May 9, 2016. The summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire received 2.8″ of snowfall winds gusting at 103 mph today. Winter had returned. Those conditions rang familiar with my first attempt at the Mount Washington summit.
My feelings towards Mount Washington are mixed, to say the least. The first trip there was after months of training hikes to prepare of the strenuous conditions (you may recall a previous blog) in January 2015. I was fit, equipped with crampons, axes, and loaded with a weekend worth of food in my 60 liter pack.
The hike to Harvard Cabin was a pure slice of hell. While less than 3 miles, the sustained uphill climb in over 2 feet of snow led to immediate shedding of clothing layers, profuse sweating, and a lot of swearing. Why the hell did I pack so much s%&t!
Reaching the cabin after what felt like days, my sites were on dry clothes, food, and my sleeping bag that resided somewhere in the deep depths of my pack. Our party was full of characters (a topic for another time), all in good alpine spirits.We were ready for 2 days of skill learning.
Saturday played in our favor. A continuous dumping of fresh powder made for a delightful alpine playground perfect for practicing walking in crampons, steps, and self arrest. The only thing was the avalanche danger was high. This meant limited options of where we could travel and only one trail was open to the summit.
Waking up Sunday morning to the hear the ranger call in the forecast to the cabin, I grumbled and burrowed deeper into my sleeping bag. More snowfall overnight and current summit conditions indicated winds over 70 mph. But, it was clear. So, out of the sleeping bag I squirmed.
With spring in my step, crampons on my feet, ice ax in my hand I made my way to the front of the group up the Tuckerman Ravine trail. The ascent got steeper and a bit more climbing and skill was required. As we neared the end of the treeline, we prepped ourselves with wind resistant gloves, shells, and goggles, as we knew the winds would be too strong for a costume change in the Alpine Garden and our eyeballs would freeze before we got there if googles were absent.
The events after reaching the Alpine Garden seemed to happen rapidly. Ethan and I had made our way behind one of the scant boulders and waited for the rest of our party. Where were they? We need to move. I’m getting cold. This is not good. We agreed to keep moving, but then delayed again. By the time the rest of the party reached us, the sides of my face were numb. Let’s move.
Step, step, plunge the ax in the ice and get down. The winds were nothing I had experienced before. Over 90 mph, I could barely walk. Every time I lifted a foot, I was blown off balance and feared I’d have to put those self-arrest skills to the test. Ugh, then a crampon released from one of my boots. What a time! I’m so cold. The sides of my face were so numb, I couldn’t be sure what was normal. “Have you have had frost nip?” Ethan asked. No I hadn’t, but if that was the risk, I had made it far enough. The risk was not worth it to me and although undeniably disappointed, I decided to descend. The summit would have to wait until another time.
That time came in January 2016 when I returned to Mount Washington as a mentor for the Alpine Skills weekend. Winter had just started to emerge, as I was there December for an avalanche course and there was barely a dusting of snow. Not ideal conditions for digging a snow pit, so the avalanche course would have to be completed at another time, buying yet another trip to Mount Washington.
The day before the January trip, I had started to become ill. But being an Aquarius and stubborn, I still made the journey up north for my mentor duties only to be informed by my men-tees that they really had no intention of doing the alpine skills or cie climbing. They were just there to hike. Seriously!?!?!?
Thinking I would change their minds, I loaded up the 60 liter pack once more and began the hellish slug to the Harvard Cabin. Only this time, I was assisting in hauling the club sled of gear up the path AND I was so congested, breathing was becoming an arduous task.
A familiar scene – muscles aching, sweat dripping, swearing galore, and this time, copious amounts of mucous hacked up – the Harvard Cabin came into view. A site for sore eyes! I would be staying in a tent this time. A tent that still needed to be pitched. In the dark.
After camp setup and dinner, I dragged my feverish butt into my -40 F degree sleeping bag for a night of wheezing, sweating, and shivering. Morning could not come soon enough.
But when it did, I awoke to meet my men-tees pulling the plug on the weekend. They were going back down. A lot of side conversations were had prior and after this decision, none of which will be mentioned. Why did I risk pneumonia to come up here! I too, made the decision to descend.
Once again, Mount Washington defeated me. My Everest.
The summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire received 2.8″ of snowfall winds gusting at 103 mph today…