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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
See you in the mountains!