Start from Pinkham Notch Visitors Center on Rte. 16 (White Mountain Highway). Hike up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to the Huntington Ravine Fire Road. You can take the Huntington Ravine Trail, which is 1.3 miles from the Tuckerman Ravine Trailhead, but this route is generally not travelled much in the winter. There is a small river crossing towards the beginning of the trail, which could prove challenging depending on the snow conditions and weight of your gear. A good idea is to spend the night at Harvard Cabin, which is on the Huntington Ravine Fire Road, about 2 miles from the Tuckerman trailhead. The cabin holds 18 people max, and there are half a dozen tent sites. There is a stove in the cabin, as well as cookware for everyone to use. There is also a weather report at 7 a.m., as well as the a ranger stopping by between 8-8:30 a.m. to update the avalanche forecasts for Huntington Ravine. From Harvard Cabin, Huntington Ravine is a very easy 1 mile hike up the Fire Road to the upper portion Huntington Ravine Trail. If there has been significant snowfall during the season, the gigantic boulder field should be completely covered with snow, as well as the tops of the trees (50+ feet of snow can accumulate in the ravines). Continue on towards the middle of the ravine, towards Central Gully. Central Gully is a 45-50 degree snowclimb for the most part smack dab in the middle of the ravine....very hard not to notice it....it goes literally straight up the ravine. There can be a pretty good-sized ice bulge between 1/4 and 1/2 way up. O'dell's Gully entrance is right next to the bottom of Central Gully on the left side.
You will start off with your mountaineering axe in hand, and your crampons, and climb up the 30-40 degree snow slope. After climbing for about 10 minutes or so, depending on the conditions, you should begin to hit the ice. There are 3 ice pitches. The angle at the beginning of this slope is very shallow, maybe 30-35 degrees. However, it progresses up to perhaps a 40 degree slope by the end of the first pitch. Follow up the right side of the gully, near the rock walls, depending on the ice conditions. At the top of the first pitch, there is an ice bulge, in which just below that is a good place to set up a belay station. The slope begins to steepen, between 40-50 degrees and with some ice bulges, usually 3-5 feet in height, again depending on the ice conditions. The top of the second pitch is near a rock wall on the right side, on a very small snow/ice ledge. Again, a good place to set up belay for the third pitch, but if there's 3 people climbing, it can get very crowded with two people standing there. The beginning section is the crux of the climb.....usually you will go up and over the relatively small ice bulge, and then you will notice the gully bends to the right. Go straight ahead towards the far wall, and up another ice bulge. Unfortunately, once the lead climber goes around this bend and up the gully a bit, voice communication between the leader and belayer is usually lost. Continue up the left side of the gully, until you reach the snow climb. The snow climb is about a 50-55 degree slope, and without a belay, you can get up it in about 2 hours (approx. 800 vertical feet). At the top, walk West until you see giant cairns, marking the Alpine Garden Trail. You can then head North and then take the Huntington Ravine Trail and Nelson Crag Trail to the summit, or go South and take the Lion Head Winter Route back down to Harvard Cabin or Pinkham Notch.
Essential gear depends on the climber. Some climbers choose to use snow and ice protection, others don't. If you choose to use a belay, a 50-60m dry rope, at least 6-8 22cm ice screws, and another 4-6 17cm screws. If ice and snow conditions are really bad, or you climb very early in the season, may need shorter screws, or even rock protection. Again, some people choose to use protection at longer or shorter intervals.....I can only advise what I use. Obviously, crampons and ice tools are a must, as are quickdraws for the protection and runners for the belay. If you choose to use protection for the snow climb, 4 snow pickets should suffice; 2 24" and 2 36" pickets work well.
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