As my little highpointing hobby continues to progress I realized that at some point I may need some actual mountaineering skills so I decided to register myself into the 2 day REI beginner mountaineering & Mount Washington course over President’s Day Weekend. I figured not only would I learn some valuable skills but also if weather cooperates be able to knock Mt Washington off my list and have an even dozen highpoints under my belt.
Day 1 - Prep
Day 1 was gear evaluation; learning how to “walk” in double plastic boots; and practice with crampons and an ice ax which was all valuable info in a pretty setting as we summitted two peaks doing the Welch-Dickey Loop. Weather was beautiful but I realized I was in some trouble as far as not being in good enough shape; apparently walking through snow and ice is quite tiring.
Day 2 - The Beast
Day 2 My alarm went off at 4:30am and I packed my gear and put on an unnatural amount of layers. We went to Dunkin Donuts for breakfast and drove to mountain, which is some distance from Plymouth. While nervous about my personal conditioning there was no way I wasn’t going to give it a shot. Our course was the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail on the west side of the mountain. The 1st 1.5 miles is nice easy hiking, very pretty, about 700 feet of elevation gain. Saw a section where an avalanche cleared away a good section of forest over a brook, which was surreal to see the power that can exist and easily crush anyone in its path. Apparently avalanches are extremely rare on this side of the mountain, which makes me feel better.
The next mile is very steep through the woods and you gain about 1500ft of elevation, many times I felt as though my legs could not take another step.
The guides were quite patient and helped push myself and the other struggling hikers along (note there were several endurance athletes in our group that made this whole day seem like a cake walk). After what seemed like an endless incline we finally made it to the Lakes of the Clouds Hut and ate some food and I tried to regain some strength. The next 1.5miles above the tree line to the summit was quite hard and cold.
Winds were gusting about 80mph and we were mostly navigating over sheets of ice so crampon footing was of utmost importance, there are plenty of boulders that you could potentially smash your head on.
From this point the observation towers are in site the entire time, which provides the motivation that the summit is within your reach, I found it helpful to continuously curse at the towers under my breath.
At several points the wind was at my back and literally pushed me up the summit cone, which was very helpful.
When we finally made it I collapsed onto the summit, luckily for the sake of my pictures I have no skin exposed and no one can see my utter exhaustion.
We took shelter from the winds and ate and drank some more and despite my bottle warmers my Gatorade was starting to freeze, but surprisingly very cold Cheez-its are extremely delicious.
We didn’t stay that long since the winds were supposed to pick up even more. I regained good energy and we started the trek back to the hut in absolutely crazy wind, which was quite an adventure, it was fun just to be walking downward. Eventually we made it back down to the steep section that I hated on the way up, but this time we glissaded down so it turned into fun ride and a nice 1500ft break for my feet.
The last 1.5miles again were pleasant although my boots were a bit too narrow which hurt and both my big toes are now bruised and completely purple, I am definitely losing those nails. I heard Mount Washington only gets like 40 sunny days a year and we were very fortunate to get one. This was one of the harder days of my life but I feel great about accomplishment and learned more than a few valuable lessons.