Climbing Mt. Washington: Summer/Winter Season Comparison

View from Mt. Washington Auto Road

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.

 

Me at Summit - Photo by a friend of mine: Luke Albertson
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Author: Nathan Bush

Nathan Bush is an avid traveler, adventurer, and professional wedding and landscape photographer. His absolute favorite pastime is hiking all the while lugging his camera equipment into the backcountry in order to capture beautiful images of the wild. He currently lives in Colorado with his soon to be wife, Florence.

11 thoughts on “Climbing Mt. Washington: Summer/Winter Season Comparison”

  1. Nate! you reappeared! I was wondering what happened as all the sudden I stopped getting your frequent posts. Good to hear you are back to blogging! Hey, on another note you missed my entire series on my Iceland trip. I was able to find my photos and scan them in. One post even got Freshly Pressed. Anyway, glad to hear you are back. I’ve found a lot of new great blogs out there to read and also started two new ones.

    1. Hi Nicole! I know I kind of disappeared from the blogging world for a while. I’ve missed it very much so I finally decided it is time to attempt to bring this site back up and running. I’m sorry I missed your series on Iceland, I am absolutely going to head to your page to read all about it– I miss Iceland so very much, not a day goes by where I don’t think about being over there. More importantly, congrats on the FP!! I’m sure it was well deserved. Where are you as far as traveling goes right now? Any plans to head somewhere again? Currently I have a trip to Peru to hike the Inca Trail and hopefully visit a few other hidden gems throughout the country set for the beginning of December! I can’t wait to be able to write about it a few months from now.

      Thanks for coming back to read once again!
      – Nate

  2. Gorgeous photos, once again! I see you’re making great use of the DSLR — how do you like lugging it around? This post really makes me want to get out there and see more of the state I live in while I have the chance…

    1. Hey Katie, thanks! I absolutely love the DSLR– I couldn’t be more pleased with how the first ever batch of photos came out. This being said, lugging it around, especially on a rather long hike is interesting, but overall absolutely worth it in my oppinion. It will be even more interesting having to carry it for 4day and nights on the Inca trail come this December. You live in New Hampshire right now?? I didn’t know that, I absolutely love New Hampshire. Everything seems so much more clean there than here in CT– the NH air seems so fresh. I was actually just telling somebody how badly I want to move there haha.

  3. I live on North Carolina right now! Did I make a NH typo somewhere? 🙂 I’ve actually never been to New England and only to the NE U.S. once to visit Ithica College. Traveling up that way again is high on my list. Anyway, I have a great backpack for my DSLR that has a separate section above for clothes and such. I’ll look it up when I have a chance and send you the link!

    1. Ohhhh I must have misread your comment. I just assumed you meant NH by the state you live in because this post was about a mountain which is in NH. Haha my mistake. Anyways, please do send me that link when you get a chance, I’m actually in the middle of looking up cases and such right now!

      1. No worries. 🙂 So I went through all my old online receipts and it looks like the pack I bought for my camera might not be available anymore: http://www.amazon.com/Lowepro-Primus-Minimus-Backpack-Black/dp/B001HFFZWA However, it looks like you can get the larger version (though it’s REALLY expensive on Amazon!!): http://www.amazon.com/Lowepro-Primus-AW-Backpack-Black/dp/B000TWUR48/ref=dp_cp_ob_p_title_1

        I love it for several reasons: Pack opens from the side that touches your back, so you don’t have to worry about anyone stealing your stuff while you’re wearing it. It also has a side access pocket for the camera so you can get at it by just removing one strap from your shoulder, though the access is a little tight… It also has a built-in weather cover. It’s perfect for storing the DSLR, a couple of lenses, and some cleaning gear in the bottom portion and stuffing a change of clothes (or 2) in the top portion. I was able to go on several 3-4 day excursions carrying only this. I felt like mine was fairly large (though I’m only 5’5″, 120 lbs), so I’m not sure how much bigger the one that’s still available is… however, it might be worth it for you so you can carry a few more things and it will grow with you as you undoubtedly accumulate more lenses and more notches in your travel belt. 🙂 If you do get the larger one, you just want to make sure it will work as a carry-on for planes, since I’m sure you will NOT want to check that puppy!

        I’m super excited for you Nate, and I can’t wait to see pictures of your trip to Peru!

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