Mt. Washington in a Nor'Easter

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 44.27060°N / 71.3047°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Dec 30, 2000
My buddy Adam emailed me and wanted to do a climb in Huntington, and bring along his brother-in-law as well. His brother had never really climbed a mountain before....luckily, I have a ton of gear and since we were about the same size, I could outfit him from head to toe. They stopped by my house, we loaded up my SUV, and were off. The plan was to stay at Harvard Cabin overnight, and leave first thing in the a.m. for Huntington. We finished packing in the hikers room at Pinkham, and then heaved up my rather heavy pack (around 55-60lbs). It took us about 2 hours to get to H.C., which was around 10 p.m. Ned Green was the caretaker (who, two months later, was killed in a climbing accident in Huntington), and said we were the only ones at the cabin....not really surprising, since a Nor'Easter was forecasted. We set up our bags, and went to bed. Unfortunately, I only slept about a half hour that night, as I couldn't get comfortable. We peeled out of our bags a little after 7 a.m. to a very cold cabin....we dressed up, and I tried to eat something, although my stomach was in knots from not sleeping. I managed to eat half a Clif bar, and about 8 ounces of Gatorade. Not exactly much to go on for a day of climbing. We headed out around 8:30 a.m., and trudged up to Huntington. Since John had never really climbed a mountain before, let alone ice climb, we were going to do Central Gully, which is fairly easy. However, at the base of the climb, Adam decided to change his mind and go up O'dells Gully. I didn't really think it was a good idea, but I wasn't the climbing leader, soooooo......we went up O'dells. We started the first pitch around 10:30 a.m., FAR later than we had anticipated. The first ice pitch went ok.....not very quickly, since we had three people on the rope, but not too bad. John was actually doing very well. Adam was leading, John was in the middle, and I was on belay. By the time I got to the top of the first pitch, they had dug out a small ledge in the snow to sit/stand on, and Adam set up the next belay. Adam started climbing, and immediately noticed how hard the ice was....he couldn't get a good stick with his crampons whatsoever (not to mention they were incredibly dull), so he had to chop small steps up the next two pitches....VERY slow going. The next two pitches took at least two hours a piece. At the beginning the third pitch, John began getting hypothermic from standing around montionless for so long; he was getting sick to his stomach and could not stop shivering. Since the ledge was so tiny, I had to spend the entire belay on my knees....over two hours. I too was getting rather chilly, but nowhere near as bad as John. Before we started the third pitch, Adam and I donned our headlamps, as we knew nightfall was only about a half hour away. The Nor'Easter had started rolling in, as the wind picked up a little and it began snowing. After two hours, we started yelling up to Adam, but since this pitch goes around rocks and you lose contact with the leader, he didn't hear us. We had to make a decision of wait longer, or climb. John's condition was worsening, and if he didn't start moving soon, he'd be in real trouble. I had him start up the pitch, and soon followed after him. Standing up after being on my knees for over 2 hours was incredibly painful...however, we had to push on. I was now becoming very exhausted, from not being able to eat earlier. As we were climbing near the crux, we heard Adam yell, and down came two snow pickets flying at us....apparently his pack hit the rock wall and somehow dislodged his snow pickets. About 20 seconds later, the last two came flying down. He was still climbing, so at this point, we were on a running belay. The storm was really starting to pick up now, and it was now dark. John did not have a headlamp, so I had to use my light for the both of us. I was unable to reach two of the snow pickets that did not shoot all the way down the gully, so we had no protection for the snow climb. By the time John and I reached Adam at the top of the third ice pitch (which is the last ice pitch), John was a bit warmer and in a little bit better shape....although not much. Adam's headlamp battery was dying, so we had to change his battery....a real challenge since he was having problems sealing the rubber around the battery pack on his Petzl Zoom headlamp with frozen fingers. After about 5-10 minutes of fumbling, we managed to get it sealed. We looked around, and John was gone. We looked up the slope, and through the snow and spindriff, I managed to see John's jacket about 35 feet up the gully, arms and legs spread out like spiderman, slowly creeping up the slope. Apparently he was getting too cold again to stand around. Adam and I threw in the rope and protection into our packs, and immediately went up. The storm was really starting to pick up intensity, and since we were on the Northeast side of the mountain, we were getting directly pummelled by it. The slopes were starting to load with snow, and it was now a race to get to the top. The snowclimb was a good 50-55 degree slope, and even though I was dead tired, I managed to keep pushing at a steady pace....we didn't really have a choice. Adam went ahead and caught up to John, and then went ahead of John....I then resumed lighting the way for the both of us. John would climb a bit, and I would stop and look up to where he was going so he could see. Then I would climb, and keep looking up so John could see. Winds were whipping spindriff between our legs and up our jackets and into our faces, making for very annoying conditions. We finally made it to the top of Huntington around 8 p.m. at night....after climbing at night for 3 hours, and in the storm for 4 hours. We took a little