Even though this was the “winter that never arrived” it still managed to go out with a roar in the presidential range this weekend!
I had a big ol’ group of visitors up from NYC, Baltimore, and Atlanta this weekend, all looking for a bit of a winter hiking/mountaineering experience. Our plan was to walk up into Tuckerman Ravine on Friday for some crampon and self arresting practice, and to summit Mt. Washington on Saturday, the last day of winter.
Friday went as planned with a leisurely stroll up to the ravine floor. Once we got there, we were greeted with a preview of the weather forecast for the weekend. Wind, wind, wind! I demonstrated self arrest technique while we were all blasted in the face. While I was being a bit overly enthusiastic in my demonstrations, I grazed my Goretex pants with my axe, which tore through them like butter. Smooooooth move, self. 😦
Everyone had fun sliding down and self arresting in the the lower sections of Right Gully while I tended to my stupid pants (yes it was the pants that were stupid, not me).
It was becoming clear that Mother Nature was not going to be so cooperative for our Mt. Washington summit attempt on Saturday. Temps were predicted to hover around zero degrees F at the summit, with winds of 35- 50 mph (and up to 80 mph gusts) making it feel like a balmy -30 F. This edged the weather into what I called the “stupid zone” and so I made a backup plan to summit Madison instead. The protected Valley Way trail would shield us from the blasts of wind until the last 0.5 miles from the summit.
Saturday morning dawned cold and sunny and the gang squeezed into my compact hatchback like clowns stuffed in a clown car (sorry y’all!) and we headed for the trailhead. The ascent through the trees was relatively wind-free as planned. The trail was a giant ice slick from the warmer temps and lack of deep powder, and crampons were worth their weight in gold! I was the only one in the group wearing mountaineering boots so I trudged behind like the little slug that could, the cement blocks on my feet seeming to gain weight over time. My regular winter hiking boots were chewing up Emily’s heels, but I couldn’t convince (con) her to trade heel blisters for an extra 5 lbs on her feet 😦
Finally we popped out at the Madison Spring hut and the wind picked up big time. Donning ALL THE LAYERS we headed for the summit cone. A hiker on the way down told us there were ~80 mph winds up there so we were preparing for the worst (spoiler: he was a Liar McLiarpants). We made our way through the big ol’ boulders, having trouble seeing the ground in front of us through our foggy glasses. As we reached the final push the wind was really tossing us around, and I was thrown off-balance and nudged into rocks on a few occasions. We guestimated that we were subjected to some gusts around ~60 mph.
Done with the pummeling as soon as we reached the summit, we fumbled our way back to the hut, snapping a few quick photos of the epic views. David and Mike decided to go for Mt. Adams too since they’re gluttons for punishment, while Emily, James, and myself decided we’d felt like ragdolls enough for one day.
The descent was pretty torturous, with the icy trail taking us out on numerous occasions (and we only got to butt slide for, like, 5 seconds!!!).
Everyone made it down alive (including the Mt. Adams crew) and lived to fight another day. Guess y’all got that winter hiking experience after all! Who wants to come back next year?!?!? 😉