In March 2008, to celebrate my 42nd birthday, I attempted a winter ascent of Mount Washington, NH (6,288 feet). This was a trip organized by REI, who provided us with a gear list, hired the guides, and let us know where and when to meet.
As a warm up, we summited both Mount Welch (2,605 feet) and Mount Dickey (2,734 feet). This allowed us to get used to our new gear (most of us were climbing newbies), learn important skills, and gel as a group.
Climbing Mount Washington is tough in the Summer, and even more difficult in Winter. Since the trails are not always clearly marked or signs/cairns are obscured by snow, it’s good to have experienced hikers lead the way.
I was happy to have many, many layers of clothing, and it was important to stay on top of personal comfort, as we got warmer by climbing and had to worry about getting cold from being too sweaty.
The climb is quite steep at times, so I was happy to have trekking poles to help push up the mountain. Since the snow was so deep, there were times when we were up to our knees, making it an arduous trek. Stepping into the previous person’s footprints was still easier than making your own route.
We celebrated when we got to the Lakes of the Clouds Hut. Because of the deep snow, it was no problem strolling up onto the roof for a group shot. With the shifting winds, we got an occasional glimpse across the wide range, as the hut sits above tree line.
Unfortunately, we didn’t make it any further than the Lakes of the Clouds Hut. The brutal weather had our guides taking the conservative approach with this inexperienced group. They turned us around to much grumbling, but it was the right decision. We were looking at strong winds (85+ mph) and COLD (-49 degrees F) and it was worse up top!
The hike down is always harder than the hike up, in my opinion, and it was true in this case for sure. A delicious pizza dinner, camaraderie, and giddiness from exhaustion had us enjoying our limited success without regret.
I have to give the highest recommendation to Mooney Mountain Guides, who educated us and led us up the mountain, and were brave enough to turn us around before the summit due to the dangerous conditions, even though we all wanted to make the attempt.
[Pushing limits is fun, and accessible to most of us, like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.]