Yesterday wrapped up my first winter guiding assignment of the season, a custom private three day mountaineering course for the NYC based couple Karen and Paul. This was a surprise birthday present for Paul and I was very honored to be a part of it. This adventurous couple had experience trekking in Denali National Park and in Nepal and their objectives were bringing them further and further into the back-country and into steeper terrain so they were eager to start building their skill sets. After a couple emails with Karen we settled on a 3 day program that would make the most of their time with me.
We met at the cozy Northeast Mountaineering Bunkhouse in Glen, NH. We’ve added a ceiling mounted projector and pull down screen here to accommodate our upcoming avalanche course season and this was a perfect opportunity to give it a test run. Karen and Paul were interested in upping their navigation skills so we started our program with my Wilderness Navigation course, a 3-4 hour classroom session followed by an afternoon field session to re-enforce learned skills.
A Washington attempt was on our bucket list so we picked the better of the two remaining days to work on our extreme cold weather skills. By extreme I mean the Higher Summits Forecast looked like this:
Some folks might ask why even bother heading up there with a forecast like this? The odds of making the summit are incredibly low. The way I justify it is this is the perfect opportunity to define what exactly “success” means in the mountains. For me, success is not reaching the summit, and it shouldn’t be for you either. Three things should define success in the mountains;
- Did you have fun? Type 1 & type 2 are both quite acceptable on “successful” trips.
- Did everyone return home uninjured?
- Was everyone still friends?
If the answer to the above three questions is yes then you have had a successful climb regardless of where your “high-point” was. Pushing yourself a little, getting slightly outside your comfort zone, but turning around when it is prudent is the epitome of a successful trip in my opinion.
Sorry, got off on a tangent there, back to our day.
We left Pinkham Notch at 0815.
We made our way up the Tuckerman Ravine trail until the 4th cut and moved over to the Sherburne Ski Trail due to bridge work that still had an official detour sending people up the Huntington Ravine Trail. While walking on the Sherb is not ideal, the Huntington detour is a bit more complicated and definitely more time consuming. The good news is the closure has been lifted as of yesterday, so we do not need to put any more post holes up the ski trail (which is looking GREAT for mid-December BTW).
While we were out of the wind ambient air temps were around -8 so I was rocking a light puffy over my soft-shell jacket for the majority of ascent to Hermit Lake.
After a bit of a re-fueling and adjusting break at Hermit Lake we moved over to the Summer Lions Head Trail.
As we closed in on tree-line we started breaking trail across the avalanche prone slopes that were quite filled in. Hand-shear tests confirmed reactive slabs that were quite small in size.
The last section right before the summer trail turns north and joins the winter trail had the most reactive snow but the slope was only about 30 feet in size and the instabilities were close enough to the surface to observe. I took a minute to try to show this on video:
Thanks for the camera work Karen!
My prediction was timely as the USFS closed the summer trail today and the winter trail is now in use.
We rounded the corner to feel some of the 30-50mph gusts just above our heads. Combined with the air temps winch-chills were about -40 here. It was pretty clear we could turn back here, or suffer for another 200 yards and then turn back. We picked tree-line as a good place to turn back and I grabbed this pic of Karen before we started our descent.
We reversed our trip all the way back to Pinkham and high-fived in the parking lot. Karen and Paul were excited to have experienced hiking and climbing in those types of conditions and I was pretty amped up to see our winter off to such a phenomenal start!
For our last day together with valley temps hovering around -6 we spent some time inside discussing glacier travel and rope work. Many knots & hitches were reviewed along with equipment choices before we headed out to the North End of Cathedral Ledge for a quick rappel and some climbing.
It may have been the coldest three days of the season but spending it with these two left me feeling pretty warm. What a sweet birthday present for the man in Karen’s life! I enjoyed every minute with these two and I’m really looking forward to hearing of their future adventures and occasionally being part of them.
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start