Tag Archives: Mt Washington

Return to Normalcy

Much Like America in the 1920’s, what I need over the next month is a return to normalcy, however much I hate to use a republican campaign slogan. The past two months have been filled with a significant change from my past winters and lots of time thinking of the idyllic job of running a high school climbing program. This work, while awesome and very meaningful to me, has made me soft.  Half Days in the field, not enough time to get above tree-line or on big terrain, regular sleep ins… What I need now is a concentrated block of activity and adventure to make me feel a little less sedentary. Luckily I got to kick off my March vacation in the perfect way, with three full days of fun adventure back to back.

Lake Willoughby – Friday

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Heading Home. 20 Below Zero Gully on the left, Glass Menagerie on the Right

My friend Andy shot me a message Thursday night to try and talk me into going to the Lake with him. I was hesitant at first because I’ve only had one full day of ice climbing this season, and am feeling out of shape for the hundreds of feet tall pure ice lines of the lake. I had the day off, as my students were taking practice tog et ahead on work for Saturdays adventure. After first saying no, I capitulated and we ended up having an awesome day.

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Andy getting to the belays on Crazy Diamond & 20 Below Zero Gully

We swung leads up Crazy Diamond and then 20 Below Zero Gulley.  Between the pouring rain two days prior, and a long season of sitting in the sun, the ice on these climbs had undergone some serious metamorphoses, leaving it in an odd state and resulting in some funky climbing. I haven’t spent much time in the lake but its awe-inspiring for so many reasons. The size of the pure ice climbs are an order of magnitude bigger than anything else in the region, and situated above a wind swept lake, the sight of which makes the area feel arctic.

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Andy on the final pillar of Crazy Diamond. 

Beyond the ice climbs themselves, the cliff is of a foreign nature. Its limestone, which we have very little of around here, and the resulting affect on the soil means the top of the cliff, and even the sides of it, are covered in huge, gorgeous cedar trees. While I see Cedars when climbing in upstate NY, these ones seem massive, old, weathered, and like they could come alive as if some creature out of Lord of the Rings. Sitting at an ice screw anchor 200′ up puts you in another world at Lake Willoughby, surrounded by an unimaginable amount of ice, foreign looking rock and unique trees, and often times in the sun, while you watch the wind hammer the brave (or stubborn?) ice fishers below.

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Big Ice, Limestone & Cedars. Andy on the second pitch of 20 Below 

Mt. Washington- Saturday

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My Ice Climbing/ mountaineering team has gotten a lot of good practice in over the past two months. The school schedule is ideal for this, as students get out of class around noon and I frequently have 5-6 hours to get them out in the field. That being said they hadn’t yet had a full day in the mountains. Luckily, I was able to get them out of class on Saturday to use a full day for our “culminating experience.”

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While trail conditions were some of the roughest I’ve experienced with this odd winter causing the trail to basically be a 4 mile long luge run, the weather was some of the best. With the weather being so good, and my students moving very efficiently, we were able to come back down a different trail and get a great tour of the mountain and its awesome features. We went up the Ammo and across the Crawford Path to the summit. Came down the Tucks side, and cut back across the Bigelow Lawn. Not only were my students able to see all of the terrain and potential for fun in the presidentials, but we were able to see various mountains they’ve hiked or might hike while at Holderness, and could even pick out Lake Willoughby where I had been the day before!

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View of the Southern presidentials with Mt. Carrigan just left of center. Many Holderness students will hike it during Outback, the schools 11 day winter backpacking trip.

More picture of this adventure on Holderness School’s Smugmug page: https://holdernessschool.smugmug.com/Sports/Winter-Mountaineering-Ascent/

Milton Academy Ice Climbing –  Sunday

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Two of the girls in particular were unstoppable, no matter how steep of lines we set up!

