A few months ago I wrote a post on climbing Mt. Washington in the Winter. There, I stated that the mountain is known as the “home of the world’s worst weather” and I spoke a lot about how the weather affected the Winter ascent of the tallest peak on the East Coast of the United States. Climbing this mountain last Winter was my first ever ascent of the peak. However, I recently had the opportunity to climb it during this Summer season, which proved to be no walk in the park either.
Last January the weather was a huge factor to this climbing trip. In the Winter Mt. Washington is known for relentless wind, extreme temperatures, whiteout conditions above treeline, and the ever possible chance of avalanches. In the Summer, the mountain is often shrouded in clouds. Strong thunderstorms, winds, hail, and even the untimely chance of snow all remain possible this time of year.
We started our Summer hike against the recommendation of the rangers, due to a severe thunderstorm that was inbound from the West. We were told that the severe storm warning would last at least an hour and a half, but the way we saw it, we would be hiking under the cover of the trees for a minimum of the first two hours anyways. Worst case scenario, we would turn back once we reached the treeline. The first two miles of the 4.1 mile one-way hike was in constant thunder and downpours. We took a brief break to get out of the rain at halfway hut and during this time, as if there was never a storm at all, the clouds dissipated and the sunlight brightened the trail ahead. For the next hour the weather remained calm, yet once we reached the treeline some clouds returned, fog began to set in, and it started to rain on and off once again. This time, the summer fog took the place of the blowing snow in the Winter, and at times visibility remained low. Although the morning weather report stated that 60mph wind gusts have been reported from the summit weather station, by the time we reached the treeline they had died down to 25-40mph, leaving us with a windchill temperature of 37-44 F. By the time we reached the summit, the day was already late, and due to the exposed wet rock, the climb down was looking quite treacherous. One of the climbers in my group was feeling quite uncomfortable about the sure to be slow going climb down, so the group made the decision to jog down the 8-mile auto road instead. While this seemed like a decent idea at first, the weather quickly turned for the worst and we found ourselves caught in torrential downpours followed by freezing rain. We quickly decided to ignore the “No Hitchhiking” sign, and after 3-miles of jogging we were thankfully picked up by a nice family headed down the mountain. Some could say we cheated the climb, some could say it’s better to be safe than sorry, but no matter what the circumstance, it is always better to make sure that every person in your group feels comfortable with the decision being made.
Basic Information to Consider about Climbing in the Winter:
- Risk of avalanche and exposure to extreme temperatures significantly add to the risk of climbing during this season.
- Constant snow storms and blowing snow in the wind can create whiteout conditions. It is easily possible to become lost if you do not know what you are doing.
- Wind speeds can be extremely strong during this season, created treacherous hiking conditions.
- Although you are hiking up ice, walking up the constant slope is actually easier than climbing up the exposed boulders in the Summer.
- If you are a climber looking for great views from the summit, don’t bother a winter climb, visibility probably won’t be very far.
- Proper climbing equipment including ice axe, crampons, and the investment in proper outer-wear clothing is an absolute must.
Basic Information to Consider about Climbing in the Summer:
- Weather can still be unpredictable and unstable, however in general, conditions are more favorable.
- The exposed rock above the treeline means pulling yourself up boulders more often than simply walking aong a trail, making the overall hike quite strenuous.
- More favorable weather means the possibility of great views along the trail or from the summit.
- The possibility of fog can severely limit visibility while hiking.
- Although it is Summertime, proper outer-wear including a fleece jacket, rain gear, a change of clothes, etc, should be packed at all times.
Please enjoy the rest of the photographs from my Mt. Washington Summer ascent, and feel free to compare them to the photographs from my Winter ascent post.