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Overnight on Mt. Washington - What I learned in school today
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Partner kimgraves


Dec 23, 2005, 2:36 PM
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Overnight on Mt. Washington - What I learned in school today
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Hi Gang,

I’ve been to the Presidentials in winter only twice before. The first time was to do “the traverse.” We were a party of three - an old friend, Chip who I’d know for years; a fellow college classmate, Greg; and me. It was the first time either Chip or I had done any winter camping. Greg had a lot of experience and led the way up Mt Lafayette in a snowstorm. With several feet of fresh power on the ground we were wearing snowshoes while carrying full packs - working harder than we’d ever had in our lives. Needless to say, Chip and I were in way over our depth. It got dark and we stopped to make camp. Greg wanted to continue while we set up camp and so went off solo to summit. Chip and I set up the tent and crawled in. “More than we’d bargained for” and “this is out of control” are what I remember. When Greg returned looking all happy and relaxed we told him that we wanted to bail. We cooked dinner and crawled into our bags, all except Greg who had “forgotten” his bag. He wrapped himself in a tarp. I suspect he was the only one of us who got a good night’s sleep.

The second time was a couple of years later just after I’d graduated in December. Again a party of three: my friend Chip; his brother in law – call him Rick because I can’t remember his name; and me. Rick was slightly older than me and was hot to go to Alaska and climb the big mountains. This time we aimed our sights lower. We’d climb Madison and maybe make it over to Adams. The first night we camped in Chip’s homemade three-man tent somewhere below tree line. It was fine. We had it all together. The path had been packed so we weren’t in snowshoes. And I guess I was in better shape having spent most of my senior year in dance classes (great place to meet girls) while I avoided doing my thesis.

The second day we made it up to the Madison hut in a maelstrom. We could barely move against what must have been a 100 mile-per-hour wind. Taking shelter behind the Madison hunt I realized that I couldn’t feel my feet. Warming my feet, the feeling came back and I howled in agony. We backed off to the ravine and dug a snow cave where we huddled for three days waiting for the weather to clear. Dark, quiet, relatively warm, I have never been so bored in all my life. I would escape and go up on the ridge standing next to and holding onto a dwarf tree while swinging my feet to keep blood flowing to them. I would stay there for hours as the storm raged around me: swinging first one foot than the other; holding on to that tree; watching the storm as I understood in the depth of my being that there was no god to appeal to. The year was 1981.

The gear has changed a lot in 25 years.




My partner, Matt, has been trying to get me to go back to the Whites for years. I’ve always resisted – my knees are blown out, it’s too cold, it’s no fun, I had a million excuses. But I’ve been injured for six months with a pinched nerve in my neck. It makes it hard to look up. Not an asset when trying to belay the leader. So this time when Matt, talked about going to Washington I jumped at it. It’s just a hike I told myself.

In truth I’ve been thinking about returning to the Presidentials ever since I got blown off 25 years ago. My toes never did fully recover: they’re always cold. And I’m 25 years older – pushing 50. But the gear is much better. The last time I was there, my windproof was what was called a 60/40: a combination of 60% cotton and 40% nylon. I wore wool knickers and wool socks without windproof pants and a wool shirt. My sleeping bag, that got completely saturated in the snow cave, had been replaced (albeit 20 years ago) with a down bag with a Gore-Tex shell. All my clothing was now synthetic. I had a belay jacket.

AND, AND I knew a lot more about staying warm. I’d read Andy Kirkpatrick’s article about staying warm and practiced it the last two winters. I realized that I hadn’t eaten or drunken enough on the earlier trips. I now had insulated boots and those “shake up” toe warmers. I was prepared. Most of all, I wanted desperately to get back to the mountains.

I get nervous before a big day and so only got about 4 hours sleep after going to bed at 9pm – maybe I should have had more wine with dinner. Matt rented a car and picked me up at 6am on Saturday. He drove the whole 6-1/2 hours! I just supplied the sandwiches and the coffee. Following Twight’s advice I pre-hydrated the whole way drinking 3L along with my 2 cups of coffee. We only had to stop three (or was it four or five) times to pee! We stopped at IME just to look around, but I realized that due to my lack of sleep we should get on the trail as soon as possible.

For those of you who don’t know Mt. Washington , there is a “visitor’s center” at Pinkham Notch at the base of the mountain. There is a store to buy everything you’ve forgotten, and a packing up room to arrange your gear and get dressed. Here we are almost ready: Matt: left, me: in my Santa suit. Do I look nervous?



