We were already at the Synnott Mountain Guides office this morning so as soon as our guide, Paul, came in, we were ready to be outfitted for our Mount Washington ascent. There were two other people in our group, Darren and Jordan, and we all got set up with double mountaineering boots, crampons, ice axes, and giant puffy jackets. I couldn’t really imagine walking far in the boots since they’re very similar to ski boots, but they were needed to be warm, and they definitely worked. I also borrowed some goggles from Jenn, but otherwise had stacked my own layers on: midweight synthetic baselayer, lightweight fleece, wind shirt, light puffy, and hard shell on top, and midweight wool baselayer, regular hiking pants, and hard shell on bottom. Plus multiple pairs of gloves, hats, and buff available. The giant puffy borrowed from the guide would be used over everything at breaks and above treeline.
We carpooled up to the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and removed a few layers in the pack room there since we’d be going steeply uphill immediately. I take a while to warm up, and it was only 10° in the notch, so I kept on more layers than most to start, but quickly dropped more. We were headed up the Lion’s Head Winter Route. Once we reached a trail junction after a couple of miles, we put some more layers back on, and all tied into a rope together for a running belay on the steepest section of trail. Paul was the leader and would set an anchor on a tree, clip the rope behind him to it, and each person would move the clip from the rope in front of them to the rope behind them as they passed it, and then Jordan in the back would collect the ties. It was definitely very steep but not too difficult, and I think the rope was more there for peace of mind. We didn’t see anyone else climbing like that.
We stopped for a break right before we went above treeline in order to add every layer possible and make sure no skin was exposed. The forecasted high temperature for the summit was 0°, with windchills of 30-60 below and winds of 55-75 mph. Frostbite can happen very quickly in those conditions. It was a gorgeous, sunny day otherwise and there were excellent views. The wind was definitely strong, with very little break in it, and lots of gusts. Most people had been turning around at Lion’s Head instead of going all the way to the summit but we were all feeling good and decided to keep going and see how it went.
Since getting above treeline, there were some areas that were bare rock instead of packed snow/ice and the rocky areas were actually more difficult because crampons on bare rock feels like you’re on ice skates. After Lion’s Head there were also sheets of just ice, right at the edge of Tuckerman’s Ravine, and that’s where the wind was heading, of course. I was having trouble stomping my crampon tips into the ice so I took that section very slowly. Actually, with the wind, we were all moving very slowly. Paul set a turnaround time and we reached that before we reached the summit, but we were probably only a quarter mile away. Since I’ve been on the summit before, that didn’t really bother me, and the views from up there all include buildings and parking lots any way.
We turned to head back down, and I slowed down again. I usually have trekking poles to help me get my footing as I head downhill but this time I only had one short ice axe and it was more bare rock to get over. I did some sitting and scooting, my preferred method of keeping balanced, and especially helpful with the gusts. Going back over the sheets of ice, I actually had to crouch down and dig my axe in and wait for gusts to pass. It was a relief to get back below treeline and remove the giant puffy and face protection. I was completely toasty the whole time above treeline and was actually getting too warm on the way back down. Plus, breathing through wool soaked from a running nose and breath condensation was getting old. We tied in again for the steepest section and made it down with no problems.
We were back at the visitor center while it was still light out and then we headed back to the office to turn in gear, and then home to pass out. We looked up the weather and found that while we were above treeline, it was -9°, -48° with windchill, winds averaging 70 mph, and winds gusting up to 84 mph. So we feel pretty badass right now. Only my ankles and toes are sore so far from the boots, but I expect more soreness everywhere tomorrow.
Unfortunately my camera was still broken today, but Paul took a bunch of pictures for us. All pictures on this blog post are by him.