Summiting Mt. Washington

Mt. Washington is not a mountain that is intimidating on paper. It sits at 6,288 ft in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a few miles from a major highway. It is at least as hazardous as many peaks over twice as tall west of the Mississippi, due to having “The Worst Weather on Earth”. However, it has been the most iconic trip for the Mountaineers at Ohio State in the past few years. Although I had wanted to climb this peak since joining the Mountaineers my freshman year, this year was the first that the opportunity arose.

Photo by Roland Bennett

Photo by Roland Bennett

I was asked by one of my fellow officers of the club, Tal Shutkin, if I wanted to try a technical route up during MLK Day weekend. Even though I had never used an ice axe outside, I jumped at the opportunity. We left Friday evening from Columbus with two fellow OSU students, Roland Bennett and Corey Keyser and began the 13 hour drive to North Conway despite an impending snow storm on the mountain. We had initially planned to rent the remaining gear we needed and go ice climbing Saturday before making an ascent of the Central Gully of the Huntington Ravine. By the time we arrived, it was clear that because of storm the central gully was not safe, as would be most of the mountain, so we decided to attempt a quick ascent up the less steep right gully of Tuckerman ravine. After getting our remaining gear and packing our bags, we began hiking at 10:30a with a 3:00p turnaround. I did not anticipate making the summit as it was about five miles away and 4,000 ft above us. After about an hour of nice hiking packed snow, we arrived at the entrance of Tuckerman’s.

At this point we stopped for lunch and put on our crampons and got ice axes. Here was where it became clear that I was out of element, as I struggled to properly adjust my crampons to fit the boot. We hiked into the bowl and finally saw our intended line. As we approached we saw no ice, only steep consolidated snow. We hiked to the base, grabbed our second axes, and began climbing. When Mt. Washington is advertised to the club, it is described as a massive suffer-fest, and I was expecting it to be, but up until this point, it had been little more than a cold hike. As we began climbing, I expected it to get much worse, but in fact it was the best part. Front pointing up the steep snow was great, because it gave the sense of climbing something very steep and exposed, but with such a reduced risk of falling. We topped out the gully with about a mile of steep, icy hiking to the summit at 1:30. By this point, the clouds had descended, wind had picked up, and snow was falling. I was not confident we were going to summit but we made the decision to drop our packs and try to push for the summit. Although it was a short mile, it was steep and rocky. As we ascended, wind speed increased to about 30mph and visibility to a few hundred feet. We reached the summit at exactly three. We snapped a quick photo and began our descent. The speed of our descent was greatly improved by glissading, another new skill. The hike was made worse by the deteriorating weather, reducing visibility to 100 feet and wind speeds up to 50mph. Luckily, the trees were a nice windbreaker. The remainder of the hike was cold and a little wet and completed by headlamp, but we did successfully make a 5 hour winter ascent of a mountain the usually takes an entire day to climb, so it was well worth it.

Photo by Roland Bennett

Photo by Roland Bennett