Sunday was my first day back working for Mooney Mountain Guides since before the start of my ice climbing season at Holderness. It was a fun reentry into guiding. I’ve worked with Milton Academies Outdoor Program in the past and am really impressed with what they have going on. Making it even more fun, the trip was lead by friend and co worker, Todd Goodmen, who teaches there. It was a great day of catching up with him, getting 6 young ladies on ice, and hearing of some fun adventures a few of them have planned for the near future.

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Milton faculty Matt Bingham taking a lap

Now I’m sitting back on the couch enjoying my hour long morning coffee time. The best part about it is that after 3 days on, waking up at 4:30 every morning, this time I feel like I’ve earned it!

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Winter, at last.

Just as winter was very much delayed this year, so too is my sharing of some of the recent highlights. The most exciting adventure I’ve had so far was actually back in Mid December, right before going on vacation. A friend, Kurt Schuler, and I decided to do the Presidential Traverse in a day. While we were half a week shy of it being a true “winter” traverse, the ground and rocks were coated in snow at least giving us a winter scenery.

The traverse is roughly 20 miles long depending on how you do it, with a good portion of that, perhaps half, being above tree-line and very exposed to the elements, and the views. Hiking isn’t my usual choice for a days activity, but with little snow or ice and a strong need for an adventure going into the holidays, I thought that a hike of this magnitude would fit the bill. We woke at 3:30 and shut the car doors at the Appalachia parking lot at 4:20. My idea was to start early, both to get a sunrise from a summit, and so that we would minimize hiking in the dark at the end of the day when tired.

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We got to Madison hut, 4 miles up Valley Way, in a little under two hours. We dropped out packs and scrambled the short way to the peak of Madison. From here we could see glimpses of sunlight over the low lying cloud bank. It became just bright enough that we were were aware of the monstrous presence of Mt Adams behind us. We grabbed packs and  started scrambling up Adams. For some reason i felt like I was sucking wind, and this was the hardest stretch for me. We made it to the summit in perfect time for a spectacular sunrise.

 

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Generally, folks start the Press-Traverse in the north. here, in rapid succession you have the summit of Madison, Adams, Jefferson, and finally Washington. By the time you summit the biggest of the rock piles you have most all of the 8,800′ of elevation gain out of the way, and just have to tag a few more minor bumps on the way out. The northern half is also by far the most scenic with incredible views of the major summits, Great Gulf, Kings Ravine, Castle Ravine and more.

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Washington and Jefferson in the Distance

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Kurt in front of Great Gulf with Jefferson and Adams behind him

All in all we did just shy of 22 miles in about 11.5 hours. We summited Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Pierce and Jackson, accidentally missing the cut off for Eisenhower in the fog. Ironically, since I spent 25 days in the presidential last winter alone, Mt Washington was the only one I had summited before! The best part about the trip couldn’t be described in numbers or names, but only conveyed in photos. The sun rise, exceptional undercast and contrasting blue bird skies above made for the most gorgeous day I’ve had in the mountains.

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Panorama of the traverse from Monroe. Washington to the right, and the bump of Eisenhower to the left. 


 

My next real winter adventures didn’t come until the last week or so. My first day on ice was a bitterly cold one with friend and long time partner Alexa. We went for linking a slew of pitches on the East face of Mt Willard, which coincidently is where i took her for her first ice climb years ago. We had to bushwhack around the crowded lower tier to get up high, and then ended up doing The east Slabs, upper Hitchcock and the Cleft before rappelling back down and doing Elephants head gully on the way out. The next morning I got to climb at Echo with Spencer, and then had one more morning on Ace of Spades with Alex. All in all I’m way behind on past ice climbing seasons and ready for the climbing to pick up!

