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Mount Washington Winter Attempt?

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Mount Washington Winter Attempt?

Postby atomiccows1 » Wed Oct 24, 2012 5:53 am

Hey, so I'm looking at the possibility of doing a Mount Washington ascent this winter with a few of my friends. I was wondering what some people who are experienced with the mountain in the winter think about this, namely whether washington would be within our skill level or not.

First and foremost, we have two people certified in advanced first aid. I'm a wfr, and one of my friends is an emt. Experience levels between my friends varies, with a couple of us having used crampons once or twice before and decently experienced winter hikers/campers, a couple of AT thru hikers, some limited backcountry skiing experience, and a couple who's experience is probably more summer backpacking with some wintersports on the side. but for all of us this would be the biggest thing we've done, and is not something I would dare consider taking lightly given the mountain's reputation.

We're all college students in southern maryland, and so don't get the opportunity to be around significant snow very often, so the way I'd be looking at doing the trip would be to rent a cabin and spend a week or so skiing if the snow is decent over winter break, and if a window of particularly "decent" weather happens to strike, then we'd get out and go.

Does this sound feasible? If so, what gear would you recommend bringing? If not, any suggestions for a slightly less ambitious project this winter?
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Re: Mount Washington Winter Attempt?

Postby wkriesel » Wed Oct 24, 2012 4:05 pm

Yeah, go for it. You will probably take the Lion Head route from the AMC lodge. It think it took 4 hours up, 3 coming down. Be sure to have a long weather window. You mentioned a week, and that might be enough. You can rent gear in North Conway. You will need the same stuff as on any big mountain: plastic boots, crampons, etc. Look at the gear lists from the guide companies. Have fun.
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Re: Mount Washington Winter Attempt?

Postby Jow » Wed Oct 24, 2012 4:53 pm

Below is a trip report I did that a winter accent, may be helpful

http://www.summitpost.org/president-s-day-weekend-on-mt-washington/704244
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Re: Mount Washington Winter Attempt?

Postby AlexeyD » Wed Oct 24, 2012 6:38 pm

You very correctly put "decent" in quotes: when it comes to winter weather on Washington, or anywhere else above treeline in the Whites for that matter, good weather is often a relative term. Typically, whether you can summit or not will be a question of separating mere discomfort from true dnager; the trouble is that the line is often blurred, and of course a lot depends on how prepared you are. If there's one point to stress, it's that a mask/balaclava and goggles should be at the top of your 10 essentials list for any above-treeline winter venture in the Whites. These are exactly the things that on a marginal day can mean the difference between a fun adventure and a fight for survival. Fortunately, the weather observatory puts out very detailed, mountain-specific forecasts every morning which I have generally found to be pretty accurate, so, barring something totally unexpected, there usually shouldn't be any excuse for being unprepared. That said, it sounds like you have a healthy and respectful attitude to the mountains, and enough experience between you all to go for it, so enjoy and be safe!
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Re: Mount Washington Winter Attempt?

Postby atomiccows1 » Thu Oct 25, 2012 5:22 pm

Thanks for the wonderful replies everyone.

Yeah, I've been looking at lions head, and it definitely seems doable. Challenging for sure, but doable.

As far as a weather window, I'm thinking I probaby would not feel comfortable pushing for the summit if the forecast suggests windchill is below -10, or winds are above 50 to 60 mph. Is that reasonable for washington in the winter?

Any suggestions for a fitness routine to do for the mountain? I run every other day but only for about 15 to 20 minutes and lift weights sporadically. I'm in good backpacking shape, but probably not ready to do a winter summit yet.
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Re: Mount Washington Winter Attempt?

Postby nartreb » Thu Oct 25, 2012 10:17 pm

50 to 60 mph is plenty... won't lift you off the mountain, but you'll sure feel it. In winter, that's about average on the summit. With a week-long window, assuming no major storms in the forecast, I might hold out for 40mph or below.
http://www.davidalbeck.com/hiking/worstweather.html

Make sure every inch of skin is covered, and make sure your group stays close enough to hear each other.

