March 2, 2017
Today I met up with my friend Brent (http://www.brentdoscher.com/) in hopes to climb some ice. The recent warm weather took its toll on a lot of the good ice climbing destinations. We knew we’d need to go to higher elevations and colder temps to find good ice conditions. The initial plan was to head into Tuckerman’s Ravine on Mt. Washington as Brent spotted a good flow from the ridge on Lion Head a couple days ago.
Weather Forecast and Avalanche Danger
The forecast today was looking pretty gnarly. With a high in the low teens, 100 mph wind gusts, snow and 50 below wind chill!
However, with the wind forecasted to come out of the west for the most part, we had hopes that the summit of the mountain would keep us sheltered from it while we climbed on the east side. We knew we might be in for some intense weather regardless, and we packed accordingly. Extra layers, heavier mittens, hard shells, chem warmers, the works. The avalanche report for today showed most gullies in Tuckerman and Huntington Ravine were “Low danger” while a couple in Huntington Ravine had “Moderate danger” advisories.
Hiking Into the Ravine
We arrived at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center by 8AM. After signing in the climbers logbook, and checking the avalanche report we booted up and hit the Tuckerman Ravine Trail.
A Change of Plans – Huntington Ravine
We got to the junction of Huntington Ravine Trail and now were faced with a decision. Do we venture off into Huntington Ravine for much larger, more committing ice climbs? Or do we stick to our original plan and climb in Tuckerman Ravine? The route we were aiming for in Tuckerman Ravine was relatively short considering the nearly 3 mile hike in. After a brief conversation we decided to switch it up and go for Huntington Ravine. We turned right and continued on the snow cat tracks. Along the way we met another party of climbers with the same goal in mind.
Pinnacle Gully has been on top of my ice climbing tick list ever since I started this hobby. It’s what drew me to the sport. However, I didn’t think I was capable of climbing it up until now. Pinnacle Gully is a 500 foot WI3 ice climb that is nestled deep inside a rocky cleft within Huntington Ravine. This climb is 3-4 pitches of pure awesome classic alpine climbing. I was stoked that Brent was up for this! This is one of the few areas in New England that offer such exposed, long ice routes above treeline!
Here Comes the Wind
As we broke out of the trees and into the open ravine floor the wind started to pick up. The snow was coming down heavily and it was very cold (probably single digits or below by now). The weird thing about the wind is it wasn’t coming from any particular direction. It came at us from every side, making finding shelter to gear up difficult. We hunkered down behind a boulder to get our climbing harnesses, crampons on and rack up.
Where are we?
Once geared up we ventured towards the headwall. At this point visibility was next to zero. We couldn’t see anything… including the climb. We used our phone GPS to try to get a bearing on where the gully was and started to walk in that direction.
We started our climb up the snowfields. Trying to avoid the deep, avalanche prone sections and sticking to the icy neve snowpack. Shortly later a gully came into view… We weren’t sure what gully. But it certainly was a gully!
As we continued our ascent more of the rock surrounding us came into view. This is when we came to the realization that we were heading into the wrong gully! Luckily, this gully also had ice so we continued on. Odell’s Gully is a 600 foot WI2-3 ice climb that is equally as classic as Pinnacle.
Hitting the Limits and Bailing Out!
As we neared the first pitch of real ice climbing the weather conditions were becoming dangerously unsafe. By this point we were experiencing wind gusts at 80+ MPH. This type of wind can pull you right off your ice tools. The blown snow created white out conditions to the point that I couldn’t see Brent standing just a few feet in front of me. We stood there, next to that amazing blue ice and discussed our options for a minute. It went something like this.
“I don’t know man… I don’t think this is a good idea”
“Yeah… me either. Let’s get the F&#@ out of here!”
Now we needed to down climb back to the base of the ravine. This was a feat in itself. We started slowly moving down the icy snow slope. With every gust of wind we’d stop, grip our tools and huddle against the ice as not to be pulled away from it. In the distance I heard a voice yell “ROPE!” and I saw two brightly colored ropes fall down next to me. A figure in an orange shell came barreling down the rope in a hurry on rappel. He came up next to me and it turned out to be my friends Zac and Luke! Zac’s face was whipped by the wind, he had just come off the first pitch of the ice and decided to get out as well. We had a few words and he continued on his rappel so his partner Luke could get down.
By this point I was wearing every layer I had packed. Two base layer’s a fleece mid-layer, my down puffy, and my hard shell. Despite all of this I could still feel the bone chilling wind gusts cut through. The wind chill had to be 40+ below zero. Any exposed skin started to burn as the wind blasted through the ravine. With every strong gust the 4 of use braced ourselves and got low.
Back In The Trees
We made our way to the ravine floor and quickly hiked towards the trees. Once we were back in the trees we found a sheltered spot to regroup and take off our technical gear.
We hiked out of the ravine floor and decided that we’d stop at the Harvard Cabin to warm back up. It was a good choice! After some snacks, water, storytelling, and laughs we hiked out the remaining 2 miles back down Tuckerman Ravine trail.
Video of the Conditions
Some footage that was recorded on my helmet camera of the conditions we were faced with.
This was one of those days I’ll never forget. Even though we didn’t get to top out on any pure ice routes, we still had quite an experience! I’m glad we bailed on the climb when we did, it was the right choice. Going through these kinds of situations with friends is a bonding experience. Another day of being humbled by Mount Washington’s “world’s worst weather”. I only hope I can get back this season to try again before the winter ends and ice melts!