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Ascent of Lions Head on 2014-01-03

Climber: Gabriel C

Others in Party:Jean-Daniel Vachon
Sébastien Hogue
Marjorie Chabot
Date:Friday, January 3, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Lions Head
    Location:USA-New Hampshire
    Elevation:5033 ft / 1534 m

Ascent Trip Report

We had planned a mountaineering trip to Huntington Ravine since fall, and the early snow season made us very optimistic during December. Unfortunately, south of the border, there was a short warm-up period where it rained and a good amount of snow cover was lost. The temperature dropped to extreme lows though, and the snow began to come down again. In the week before we left, we watched the avalanche dispatches and were concerned that the risks were often considerable in many gullies we wanted to climb.

We nonetheless left Québec City on Thursday, January 2nd, at 06:00. I spent the night at Jean-Daniel and Sébastien's place so we could pack our things in the evening and leave as soon as possible. We didn't think of packing the stuff in the car right away though and lost 30 minutes in the morning as it was a puzzle to fit everything in, even with a roof box. We hit the road with the thermometer displaying -32°C, but when we stopped at a Tim Horton's for a snack two hours later and a couple hundred kilometers further south, it was noticeably warmer. We had no issue crossing the border and I-91 was very quiet. Instead of taking I-93, J-D and Sébastien insisted on taking HWY 5 as it was the shortest way Google maps displayed. Unfortunately, one turn wasn't indicated at all by a sign and we lost the 20 minutes this way would have gained us over taking the interstate. The roads weren't well plowed either so speeds were also reduced.

We made it in Pinkham Notch around 11:00 and scrambled inside to check availability for Harvard Cabin. We had our tents in case it was full, but with the cold, we'd prefer sleeping inside. Luckily, there was only one guest already registered so we put our names in for the next three nights. Then we went back to the packing room and unloaded everything on the floor to repack without all the camping gear. Still, we had trouble fitting everything in and it took about an hour to sort things out. After that, we ate the lunch I had prepared and we relaxed as we had plenty of time to get to the cabin. We didn't want to get there too early because the stove is lit only at 16:00. We spent some time in the shop and looked at the weather charts. The avalanche forecast wasn't encouraging and we hoped the next day would see a change for the better.

We left Pinkham Notch at 14:00 and started ascending the Tuckerman Ravine trail. It was well trodden and only wearing our boots, we had no trouble. At some point, some skiers skinning uphill for what seemed a day hike caught up to us. I decided to see if I could follow the pace even with my heavy ~60lbs pack and found out it was a breeze. All those spinning sessions pay off. I stopped at the junction with Huntington Ravine trail, waiting for the others, where we split off towards the cabin instead of going all the way to Hermit Lake and then taking Raymond Path. We'd save some distance, but we weren't sure how the terrain would be. There were footprints, although it was a narrow singletrack trail. It wasn't too difficult and we made good speed until we reached the junction with Raymond path around 16:00. Sébastien wasn't sure which way we should go so, as we waited for Jean-Daniel and Marjorie, he scouted ahead down towards Cutler River. We concluded it was a better idea to keep going on Huntington Ravine trail and when the others joined us, we kept going. Not much further, we started hearing noises, and smelled smoke. 5 minutes later, we were at the avalanche danger sign, greeted by Rick, the caretaker.

We stumbled inside and dropped our gear. There was no one here except Rick, but we could see some skiing and climbing gear strewn around. Later on, a guy from New Brunswick came in and introduced himself as Dominic. Two other guys from the southern states soon came in but we didn't talk much with them. We settled in and later in the evening, another two guys from Montreal arrived. The place wasn't even half full and it already felt crowded. I hoped we wouldn't see 16 people in here this weekend. After fixing some dinner and chilling around, we got ready to head to bed. The forecast we'd get in the morning over the radio would make or break our planned ascents so we agreed to listen in from our sleeping bags and, in case it was a no-go, to slumber a bit longer.

Of course, the radio forecast wasn't positive with temperatures dropping, snow still falling, and winds picking up. This created wind slabs and highly unconsolidated snow that seemed dangerous. I got up earlier than the others and chilled downstairs. The ranger came in to write his field report and I was then sure we would not be climbing in Huntington that day. When everyone got up, we opted to climb up Lions Head as far as we could. The sky was clear except for the widespread spindrift that flew from the summits. The two guys from Montreal decided to do the same and left a few minutes ahead of us. We started along Raymond path before taking a right on the winter Lions Head trail.