As for training, find a long staircase or very steep hill, climb it repeatedly with a full pack. Get those calves and quads strong so you have time and strength in reserve and your wits about you when you hit treeline. Downhill skiing is pretty good too for getting those knees bent and keeping your heart rate up.
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Re: Mount Washington Winter Attempt?

Postby 96avs01 » Fri Oct 26, 2012 2:16 am

AlexeyD wrote:You very correctly put "decent" in quotes: when it comes to winter weather on Washington, or anywhere else above treeline in the Whites for that matter, good weather is often a relative term. Typically, whether you can summit or not will be a question of separating mere discomfort from true dnager; the trouble is that the line is often blurred, and of course a lot depends on how prepared you are. If there's one point to stress, it's that a mask/balaclava and goggles should be at the top of your 10 essentials list for any above-treeline winter venture in the Whites. These are exactly the things that on a marginal day can mean the difference between a fun adventure and a fight for survival. Fortunately, the weather observatory puts out very detailed, mountain-specific forecasts every morning which I have generally found to be pretty accurate, so, barring something totally unexpected, there usually shouldn't be any excuse for being unprepared. That said, it sounds like you have a healthy and respectful attitude to the mountains, and enough experience between you all to go for it, so enjoy and be safe!


Absolutely agree, we had a balmy -5F with 40+ mph winds

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Re: Mount Washington Winter Attempt?

Postby Biscut » Sat Nov 10, 2012 11:27 pm

This is my first post here, so hello!! Central gully is a great route. You've gotten great advice already. Especially the portion about being aware on the approach. After you pass the Albert Dow safety cache you can see the alluvial fan near central gully (kinda neat). I had a slide years ago not far below the fan and it's amazing how fast you get going in such a short amount of time. Head hit on the rocks is the concern. A little self arrest reminder for the less expericenced is a good idea. On a good weather winter day -- not much can beat coming over the lip of Hunnington's and hitting the alpine garden.

As far as the workout goes -- Washington can be especially tiresome in winter if you're not going to stay at hermit. If you have fresh snow and have to snowshoe in on the approach all the way to the ravine(s) it takes it's toll on you. I tend to get the bad luck and have fresh powder and not a packed down approach trail. Running is great, but hitting the gym hard with free weights is great. Something that has helped be tremendously in the Mt's is the Bosu ball. Be careful with this one -- Traditional bar squat; lighten the weight at first by a lot!! Put the Bosu ball behind the rack, hoist the bar on your shoulders so your comfortable. Walk it back so the Bosu is in front of you and mount the Bosu. The proceed to do you squats on the Bosu....TREMENDOUS difference.

Good luck on your trip. Enjoy Mt Washington!!
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Re: Mount Washington Winter Attempt?

Postby Biscut » Sat Nov 10, 2012 11:31 pm

Sorry man, wanted to add....coming down Lion's Head in soft snow can be a whole lot of fun!! Love to "controlled" fall, cant really call it glissading, down some of the steeper parts. It can be quick downward route!! A lot less steps than going down Tuck's!
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Re: Mount Washington Winter Attempt?

Postby AlexeyD » Mon Nov 12, 2012 11:14 pm

Given what the OP wrote about his group's experience level:

First and foremost, we have two people certified in advanced first aid. I'm a wfr, and one of my friends is an emt. Experience levels between my friends varies, with a couple of us having used crampons once or twice before and decently experienced winter hikers/campers, a couple of AT thru hikers, some limited backcountry skiing experience, and a couple who's experience is probably more summer backpacking with some wintersports on the side.


I would definitely NOT recommend Central Gully as a first-time ascent route for Mt. Washington. Central frequently has sections of easy, but nonetheless technical ice climbing, requiring tools, screws, rope, etc., none of which the OP mentions having any experience in whatsoever. Figuring these things out in an alpine setting with often atrocious weather is definitely not the place to do it, IMO. Again, based on the OP's party's experience level, I would say that Lions Head, Ammonosuc or one of the other non-technical trails to the summit would be the way to go for a first-time ascent.
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Re: Mount Washington Winter Attempt?

