Ice Climbing To Mt. Washington via Huntington's Ravine
Everyone worked like clockwork in the morning, and we were ready to depart from Pinkam notch at 6:39. Our plan was to head up to the ravines, and see if there was anything safe enough to climb.
Jeff set out a break-neck pace, bare-sneakering his way to Harvard cabin. We climbed 1500 feet, and 2 miles in less than 3/4 of a mile, arriving at the avalanche conditions sign in good spirits under sunny skies. To my delight I saw the ranger walking over with a whole handful of green signs, and no red. With low avalanche conditions for the entire of Huntington Ravine, we would have our choice of climbs.
After a brief stop at harvard cabin to don our harnesses we headed up to the ravine. Views of Tuckerman's opened up, and it was a spectacular day. The forecasted 70mph wind was a deterent, but we decided we would deal with the wind as it came.
We found our way to a large pile of rocks at the bottom of the ravine and surveyed our options. Jeff decided Central Gully would be a good climb, and I was happy to head up anything. Guy agreed, and with crampons donned we all set off for a large boulder at the bottom of the route. I took my chance at leading, and it was a bit unnurving soloing on the crusty snow. Self arrest was an option, but the consequences of not arresting in time were severe.
Soon we reached the large boulder below Pinnacle, and roped up. There was a pleasant family of mountaineers there, and when we agreed to exchange pictures, I noticed the battery had fallen out of my digital camera. There would be no further pictures for the day, as I was the only member of our party with a camera. I cursed digital again, longing for my 35 mm, as the scenery was spectacular, with dark clouds forming from the precipitation pulled off the summit by high winds.
The father-son-daughter team was preparing for an ascent of Pinnacle Gully, which was currently occupied by an earlier party. The father mentioned how it was his birthday, and his son and daughter had joined him as a birthday present. I could not think of a better way to spend a birthday. I hope that I can share similar experiences with my children as they get older. I was impressed that his 13 year old daughter was about to climb a gully which was way above my ability level.
Roped up, we headed up to Central Gully. This year is a low ice year for the gully, and an ordinarly large ice bulge was reduced to a small left side flow which was fractured. Jeff informed me to stop when he stopped, and go when he goes. Jeff placed pickets to protect our fall, and Guy cleaned them as we all front pointed and french footed our way up the gully.
Soon the ice bulge was reached, and Jeff placed a couple screws as he went along. At this point my legs were completely cramped up for some reason that I still don't understand. I simply fought the pain and carried on upward. Hack, step, step, step. Hack, step, step, step... A good rythm was obtained for the intermediary section. I cleaned a few pieces of protection as instructed. The wind howled.
At this point I looked up to see Jeff pretty well dug in, and behind me Guy wasn't moving. We were all hunkered down, sheltering ourselves from the wind. After neither of them moved for a while I looked to my left and found some shelter from the wind behind a small rock bulge. I carefully cramponed my way over to the bulge and noticed a few pitons pounded and frozen into the rock with what looked to be fairly new cord attatched.
I made the decision to anchor to the rock, and belay Guy up so we could communicate, because I could not figure out why Jeff was not moving. I belayed Jeff up, we swapped anchors, and he belayed me up, and Jeff started tugging on the rope. We both moved as guy belayed us, and then realized we were close to toping out, and after some more confusion, we found ourselves roped up, without anchors, and climbing the last few yard to the summit. The wind howled.
As we topped out we realized the severity of the situations. Winds as high as these had the potential to blow us back into the ravine, for a quick ride, with an even quicker stop. After coiling up some of the rope we headed across the alpine garden with it's bulletproof ice being careful to keep our rope from snagging. The wind started to subside.
My cramping eased, and I asked the guys if I could put on my mitts, and drink some gatorade, as my hands were going numb, and my cramping could only be aided by some electrolytes. We had dashed plans for the summit when we had topped out in the 70-80mph gusty wind, but now the idea began to creep back into my head.
By the time we reached the Lion's head trail the wind was significantly less severe, and I took some time to stretch out my legs. The sign on the Lion's head trail said the summit was only 0.9 miles away. I found it too hard to resist. We decided to go for the summit.
Jeff and I ditched our packs. Jeff scurried off, and I struggled to keep up with him as both my legs began cramping in sequence. The next conversation, I found myself saying to Jeff. "I think I will make it up, but I don't know if I will have the strength to make it down if I get up there." Jeff said I could just slow my pace down, I didn't have to try and keep up with him. I decided to give it a go, and the cramping was minimized by my slow pace.
With a slower pace, I waited for Guy to catch up with me. He was carrying a full pack for Shasta training, but was afflicted with painful boot-bang as he continuted on. He instructed me to carry on, that he would find his own way to the summit, this was his 12th winter trip to the summit. There were many people on the summit trail, despite the wind. I took sitting breaks on the rocks, and Jeff graciously waited for me from time to time as I got my legs to cooperate. I reached the auto road to find a calm and collected Jeff patiently waiting for me to summit together.
I took a significant sitting break at this point and ate some more food. Jeff and I set off next to the steps, and soon reached one of the summit buildings. I had only an incling of where we were on the summit, despite having been there two times previously. We continued around the left of the stone building, and then made an abrupt right as I recognized the tip top house and knew the summit was nearby. The wind roared as we headed over to the summit.
We walked up the small rock pile to the summit, and Jeff took an abrupt left from the summit. I called "Jeff!!" to him, as I knew we had to go straight. I was surprised he heard me with the wind. The White-out conditions were certainly disorienting.
At the bottom of the stairs we met up with Guy who said he mind as well go up to the rock pile, so he can say he had been there 12 times... Jeff and I began the descent, which was pretty uneventful, save the throngs of people heading up. The last few snowfields I navigated by way of my rear end, and I was soon back at my pack thirsty for more gatorade.
Guy soon returned from the summit, and reuinited as a group we headed down the lions head trail. I was pleased to find that much of the trail was glissadable, as my legs appreciated the break from descending. I shared pleasant conversation with a man and his dog, who had turned back at the 0.4 mark. The butt sliding was certainly fun.
Soon we found ourselves at Pinkham, exactly 9 hours from when we had departed earlier in the morning. It was certainly the most exhiliarating 9 hours of my hiking career.
Thanks guys for the great day. I hope we all can do it again sometime.
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