Start from Pinkham Notch on Route 16/White Mountain Highway...look for the big brown building with 300 cars in the parking lot. Start out on the Tuckerman Ravine trail, which is wide enough to fit a snow cat....follow the trail up for a little over a mile and a half, until you reach the Huntington Ravine Fire Road (NOT the Huntington Ravine Trail, which is only 1.3 miles from the Tuckerman trailhead), another very wide trail that branches off on your right hand side as you go around a left turn in the trail. There should also be an orange Lion Head Winter Route sign at this trailhead. Follow this trail up a few hundred yards until you see an avalanche cache on your right hand side. Right across from the cache is the start of the Lion Head Winter Route.
The trail starts out somewhat flat and winds through the trees...be careful to stay on the trail, otherwise you'll find yourself postholing to your knees or waist. It then begins to ascend slightly after around 100 yards, and then begins the to gain steepness. The entire Winter Route itself is only around a half mile in length, and ascends around 1,000 vertical feet. The middle section is the steepest; on the second of the two steep sections, you can follow the wall straight up, making for a good 60-70 degree snow/mixed climb (depending on the snow conditions). The ledge at the top is a little narrow though, and you'll have to go across it on your hands and knees because of your pack. If you're wearing a large or heavy pack, I wouldn't do that section....the alternative is to follow the trail to the right at the base of this section. There are a few snow/rock/exposed tree root scrambles which make it kinda fun, and having ice tools versus just a mountaineering axe makes it a lot easier (and a lot more fun). The upper section is not quite as steep, and generally the snow is quite a bit softer and more powdery, due to blowing snow and such. Once you begin noticing the trees getting shorter and the wind picking up, this is where you should begin putting on more layers/wind shell, etc. Another couple hundred yards up, you'll be above treeline and the conditions can immediately worsen, and trying to change around there can really suck. The Lion Head Winter Route trail ends at the trail for the Lion Head Route...you'll see the sign denoting the Lion Head Winter Route where the summer route meets up. Follow the rest of the regular Lion Head Trail up....
Weather on the Lion Head ridge can be brutal. It is not uncommon for winds to be only around 30-50 mph on the summit, with winds blasting the ridge at 80-100+ mph (just past the Lion Head rocks, about a half hour hike from the end of the Winter Route). Below Lion Head, the winds may be gusting a bit here and there, but are generally not too bad. The avalanche danger isn't real significant compared to the gullies. The LHWR has blue markers denoting the trail, and on the upper section has orange reflectors to aid visibility at night.
The route should take around an hour, at a somewhat leisurely pace....with a lighter pack and less rest breaks, around 45 minutes....with a firm snowpack. If you have to break trail, it will be considerably
longer. If you must break trail on the LHWR, chances are the eastern snowfields (just above the Alpine Garden/Lion Head junction) will be brutal, up to chest deep.
If you decide to do this route, get an early start.....5:30 to 6 a.m. is good, otherwise there can be long lines ascending. If you start at the above time, you should not see anyone on the Winter Route itself, except for perhaps only a couple of people. Going down is fun, as you can glissade about 80-85% of it. Since the trail winds around turns and such, it's like going down a huge waterslide.....
At the minimum, crampons and a mountaineering axe. I've seen people try it with no crampons and trekking poles...NOT advised. Bring your ice tools and make it into a fun little snowclimb....you'll go much quicker than the rest of the folks, and have more options, particularly when you have to climb up and over an icy rock section. If you like climbing in storms, bring snowshoes for before and after the LHWR, as the snow can be deep above treeline. I've seen people bring pickets and rope, but they are not really necessary, unless it's the persons first time climbing in the winter or are uncomfortable with climbing. Don't get me wrong, like anywhere else it can be easy to fall, and while you won't be falling hundreds of feet, it'll still hurt (and can kill you).
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