Postby CRiedel2 » Tue Nov 13, 2012 6:29 am

Not sure what month in winter you're planning on your trip, but temperatures up here in the NE are normally very cold. I live up in the Adirondacks in NY and I've seen high temps in winter at -5 with no windchill, lows around -40. So just be VERY prepared for REAL cold in winter. Dress right and you'll be fine though. I love getting out in the winter, no crowds on the popular peaks. I spent a few years in southern MD back in the early 90's and, yeah, a HUGE difference in the seasons from up here! Have fun and good luck on your trip, it sounds like a great time!
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Re: Mount Washington Winter Attempt?

Postby sm0421 » Tue Nov 13, 2012 2:20 pm

if you are in decent shape you can do Lion's head no problem even without any winter experience, but you must find a good weather day. If it's whiteout above treeline you need some experience route finding and planting wands to safely lead you up and down.
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Re: Mount Washington Winter Attempt?

Postby Biscut » Fri Nov 23, 2012 7:29 pm

AlexeyD wrote:Given what the OP wrote about his group's experience level:

First and foremost, we have two people certified in advanced first aid. I'm a wfr, and one of my friends is an emt. Experience levels between my friends varies, with a couple of us having used crampons once or twice before and decently experienced winter hikers/campers, a couple of AT thru hikers, some limited backcountry skiing experience, and a couple who's experience is probably more summer backpacking with some wintersports on the side.


I would definitely NOT recommend Central Gully as a first-time ascent route for Mt. Washington. Central frequently has sections of easy, but nonetheless technical ice climbing, requiring tools, screws, rope, etc., none of which the OP mentions having any experience in whatsoever. Figuring these things out in an alpine setting with often atrocious weather is definitely not the place to do it, IMO. Again, based on the OP's party's experience level, I would say that Lions Head, Ammonosuc or one of the other non-technical trails to the summit would be the way to go for a first-time ascent.


First post and I screwed it up! :? I got this confused wit different thread on Washington. Yes, have to agree that although I wouldn't call central gully technical, it's not the best place for the group you described. Lion's head for sure. :mrgreen:
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Re: Mount Washington Winter Attempt?

Postby atomiccows1 » Sat Nov 24, 2012 6:52 am

sm0421 wrote:if you are in decent shape you can do Lion's head no problem even without any winter experience, but you must find a good weather day. If it's whiteout above treeline you need some experience route finding and planting wands to safely lead you up and down.


I'm probably not gonna summit Washington if it ends up whiteout conditions. I wouldn't feel comfortable leading my group into those kinds of conditions.

The trip itinerary has changed a bit. A week of skiing proved to be more than a little financially out of the question for a group of college students without the backing of the ski club. We'll probably just rent a cheap motel room for a few days and hope for a summit window. Maybe do some practice hikes, or summit something nearby if the weather isn't cooperating. Several people from the group have dropped as always happens I guess, but my roommate and I are still in it for the long haul. We should probably have a couple others with us as well.

Training seems to be going well. I'm doing more ab exercises and lengthening my run times along side more pull-up reps. My roommate is focusing more on leg strength and endurance with lots of free weights, but he has the cardio of an ox already so he should be fine.

Looking at rentals for my roommate and possible others now. ICMS and EMS seem to be the go-to in North Conway. He doesn't quite have all the clothes required for a full outfit. I probably won't have much to spare seeing as I'll be wearing everything I can. Any thoughts for that one?

Also how's route-finding on washington in the winter? I know they have cairns above treeline, but practically speaking if most of my experience is on trails that aren't snow covered, how should I expect to fare on Lion's head?

I'm feeling more confident than I was a month ago about this happening. I'm hoping for the weather to be interesting, but not awful. Maybe blustery, clear, and cold. But I suppose with washington hoping really is the best you can do for weather.
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Re: Mount Washington Winter Attempt?

Postby nartreb » Mon Nov 26, 2012 12:19 am

It's hard to predict how it's going to go until you get up there. For both gear and route-finding, the rule is simple: when in doubt, turn around.

Corrollary 1: leave yourself some margin for getting down.

The cairns are pretty big and frequent, but there are a couple of issues: 0) low cairn visibility due to rime build-tup 1) multiple intersecting trails 2) finding the trail into the trees when you reach treeline as you descend. Fog is a likely problem, but windblown snow kicking up off the surface is worse. My personal rule is not to proceed on an unfamiliar trail unless I can see three cairns ahead.
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