Some friends and I have been aiming to hike up Mt. Washington (www.mountwashington.org) in the winter and last weekend was the penciled in date. Quite amazingly, the weather forecast looked great for Sunday so it was a go.
Sunday morning, the five of us assembled at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. We checked the forecast from observatory up top. It was calling for around -4F at the top with 50-75mph winds. A little on the cold and windy side, but it also said perfectly clear with huuuuge visibility. This is rare on Mt. Washington so we were all for it.
All geared up, we hit the trail at 7:30.
--gear talk insert--
I started out wearing:
R2 fleece over a wool zip neck baselayer. fleece running gloves. light wool hat
Rab Event bib shells over R1 fleece pants
plastic hard boots (rented w/ crampons from EMS)
trekking poles and backpack
The first couple miles is a long gradual climb up packed cat tracks. In the summer this is all 1-2ft boulders and rocks which gets a little arduous. In the winter its a pretty smooth slope so its much easier. the crampons weren't necessary, and we just trucked onward and upward. Not much interesting to report, but i had my clothing dialed in. Felt perfect.
After about 2 hours we got the Lion Head winter route trailhead. This is a less avalanche way up that's wise to use in the winter. One of our group members was having knee trouble and decided to bail. Since he was injured a bit, another walked him to the Harvard Hut where he could hang out with the keeper for a few hours to kill the 7 hours he'll be waiting around waiting for us. While that was going on, the rest of us sat around waiting. Perfect time for my brand new EMS Ice Down parka i got for $120. I was snug as a bug and we hung around shooting the shit for 30minutes in 10F weather.
Back on the trail, things started getting steeper. The poles went away and out came the ice axe. It was handy as a walking stick and also for picking and grabbing our way up some steeper stuff. There is one fairly sketchy section that we wish we had a rope for. We each went up one at a time and had to rely on ice picking and pulling with the ice axe a little more than i liked. We eventually got through it and we pushed up to the treeline.
We reached treeline at around 11:30am i'd guess. At this point things would start getting windy so we geared up for the wind.
--gear talk insert--
At this point i added my goretex shell, goretex ski gloves, balaclava/face mast, and goggles.
It wasn't too snowy, it was mostly exposed rocks and boulders with icy patches. The climb here is pretty steep, just chugging forward. After about an hour we reached Lion Head at 12:30. Lion head is a big rocky ledge/outcrop/arm reaching out between Tuckerman's and Huntington ravings. Because it sticks outs its hugely windy.
The wind was so strong it had us stumbling and leaning hard into it. It was cold, but the gear was holding up and i felt warm enough. I however was starting to run a little low on gas. My goggles were icing over, i was struggling to breath through my mask, and my quads were cramping up. My morale starting sinking a bit. I kept going along the relatively flat section that meets the base of the final steep climb to the summit. I took a quick drink, ate a Gu, and stretched a minute.
At this point it was 1PM and we had 0.7 miles to the summit with a strict 2PM turnaround time. As I started the steep climb i knew i was out of gas and there was no way i was going to make it in an hour. Our average pace was 0.63 miles/hour and most of that was the easy part. Me and another guy decided to peel off and hunker down at Lion Head while the other two went up to the summit.
Needless to say, it was pretty chilly sitting at Lion Head, but the view was amazing. I've never seen so far in all my hiking.
--gear talk insert--
I put my big down parka on again, OR Alti gloves
I was feeling pretty good except for my butt. Sitting on a cold rock isn't the greatest way to stay warm. So we decided to start making our way down to treeline where we agreed we'd meet back up. We took our time to allow the others time to catch up and chatted with a couple other hikers. We got a little chilly but kept moving enough to be ok. Just in time our friends showed up and we continued the 2.5 hour journey back down.
We finally made it back to base at 4:40. It took us 9 hours total which is pretty darn slow. Our group of five, half new to winter hiking, spent a lot of time with various breaks to fiddle with gear and adjust layers, etc. I guess it added up. We had a great time, though. The views were incredible, the weather was great, I'm super happy with my new bibs and parka. We might give it another go in a month.
Here's a link to my gear list:
I'll add more pics as my friends post them up