breather at the top for about 10 minutes, and then trudged on as Adam and John were getting cold. I was very warm, even though I was the lightest-dressed out of the other two. The falling snow was really accumulating, and the blowing snow wasn't helping. I put my ice tools down by my feet, and within literally 2 minutes, I looked down and couldn't find them. I began searching all around, and they were seemingly gone. After about 5 minutes, I managed to locate them. Adam decided to go directly across the Alpine Garden via compass instead of locating the Alpine Garden trail and following it to Lion Head. Since he's been up there nearly 50 times and can navigate to the summit in zero visibility, I was all for it. The conditions on the Alpine Garden were deteriorating, however visibility was astonishingly good. Turning our headlamps off, we could see at least 300-500 feet in any direction. Air temps were around 0 degrees, and winds were blowing at a constant 45-55 mph (windchills around -32 degrees). The first 45 minutes weren't too bad....I got a second wind of energy, and snow was very windpacked, and we were making our way downhill towards Lion Head. The plan was to actually hit Lion Head instead of the junction of the Alpine Garden/Lion Head trails, which would save 1/4 mile or so. The further down we went, the deeper the powder got. John was now extremely tired as well as getting cold again. We were starting to posthole on a more regular basis, from anywhere up to our knees to upper thighs. After about an hour, Adam dropped his compass and lost it. So, I took mine out, put the lanyard around my neck (which is when I finally realized that I didn't have my hood up on my jacket....guess that windstopper North Face Highpoint hat works quite well). We trudged on, and now as John would fall over after postholing, he wasn't getting back up....would just lay there for 5 minutes. The first time he did that, Adam and I rushed over to him.....we were all accumulating ice on our cheeks, eyelashes, and eyebrows. We got his goggles out of his pack and put them on him, which made him a bit happier. We all sat down for a bit and rested with him, then pushed on. Adam started going a bit ahead, so I took on the duties of looking after John. Adam would ask what direction, and I would use my headlamp to point in the general direction to follow. Around 10 p.m., I also had managed to lose my compass, and to this day I still have no idea now we were navigating by sight. By 10:30 p.m., my headlamp battery was starting to die....which was a bad thing, since I had my backup battery in it. I turned my light off to save the juice, and I could still see quite well. The postholing became time I fell in up over my head. I stood there for a minute trying to figure out how the hell to get out, as it was all loose powder. I had to "swim" a bit and use some branches on the scrub (I'm sure some people don't really want to hear that....). Around 11 p.m., we came to the edge of Tuckerman Ravine....we somehow passed the Lion Head trail....which wasn't too hard, since the cairns are very small on this part of the mountain, and covered in snow. I looked up, and noticed Lion Head itself...we then continued down the mountain in a zigzag pattern to try and locate the beginning of the Lion Head Winter Route. We went too far north and ended up in trees, and then had to climb back uphill, which REALLY sucked....we were all dead tired now, and I had all I could do to go back uphill. We made it back up above treeline, and then back to the edge of Tuckerman Ravine. We then headed straight down, until we reached a rock ledgy area. We followed that back down towards the trees, and then actually came upon the sign for the Lion Head Winter Route at 11:30 p.m..........a VERY welcome sight, after trudging across the Alpine Garden for 3 1/2 hours. It took us about 40 minutes to get down, a mix of glissading through deep powder (didn't go very fast) and walking down. Whacked my ass a few times on small hidden stumps, which hurt quite a bit. Adam took off way ahead, in which it was just John and I again. My headlamp was now near dead, and since we were back in the trees, it was pitch black without the light. I would have to turn it on for a few minutes, then turn it off for a few minutes when it started to die......then I'd be able to turn it back on, and then off again. Did that for about a half hour, until it finally died about 60 feet from the LHWR trailhead. John and I stood there thinking "great....what do we do now", since we couldn't see an inch in front of our faces, and a small step off the trail meant postholing up past our waists. We saw a headlamp sweeping through the woods, and then we yelled out....Adam came trudging up the trail. He was coming back up to find out what happened to us, since there was no sign of us. Back on the Huntington Ravine Fire Road, I was totally spent. We had under a 1/4 mile hike back to Harvard Cabin, but after being on the mountain for 16 1/2 hours with no food and barely any Gatorade (only what I had in the morning), I had all I could do to walk on the flat sections, never mind the slight uphill slopes. I would actually have to stop and rest halfway up a small 8-10 foot gentle slope. John was trudging on up the trail with Adam. We finally made it back to H.C. at 12:30 a.m., which irritated Ned, since he had to get up and see who it was coming in. I really didn't care at that point. He went back to bed, and we then broke out some food that I had brought. It was something new I was trying.....self-heating. Even though I was starving, it was really bad. Adam and John elected to stay up for some reason until about 2 a.m....I went up to bed, and again barely slept that night. We headed down the next morning around 9 a.m., ate breakfast in Glenn, and headed home..... All in all, not a bad way to spend the end of the new Millenium...


No comments posted yet.