Climbing Mt. Washington, Winter 2012

Lion's head winter route

This past weekend I headed up to North Conway, New Hampshire for another winter climb of Mt. Washington. For a few weeks prior to the trip, I moderated the weather from the Mount Washington Observatory like crazy, and I have to say I was beginning to become disappointed. While there was certainly some cold days on the summit, overall, the weather looked pretty warm and there seemed to be little snow on the mountain. But when I checked the weather forecast two days before the scheduled climbing day, I saw that we would be making our summit the same day an arctic cold front set-in, and the night before our climb it snowed like crazy on the mountain.

A mountaineer emerges from the treeline (photo credit goes to a friend of mine named Tom Maier)

I did this trek last year as well and battled 40-65 mph winds and -27 degrees F wind-chills, but still made it to the summit. This year, it snowed for a good portion of our hike, the winds were right around 60-75mph and the wind-chill was at -32 degrees F.  This year we did not make the summit. We came within 0.4 miles of the summit before we had to make a judgement call to turn around and begin our descent early. The weather was picking up fast, blowing snow was making it tougher and tougher to see, high wind gusts of over 75mph where making the going slow, and three of our five climbers in our party had their goggles ice over so that they were essentially climbing blind, managing to move forward only by following the blur of color from the climber’s jacket in front of them.

Blowing snow from the high winds engulfs the ravine. (photo credit to Tom Maier)

It was a tough decision to turn around with only 0.4 miles left to the summit, but in reality, the last quarter-mile on Mt. Washington is the toughest, and in the conditions we had it was already taking 45-minutes to 1-hour to climb 0.5 miles. With three of five climbers being basically blind, it only made sense to turn around and leave the mountain safely. I don’t regret making this decision– a missed summit attempt is a huge part of mountaineering, and a good mountaineer knows when to turn around.

Me standing above the treeline in -32 degrees F. (photo credit to my sister Ali Bush-- she couldn't see through her frozen goggles to take the photograph and accidentally chopped off my foot)

Even though we didn’t make the summit it was still a great day out on the mountain. My only regret is that all of our cameras froze up and eventually wouldn’t turn on so we didn’t get many photographs. I chose not to bring my DSLR into these conditions, but the point-and-shoot I had died very early. Better luck next year both for more photographs and reaching the summit once again!

To compare photographs from last year’s winter summit of Mt. Washington, see this post.

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11 thoughts on “Climbing Mt. Washington, Winter 2012”

  1. Hey Nate!
    I’ve asked a few other bloggers to take part in HostelBookers 7 Super Shots fun thing. Thought you might be interested (check your Twitter!).

    1. Hey Bama,

      I couldn’t remember my Twitter password for a little while but I think I just got it! Haha, I guess I have to start using that some more. I’ll check this out for sure, thanks for sharing.

      Nate

  2. Hey Nate,
    Kudos on the attempt. And as you mentioned, a good mountaineer knows when to turn around. It’ll be there next time. Great images even though cameras froze…good to know when planning my trip there sometime.
    Colin

    1. Hey Colin,
      Thanks! Yeah, I don’t know if that was because I had a tiny point-and-shoot with me or not. Maybe the large DSLR would hold up better in the cold? As soon as we got off the mountain and indoors the cameras turned back on. You should definitely plan a trip next year (assuming we’re not in global climate change and the North East is now the tropics haha), I doubt it will be anything like the mountaisn you’ve done in the Pacific Northwest though.
      Nate

  3. One of these days I’d like to try this just to say I did it. The only think holding me back is lack of winter hiking gear and the funds to buy it.

    Oh the fun I could have with a winning lottery ticket and a day in EMS!

    1. Hey Jeff,
      Oh I hear you there! Outdoor gear is ridiculously pricey. If it is the technical gear that you need though, you can rent ice axes, crampons, and mountaineering boot from the International Mountain School in Conway for about $50 for the day.
      Hope you get to do it one day soon!
      Nate

      1. That good to know. I don’t see myself doing enough to justify purchasing most of the gear, but I also lack a lot of the basic clothing as well. But I’m working on it!

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