Mount Washington Ascent, and a scary snow-pack still lurks…

Today I had the pleasure of accompanying George from Pennsylvania on a Mount Washington Climb. A retiree who has been seeking out cool experiences (summited Kilimanjaro with his 27 year old son last year), he was great company on our climb today. Despite a crazy bluebird weekend with tons of people in the ravines we had this Monday to ourselves and only 1 other EMS guided party. Low visibility from blowing snow and colder temps seemed to keep most people away, and other than one party that was finishing a Northern Presidential Traverse we were the only party to summit today. The alone-ness up there was refreshing after the crazy weekend that just transpired, especially considering a close friend and avalanche professional was caught and carried by a size-able avalanche, luckily escaping anything more than a bruised ego. I’ll link to some info on the 6 avalanches that occurred yesterday but first let’s recap today’s climb:

George tackles the first steeper bit of Lion's Head Winter Route and learns about the efficiency of "French Technique"
George tackles the first steeper bit of Lion’s Head Winter Route and learns about the efficiency of “French Technique”
Selfie just below tree-line...
Selfie just below tree-line…
George breaking above tree-line
George breaking above tree-line
George just below Lion's Head
George just below Lion’s Head

As we approached the summit cone visibility sank. I regretted not grabbing a half-dozen “route wands” to mark our way up to Split Rock, as that stretch is quite devoid of landmarks in the 50-100 foot visibility we were entering. I decided to improvise and used our trekking poles to mark our route. Essentially I climbed as high I could and still see the entrance of the trail through the Krumholtz. There I placed a trekking pole, basket up. I then did the same enroute to the cairn half up that slope, and twice more before Split Rock.

Almost to Split Rock
Almost to Split Rock

George mentioned he would never be able to describe what climbing in a true white-out felt like. There is no sense of direction or angle as the sky blends with the snow perfectly. Dozens of ascents in similar conditions helped and we nailed Split Rock in good time.

The frozen stache' of George at Split Rock...
The frozen stache’ of George at Split Rock…

At this point we were about 50/50 as to making the summit but decided to see what the next corner would bring. Steady 50mph winds from the west were manageable, and 40 minutes later we gained the summit.

Obligatory Summit photo
Obligatory Summit photo

After a quick breather we made our way back down to Split Rock. The impromptu route wands came in clutch;

There is another pole in this photo, but I could not find it in the picture...
There is another pole in this photo, but I could not find it in the picture…

Back in North Conway we shared some of our adventure with George’s wife and parted ways. George is quite the adventurous guy and I hope to cross paths with him again!

I’ll end this trip report with a very brief word of caution. The end of March and beginning of April brings a dangerous mix of “Spring mind-set” mountain enthusiasts when Mount Washington is not quite ready to admit it is Spring. Yesterday, one year ago, brought one of the most historic avalanches on Mount Washington ever. This year, yesterday caught a seasoned Snow Ranger off guard who went for a long ride, along with 5 other avalanches! His personal account of the incident is here, and well worth a read.

I’d caution anyone entering avalanche terrain over the next couple of weeks to read both these accounts carefully and use due caution. Winter doesn’t end on Mount Washington until well into April (or maybe May).

Be safe, and see you in the mountains,


2 thoughts on “Mount Washington Ascent, and a scary snow-pack still lurks…

  1. Hi David. Made it home. Thanks for the post of our climb and the photos. It was an incredible experience. Kili is all about altitude. Mt. Washington is not as high but offers many other challenges, especially its weather. I thank you for leading me up (and down) the mountain. Your climbing and guiding skills are exceptional and your patience was most appreciated.

    For any other readers considering a winter climb, I highly recommend David to you.

    David, all the best to you and your family.

    P.S. the phrase in Swahili is pole pole (pronounced polee) and according to the guide service I used for Kili it means “go slowly”.


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