Kevin, Rebecca, and Jennifer had attempted Mount Washington with us twice already this winter. I was with Kevin back in early January when we made it to Lion’s Head in some of the worst conditions I’ve seen. The hike down the lower half of a washed out Tuckerman Ravine Trail in a torrential downpour was one I won’t soon forget. Rebecca & Jennifer were with another group that day that made it a few hundred yards further before wisely retreating. As luck would have it the three would meet again on another attempt the following month, this time the coldest day of the season with air temps on the summit hitting -40 and wind chills far surpassing that. Again, they made a valiant effort, then wisely turned back.
They were not, however, discouraged. And the third time, as they say, was definitely the charm!
As I rolled out of bed around 5am this past Saturday I pulled up the Higher Summits Forecast on my phone (a pretty much daily morning ritual in this household). Light winds 5-10mph, north shifting east, blue skies, temps around 30 degrees. How fortunate to get to climb “the rockpile” again in conditions like these after just having a bluebird windless day a week prior!
Having logged over 50+ winter ascents from the East via Tuckerman Ravine, Huntington Ravine, and Lion’s Head, I realized a trip up the west side would be a welcome change for both me, and my clients who had slogged up and down the first two miles of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail twice that winter. It turned out to be a great choice!
We hit the trail at Marshfield Station at 8:15am. The first half mile went quick and smooth with no traction needed. Soon after passing the intersection of the summer trail head spur we started encountering stretches of blue water ice where careful footwork alone would not suffice, so out came the micro-spikes.
I’ve only climbed this route 2-3 times, and only in summer, and I was reminded about how aesthetic this route is right out of the gate.
As we worked our way up along the river bits of blue came through the otherwise overcast sky.
We reached Gem Pool in just under an hour.
Here we switched Microspikes for crampons and started the steady climb up to treeline. The abundant amount of hard water ice on this trail ensures those without full crampons will be at a real disadvantage. As the angle decreased the view increased.
Under-cast spilled out to the west as far as we could see.
As we approached treeline we started encountering the first of many massive ice sheets, all by-products of the Lakes of the Clouds drainage.
I took a panoramic from the center of one of these huge ice sheets with the summit of Mt. Washington looming behind Kevin.
Despite the abundant ice there was virtually zero wind and the climbing was very comfortable. Layers were adjusted accordingly (I could have left the long underwear in the pack).
We reached the Lakes in the Clouds AMC Hut (closed for the season) at about 11am. Since it was early, and conditions so prime, we opted for a quick side trip to tag Mt. Monroe.
I decided to take us off trail a bit to the east on a nice snowfield before scrambling up a short easy gully just below the summit.
The party we caught here offered to get a group shot of us on Monroe summit.
We then descended back to the Crawford Path and I went off trail again to save a small bit of mileage by wrapping around the higher of “the lakes”.
I had opted to transition back into my Micro-spikes at this point thinking any significant difficulty would be behind us. About 10 minutes later as we traversed onto one of the Crawford Path snowfields I started to regret my decision. This snowfield we were traversing was only about 15-20 degrees in pitch, but its western aspect meant it didn’t absorb much of the solar radiation that had been pouring over us all day. It was still a relative sheet of ice with nice looking granite cheese graters sticking out 100 feet below.
Half way across the 200 foot wide snowfield I found myself focusing on my steps a bit more than I should have in that terrain. Aggressive flat-footing got me to a nice mid-field island where I converted back to crampons and felt about 110% more secure than I had moments before. Chalk that one up to error recognition (albeit a bit late) and correction.
By 12:20 we were on the summit basking in mild temps, 100 mile visibility, and only a hint of a breeze. Rebecca found that rime ice had mysteriously grown on her arm.
After what was probably my longest stay on the summit during a day trip we started making out way down at 1:10pm. We headed north off the summit and I linked a few snowfields until we reached the tracks of the Cog railway. While this is not an official hiking trail, it does provide a somewhat fast descent of the west side that is non-technical compared to descending the water ice of the Ammo Trail.
Disclaimer: 90% of the time this is not a good “escape” off Mount Washington as bad weather is usually hitting us from the W-NW. Walking into high winds from this direction can literally be impossible and kill you. It is also considered trespassing by the Cog Railway when they are in season, so don’t do it in the summer!
Walking was easiest to the sides of the Cog linking snowfields where ever we could.
Just below the “Halfway House” we removed our crampons and booted our way back down to Marshfield Station, taking only an hour and 45 minutes to descend from the summit.
This appears to be my last guiding day of this winter. I couldn’t have asked for a better day weather wise or better people to spend it with. Quite a few laughs along the way and I really hope to cross paths with Kevin, Rebecca, and Jennifer again.
Higher Summits calling for 3-7 inches of snow through Tuesday with nice weather on Wednesday if you’re still looking to ski up there it might be really good Wednesday!
MWAC Update: Still some avalanche danger out there, don’t let your guard down
Review for the LaSportiva Batura’s coming this week along with gear giveaway contest! Subscribe at top right!
See you in the mountains!