From the visitor’s center it’s only 4ish miles to the summit. Our plan was to hike up to the Hermit Lake shelters; spend the night; then come back down the trial a half mile and cache our gear before heading up the Lion Head trail to the summit. It’s only 2.2m from Pinkham Notch to Hermit Lake. We were off my 2:30pm hoping to make it up by dark.



Following Kirkpatrick’s advice we stripped down as we warmed up so as not to sweat. Even in the 15° temperatures and blustery wind we were warm without hats or windproofs in just our base layers.



Here’s Matt bringing up our rear as the sun is going down. Very quiet - just the sound of my breath, the squeak of boots on frozen snow and, of course, the wind - always the wind. Incredibly beautiful. I dutifully eat and drink as we climb – staying hydrated; staying fueled. The new trekking poles are making a big difference. Maybe the mountains in winter are my ideal time – the snow putting less stress on my knees?

Climbing with a winter pack is seriously aerobic. I’m wearing my heart rate monitor and I’m pegged at 163 all the way up – that’s 90-95% of my max depending upon which scale you use. We’ve both taken an aspirin – I promised my wife who warned us about middle-age men playing out in the snow. Besides, Twight says the blood thinning also makes you warmer. I promise myself to get back to the gym when we get home.

We make Hermit Lake shelters just before dark. I’m seriously beat. Mostly from not getting enough sleep the night before. It’s almost dark and Matt tells me to look over my shoulder. Above me rises what looks like a sheer cliff that forms the Lion’s Head. “We’re going up there tomorrow” says Matt. My first reaction is one of terror. “We’re going up that” I think? But I answer, “Let’s talk about tomorrow tomorrow. I’m just thinking about today.” In truth, I’m a bit frazzled. But I know with food, water, and a good nights rest, I’ll swing back over the physiological edge that I’m teetering on. No reason to give up yet.

We go into the caretaker’s cabin and register – nice and warm in there. Putting our windproofs back on, we head back out. The shelter is only a hundred feet away. But by the time we’re inside both of us are seriously cold. My hands are wooden and I can feel my brain shutting down. It’s happening so fast – in literally minutes. There’s a knot in the drawstring that I have to untie in order to reach my belay jacket. I struggle with it, not wanting to use my teeth afraid that the spit will freeze and I’ll have to cut it open. Matt is able to open it. My belay jacket on, I’m warm almost immediately – like a switch that is flipped - my hands are working again. By this time Matt is shivering. He puts his jacket: “Okay jacket, warm me up,” he intones. I’ve never experienced that flash off before. I didn’t realize that you had to put your insulation on immediately upon stopping. Glad my jacket is synthetic!

{As I write this I have a memory of my childhood. We had gone to Texas to visit my uncle. It was very hot – 110 or higher. When we would get out of the pool we’d dry so fast that we were left shivering.}



We cook and drink and warm up. It’s in the teens even inside the cabin. Matt is complaining about his feet. Sounds to me like he pinched a nerve. He says this happens to him every so often. He’s doubtful whether he can continue tomorrow. But we decide to think about tomorrow tomorrow.

Then disaster. I’ve put my Camelback into my sleeping bag – my down sleeping bag – so the drinking tube won’t freeze. Suddenly there is water all over the bottom of my bag. The drinking tube has come off the bladder. I jump out of the bag and carrying the Camelback off to the door of the shelter. Luckily I remembered to bring a sponge with my kitchen set. I mop up all the water cursing my stupidity. I can’t figure out what happened. Matt suggests turning my bag inside out and getting back in it. That way the water won’t be forced into the down by my body heat. The water will stay on the outside where it will freeze and I can brush it off. Sounds like a plan.

When I decided to take my down bag I said to myself, it’s only overnight. There’s no way it can get saturated. Now I’m in for a cold night. I figure out that I must have put my leg on the bladder and the weight popped the tube off. How to manage the Camelback in freezing weather is not something I know. Now the drinking tube is frozen solid making it useless.

Going out to pee there is a world of stars along with a full moon that illuminates Tuckerman’s Ravine. It’s enormous and very steep. How to people ski off that headwall?!!!

When I come back inside and take off my boots I find my left sock soaking wet. It looks like some of the water got into my left boot. I had put my boots into my bag so they wouldn’t freeze. I’m not looking forward to putting on frozen boots tomorrow.

It’s dark, we’re tired. Bed time at 6pm! I’d forgotten how early it gets dark a week from the winter solstice. My bag is too small to get into when turned inside out so I just drape it over me like a quilt. I’m wearing everything I have. Three hours later I’m still awake and cold. I reach down and the outside (inside) of my bag is dry! I zip it together and crawl in and fall asleep. I wake up three hours later cold again. I eat a Clifshot, drink some water to metabolize it and fall back asleep.

