|Tuckeman Ravine from Lion's Head|
There are a handful of methods to get to the summit of
Mount Washington from the east side in the winter, but none of them are
There are technical climbing
routes in Huntington Ravine, but these shouldn’t be attempted without proper
training and experience with ice and steep snow.
There are also inherent dangers such as
falling ice and pressurized ice dams.
One could boot up a ski route in Tuckerman Ravine, but these tend to be
very steep, and avalanche dangers can be substantial.
The Nelson Crag, Boott Spur, or Glen Boulder
Trails could be taken to the summit, but these routes are long and indirect, have
extensive stretches above treeline, and are not regularly traveled in their
There are orange signs indicating the way to the Lion’s
Head Winter Route.
This leaves the Lion’s
, which is the most popular way to the top in the winter.
I’ve mentioned this route previously
but it really deserves its own post.
Despite the popularity, this route has sections that are extremely steep
Even the steep parts of
this trail are typically covered with snow and ice.
In some weather conditions, the underlying
rock is exposed.
In others, the rock is
exposed but coated in a thin layer of verglas – a thin layer of transparent,
smooth, and slick ice that conforms to the corners and curvature of the rock.
Crampons, a mountaineering axe, and the
knowledge to use both appropriately are a must when taking the winter
This sounds daunting, and for
The Lion’s Head Trail is a
commitment – not only because it is a difficult climb, but also because it is a
The steep part of
this trail is one of the most common locations of winter injuries on the
So, with that grim warning out
of the way, let’s go on an adventure!
Thursday was a spectacular day.
called for plenty of sun, summit temperatures
reaching 40 degrees, and winds in the 25-40 MPH range.
I was scheduled for the Pinkham Notch Visitor
Information Desk in the afternoon, but I figured I had enough time
to hit Mount Washington before work.
started my morning with a hearty breakfast: French toast, home fries, bacon,
sausage, orange juice, and half a grapefruit.
The kitchen cooks a mean breakfast here.
After breakfast, I hopped on the Tuckerman Ravine
It feels like half the phone
calls we’ve gotten lately are inquiries about how that trail looks.
(The other half are about the Sherburne
ski trail conditions, more on that later.)
On Thursday, and for now, there is snow all the way down to the
However, there are a
few rocks starting to peek through at the lower end, and all three bridges are completely
clear of snow.
With the temperature and
morning sun, the snow was already softening.
The third bridge on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail.
I think that’s Yale Gully dead ahead of the
I passed about 15 people skinning up and then turned
right onto the Fire Road, briefly, before hitting the Lion’s Head Trail. I had a drink of water and continued. Before long, the trail started to get
steep. I put on my gaiters and crampons
and pulled out my mountaineering axe.
Time to have some fun.
Starting to get steeper…but still fairly mellow, by
Lion’s Head standards.
I got to the first of a few extremely steep parts and worked
my axe and crampons up the little gully.
It would be fair to say that I exhaled heavily when I got to the
top. Nothing like climbing with sharp
pointy things everywhere to get your heart going. The other steep bits were snow covered, so I planted
the pick for every few steps up – although someone had chopped steps at one
point. Eventually, I made it past the
steeps and got above treeline.
|The steepest part of the trail is exposed, wet rock at this point.|
There was much less snow above treeline than I
It seems the wind, sun, and
warmer weather as of late have combined to clear some areas of snow
Before long, I took off my
crampons and was rockhopping my way up the trail.
I stopped a couple times along the way to
watch skiers and snowboarders climbing up and plunging down Tuckerman
Near the junction with the
Alpine Garden Trail, the trail disappeared under the snow again.
I put my crampons back on and made the final
push up the summit cone.
The summit was
also largely clear of snow, especially compared to the other times I visited
the summit this winter.
Some areas above treeline are back to bare rock, owing to
the wind, sun, and (relative) warmth.
I opted not to put my crampons on for the descent. Crampons for me have a surprisingly large
impact on my balance and increase my potential for tripping whereas bare boots
allow me to glissade, that is to say, descend in a method somewhat like
skiing…except without skis! I ended up
glissading the bottom half of the summit cone, rockhopping down Lion’s Head,
and glissading again to treeline.
Glissading can be unnerving, but it’s efficient and exhilarating. Please however in your choosing to use
crampons or to glissade, use common sense and make decisions based on YOUR
Being back in the trees also meant being back at the
steep part of the Lion’s Head Trail.
faced the slope and down climbed most of the way – planted the axe, kicked a
few steps down, and repeated.
too much trouble, I got back to the exposed rock section.
Three people were at the bottom end looking
slightly apprehensive and they waved me down.
I took a deep breath and slowly lowered myself through the gully.
A minute or two later, I was back on solid snow.
I wished the group well and flew the rest of the way down to the
visitor’s center to start my shift.
|Heading back down Lion's Head|
But “wait,” everyone’s saying, “what about the ski
conditions?” The skiing this week has
been great. The majority of Tuckerman
Ravine was forecasted at low avalanche danger all week. The sunshine has been abundant, making for
soft and stable snow conditions. Winds
were a bit high at times, but temperatures have been well above freezing during
the day. The parking lot filled up even on
weekdays, and thousands of people passed through the visitor’s center both days
this weekend. Cars lined both sides of Route
16 for at least a quarter mile in both directions.
The Bowl still has plenty of snow. People have been raving about Hillman’s
Highway, Left and Right Gullies, Lobster Claw, the Snowfields, and pretty much
every other route up there. Gulf of
Slides has had great reviews as well.
The John Sherburne ski trail has been skiable all the way to the parking
lot this week, but it isn’t looking particularly pretty. There are a lot of moguls, and the bottom end
is getting patchy. No one expects the
bottom parts and waterbars to last too much longer, so come and ski it while
you can… condition are changing daily!!!
As always you can check AMC conditions for the latest report
from the snow stakes and/or call us here at Pinkham to see what we’re seeing
out our windows and for the best trail advice we can give you!
For any general questions, conditions information, or trail
advice, please feel free to contact us here at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center
We are available by phone at
(603)466-2721 every day from 6:30 AM to 10:00 PM or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
To make reservations at AMC Lodges and Huts,
please call (603)466-2727 available Monday through Saturday 9am-5pm.
AMC Backcountry Information Specialist
Labels: 4000 foot peaks, Alpine Zone, Maine Ski Conditions, Mount Washington, New Hampshire, Pinkham Notch, skiing, Tuckerman Ravine, White Mountains