Mt Washington Ascents & Gully Climbs

Art by Bruno

Art by Bruno

Mount Washington Ascents

Mt Washington offers winter alpine conditions similar to what you might find in Alaska and in the greater ranges.  Mt Washington is home to the World’s Worst Weather, and the highest recorded windspeed on earth at 231mph.  That makes this a great place to train and gain valuable experience in accessible alpine terrain, all within about 3 hours of the road.  Overall, from a mountaineer’s perspective, that makes this a pretty cheap date-no ski planes or multi day approach hikes. In General, winter ascents are offered daily from mid November to mid April depending on conditions.

What to expect:

Wind that might knock you off of your feet, temperatures between 10 degrees and -30 degrees F, ice, snow and rocks, blowing snow and freezing fog, rime ice, limited visibility, and an all out fight to keep the blood flowing to your fingertips!

In contrast, I’ve had tons of lovely days up there.  Sunshine, light wind, neve snow, moderate temperatures.  Bliss.

No matter which route we choose, we’ll be carrying 20 pounds of food, water, clothing and equipment (maybe more depending on the route).  We will wear mountaineering boots, and crampons on our feet.  We will learn to use an ice axe and crampons, and then we’ll use them on the upper mountain.   Plan for an 8-10 hour day, maybe longer.


Lion’s Head Route–  This is the standard route up Mt Washington during the winter season.  It is non technical in the sense that you will likely not use a rope, unless conditions dictate otherwise.  There is a short steep section that is generally considered 4th class; cramponed feet on rock or ice while pulling in piolet traction–pulling on your ice axe.  Otherwise, it is mostly a snow climb with limited exposure.  This route also limits our exposure to avalanche terrain.

After a 2 mile hike up the Tuckerman Ravine Train, we turn onto the Huntington Fire Road.  After 5 minutes we reach a good stopping place.  A quick rest, snack and sip of tea will lead us to putting crampons on our mountain boots.  From here, it’s an hour of steep terrain, we will gain 1000′ in a quarter of a mile.  This steep section ends at treeline.  From here we climb with our next goal of Lion’s Head Buttress.  Another snack, and were off across the Alpine Garden to the steeper South East Snowfields and Split Rock on the summit cone.  From Split Rock it’s about 40 minutes of moderate snow climbing (and sometimes rocks) to the  summit of Mt Washington.  The most exposure we come across is from weather and generally it’s below Lion’s Head, the Alpine Garden and then again right below the summit.  We try to climb when the weather is better, but we often have success even when the weather is poor.

Technical Options:

Huntington Ravine has wonderful gully climbs.  Beginner to Advanced options, ice snow and rock, with team rope travel and intermediate belays.  Classic.  Pinnacle Gully is the most sought after classic in New England.  800′ of ice climbing, in a giant runnel of ice splitting a rock buttress.  It’s a favorite. O’Dells, Central, Yale and Damnation Gullies offer high quality climbing as well.  The rocky spines left of O’Dells Gully, the giant Damnation Buttress and the NE Ridge of the Pinnacle offer classic mixed climbs from easy 5th class to 5.8 or so.  Cloudwalker is a sweet late winter line as well.

Tuckerman Ravine has good snow climbing options on it’s north side.  Right Gully and Lobster Claw provide good options to the Lions Head for summit climbs when the snow and weather conditions are good.  They are best for advanced beginners. The Tuckerman Ravine headwall offers superb early season ice climbing.  It is generally in condition from the end of November to the beginning of January.  Options from II-III  WI 2 -4.

Other options exist, but these are the most requested options.

In summer, join us for a climb of the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle Buttress in Huntington Ravine.  A fun 7 pitch outing with wild exposure and fun climbing.  It’s great training for alpine ascents in the Tetons or the Alps.

Pinnacle Buttress on the left. The NE Ridge follows the ridge crest.

Pinnacle Buttress on the left. The NE Ridge follows the ridge crest.

High on the Ridge

High on the Ridge

Plan to walk uphill for 2-4 hours, with a 20-30 lb. backpack over rough terrain covering up to 9 miles with 4000′ of elevation gain and 4000′ of elevation loss over the course of one day, all year.  In winter, terrain will be ice and snow covered, adding to the difficulty.

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