I wake up at 5am feeling completely recharged! Raring to go. My boots don’t seem to be frozen (kept overnight in my bivi sack) but I put some toe warmers into them and stuff them into my sleeping bag to warm up as I make breakfast. Matt’s feet are still giving him trouble so it looks like we’re going down. It’s a beautiful, clear, and still day. Tuckerman's is magnificent. The Lions Head towers over us. Suddenly I’m having fun. A lot of fun! It’s not hard work anymore. There is six inches of new snow that covers everything and as you can see I’m grinning from ear to ear.



Coming out I realize that this is the first time in years that my knees haven’t hurt coming out of the mountains. I’m definitely coming back. We stop for breakfast – three eggs, two orders of sausage, and three cups of coffee at a local place. Good food, nice people.

On the way back to New York we detour to take a look at Canon.



Canon is the only “big wall” in the East. It’s 1000 feet at the highest part. The dike 1/3 of the way from the left side is “The Black Dike.” The ridge that forms the dike is the Whitney Gilman (5.7). We’ve been meaning to come up and climb it during the summer.



Here’s a close up of the dike and the ridge. There is one VERY exposed move from the outside of the ridge to the inside called the pipe pitch. The dike is unclimbable except in the winter due to rock fall – everything funnels down it.

So what did I learn in school today? “Equipment means nothing if you don’t know how to use it; Practice, practice, practice; Matt’s a great partner – but I already knew that.”

If you’ve actually read all this, then you deserve a gold star.

Best, Kim

Note: First four pic's by me, the others by Matt. All Photoshoped by me.

(This post was edited by kimgraves on Dec 31, 2006, 12:44 PM)


Partner cracklover


Dec 23, 2005, 3:22 PM
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Re: Overnight on Mt. Washington - What I learned in school t [In reply to]
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GREAT TR! Hats off to you!

GO


steelhands


Dec 23, 2005, 3:38 PM
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Good TR, Tim. I like the fact that you didn't need to embellish the deal. Not all trips turn out like we expect and there can be satisfaction anyway. You had fun, got outdoors (in the freezing cold winter) and learned a few tricks. Good on ya.


billcoe_


Dec 23, 2005, 5:01 PM
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Sweet stuff, way to go get it!


tavs


Dec 27, 2005, 3:19 PM
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Nice TR! Made me smile with memories of my own adventure in the Prezzies in winter. Two college friends and I drove over from Maine with a plan to just do an overnighter on Washington, the sky was such a perfect blue that my friend Scott--the only one with any winter experience to speak of (though he did have quite a lot)--said, "Hey, let's start at Madison and see how much of the traverse we can blast through." Spent the first day hip-deep in a few feet of untravelled snow, spent the night right at tree line, then the next day traipsed up and over Madison, Adams, Jefferson, and Washington (crystal clear skies, 0 degrees, and 60-80 mph winds....yikes) before heading down Tuck's (yes, you can get down Tuckerman's without skis......very slowly at first--kicking steps backwards--and then very quickly--glissading). I had never been so cold, so miserable, and so happy in my life.

A couple other thoughts....I'm not sure how you deal effectively with a Camelbak in winter, I'd say a Nalgene is probably a better bet in general (easier to chip into it if it does get frozen, which I've had happen). I got mild frostbite in my toes on another, later winter Whites trip (this time a traverse from the other direction) and 5 years later still swear by chemical heaters for my feet. Getting up to pee at night is well-worth it--you'll be warmer after you go. Managing your layers/body temp is HUGE and can be challenging--it's always worth stopping to put layers on and off.

Man, that TR kind of made me miss my good ole New England mountains :)


glyrocks


Dec 27, 2005, 4:37 PM
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Canon is the only “big wall” in the East

Huh?

---

Good read while I'm image processing at work... wishing I had put the real world off at least one more winter. I love Mt. Washington, and have had my share of winter (mis)adventures there. Hope to make it back really soon for another miserable/fantastic trip.


nedsurf


Dec 27, 2005, 6:57 PM
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Nice TR Kim! Looks like another climber from the DC area has represented in the NE. Hope to do the traverse this season.


Partner kimgraves


Dec 31, 2006, 12:44 PM
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Re: [kimgraves] Overnight on Mt. Washington - What I learned in school today [In reply to]
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Edited to add embedded images lost after the system migration.


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