Mount Washington, Willard, and Elephant’s Head… my winter guiding season finally begins!

This weekend kicks off the start of my winter guiding season. Yesterday I had the pleasure of leading a motivated father & son team from Connecticut up Mount Washington in some of the thinnest conditions I have ever seen this late in December. Despite the absence of snow we had a pretty enjoyable climb with comfortable weather and some great views.

Connor and his father, Thomas

Connor and his father, Thomas

Crossing the Cutler River for the second time

Crossing the Cutler River for the second time

Climbing through the clouds Boot Spur Ridge appears behind us

Climbing through the clouds Boot Spur Ridge appears behind us

Summer Lion's Head Trail

Summer Lion’s Head Trail

Just Below Lion's Head

Just Below Lion’s Head

A group ahead of us climbing up to Lion's Head

A group ahead of us climbing up to Lion’s Head

Reaching Lion's Head

Reaching Lion’s Head

Tuckerman Ravine looking pretty bony for mid-December

Tuckerman Ravine looking pretty bony for mid-December

Nearing Split Rock with Lion's Head below in the fog

Nearing Split Rock with Lion’s Head below in the fog

We made it all the way to the lower summit parking lot before needing to don our micro-spikes for the final 100 yards (that parking lot is an ice skating rink).

Clear skis as we reach the lower parking lot and for the first time need traction

Clear skis as we reach the lower parking lot and for the first time need traction

Obligatory summit shot

Obligatory summit shot

Our route

Our route

Today I had 3 guests for a Winter Climbing 101 Course. It’s no secret Mother Nature has dealt us a sub-par hand in terms of “winter” conditions, but John, Mitzy, and Tom were still enthusastic about what we could accomplish and with a little thinking “outside the box” we put together a pretty productive day. We started the morning off in our new conference room where I shared some of the online resources for trip planning in the White Mountains. Namely, HikeSafe, the Mount Washington Observatory Higher Summits Forecast and Regional Mesonet, and CalTopo.

We then had a gear shakedown looking at differences in ice axes & crampons before packing up and heading north to Crawford Notch. I knew Willey’s Slide & other usual early season standby’s would still be questionable but we had a backup plan in place. Our drive through the Notch confirmed my suspicions regarding “climb-able” ice and we parked at the Mt. Willard Trail parking lot. After shaving the technical gear from our packs we hit the 1.6 mile trail up to Mt. Willard. While non-technical in nature we were able to go into detailed conversations regarding mountaineering concerns. Heat loss, cold weather injuries, altitude illness, navigation, avalanche awareness, mountain weather, layering strategies, were all discussed in detail. About an hour later we arrived at a socked in summit, just in time for a clearing while we enjoyed our lunch.

John & Mitzy on summit of Mt. Willard

John & Mitzy on the summit of Mt. Willard

Tom on Mt. Willard with Mt. Webster behind

Tom on Mt. Willard with Mt. Webster behind

Love that view

Love that view

We opted to wear micro-spikes for the descent and headed back down to the car. With a couple hours to spare, and wanting a bit more “technical” end to our day, we made our way over to Elephant’s Head. This .3 mile trail brought us up to the top of this 120 foot bluff where we all rappelled during intermittent snow squalls.

Rappelling the Elephant Head

Tom rappelling the Elephant Head

Our route

Our route

While we seem to be off to a rough start this year I want to put a little perspective on the situation. It’s true we had a great start last year with freak powder skiing on Halloween and a personal 11/20 ascent of Pinnacle in great conditions. But then we had a big December thaw with 3 days of rain towards the end of December which essential pushed the reset button on our winter. We then went on to have one of the best winter & ski seasons I have experienced since moving here in 2001. El Nino or not, I’m holding out hope that just like last winter our season is simply going to begin a bit later, but still be quite epic. The two new pairs of skis sitting in my closet sure do hope so!

174

See you in the mountains!

-NEAlpineStart

About David Lottmann

David grew up skiing in the Whites and started climbing at a summer camp just north of Mt. Washington when he was 16. Those first couple of years solidified climbing as a lifetime passion. From 1996-2000 he served in the USMC, and spent the better part of those years traveling the globe (18 countries). After returning to civilian life he moved to North Conway to focus on climbing and was hired in 2004 as a Rock and Ice Instructor. Since then Dave has taken numerous AMGA courses, most recently attaining a Single Pitch Instructor. He has completed a Level 3 AIARE avalanche course, is a Level 2 Course Leader, holds a valid Wilderness First Responder and is a member of Mountain Rescue Service. When David isn't out guiding he enjoys mountain biking, kayaking, hiking, backcountry skiing, trying to cook something new once a week and sampling new micro-brews. He lives in Conway, NH with his wife Michelle, son Alex, and daughter Madalena.
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