A Winter Ascent of Mt Washington

Mark 'Mr Enthusiastic' Neubauer
Phil Nowak & Kathy Mullen

For many months Indy has been preparing for his eventual attempt at climbing Mt Rainier in Washington. Over the past couple years, Indy has been gathering the necessary gear, and slowly putting together a team of adventurers (also known as 'those too silly to know better than to go to the mountains with Indy') to ascend the lofty heights with him. Finally he had a team of 4 gathered, and had acquired most of the gear necessary for dealing with glaciated enviroments. All that was needed next was....practice with using crampons and ice axes so the team members wouldn't end up stabbing themselves with the sharp pointy bits, and to practice crevasse rescue techniques in a less-than-hospitable climate. To this end Indy proposed an excursion to the highlands of New Hampshire: to the White Mountains, in the dead of winter. The idea is to just go partway up the mountains and practice not stepping on their own legs (crampons are attracted to thighs and calves more readily than a magnet is drawn to iron), practice self-arrest techniques (or, in other words, how to use a sharp, pointy object in the snow to prevent one from sliding down the side of a mountain), and set up a crevasse rescue system in a snowfield, using snow anchors and snow pickets. That...was the idea of the weekend.

To accomplish all this they would need...snow! Unfortunately, Maryland is not known for it's snowfall (if at all), which is why Indy proposed that they take a weekend and head to more northern climes. But to travel that far would mean either camping out (in subzero weather?? Indy not ready for this!) or getting some sort of heated lodging (that sounds like an appealing idea!). Indy knew of an oasis in North Conway, New Hamphire, that his climbing friend Mosca Man had quietly informed him of a couple years prior: the Cranmore Mountain Lodge. Relatively cheap heated place to sleep, hot showers, a rec area, a hot tub, and they feed you breakfast (food? yes!!). Hence why Indy chose New Hampshire for the practice trip.

Unfortunately one of the teammembers lives in Seattle, and would not be able to join in the venture (but would be taking similar training sessions in the mountains out there). The other two teammembers, See Bender and Mr Enthusiastic, lived within an hour or so of Indy's abode, so logistics to gather for this run north would be less problemmatical. Finally a date was chosen (Jan 29-31) and See Bender and Mr Enthusiastic started gathering their gear.

As with all best-laid plans of mice, men, and Indy, things went awry. See Bender was advised by his boss that taking the time off for this little run to New Hampshire was to be discouraged ("We don't want to lose you on the mountain - we know Indy's reputation with the Weather God!!"), and Mr Enthusiastic's order for gear didn't arrive in time for the weekend (" this crazy guy doesn't realize what he's getting into; we need to save him from himself so he doesn't get caught up in the maelstrom of Indy and the Weather God"). However, Mr Enthusiastic enthusiastically garnished See Bender's gear so was able to join Indy despite the Forces of Nature that conspired against them. See Bender waved tearily from the Goddard Spaceflight Center. "Have fun storming the castle!"

The Journey North
The trip north was mostly uneventful. The drive time from Baltimore to North Conway, New Hampshire, is nigh 11 hours of straight driving. Mr Enthusiastic grew more enthusiastic the nearer they drew to New Hampshire. Soon almost everything was "Sweet!".

They encountered snow at the edge of Connecticutt.

Dodging standard insane traffic (eg, trucks suddenly switching lanes, trying to knock Indy and Mr Enthusiastic off the highway and literally off the regional 'mountains'), the two worked their way through the intervening states. Finally they arrived in New Hampshire, and took a quick side stop to visit Buffy, a vampire-slaying friend of Indy's living in Manchester, New Hampshire. After a couple hour visit the two got back on the road once again, and a couple hours later arrived in North Conway. By this point Mr Enthusiastic had decided that he and Indy were going to do a winter ascent of Mt Washington

"Are you nuts??? Do you know what kind of weather is up there??": cried Indy, who knew that Mt Washington has some of the most inhospitable weather in the world, and retains the record for the highest sustained windspeeds (231 mph/~370 kph) before the anemometer broke. But Mr Enthusiastic was unfazed. A couple of mutual friends of theirs had done a winter ascent of Mt Washington on New Year's Day. Mr Enthusiastic had seen the photos of their ice-encrusted faces (including the frozen stuff coming from their noses - stuff that was not snow), and decided he had to get there, too (including the 'frozen stuff from the nose' experience). Indy tried to convince himself that going to the top of Mt Washington in the middle of winter was going to be a good thing to do.

":It'll be cool, it'll be fun...it's gonna suck."

Indy lamented as he thought about the brutal weather which resides above treeline in the White Mountains, and the video he saw the last time he made the ascent up Mt Washington.

It was late (after 10:30p) when they found the Cranmore Mountain Lodge. Most everyone was already asleep, so Indy and Mr Enthusiastic quietly selected a couple of bunks and drifted off to sleep...

White, white, everywhere
Waking early to beat the troop of Boy Scouts (who were also staying at the Lodge) to breakfast, Indy and Mr Enthusiastic ate a scrumptuous meal and then in the artic cold got their gear sorted, in the car, and were off. It was a bright sunny day, no clouds in sight. It was already 'late' (7:45am when they got going), but maybe they had a shot at summitting Mt Washington...if only the Weather God did not have other plans to smite them from the mountain.

On the drive out Indy and Mr Enthusiastic marvelled at just how much snow there was up here. And not only was it snow, but it was 'for real' snow. Not like the paltry dusting that Maryland occassionally gets. The two took great joy in seeing how well the roads were plowed (unlike Maryland, which hasn't the experience at dealing with snow). Indy hadn't seen anything like this since his days growing up in northeast Ohio. It was refreshing (if downright cold!)

The duo arrived at the Visitor Center a short time later, and after browsing the Center for various asundry things (Indy picked up some inner gloves and a much-desired balaclava), and getting information of the trail conditions up on the mountain (most avalanche hazards were rated as 'low', but as Indy and one of the rangers were discussing it, the Huntington Ravine was upgraded to 'considerable'; Indy and Enthusiastic intended on taking the Lion's Head route, anyhow, but the ranger advised them that the Lion's Head is not patrolled for avalanche danger, and there is one section that is rather steep and prone to avalanches, so use their best judgement), they geared up to get on the trail. Suited in multiple layers, ice axes in hand, crampons attached and strapped to feet, they started...and almost immediately Mr Enthusiastic's crampons popped off. Some time was spent adjusting them, walking 3 steps, having the crampons pop off again, and readjusting them. Finally Mr Enthusiastic sized them down one notch and...voila'! They worked great at that point. Off they went...and 100 feet later Indy's crampons popped off! Rather than fuss with them as Enthusiastic had been, and wasting more time, Indy opted to just size them down one notch. This worked like a charm. Soon they were on their way through this exceptionally white winter wonderland.

The trail was not hard to follow. Even getting 4 inches of snow a couple days earlier (a bare dusting compared to what was already on the ground) had not covered up the trails to any degree. Then again, the trails were kind of crowded that day. Indy and Mr Enthusiastic counted no less than 15 people that either they passed or had passed them on the way up. Some were going to ski in the Tuckerman Ravine area, others were just out for a hike through the snowy woods, and others had a goal of summitting Mt Washington that day. A bright, sunny, and crowded day on the mountain.

The Lion's Head and the Alpine Garden

To The Top!

Back down once again...


Return to The Adventure Library