Quickly, the trail started ascending steeply along the ridge's headwall. I kept a fast pace, ahead of the others, until I reached a tricky spot. A rope was setup there further up and I tried to reach it. The drop behind me and thick ice made me quite uncomfortable and I decided to retreat so I could put my crampons on. As I was doing so, a group of four, coming down, navigated through this obstacle. They were very uncomfortable and their flexible crampons seemed to barely do the job. They nonetheless got through and I chatted with them for a few seconds as they were Francophones. We were joined by the two Montrealers and a slight traffic jam occured. I let everybody go past and waited for the others. When they did I saw they had already put their crampons and we resumed the ascent right away.

It wasn't long before we caught up to the two guys ahead of us. They had passed the tricky spot without crampons and stopped only a few tens of meters above to put them on. From there the trail remained steep for a long while before it reached the head of the ridge, close to the treeline. There, I waited for everyone and when we were reunited, we decided to push a little bit further. The wind was starting to get fierce and the temperature was dropping fast. We got our goggles out and kept going. Here, the snow was very peculiar. The avalanche risk manifested itself quite easily as whenever I reached a slight wind slab, anything I would do to it would make it collapse. Walking under it would break the base and the top would slide off, and walking over it would just shear the slab clean off. If this was happening on the most stable part of the mountain, I could only imagine what it was like in the chutes and gullies.

The snow was thinner now, and rocky outcrops started showing up. When I reached a slight couloir where short trees were clumped together, I noticed the wind would rush just above us and we remained in a very calm spot. I stopped and Sébastien was surprised when he reached me to find such conditions. He wondered, on his way up, what I was doing there, removing my protection and taking my snacks out, but as soon as he got there, he did the same. Marjorie and Jean-Daniel soon followed and we took a lenghty break there. We saw the two Montrealers turn back below us just before we started moving upwards again. As we crested a small hump, we saw two people coming towards us from above. When we met, a little further, they commented how the weather was really fierce further above. We wanted to push just a bit further and only a couple minutes later, we were on top of Lions Head. We could see Tuckerman Ravine, the gentle Lions Head ridge going all the way to the Monticello Lawn, and the Washington cone looming over it.

The wind was getting through my goggles at the corners where it met my mask and it was mighty uncomfortable. I told Jean-Daniel he had a beginning of frostnip on the nose and he covered it up. We retreated downhill very quickly after taking one picture and powered our way towards more clement weather. When we reached the treeline, we met the two guys we had crossed above. We chatted a bit more before resuming our descent. It was fairly quick and when we were back past the tricky spot, we removed our crampons.

Down at the junction with Raymond Path, we decided to go take a look at Tuckerman Ravine and turned right. It wasn't a long hike and we soon reached the caretaker's cabin. We wandered around for a bit before turning back towards Harvard Cabin. When we got there, the stove hadn't been started yet but it was still warm. Outside, The temperature was still dropping, and it seemed we would get more snow. We kept hoping the avalanche forecast would be better for the next day, but it didn't look promising. The evening was uneventful and as time passed, more people showed up, culminating with the arrival of a guided group, somewhere around 22:00.

Some people stayed up quite late and there were a few cries for silence from the dorm, but I slept through that. In the morning, the forecast was definitely bad and our spirits were deflated. We looked at some ice routes from one of the cabin's books, but didn't know what to do. We spent a good part of the morning just chatting with Rick and he eventually told us about this easy route that could be good fun not too far from here. It's a route called Parasol Gully, a 100-something meters 2+ Ice vein in Dixville Notch.

We didn't have a good road atlas, so we took pictures of the one Dominic had and also took a picture of the topo in the climbing guide. From that moment on, we were driven by this mission, to climb it that day before driving back to Québec. After packing our things, we left the cabin, around 11:00. At around noon, we were back at Pinkham Notch, stuffing everything in the car. Now, we hit the road towards Parasol Gully!
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3559 ft / 1083 m
    Total Elevation Loss:3559 ft / 1084 m
    Round-Trip Distance:6.8 mi / 10.9 km
    Grade/Class:2
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Open Country, Snow on Ground, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Crampons, Ski Poles, Hut Camp
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
    Weather:Snowing, Frigid, Very Windy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:3067 ft / 934 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 3001 ft / 915 m; Extra: 66 ft / 20m
    Loss on way in:66 ft / 20 m
    Distance:2.8 mi / 4.5 km
    Route:Tuckerman, Huntingdon, Lions Head trails
    Start Trailhead:Pinkham Notch  2032 ft / 619 m
    Time:4 Hours 0 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:3493 ft / 1064 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 3001 ft / 915 m; Extra: 492 ft / 149m
    Gain on way out:492 ft / 149 m
    Distance:4 mi / 6.4 km
    Route:Lions Head, Raymond, Tuckerman trails
    End Trailhead:Pinkham Notch  2032 ft / 619 m
    Time:1 Hours 45 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip


 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Gabriel C
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. Peakbagger.com accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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