We all met in Pinkham Notch at the base of Mt. Washington’s northeast side. Members of the trip from all aver; DC, to Campton, NH and places in-between. Even after our quick introductions and gear review, I knew this was going to be a fun trip.
With warm temperatures we started up the Tuckermans Ravine Trail, towards our destination of the weather observatory on the summit of Mt. Washington. The wide groomed trail allowed for good conversation, pictures and movement techniques. At the start of the Tuckermans winter trail we dawned our crampons, retrieved our ice axes and stowed our trekking poles. Now prepared for the steep trail ahead we climbed together towards tree line.
On a trip like this one it’s always interesting when our large group passes other climbers on the mountain. Due to the fact that we are only going half way and staying at the top, we were climbing late in the day. Other climbers on the mountain approached us with concern, but when they learned of our intentions to stay overnight on the summit they passed us – jealous.
The team kept a casual pace from Lion’s Head to the summit. Wind gusts neared 50 mph, and light precipitation fell, while fog moved in. Even though this we a brief dose of what Mt. Washington has in store for climbers, it was nice for our guests to see how quickly the weather can turn. At sun set we were around 200 feet from the summit, finishing the climb in the low light of dusk. After a few photos on the summit we headed inside.
It was a long day on the mountain and when we walked inside the weather observatory (OBS for short) we were thankful for the homemade corn chowder that was waiting for us. Warm and dry we got settled and waited for dinner. The two very welcoming volunteers served dinner. The OBS weather staff and our group of climbers were thankful for the family style dinner. After dinner we were treated to a tour of the weather instrumentation of the OBS, a real treat! Cheesecake with strawberries and tea rounded off our evening and we retired to our warm bunks.
Due to the fog we couldn’t see the sunrise, but it allowed us to sleep in. Again the volunteers whipped up a great breakfast. We ate then geared up for a climb of the OBS tower, where the weather instrumentation is held. In order for a weather station to be considered legitimate the instrumentation must be held 30 feet off the ground. This is so the ground will not influence the readings.
We came down off the tower, dawned our crampons and headed down. We took a little detour to experience more of the mountain. Walking down the auto road for a bit before cutting over to Ball Crag. Named after an early survivor of misadventure on the mountain. From there we cut across the Alpine Garden; an area in the summer known for its rare plant life. Upon reaching this area the fog began to clear and we were treated with an undercast of clouds blanketing the valley. Many pictures were taken and high fives were passed around.
We continued down, passed Lions Head, and used a rope to aid our decent down the steep sections we cruised up the day before. With smiles from ear to ear we walked down the remainder of the Tuck’s trail proud of our accomplishment. After some goodbyes we went our separate ways.
Temps: Record warmth hovering around +40F. Winds: 25 – 35 with gusts to 50.
In reflection, I am always blow away at the people I meet. As a guide I go into the mountains with people from all over. There are many vacation options out there to choose from; however, few are as rewarding as a winter ascent of Mt. Washington.
Thank you to all who made this trip possible – Alex
Guides Jim Gagne, Alex Teixeira and Bob Blais.
The adventure started early – our 5am drive up the snow covered highway was slippery and slow. We arrived at the finest Dunkin Donuts in the area and adjusted our strategy. One car left behind as we piled into 4×4’s to continued onward to the Ammonusuc Trailhead. Franconia Notch was icy and covered with drifts of the light snow then the Base Road to Marshfield Station was unplowed. It was exciting to be the first on unplowed roads then untracked mountain trails to climb Mt Washington. The Ammo trail had a foot of new at the start then as we ascended we found about two feet of new snow. We were amazed at the difference a thousand feet can make – truly a winter wonderland.
At treeline the wonderland changed – we layered up and entered the arctic alpine zone. Wind, ice, driving snows kept us in line and focused. The team followed Alex and we all climbed for 500 feet to the Lake of the Clouds Hut. The hut is closed but is one of the main stopping points on the Ammo climb. We headed for the leeward side to gain a break from the driving winds.
It was time to make a decision!!!
The weather was extreme and the forecast was for much worse to come as the winds were on the increase, temperatures were dropping, and frequent whiteout conditions existed. It was best for our team of climbers to enjoy the Lakes area as our high point and come back another time to climb higher.
After fueling up with drinks, high energy foods, warm gatorade we adjusted face masks and goggles and headed down the Ammo Trail directly into the wind. Frequently we grouped into huddles to check for exposed skin areas. Slowly we descended and entered the tree line area which immediately felt comfortable – like an average winter day.
It was clear to us all that above treeline travel in these conditions was extreme. We descended to enjoy the winter wonderland once again.
Early morning light while breaking the first path up the road.
Adventure seeker Stu enjoying this winter climb.
MMG Guide Bob our Mammut gear specialist.
Learning and practicing Crampon Techniques – The French Step.
Nate and Doug – Southern friends loving this place!
Alex in lead getting his leg workout breaking the trail
Pillows of snow bending over the trees.
Nick, Kevin and Tony taking a break from the slopes to try out mountaineering.
Masked men – full coverage needed for sure.
Rime ice on the brows and face mask.
Thanks to all for this weekend of adventure, excitement and fun.