Ascent of Mount Washington on 2017-04-03

Climber: bob l

Date:Monday, April 3, 2017
Ascent Type:Unsuccessful - Turned Back
Peak:Mount Washington
    Location:USA-New Hampshire
    Elevation:4700 ft / 1432 m

Ascent Trip Report

Sometimes the mountain has to win. I tried to do the Lion’s Head winter route on 4/3/17 and I failed to summit suffering a disappointing loss. I started out from Boston about 3:30am or so. It was a dark 3 ½ hour drive to the Pinkham Notch trailhead. At the trailhead, the weather was just awesome. It was high twenties with relatively no wind and nature had started painting the morning with a masterful display. I was actually feeling lucky as it seemed the weather gods were on my side. The mountain was beautiful capped in stunning white snow. It had stormed heavily the day before and I’m guessing there was 1-2 feet of new snow waiting up there. Fearing the weather higher up, I still wore my 3 layers and I started the hike into the Tuckerman’s Ravine trail. In the bottom area for a mile or so, this part of the trail is basically a wide road. I followed the beginning switchbacks up in what appeared to be some snow mobile tracks that meandered through the glistening, quiet, early woods. In through here, it’s a continual and steady uphill grind and I actually started sweating a lot and didn’t need the hats and gloves. Perfect day to peak this one my mind kept saying. I crossed over the 3 bridges and reached the right then quick left turnoffs for the Lion’s Head winter route. I knew this was the tough spot and I didn’t have crampons, but I decided to continue on. It hadn’t been too slippery so far. The winter trail was clear to follow, but it started to steepen quickly soon after the turnoff. Then, I reached the part I saw documented many times on various YouTube highlight reels—the rocky waterfall-like area. Some reports claim the gradation to be 50-60 degrees through the short initial section. I scuttled up as my feet kept slipping on the icy slope chute. I tried staying near the edges grabbing and hoisting myself up with the trees or tree branches. Because of the poor traction, I had to use my ice axe to stabilize and pull myself up in numerous areas. It felt like I had climbed about a ¼ mile or so on my hands and knees when I started to see the treeline and the top of the ridge which I knew was the place where the trail softens a bit and reaches the rock formations known as Lion’s Head. I was hopeful as I thought I had gotten through the most difficult area, but it was in this final steep push section that my traction actually worsened. I couldn’t believe it; I was having a hard time maintaining an upright position. My legs were spinning like bald tires in mud. It seemed like I had to lay down just to stay in a resting secure position. I was having a hard time absorbing that I might have to continue on for another hour or two like this and then my drive to reach the peak became overwhelmed by my concerns about how I was going to later navigate my way back down through this section and that treacherous icy waterfall. I don’t know how long I thought about it, but I quit. I decided to turn back. So, I slid down this upper section self-arresting with my ice axe a few times trying to stay within the trail confines. There was a severe drop off on my right side and large trees scattered about to worry about. I tried to stand a few times, but it turned into a slide without skis. Eventually, by clutching trees and branches or whatever was sticking out of the snow, I got through the main icy waterfall area reaching the bottom 50-60* perilous section. Here, I tried using my ice axe to hold a position, but I lost grip and slid uncontrollably down the icy slide about 10 to 15’ catching onto a tree. A mountaineering website notes that there are some real consequences if you slip here. Well, I did. Even more luckily, I somehow came to a stop at what seemed to be about a foot or so above another 20-25’ serious drop-off. I wasn’t in a good position, without an ice axe, facing a risky move to continue descending. I was pondering my next move when I heard some voices. Those belonged to two guides or rangers who were coming up the trail and they skillfully rescued my embarrassed ice axe and roped my thankful ass into a safer position. Wow! After their help, I uneventfully slunked my tail back to the trailhead. My snow hiking inexperience really showed on this hike and I’m fortunate that this mighty mountain only slapped me with some deserved disappointment.
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