Intro / Getting There
A few friends and I try to hit the mountains a few times per year. Usually we'll try to drive out to Colorado (from Chicago) a couple times each in the fall and spring, for some fun time in the snow. As usual, while planning for this trip, I was emailing trip/route details and photos to my friend Dan, along with other cool trip reports that I'd run across. We had discussed going east, and checking out Mt. Washington several times in the past, but it always seemed to be a climb "for the future". I sent a recent trip report to Dan regarding Mt. Washington, and say we should do this sometime. Dan replies...why not now? That's a good question...why not. And so, the decision had been made.
A quick Google maps search to see how long of a drive it was, directed us through Canada for the quickest route. Canada? Don't mind if we do!! The road trip is half the fun of these climbs for us!!
We watched the weather observatory reports, and avalanche information closely for the week proceeding, and as usual, had a back-up climb...in Colorado...just in case the weather wasn't in our favor. However, the entire week proceeding looked great. 30 mph sustained winds, 7-10 degrees, with -10 wind chills during the day. Very doable, and about the best you can ask out of this mountain.
The plan was to leave Chicago on Thursday night, drive 17 hours to New Hampshire via Canada, ascend the first 2 miles or so to the Hermit Lake Shelters on Friday evening, and climb to the summit via the Lions Head route on Saturday, returning back to the shelters and to the car Saturday afternoon. Of course, timetables must be very flexible on road trips, as you never get where you want to be, at the time you'd like to be there! Typical of my buddy Dan to make us leave late, he locked himself out of his house, thus making our 8:00pm departure more like 10:30.
Additionally, we stopped at Niagara Falls (first time being on the Canadian side for me, as well as first time seeing the falls in winter). The falls are incredibly beautiful half frozen!!
We swung through Toronto, and Montreal, then down south to get back to the US. We ALWAYS joke about getting stopped with our buddy Dan, as 2 white guys crossing ("smuggling") a Hispanic over the border never looks good! :) However, it doesn't matter how much we joke about it, actually getting stopped by border patrol kind of sucks, and is quite boring.
We pull up to the US border, with me driving, Garrett in the passenger seat, and Dan sleeping in the back. I hand over the passports, and after looking at them for a while, the conversation goes a bit like this:
- Border Patrol Agent: Who's Daniel?
- Me: The guy in back.
- Border Patrol Agent: Oh, the guy laying and hiding in back huh?
- Me: (laughing) Yeah, that's him.
- Border Patrol Agent: Daniel...have you ever had trouble entering the country?
- Dan: No. (us laughing in the background)
- Border Patrol Agent: Hmmmm. Have you ever left the country?
- Dan: Yeah.
- Border Patrol Agent: Where have you gone?
- Dan: I travel all the time. All over. Lived in London for a while, go to Mexico to see family all the time, you know...red light green light.
- Border Patrol Agent: (laughing) Red light green light? I'm not sure I've ever done that. (laughing). Anyway, we've got a problem here.
- Dan: Why? Did I come up on some kind of list?
- Border Patrol Agent: Yeah. We don't really have a problem with your first name, Daniel....but more so your last name (it's a Hispanic last name). I'm going to need you guys to pull over and come through these double doors while I clear this up.
- Us: Laughter ensues, and we proceed to do what they want.
They didn't really tell us what happened, just that they wanted to clear something up so this didn't happen to Dan again. We sat there for an hour arguing amongst each other about the initial cost of Tesla vehicles, whether Enterprise Rental Car has enough pull to have Lamborghini produce special V6 versions of the Gallardo for them, whether North Korea has a clue they have no chance against the US, and other nonsense.
Fast forward a bit, and we're all really hungry. We pull over in some town, and when we travel, we usually try to mingle with the locals, and eat at local places. Driving through this town, we see an Applebee's and a Walmart. Yeah...that's seems about right. Then, we see a place called 99 Pubt and Grill, having never heard of it, and seeing it was packed, we decided to stop. This must be a good local establishment we thought. Needless to say, we had no idea it was a chain restaurant too. BUT...being a boneless chicken wing aficionado...I must say, they had the best buffalo boneless wing appetizer in life, and their BBQ turkey tips dinner was one of the best meals I've ever had. If I ever see a 99 restaurant again...I'm eating there for sure.
We had planned on arriving at the Pinkham Notch Trailhead sometime Friday afternoon, but due to all our typical delays, we arrived at 10:00 pm. Thus, took our time getting ready, and made the 2.4 mile hike up to the Hermit Lake Shelters, arriving at about 2:15 am. About 2.1 miles up the "trail" (it's really a fire road, so totally easy hiking), we arrived at the turn-off for the Lions Head Route. We would still need to hike another .3 miles up to the shelter, then back down the .3 miles in the morning to start the route.
Jubilation as we see the orange sign that marks the Lions Head route, and realize it's just a short .3 miles until we get to sleep!! (20 hours in a car doesn't equal much sleep)
The .3 miles felt like 2 miles. It just kept going and going. Finally we entered the small clearing where the caretaker's shelter is, but couldn't find any cabins in the dark. We only see one small sign that shows the outhouses are to the left. I start down that trail, and Dan reminds me that they wouldn't put the shelters next to the bathroom! We walk all around, and can't find anything. Finally I go back and down towards the bathroom, and there they are, 2 shelters in the dark. We approach both, one has a party of 3 inside, and the other is full. We enter the shelter, and snuggle up with our new friends. (I completely forgot that Eastern US folks have funny accents!!).