Third Time’s the Charm

The saying rang true For Khanitha. She originally joined us with a group over presidents day weekend. As some may recall that weekend had some of the harshest winter weather NH has seen in years. Due to bitter cold and hard winds that group had to turn back at tree line ( Write up here ). Then Khanitha came back with a friend to try it again. A combination of fatigue and weather once again turned us back, but not before making it to the lakes of the clouds hut above tree line ( Write up here). Somewhat last minute, Khanitha saw a weather window for this past sunday and booked a day for a third and final attempt of the season. The weather cooperated so we just went slow and steady making our way to the summit! before flying bak back down. It was a gorgeous day to be up there with many unique things to see due to the recent weather pattern of spring one day and winter the next! Congrats Khanitha!

Wait a Minute

There’s a saying in New England about the weather, especially in spring. If you don’t like it, wait a minute. Today proved that point wonderfully! Yesterday we were out skiing corn in 50 degree weather. Today conditions on Washington ramped back up to full on winter. When Ben and I met at the Highland center it was drizzling rain, right at freezing at the base and with winds in the teens. By the time we hit tree line conditions had ramped up to 1″/hr+ snow with zilch for visibility and steady winds between 60-80mph. By the time we got back to Gem Pool the summit was recording gusts near the century mark and a -25 wind chill. Guess we have to wait another minute until spring returns.

Ben joined us, as many do, to train for an upcoming Mt Rainier trip. While the summit wasn’t in the cards today, we had all the conditions to train for the ultimate goal of Rainier. Heavy crampon use, layering and gear choice, and how to protect your self in extreme weather. We even stopped on the decent to practice mountaineering axe use and self arrest, before butt sliding to the finish line.

IMG_1269Blowing snow collecting on bare faces. A good time to don goggles and balaclavas

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Zilch, on the official visibility scale

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Gnarly

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The rarely captured, glissade action pic.

Glorious Summit

Kelly Joined us last year for an intro to mountaineering course. The original plan followed our usual weekend set up, intro day saturday, summit day sunday. Unfortunately that weekend we saw a huge storm that made an attempt on Washington foolhardy, so we ended up on Lafayette instead. After a year of travel and more mountain forays abroad she came back to moan her training again in the white mountains, hoping for a successful bid on Rainer.

On Tuesday we kicked off her 3 day stint with an ascent of Mt Washington in the most hospitable conditions I’ve yet seen on the old rock pile. The winds whispered at a maximum 15 mph gusts, with temps rising to the 20’s and the abundant sun turning my face a crisp tomato red. On top of the incredible weather we had awesome summit guests, from a dog sled team, to an 80 year old couple who had also hike the mountain that day!

Intro To Ski Mountaineering

Alex and I just had what may have been the trip of our winter. Ski guiding is a relatively small segment of our business, and that of the NH guiding business in general, so when we get a day of this work, let alone a long weekend of it we’re excited. We’re currently trying to expand our ski programming to get more folks introduced to the world of back country skiing. The skiing and techniques required is not overly burdensome, but getting instruction for your first day out will greatly quicken the learning curve. As you get into the world of Ski Mountaineering their is a a slew of technical skills that need to be refined in order to participate safely.

This group of three was curious about getting into the world of back country and ski mountaineering, so we designed a three day curriculum to introduce them to the techniques and skills required. On day one we went over gear and clothing requirements for being in the backcountry. We practiced transitions ( moving up hill to downhill, which requires a slew of equipment changes) and beacon searches in case of an avalanche burial. On day two we practiced moving as a rope team, dug a snow pit and experimented with a number of stability tests, and what these testes tell us about the relative avalanche safety. On day three we combined many of the formerly learned skills to ski Hillmans Highway in Tuckermans Ravine! The weather kept us from covering all that we wanted, but that in its self is a great learning experience, and gave us ample opportunity to address not only surviving but thriving in those conditions.

Mt Washington Observatory Overnight

This past Friday-Saturday I got to guide an overnight trip for 10 guests, hiking up the lions head trail on Washington Friday, staying overnight in the observatory, and heading back down the same route Saturday. In the Obs we were treated to great home cooked meals and even better home made deserts and treats, a tour of the observatory and museum, and some great stories of life on top of Washington. Big thanks to the 10 folks who joined for this! Was a great group.