I was fortunate to spend the last two days with John W. who recently moved to New Hampshire from points south and has steadily been increasing his mountain skill repertoire. An avid hiker John had set a goal to summit Mount Washington in the winter and felt a One-Day Mountaineering Course would be a good pre-cursor before a Mount Washington summit attempt. You see John had tried Mount Washington non-guided in the winter last year with rented equipment and came to find out there is more to using crampons in steep terrain than meets the eye. He can tell you that story personally if you get the chance to cross paths with him in the mountains but I can tell you about our two days.
After spending some time at the Northeast Mountaineering Bunkhouse dialing in our gear choices and packing strategies we made our way to the historic and classic Willey’s Slide in Crawford Notch. At the base of the route the snow was perfect for practicing self arrest, the fundamental skill of quickly stopping oneself while sliding down the mountain with an ice axe. This skill is not intuitive but must become second nature should you wish to travel in steep snowy or glaciated terrain. John showed marked progress after a half hour of practicing. We then worked our way up the first couple hundred feet of lower angle snow climbing working on proper crampon technique.
A quick list of skills we covered:
Gear selection & packing
Crampon Skills: French Technique, German Technique, Front-Pointing
Ice Axe Skills: Piolet Canne, Self-Arrest Grip, Travel Grip, Self-Arrest from all possible falling positions
Roping up, how & why
Short-pitching, ice screw placement, anchoring in
Knots covered: Figure 8 follow through, Clove-Hitch, Overhand on a bight, Figure Eight on a bight
Rappelling with a device
Day 2- Mount Washington Attempt
We met at 7 am sharp and headed off to the trail-head to get a jump on some questionable weather coming in the afternoon.
With low avalanche danger and well above freezing temperatures I decided we would forego the typical Winter Lionshead Route and tackle the more direct (and arguably more fun) Right Gully of Tuckerman Ravine. We still carried avalanche gear with us along with some ultralight harnesses, helmets, and a short rope due to the semi-technical ascent choice.
With snow conditions prime for glissading I brought us over to the top of the East Snowfields on the south side for a fantastic ride back down to the flats (see video).
We then connected into Lobster Claw Gully for another quick descent back to the floor of the ravine.
Thanks to excellent snow conditions and Johns affinity for hustling downhill we made it back to the parking lot 2 hours and ten minutes after standing on the summit!
This day happened to be John’s 55th birthday and I was truly honored to spend it with him in such an amazing place! I look forward to seeing him in the mountains again soon.
Checkout some of the video from our two days!
Thanks for reading!
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start