My smallest mountain, and how it whooped my a$$It was not your normal Valentines day. It was our first trip with Appalacian Outfitters, and so far had been an absolute blast. The trip was a mountaineering class, which included snow school and intro-to-equipment the day before, a summit stab, and vertical ice on the last day. Weather in the vallies was actualy fairly mild for this time of year. But the morning sumit forecast read -11 Ferenheit, 40mph winds, and 86mph gusts. But hey, that is what we came here for.
The group consisted of 7 people, the trip leader, and two guides. The 7 of us included a few with some experience, some very green, and some in between. The two guides, Alain Comeau and Kurt Winkler, were very experienced in many parts of the world, and very well known in the region for numerous first ascents. They'd been climbing since the late 60s, yet could keep a pace that made us all look like old men.
We set out on the winter trail at about 0800, and kept a mild, non-sweaty pace to the base of the lions head. The group began to stretch out over this section of trail, showing the differences in condition among the group. By the time we'd reached the base of Lions Head at about 1030, 3 made the tough descision to turn back. As the saying goes, if you're thinking about it, you probably should. No worries though, the mountain will be there waiting for you.
The next section was an entertaining mixed scramble up to the tree line. Front pointing at times, and hooking trees with axes, you must pull your way up though the forest that clings to the side of the Lions Head slope. I'm not exactly sure at what time we reached the top, as it was starting to feel like Mt Washington up there, and I didn't expose my watch.
A breif break and a pint of fluid later, we dawned our shells and were off again for a formation called Split Rock. Crossing the Alpine Garden, we were able to feel more and more what the mountain had to offer. Visibility was fading due to the winds kicking up snow. Though cold and windy, I was able to keep my face exposed without numbness, my full beard collecting quite a bit of ice. By the time we reached split rock, our group had stretched out further, and I was falling toward the rear.
Leading into this trip, I hadn't thought much of the mountain itself posing a challenge, just the weather. At only 6200ft, it was 3000ft shorther then the start point of my last winter ascent. The elevation to cover was less then 8000ft over 8 miles, compared to 10,000+ over 18 miles the year before. But I'd underestimated the taxing topography of this "Applacian Hill". This pile of stones is very much a mountain, in every sense of the word. Taking care of our baby for the last 6 months took president over our physical preparation for this trip, and it began to show. Elena had turned back at the base of the trail section, and now at Split Rock, I was pondering the same.
After a short rest and some gatorade, we picked up and began our final push. Coming up and past Split rock, the cold and wind were noticably more brutal. I had to stop, and actualy get help from Kurt to put on my final face covering, as my nose and cheeks had gone numb in less then 2 minutes. The rest of the group was pulling away, and Kurt stayed back with myself and another struggling commrade, known this week as "The Captain, Arrrgh". When we regrouped again at about 5500ft, we were an hour away from our turnaround time. Alain estimated an hour to the summit, which for me would have meant about an hour and a half. Rather then hold back those who could make it, I turned back with Kurt and The Captian, Arrrgh.
I've only turned back from a summit twice before. Once for weather, and once because I got lost and burnt the day. Much was learned on this trip. The importance of physical preparation, early mornings, white-out navigation. But moreso, never to underestimate any hill, especialy the biggest little mountain in the world, Mount Washington. I'd like to thank our pair of guides for their help and tutelage, and the mountain for providing a low altitude, high mountain experience.
I will be back.