Mt. Washington Winter Lions Head Part II

 

I started moving as soon as possible after the very brief rest. While struggling to put on my heavily insulated mittens I stepped out from the shelter of the refrigerator sized boulder that had been breaking the wind. As soon as I peaked my head out the 90+ mph winds decided that I would be falling instead of standing and I took a bit of a ‘controlled tumble’ down a rock slope to get down to where I needed to be. All this and I was still relatively unharmed. On the way back I learned that I could have just taken an easy step around the boulder and would be on a nice trail but hey it was a white out and I was a bit confused.

Once again I was on my way towards what I thought was the summit. I sorely missed the temporary reprieve from the wind that was mine just a few minutes prior but I felt good nonetheless because the ridge line was marked with the largest cairns I have ever seen. Every fifty odd feet was a six-foot pyramid of beautiful stones marking the way to the summit. I tried to yell to my climbing buddy that we were home free because no matter how white-out it got there was no way we could miss these. Man-o-man was I wrong.

Time became a blur following these mountain angels of cairns. I say this because it was three steps forward, brace for the wind, one step back and then repeat. I was in perfect rhythm with the foul weather until the six foot angels disappeared.

When the cairns disappeared I wasn’t worried but rather very confused on how I lost them. Somehow I managed to find myself in the middle of a forest. I call it a forest because I could see the very top of hundreds of evergreens sticking out of the snow. Figuring that the cairns had started taking a more direct route up the mountain I did what any good mountaineer would do when trying to go to the summit, I went up.

Its hard to say that the weather was deteriorating because it came in waves of varying degrees of ‘badness’. I realize that ‘badness’ is not a word but you get the idea. It was much like having the choice to be hit in the face with a brick or a rock. Either way you are definitely not happy.

I was on my way up and that was a good feeling. I knew that there were no sheer cliffs looming up ahead just waiting to drop an avalanche on me so I felt relatively safe slogging up seemingly endless snow slopes. I say seemingly endless because right about when I was mentally done with this post-holing shit I hit a steep rock outcropping that was both a good and bad.

At this point I was completely blind. My glasses had frozen over and I didn’t dare open my eyes with out them because of the microscopic shards of ice flying through the air just waiting to shred my eyeballs. The rock outcropping was good because it was an indication that I was nearing the top. On the flip side, the rocks would require delicate crampon placements that when you are next to blind becomes a little tricky.

I was off route and I knew it but up was up and getting to the summit was the only way I knew how to get down. So blindly I groped my way up icy blocks on windswept stone. I pawed at anything that look like good handhold and then screeched my crampons along the rock until I found purchase. This was not climbing but this was what I had to do so I did it.

After an enormous amount of effort I did my last dick-jam/hump move and I could stand up relatively straight and begin walking up the slopes.I was now on the summit cone and was walking on rock more often than ice.It felt good to be walking and realizing I was almost to the top.

I never did find a summit marker.After a good thirty minutes of looking in near white-out in -50 degree weather I called the weather observatory the summit and called it a day.I was cold, hungry and thirsty but satisfied that I had battled my way to the summit.A few hero shots later and I began the descent.

What a lot of non-climbers don’t realize is that the summit is only half way up. Coming down the mountain is grueling work that is almost more hazardous.One exhausted plod of a footstep on a loose rock and you are going for a long tumble.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *