On May 30th, My friend Brian and I climbed Mt. Washington. We were planning on Tuckerman's Ravine, but when we got to the start of steep hike, (about 2.4 miles in the trail) it appeared closed. We went to the ranger station, and knocked on the desk. A dog barked, and a young man with a beard came out wearing overalls, to talk to us, while his girlfriend was still getting up. It was only 7am. He said the trail was closed due to a dangerous snow traverse, so I asked, "what would happen if we did try and climb?" He said. "oh, you'd die." Although he amplified that it was just really risky, and maybe he was embellishing, we took his advice, and headed back down the trail to climb from the Lions Head. The Lions Head trail, which is generally considered the short, easy trail, is not really class 1, but basically class 1 and class 2. In some cases, I chose to climb up the rock, instead of winding around the trail, which made my way class 2 for more of the trek.
Mt. Washington's weather systems, in late May, give it the feel of a 14,000 foot peak, with a lot worse wind. The only difference is that you don't feel any altitude effects, and oxygen is still plentiful.
We got up into alpine country, and the wind was strong, about 40-50 mph. We hiked further, and noticed that clouds engulfed the summit. This did not prepare us for the experience we were about to face, something as dangerous as I have ever climbed. Visibility was poor, so we cut up the slope, towards a higher rock cairn. The weather got worse, the wind faster, the air colder. The permafrost on the rock vegetation was thicker and thicker, and the frost covered the rocks. Frost hit me in the face a couple times as I climbed higher, towards the summit, which I could not even see due to the wind clouds.
Towards the summit (which I still did not know was less than 100 feet away) I was trying to manuver over the rocks, and I stood up, and a huge gust of wind knocked me down. I fell down on one rock, and then another, and then another, and landed flat on my back. It was like falling down a flight of stairs, except these were rocks, not wood, and there certainly was no carpeting, except for frost covered vegetation. I checked my legs, and I had hurt a muscle on my left leg, but basically I was okay. I got up, and pushed forward. I climbed the last rocks, and there was a flat surface. I looked up and saw what I thought was another 300 feet! Then I looked to the right and saw a truck. I flagged him, and asked where I was. He said that I was at the summit. The summit was just around the road and up a small hill. I waited for Brian to make it up the rocks. Five minutes later he came up and we got up to the summit. I still pulled my lower right calf on the way. A ranger asked us to go to the shelter, but instead I walked up the last 15 feet or so to the summit. There was no way I would be denied the summit after all that climbing. We came into the shelter and I found out that winds were 75 MPH and the wind chill was -4 degrees. A storm system had engulfed the mountain for the last 2 hours, getting worse and worse, and peaking by the time we had gotten up there. Several climbers followed, unwilling to be deterred from the summit, which, incidentally, is precisely the reason so many have died or been injured here. The weather does not get bad until the last 1/3 of a mile, and those that have come so far, say "it is just a little further" and that little further is what gets them.
The clouds eventually subsided, giving clear views of the surrounding peaks. However, winds remained constant at 60 MPH, and it was still very cold, making photography difficult. Highpoint number 23 was complete, I headed down to open access day in Rhode Island, and made it 24. I regret doing Rhode Island on this day. I should have stayed and hung around this area and explored. I didn't, and it was stupid. Now it turns out I could go to Rhode Island any darn weekend to hit the highpoint. Oh well - a mistake I shouldn't repeat.
Back on the story. I got back to Arlington, Virginia at midnight after getting dinner in my hometown of Greenwich Connecticut (which was on the way). Overall, this was a long weekend, with too many tolls, but a lot accomplished.
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