Thursday, February 21, 2013

W48-in-1: Mt. Washington by South Gully (Huntington Ravine) - 2/16/13

On Saturday, February 16th, I was hopeful to combine a climb of Mt. Washington with a traverse over to Jackson to complete the remaining Presidential peaks I need this winter season. From the start of the day, it became more and more unlikely that we'd be able to fit everything in. Tough snow squalls in the early morning added nearly an hour to the drive north, delaying the car-spot time and start time. Secondly, Asolo rental mountaineering boots from REI caused bad blisters on my brother's heels. This unfortunately resulted in him having to turn around at Harvard Cabin. Lastly, the climb up South Gully took a lot longer than expected. Despite all of that, the climb up South Gully was super exciting, and the views as we approached the summit were completely worth the setbacks. It was another memorable summit of Mt. Washington, my 34th 4000 footer this winter.
Pinkham Notch weather and avalanche bulletin 
A nice pool along Huntington Ravine Trail  
I couldn't believe how many people were on the mountain last Saturday! We saw people in the their single digit ages all of the way up to their 70s heading up the mountain, and heard people talking about it. I also noticed a lot of people carrying some pretty old-school climbing tools and mountaineering boots - which was cool. Once we got onto the Huntington Ravine Trail, we saw less people. We arrived at Harvard Cabin to find that the MWAC had posted the day's avalanche advisory. We were all okay with doing anything that had moderate avalanche danger, but not considerable  There were others ahead of us in the ravine, but even so, we ended up deciding on South Gully, which had low danger, but it suggested hikers still watch for the concerns mentioned in the advisory. We took a lengthy break here, at which point my brother inspected both of his heels to find skin just peeling off from the rental boots. Because of the severity of them, it was sort of easy for him to decide to return to the car, but it was such a bummer for us for the rest of the day.
MWAC Avalanche Advisory - February 16, 2013 
Huntington Ravine photo showing routes
Along the way, we passed two memorials for victims of avalanches on Mt. Washington. Although there's more on the mountain, passing two on the way to do a gully climb is enough to keep it fresh in the mind that this can happen to anyone and there no room for errors. When we stopped at the bottom of the ravine, another group of four in front of us had just geared up and was heading up. We exchanged our plans with them. I suppose its always good to know where the closest group is going to be, if it's possible. As the group in front of us left, we began to gear up putting on our crampons, helmets, and harnesses.
All geared up and ready to go at the base of Huntington Ravine 
None of us had ever been in Huntington Ravine, and the photo at the advisory shows the ravine much more filled in with snow, so it was hard for us to know exactly which gully we were headed up. Of course, we ended up going up the start of Odell's Gully. We got up around the first little corner, and ahead we saw a couple of groups doing multi-pitch technical climbing up a wall of ice. Yikes! We confirmed this was Odell's, and backtracked down to where we followed footsteps across deep, deep snow, over to South Gully.
Mike leads the way up - into Odell's Gully first....oops 
Now we were headed up South Gully! It was a very consistent grade and had foot holes for most of the way. Going slow and steady seemed to work well, we never had any major concerns with the conditions. At certain spots along the way, the three of us checked and confirmed that we felt safe to proceed without roping up. It was going to be great practice if we did, but it was unnecessary. Up we went through the lingering fog that offered occasional glimpses back at the Wildcat ski area below. We made it successfully to the top of the gully where we took a break for a snack and to map out our direction to the summit (because we couldn't see it).
Mike gives a thumbs up for a rad climb! 
Looking up South Gully 
Large wall of ice on the left side of South Gully (the climb goes to the right) 
Looking down South Gully from near the top of it
We crossed the Alpine Garden Trail, and decided to continue straight on a direct path to the summit, rather than staying on the trail to Nelson Crag as one might do in summer. It seemed to take us a while from the top of the gully to the summit, but the visibility wasn't all that great and we were looking for crampon marks and trying to make sure we stayed on a straight path. Thankfully, we were dealing with no wind at all. If it was windy, all of this would be a completely different story. It was calm, which made things easy.

As soon as we started up the summit cone, it slowly started to clear, and at the same time excitement grew. Lion's Head started poking out from the clouds, and a partial and broken undercast really gave us a high-altitude feel for this true alpine climb. It was completely awesome, and we slowed to a crawl as we approached the summit because it was the best view all day, and I think we were each mesmerized by the scene around us.

At about 4pm, me, Mike, and Nicole reached an uncrowded summit of Mt. Washington. This was my 11th Washington summit, and 4th time in winter. This was the second time the three of us have climbed Washington in the winter together. On NYE 2011, the three of us climbed Lion's Head to the summit. It was a rejuvenating and fulfilling few moments as we stood on the summit to enjoy it. 

Right after we crossed the walkway over the cog, it was in an instant that someone turned down the temperature in the freezer to frigidness which prompted us to take another break to add balaclavas and better face coverage. It wasn't needed for most of the hike, but the temperature was dropping rapidly and noticeably. This meant nothing other than to just keep moving and descending. We got a few short glissades in at around 5000' of elevation and enjoyed the cloudy views down into Tuckerman Ravine. We could see many small figures (people) still having fun in the ravine around 5pm, as we got our last sights on it. It was a long day, but a great climb, and another great accomplishment. Thanks to Mike and Nicole for a great hike.
Nicole glissades at 5000' 
Lions Head below

Hike Stats
Trails: Tuckerman Ravine Trail, Huntington Ravine Trail, South Gully, Lion's Head Trail
Distance: 8.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,700 ft.
Actual Book Time: 11:45

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