Heading up Mt. Washington, in winter, has been a vague goal for a long time. Last week, something snapped, and on Monday I made plans to be there by Friday. (Pictured Above: Lake of the Clouds Hut as we descended).
I booked the trip through REI, though the actual guiding was courtesy Mooney Mountain Guides and they were fantastic. Highly recommend them. They have a blog here. Saturday, our itinerary had us climb two smaller peaks (Welsh and Dickey). Sunday it was Mt. Washington.
Sunday started at 4AM to be on the road at 5AM and at the base of Mt. Washington as the sun was coming up (7:30ish). For anyone who is interested in Mt. Washington you’ve heard all the cliche’s about the weather and the wind and from my perspective is was everything I could have imagined plus some (a significant “some”). The official day’s statistics were (1/29/2012 — http://www.mountwashington.org/weather/summit.php):
Maximum Temperature: 25°F
Minimum Temperature: 8°F
Peak Wind Gust: W 122 mph
Average Wind Speed: 54.5 mph
Liquid Precipitation: 0.02″
We made it to the summit, I believe at 12;30ish. So not bad. Coming up above the tree-line is something I will never forget, and those footsteps were by far the most challenging with the wind, the cold, and the unfortunately foggy goggles. The experience reminded me of diving in cold water with so much neoprene that you can’t easily move, and such limited visibility that you’re brain desperately wants you to be somewhere else. Same effect. Attempting to change my glove liners quickly (20 seconds) showed me how fast something could go wrong cause when I spilled my water and saw that it froze instantaneously I realized that I had about 10 more seconds to get gloves back on as my fingers quickly turned numb. Really numb, not numb ha ha.
After that I really did switch to a scuba-learned mind-frame of being very deliberate and breathing and thinking. Then doing. What worked:
Brenig – definitely really worked well. Arrived via post the day I was leaving and am very glad we didn’t miss one another as that could have been painful. Had several glove option and even a Black Diamond mitt-option (was going to use their Access Mitt over Patagonia gloves) but wouldn’t have been the same. In picture below, I’m wearing Patagonia Liners, and Brenig mitt-liners without the over-mitt. The mitt’s with all layers are big and that takes getting used to, and unless you have really burley zipper pulls you’ll need to adjust everything first and then put on the over-mitts. Significant hassle at 10 degrees and 50 mph winds to take off your mittens to fix anything. Brenig is in the UK so ordering is a bit tricky and more expensive than say REI, but well worth it.
Montane Flux Jacket was perfect. Ordered from UK as well at OutdoorGB. Have ordered a good amount of gear from them and all has been good so far — very good. So the jacket is Primaloft and was warm with an Icebreaker wool shirt as a base, and a very warm Helly Hansen Verglas Top which is one of the best pieces of kit I have. The HH top is impossibly warm. So those were the three layers and added Marmot Cervino which worked better than I thought it would above the tree-line. I never used a Montane Anti-Freeze down jacket in my pack even while stopped. Fantastic jacket, though would buy the NorthStar with the hood if I had it to do over again. Cold, other than hands just wasn’t an issue. Backpack is an old Marmot Shooting Star.
That said, I did rock a Fjallraven throwback hat and it really worked well – by this time I had two balaclava’s on — a Patagonia and a Helly Hansen ninja-style near full-face that was actually needed since I didn’t have a true face-mask.
Could have used better goggles (a requirement to have all skin covered), face-mask so breathing out doesn’t fog goggles and that’s about it. Made it. Appreciate the trip end-to-end; really good group of guides, great group of climbers from as far away as Houston (and heading on to Ranier later this year) and lots of learning about what I can accomplish, about climbing generally, and great to see people doing what they love. Why else would you climb a mountain.