We set our sleeping bags, and fell asleep. About an hour later, another party of 3 joins us. We didn't speak much with them though, as they arrived really late, and left really early, before we were up.
We arose at about 7am, decided it was too early and too cold to start climbing, and hit the invisible snooze button. Finally woke again, and made breakfast (I don't know how they do it, but Mountain House is delicious, despite how gross it looks when its dry).
At 10:00 am we were set, and made our way up the short trail to the clearing, to see what looked like a ski resort. The place was packed!! I had heard that people skin up, climb the headwall and ski down, but I didn't expect the large crowd. A kind volunteer ski patrol man stated that the place was actually kind of empty...when the snow is good, they have 5,000 people come through sometimes on the weekend. Wish I had that playground in my backyard!!
At the same time we noticed the avalanche conditions on Hillman's Highway were downgraded to low (from Moderate), and the rest of the headwall and routes were still moderate. Upon observing a bunch of skiers going up, we discussed some route changes with the ski patrol guy, and although Dan and Garrett really didn't want to climb the couloir (still kind of afraid of avalanche danger as on the way in I kept discussing how afraid of them I was)...we decided the route looked to fun to pass up, and with low danger, and so many climbers, the snow had to be good. We'd climb Hillman's Highway, traverse around the headwall/bowl, then up to the summit and down the Lions Head route.
Sure enough, the snow in Hillman's was perfect. Hillman's is pretty easy going down low (similar to the Trough on Long's in CO), and then steepens, but for just a short bit at the top.
Garret asking, should I eat the lemon lime or chocolate flavored gel? My reply: Doesn't matter, they're both gross!!
Shortly after this photo, Dan and I proceeded up, thinking Garrett was following behind us. He had injured his rib earlier in the week, and at this point felt it pop, had a snowball from a skier above come down and hit him in the face, and dropped a full water bottle watching it slide from near top, to the bottom of the couloir. Needless to say he wasn't a happy camper at that moment. We topped out, looked back, and there was no Garrett. I guess he had a small panic attack with all the goings-on, regrouped himself, and continued up. Did I mention this was his first ever climb? What a trooper.
Once all 3 of us topped out, we stared at this. A nice short/easy looking hike around the headwall and up to the summit of Mt. Washington.
The neither short nor easy hike took a while, and it was at this point we first encountered winds on the mountain.
The winds though, were not bad, and for Mt. Washington standards...we had the absolutely best weather one could ask for. Thank God, because with these trips, we pick a weekend one or two months ahead, and just go, despite the weather. We have a backup climb in mind, but as long as the weather is doable, even if it's terrible, we always "try". This weekend though, we couldn't have bought better weather if someone was selling it. It was absolutely perfect out. 24 degrees, and apparently gusts up to 40 mph, but these were very rare. There was almost no wind. What an Easter weekend!!
We continued on, and trudged our way to the top.
We didn't follow the "trail" on the way down, but rather chose the quickest and most direct route down from the top to tree line. Our path was nice and steep, definitely requiring crampons and an ice axe at the ready, as a fall here would carry you all the way down to the alpine garden. The snow was solid and well covered over the rocks.
Once at the alpine garden area, we followed the set trail back down the steep Lions Head route. It really is as steep as most people say it is, and definitely require crampons and an ice axe for safe travels down. The path up/down the Lions Head is not your typical 14ers type trail that leads up to a mountain with decent switchbacks below treeline. Below treeline is really where the fun is on this route. Nice and steep the whole way up (and in our case, down). The snow was good for cramponing, and although caution is required, it really is quite easy and fun climbing.
From there we met where the Lions head route intersects the route up/down from Pinkhams, we worked our way back up the .3 miles (that now we've decided is a definite lie) back to the shelters, packed our bags, and headed down to the car.
On the way down, someone before us decided to tag the snow. Guess graffiti really does express ones emotions!!
Back to Chicago
As I said, the road trip is half the fun, so we had planned to spend Saturday night in Montreal. Because of our late start, we had a late arrival in Montreal (go figure). We arrived at about 12:30am, checked into the hotel, and were walking down the street looking for something hopping at about 1:30 am. We made the most of our night, and crawled into our beds at the hotel sometime around 6:00am. Late enough to see the sun starting to rise, but not early enough to actually see the sun.
I'm not sure what it is about that island, or if people are allowed to come and go from Montreal as they please, but it seems there's a ratio of 10 guys to 1 girl there!! It's like they trap the guys there, and don't let any girls on the island!! If you're single and looking to mingle...I would try somewhere else. ;)
After a short nap, we checked out, made a stop at a Denny's truck stop location (first time I've spent Easter weekend brunch/dinner at a Denny's, hope that doesn't happen again (no offense Denny's, just feel bad about being away from home), stopped again in London for some fine beer and meat at The Keg, then proceeded home, arriving back in Chicago at about 4 am Monday.
Quite the weekend. Chicago to New Hampshire via Canada, stopped to see some sites, climbed a mountain, back to Canada for an evening of craziness, then Easter on the road back to Chicago.
Hope the trip report was as enjoyable to read, as the actual trip was for us!
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