When to Walk Away From a Winter Hike
Summiting Mt. Washington in the winter has been a goal for a long time. My dad and I were supposed to do it last year, but then I dislocated my shoulder and tore my labrum and shoulder capsule. This past weekend we were finally ready to do it, until we we saw the Mount Washington Observatory higher summit forecast: winds 80-100mph in the morning, 60-80mph midday, and 50-60mph in the afternoon. Plus, it was suppose to be cloudy until the afternoon. Despite the overwhelming odds against us getting to the summit of Washington, we still decided to head out and get a taste of “The World’s Worst Weather” at its best.
In the morning when I went downstairs I saw that my mother had left a note saying Ammonoosuc Ravine on it. We always tell her what trails we are taking but I guess this time she needed to write it down. I decided to add to the note for her saying we were going to Mt. Washington. I also added Plan B: Mt. Monroe and Plan C: Lakes of the Clouds Hut. Once we left the trailhead, it didn’t take too long to realize that Plan C was becoming Plan A. It was snowing at the base of Ammonoosuc Ravine and we were breaking trail in a whole lot of powder.
I had hoped that the trail would be broken out for us, but no such luck. I powered through the best I could in my MSR Evo Ascent snowshoes. It wasn’t bad until after we got past the Gem Pool. Then things got much steeper and very slippery. To make matters worse, I had forgotten my trekking poles so I was relying on my ice axe to help me out. Despite the tough circumstances, the clouds were clearing up some in the distance and we started to get sneak peeks of some nice views behind us.
The higher we got, the shorter the trees became. The shorter the trees became, the more exposed to the wind we got. The thermometer on my bag read 10degrees which is being generous since it is right near my body. We also appeared to be nearing the clouds. There were no views ahead of us. At this point, I just wanted to get to the hut to hide from the wind and eat some lunch, but I couldn’t see it and didn’t quite remember how much further we needed to go. As much as I wanted to keep going, I needed to get more clothes on. Balaclava and goggles were long overdue to be put on.
While I was layering, up dad caught up to me and we had ourselves a chat about the conditions. While I’d told my mom that we’d be following Plan A, B, or C, as it turned out, we ended up going with the plan no hiker wants to to think about, but always has to be ready for: in the interest of our own safety, we decided to turn back. The wind was easily nearing hurricane strength and visibility was terrible–a dangerous combination for anyone.
Heading down was quite enjoyable. There was a lot of butt sliding and snowshoe “skiing.” I took more time to get pictures and just take in the winter beauty. Thank goodness for my new Nikon waterproof/freeze resistant camera. Dad’s batteries died pretty quickly in the weather but I was good to go the whole time. Plus, I didn’t have to worry about it getting wet from the snow.
While I was disappointed we weren’t able to summit Mount Washington, I was happy that we made it to 5000 feet on a nasty day in the Presidential Range and got a solid taste of “The World’s Worst Weather.” It was a great hike with some serious exercise. Most important, we got home safely to talk about it. Dad and I might be crazy, but we aren’t stupid.