the mountain still ASCENDING at 2 p.m., about a half mile below the summit. Considering it gets dark around 5ish then, and I don't believe they had headlamps, more power to 'em. I had to take a wicked piss starting at the summit (got stage fright in the bathroom for some reason)....finally got the chance just above the Lakes of the Clouds. The Lakes of the Clouds looked awesome in that setting with the snow falling, low visibility (100 feet or so clear visibility), and calm winds. The winds on the upper part of the mountain were all but gone now, as we had descended about 1,200 feet to the Lakes of the Clouds hut. Hung outside there for a bit, taking pictures and watching other hikers go into the "emergency" shelter underneath the hut. Must've been 6-8 people crammed in there, cooking food and stuff. Saw one kid with his eyes half frozen shut in a regular length ski jacket, K-Mart gloves, K-Mart hat (barely covering his ears, let alone face), and corduroy pants walking fairly hypothermically towards the door to go inside. Had that shelter not been there, and he had to stay out another hour or two in those conditions.....he probably would've been Mt. Washington fatality #123. He was in rough shape.
I located the Ammonoosuc Trail and we began the descent. This was a particularly challenging descent, as the upper section of the trail is largely slabs of rock, and fairly steep in some sections. Add 3-6 inches of snow, slush, and ice to it, and it was a little hairy in spots. Thought I was going for a ride on more than one occasion......kinda had to "plan" where you wanted to slide to about 10-15 feet down, and hoped that you stopped. Dunked my foot into a waterfall on the trail....my boots were waterproof, but unfortunately my foot went in too far and water poured into the tops of my boots. I was wearing medium weight wool socks, and it was cold for a few minutes, but then my feet were fairly warm again. Got a little further down the trail to where we could go faster than a turtle, and we began to fly down the trail, bypassing others descending like they were standing still. I was supposed to be back to the hotel by 5 p.m., but that wasn't going to happen, as I got to my truck at 5 p.m., and it was a good 40+ minute drive back to the Swiss Chalets (they take pets). Got back at around 5:45 p.m., and got the typical guilt trip/narcissitic attitude from the girlfriend (now ex-gf, 2007). I then again tried to explain to her that yeah, you can give an approximate time as to the return, but things can come up that are beyond one's control. Still didn't seem to grasp the concept, so I gave up.
Was a rather enjoyable start to the amazingly pathetic 2001/2002 winter season at Mt. Washington. The next day, they got 14" of snow and only ran the Cog up to the Skyline Switch. Adam went up with the crew and got video....snow was drifting over 3 feet in parts.
The hike itself was pleasant....not very windy, not very cold, the visibility was perfect; however, more snow would've made it much easier. The descent down the upper section of the Ammonoosuc was perhaps one of (if not the most) difficult descent I've done.....crampons wouldn't have made a difference, except to puncture your leg when you slipped and fell down the rocks. Got to see a large bunch of folks who had no business climbing the mountain on that day; a typical Mt. Washington trip.