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.
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.
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.
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.