Sunday, December 16, 2007

Winter ascent of Mt. Washington, New Hampshire, USA

Mt. Washington, New Hampshire, USA is the third highest mountain east of the rockies in North America. The mountain is only 1917 meters high and has a non-technical trail leading to the summit. However, the mountain is infamous for extremely bad weather and the summit is in fact the spot on the planet where the highest wind velocity has ever been recorded (372 km/h in 1934). The high wind speed combined with low temperatures (as low as -75 °C with wind chill has been recorded on the summit) makes a winter ascent a potential serious undertaking but yesterday Elvira and I succeeded in summiting :-)

Leah Boch from the Harvard Mountaineering Club had organized a weekend trip to the Harvard Cabin (1073 m) at the foot of the mountain. We thus drove to Pinkham Notch Friday night and hiked to the hut. We arrived 1 AM and thus went straight to bed where Elvira and I endured a cold night in the cabin as we had forgotten to bring sleeping pads! A rather cold floor they have in the cabin I would say.
The next morning we were awakened by the daily radio call to the cabin caretaker which brought rather bad news: -23 °C at the summit with 120 km/h (75 mph) wind speed and 170 km/h (105 mph) wind gusts. Not unusual for Mt Washington but not ideal for a summit attempt!
Nevertheless, Elvira and I decided to give the summit a go - we would then turn around if it became too cold. As we walked towards the Lion Heads Trail we missed the turn and thus ended up on the parallel Tuckerman Ravine Trail. This turned out to be a lucky mistake as we later learned that the Thuckerman Ravine Trail had been sheltered from the wind compared to the Lion Head Tail (which follows a ridge).
We were thus blessed with great sunny weather and low wind most of the time (except at the Alpine Garden and the Summit). Furthermore, the wind speed dropped during the afternoon and even the summit was not too bad (30-40 mph).
We had actually planned to stay at in the cabin another night, but a snow storm warning for Sunday morning made us reconsider and we thus walked all the way down to Pinkham Notch (490 m) from the summit and drove home. Looking out of the window right now - I am glad we made that decision!

I can highly recommend ascending Mt. Washington in the winter. It is a very beautiful place as you can see from this slideshow and this 360° panorama video from the summit (QuickTime or iTunes required).

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