Friday, February 08, 2008

Not This Time

Well - after a combined total of 20 hours of travel time (driving, cancelled flights, holding patterns, and more driving) the mountain still emerged victorious. Next time we may not be so nice....I started my trip on Thursday night driving to Chicago in a snowstorm to meet up with Jessica. We woke up at 4 the next morning to find that our flight had already been cancelled. Quick manuvers by Jessica got us on the next flight out at 10:30am - which ended up being cancelled as well. We were finally buckled in and ready to go around 1:30pm. What should have been a 2-hour flight turned into a 3+ hour flight because of the weather in New Hampshire. After our eventual crash landing in Manchester (seriously.... thought it was the end...) we got our rental car and hit the road for our 2 hour drive to North Conway, NH. In keeping with the trend of the day, the roads sucked and about 4.5 hours later we were just pulling into the parking lot of the hotel. Whew! Oh wait..... we still had to climb a mountain the next day.
Team Rockstar was reunited when we met up with Nancy - so cool to be climbing another mountain together again! In total, we had 13 members on our climbing squad - some very experienced and some first-and second-timers (like me). Once again, it was a great group of people and I'm happy to have had the chance to meet them. We met for breakfast early Saturday morning and hit the mountain around 9am. The weather looked promising as the clouds started to break up during our initial ascent. The first part of our climb took us up the Tuckerman's Ravine Trail, which is wide and has a moderately gentle grade. The snow was gorgeous and powdery - more snow than I think I've ever seen in my life. When we came to the Lions Head trail, it was time to put on some extra layers and crampons and get our ice axes ready.
About a hundred feet up this trail is where my underestimation of this mountain became painfully obvious. People may hike this mountain in the summer - but they climb it in the winter. The trail became steep and technical - and awesome. The crampons and ice axes were an absolute necessity as we clawed our way up through the trees toward treeline. As we ascended, the trees thinned out and the wind and snow became stronger.

I was having a bit of an 'in-over-my-head' feeling once we got out of the trees and started climbing in full exposure to the snow and wind. Conditions were not good - 50mph sustained winds with unpredictable gusts of 70mph or more as well as visibility of less than about 20 feet. Add this to the powdery snow (which was not conducive to providing stable footing during the wind gusts) and steamed-up ski goggles (which were not conducive to seeing anything) and I was relatively sure we were not going to summit this time.

We did, however, make it up to Lions Head which is a rock outcropping roughly 3/4 of the way to the summit. Above this outcrop, the topography of the mountain changes slightly and the grade levels out into a wide plateau. It was there that the 50 mph sustained winds turned into 90 mph sustained winds - enough to knock most of us off our feet. The top windspeed recorded on Mt. Washington that day was 118 mph! All things considered, I was very proud that we made it as far as we did and very content to make Lions Head our summit for the day.
After a brief rest in the partial shelter of the rocks (and after shoving half of a frozen Charleston Chew in my mouth - yum!), we started to make our way back down the mountain. Getting back to treeline sure was a relief! Perhaps the most fun we had that day was being able to slide down most of the Lions Head trail using our ice axe blades as rudders to navigate the sharp corners. At that point, I felt like we were a bunch of kids playing in the snow. The sun got brighter as we descended and by the time we made it off the Lions Head trail, it had turned into a beautiful winter day. Later that night, we filled our bellies with some wonderful Indian food and beer and talked about next year's attempt. If I am able, I will be there.

Sunday morning came with some sore muscles - nothing that little bit of snowshoeing couldn't take care of. Afterwards, it was time to head back to Manchester for our flight back to Chicago. I almost didn't believe the pilot when he told us that we weren't going to be able to take off because of a snowstorm in Chicago. When we found ourselves getting back off the plane, I realized he wasn't kidding. After another hour of waiting, we were back on the plane and in the air. Smooth sailing? Not quite - 1.5 hour-long holding pattern over Cleveland, uber-turbulence on the descent, and a snowy landing in Chicago around 11pm. I rolled into our driveway at 5 on Monday morning, slightly less than ready to start my week full of school and work. Oh well, an adventure's and adventure, right? I had a great time but I think I'll be staying home for a while..... The rest of my pictures are here - not too many of them this time since it's hard to take a picture with a frozen camera!