Mt Washington Solo Winter Ascent

Approaching Pinkham Notch Visitors Center

March 1st, 2015 – The weather was cooperating so I took the opportunity to go for it…. Mount Washington. Standing at 6,289 feet it is the highest point in the north east. 24th most prominent summit in the lower 48. It’s the home of the “worlds worst weather” and highest ever recorded wind speed of 231 MPH. Some scary stats despite its relatively short stature. Many hikers have lost their lives on this mountain and its neighbors the Presidentials including Kate Matrosova just 2 weeks ago.

I wanted to hike this mountain from the Lions Head / Eastern side as I’ve heard it gives you a truer “mountaineering experience” and it did not disappoint!

While its only around 7 miles round trip up Mt. Washington you do gain an aggressive 4300 feet in elevation.  Before attempting a Mt. Washington winter hike it is smart to try your luck on less aggressive trails on safer below treeline mountains.

I woke up on sunday March 1st at 3AM in order to get my gear together, boil my drinking water, pack up and head out. The drive was about 2 hours and 45 minutes for me to the Pinkham Notch Visitors Center. The ride feels a lot longer when you’re left alone with your thoughts. I arrived at Pinkham Notch Visitors center at 7:15AM and hit Tuckermans Ravine trail by 7:30. Today I opted for rigid mountaineering boots (Scarpa Phantom Guides) and step-in crampons (Black Diamond Cyborg pro’s) as recent warmer days would surely have turned the rime and snow into a thicker layer of ice above treeline. .. Not somewhere I wanted to slip. I also brought an ice ax in the event of needing to self arrest a fall on a steep slope.

The higher summits forecast called for single digit temperatures with 35-50 MPH winds creating a windchill of 25-35 below zero. .. Sounds crazy but this is considered pretty mild for the time of the year.

Higher Summits Forecast from the MWOBS site. Higher Summits Forecast from the MWOBS site.

Tuckermans Ravine trail was freshly groomed thanks to the snow cat  that travels into tuckermans ravine and was a very easy walk in bare boots. Once I entered the Lions Head winter trail things became steeper, this is where I donned crampons and my ice ax. The trail comes to an apex at around the 1 mile marker. Here there is a short scramble that some claim is a “class 1 ice climb”. To me, it was a pretty simple scramble that required a bit of front pointing and swinging of the ice ax. A guided group in front of me was hung up in this section causing a bottleneck of traffic for other hikers. Lucky they moved to the side and let others by. Lots of people on the trail!

At the treeline i decided to gear up in preperation for the wind. I popped on my hard shell, neck gaiter, goggles, extra insulating layers, and heavy insulation gloves then continued up to lions head summit.

Approaching Lions Head 

I lucked out today and had great views to the south into Tuckerman’s Ravine. I sat down behind some rocks on lions head and had a snack using the rocks as a wind break. The gusts were at their worst during the stretch between lions head and washingtons summit.

Lions Head Summit

After a quick break I continued on past the Alpine Garden. This is where the steep snow climb up the cone of the summit began. French stepping helped quite a bit in this area but it was tiring none the less. I would consider this snow climb the most exhausting segment of the hike. I held my ice ax tightly here as a fall would surely result in a slide that would last for several hundred feet.

Base of the summit cone

Alpine Garden

As I approached the summit I threw on my down parka for extra warmth in anticipation of stopping moving. The first thing you notice when you come over the final slope are all of the observatory building’s. I understand their value but its a little dissapointing at the end of a long slog! I reached the summit at 11:15 and got lucky enough to have a fellow hiker take my picture.

The Summit!

Northern Presis

After taking my pictures and absorbing the views I considered heading over to Mt. Monroe. However, the winds began to pick up and clouds loomed overhead so I decided to head back down and not take any risks while being alone. The descent was relatively uneventful aside from some fantastic views into Tuckerman’s Bowl. I had wished for skis or a sled when I made it to the Tuckerman’s ravine trail… Sure would have saved some time! All in all a great day. I highly recommend seeing this mountain in the winter while the auto road is shut down. Really makes the experience much better.

Looking into Tuckermans Ravine

Ridge Cairn

Summary

A total of 7.13 miles were logged on my GPS track. With an elevation gain of just over 4400 feet. This is a rather strenuous hike in the winter with steep grades near the summit. Some sections of scrambling could be considered rock or ice climbing under certain conditions. Bring an ice ax and practice self arrest in winter, mountaineering boots are nice to have too! I have yet to do this trail in the summer but I would assume it would be equally as difficult. Views are incredible once you pop out of the tree line. Impressive views into Tuckermans Ravine and summit views of the Northern Presis are amazing. Highly recommended!

My GPS track starting at Pinkham Notch Visitors Center

Here’s a short video I compiled from the GoPro footage I took during my trip. Complete with overly dramatic music.

Hiker, climber, father, and husband. The mountains have become a tremendous source of inspiration, physical challenge, fitness, motivation, and enrichment for me. I love the gear, and technical aspects of climbing. I also enjoy sharing this other type of lifestyle with people who haven't experienced it!

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