Mount Washington

March 5, 2011

March 4 was my birthday. March 4 was also my first real challenge climbing a mountain, alpine style, during the winter.

Here is the description of the central gully route, copied from summitpost.org, an excellent site:
A very nice route for someone’s first “alpine” ascent. The slope is a sustained 40 to 50 degrees with a 50 degrees ice bulges near the end of the first pitch. Depending on the winter, this bulge might not be visible at all so don’t expect to be able to put anything in it. Also, around half way in the first pitch, you will encounter an avalanche run out zone from Pinnacle gully. Some large ice chunks can detach from Pinnacle and end up in Central, so be on the look out. Depending on the thaw, you can expect to encounter some loose rocks on the last pitch as well as running water under the thinner slab. Some climbers having climbed other gullies in the day sometime descend using the central gully, so be on the look out for humain triggered debris. Having successfully climbed Central, you can descend using the Lion’s Head trail via the Alpine Garden trail.

Mount Washington is well known for its tough conditions, especially for its strong wind. March 4 the wind was 80mph (130 km/h).

First let me thanks my partners for the pictures, all pictures are from them!

After various car problems, we’ve been delayed, and therefore started climbing during the night! I started too fast considering the heavy load on my back, but finally found my pace and got up to the cabin in a reasonable time.

A cabin? Hummm too late, no more space for us, so we ended up in a lean-to. I didn’t know what it was, but…discovered it. It’s basically a lots of people in a very small (and cold) space. Wind was blowing, the snow was getting in. As a special bonus the guy lying next to me was almost drunk, and tried to convince me (unsuccessfully) to share his bottle. I almost did not sleep 🙁

Our lean-to had 4 walls (luxury). I talked with some guys who had a 3 walls only lean-to and they had to dig the snow before getting in. One of them preferred to get back down the mountain and up the next day. Not really fun, but an interesting experience, I was there to learn!

At the bottom of the route, the team is getting ready to climb (put crampons, …)

On the left is our guide, on the right one of my partners in crime 😀

Starting the climb. The slope was not too steep, so no rope, just crampons

Getting steep and icy. The guide did open the route, and we followed, secured by the rope and some regular anchors. It was my first ice climbing experience, and I really liked it.

At the summit of the route. We did not get to the summit of the mountain (which is easy from there), because the wind was way too strong to go higher, and the timing was not good. That day I’m only aware of one team who reached the summit. They left very early and avoided the strong wind. Lucky them!

The team finally reached safely Harvard cabin for the last night. This cabin is amazing. Heated, very cool care taker. I even had a cake and a chocolate fondue for my birthday. What a difference with the lean-to !

All in one it was an amazing experience. Progressing with the rope, ice climbing, abseiling when going down, one night in a lean-to, one night in a comfortable cabin, there was a lots of diversity and a lots of learning.

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