Mt. Washington 2000
Adventures on the Rockpile
We awoke at 4am to clear skies at the cabin, but a dark cloud above the summit of Washington. We tried our best, but the World's Worst Weather kicked our sorry asses.
Turning back at the Lion Head, 10am, after winds on the Alpine Garden made progress impossible. The observatory recorded winds of 102 mph with gusts to 120 mph at that time, with a temperature of -12oF.
The Octopus is disappointed, but not defeated.
We tried again two weeks later, with only myself, Scott Fitzgerald, Paul Rozelle, and The Octopus going back for more. Once again, we were on the backside of a storm system, and this one had dumped a significant amount of snow on top of a week-old rain crust. Each stab of an ice ax revealed multiple layers within the snowpack, and we even saw fracture lines across several moderate slopes near the summit. The blowing snow was our worst problem--however, in the Gulf of Slides, two skiers didn't heed the warnings and were caught in an avalanche.
Lion Head Winter Route
To bypass avalanche danger around Tuckerman Ravine, an
old, eroded path up Lion Head is used during the winter. You need to
be comfortable with steep snow, steep rock, steep roots, and the
occasional brown ice patch.
An exposed, windblown, desolate place, with the Lion Head itself in the distance.
High winds scour the summit, blowing tons of snow into Tuckerman Ravine.
We reached the summit two hours later, with 50 mph winds and a ground blizzard preventing us from enjoying the visit.
The MITOC Intervale Cabin has some interesting neighbors, as this photo (taken on the way to the Tuckerman Tavern) demonstrates. I knew the Granite State had lenient gun laws, but it seems someone had too much fun with their howitzer.
Treeline, below Lion Head
Once again, we hit treeline early, giving us plenty of time to navigate the summit cone. The sky was clear, but strong winds blew a massive plume of snow off the Alpine Garden.
The last sheltered spot before the exposed Alpine Garden, this area often experiences more wind and turbulence than the slopes above. Tuckerman Ravine lies to the right.
With rocks, scrub, and even cairns buried under unusually deep snow, we had nothing to see for most of the descent. The blowing snow allowed 100' visibility, but there was nothing to see within 100'. Lack of a horizon or any features beyond the toes of one's boots can be disorienting. (Note: this isn't really a photo, but it's exactly correct in every detail)
A view across the Notch to Wildcat Ski Area opens up as we reach Lion Head once again. It's 2pm, yet dozens of people are still ascending into worsening conditions.
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