|Hanging out above treeline is so much fun.|
Last March, I wrote an entry
about the Harvard
, which has pretty quickly become one of my favorite places on the
The cabin was built in the
early 1960s by the Harvard
near Huntington Ravine, on the east side of Mount
It operates under a special
use permit with the Forest Service, which mandates that the cabin be staffed by
a caretaker and open to public use between December 1 and March 31 each
The cabin is one of two places to
stay overnight on the east side of Mount Washington.
Typical guests are ice climbers,
mountaineers, and skiers (in good snow years) – good people.
And the caretakers, Rich and Marcia –
Last week, I was asked to fill
the caretaker role for a couple nights.
Fortunately, this worked well with my schedule down at the visitor center. I wrapped up my International Dinner shift on
Wednesday and – wait, international dinner?
AMC is in its 26th
year of International
These dinner series each
feature cuisine from a specific country, followed by a presentation about an
adventure in that country.
featured soup, salad, bread, a main course, and dessert from South Africa.
These unique family-style dinners go for $21
a head – reservations recommended – and BYOB is welcome.
The presentations are free and open to the
public, if you just can’t make it in time for dinner at 6.
There are two more International Dinners this
year: Scotland (March 9) and France (March 16).
So back to my story.
I finished my Wednesday night shift, grabbed my bag, and
Into the rain.
February in the mountains, 3 hours after sundown,
35 degrees and raining.
This winter is
I hoofed the 2 miles up to the
cabin as quickly as I could. Microspikes
it easier, as the Tuckerman Ravine Trail had a lot of slick and wet ice.
When I got to the cabin, I switched on the
propane lamps, lit the wood stove, and watched the needle climb.
Even with nobody else in the cabin, it
reached 70 degrees inside.
I did some reading, had a couple
cups of rooibos tea, and then made my way to the sleeping loft upstairs.
I rolled out my sleeping pad and bag and
drifted away to the sound of the raging river behind the cabin.
I woke at 6:45 the next
morning and made my way downstairs to take care of some cabin
I turned on the radio
to transcribe the Mount Washington Observatory’s forecast for the summits
Once I had that posted on the door, I headed
out to the snow study area.
I noted the current
and extreme temperatures over the last 24 hours.
I then measured the snow depth and amount of
snowfall since the previous morning.
was no longer raining, but the board had…0 centimeters of snow.
This winter is so sad.
Shortly after that, Pat, one of the
caretakers at the Hermit
, called me on the radio.
We planned to meet halfway on the Raymond Path so he could deliver me
copies of the snow rangers’ avalanche
|Flooded Fire Road.|
As rain and thunderstorms had
been in the forecast, Rich and Marcia had warned me about the Fire Road
flooding. They weren’t joking. I wore a pair of calf-high muck boots from
the cabin and still got one of my feet wet on the way to the Raymond Path. I chatted with Pat for a bit and then
returned to the cabin. I changed my
socks and made myself breakfast: oatmeal with peanut butter, dried fruit, brown
sugar, cinnamon. Earl grey tea. It was still a comfortable temperature in the
cabin, so I ended up hanging around and reading until late morning. Finally, I convinced myself to head up to the
summit. I packed my bag with extra
clothes and snacks and headed out the door again.
I took more care around the
flooded sections, as I didn’t want wet feet 5 minutes into my adventure. After a few minutes, I arrived at the
junction with the Lion Head Winter Route.
There are a couple landmarks at the intersection. There is an orange sign pointing to the Lion
Head Trail – pretty high up on a tree – and a large brown first aid cache. The cache looks like an oversized brown
doghouse on the downhill side of the Fire Road.
I turned onto Lion Head and started uphill. Before long, I got to a section that looked
potentially too steep and icy for bare boots.
I paused to strap on my crampons, pulled out my mountaineering axe, and
headed up without a hitch.
|One of the steep parts of the Lion Head route.|
Next up was that steep
There was no snow or ice cover at
that spot because of the rain and warm temperatures, so it was just a wet,
scrambly rock climb.
I found enough positive
features to make it up without much trouble.
Beyond this pitch are some additional steep sections, but these were
covered in a mix of snow and ice.
played around with different crampon techniques: French technique (feet flat on
the slope, all points engaged), German technique (toes pointed into the slope,
front points engaged), and American technique (one foot flat, the other pointed
into the slope).
can be useful for both mountaineering and ice climbing.
The trees started to thin and
I climbed into the clouds and the wind.
This has always been my favorite part of climbing mountains in the
winter. I love how there are such
drastic changes – how quickly I can go from calm, protected, relatively mellow
hiking to fantastic otherworldly environments with low visibility and stiff
winds. And so it was that day. I found myself taking my time, picking my way
up the trail – pockets of snow and ice between exposed rock. Runoff from the rain trickling through the
pockets and under the ice. Alpine
grasses and shrubs trying to stand their ground. The clouds got thicker and darker. By the time I was above Lion Head, I was
pausing at each cairn to search for the next one. I ducked behind a boulder to get out of the
wind for a moment. I added a couple
layers to offset the windchill. I put on
my goggles on as well. The wind would
only get worse as I neared the summit.
|Headed up into the unknown.|
I turned right onto the Tuckerman
Ravine Trail to make the final push up the summit cone.
A few tenths of a mile put me at the
The last couple turns of the Auto Road
, the smattering of
buildings, the Cog Railway
I could see a vague outline of the
The summit sign was
No snow, no ice, no rime.
The wind was blowing harder, and I found
myself leaning slightly for stability.
wandered onto the observation deck and waved at the tower.
I wondered if anyone was watching
I looked at my watch – 1:45 – and made my way
back down the way I came.
the summit cone, a bird passed overhead.
Wings outspread, but making no forward progress and getting blown
sideways by the wind.
I wondered what
was going through the bird’s head.
Partway down the summit cone,
the weather changed again. All of a
sudden, the winds abated and the clouds thinned and lightened. The world turned from a dull gray to a bluish
white. Conditions at the summit weren’t
bad, but this was downright comfortable.
I took a break where the Tuckerman Ravine Trail met the Lion Head Trail
to munch on a granola bar and have some soup from my Thermos. I looked from side to side, across the Alpine
Garden and at the broad shoulders of Mount Washington. What a cool place to have in my
backyard. I spread my arms to hug the
world, shouldered my pack, and then continued down the trail.
The descent went pretty
quickly. I had kept my crampons on in
anticipation of the steep area, and had my axe at the ready. I got down most of the steep sections using
French technique, though I turned to face the slope and downclimbed on front
points in one section. It had started to
drizzle, so I reminded myself to focus, to be sure of foot placements, to stay
calm, to not rush. Downclimbing the
rocky section was a fun exercise. I
moved slowly, hanging my axe on various ledges to keep it out of my way as I
stepped my way down the wet rock. No
issues. Back on solid snow, I wiped my
hands dry. I put on my rain shell and
took off my crampons. Soon after, I was
back on the Fire Road and then back at the Harvard Cabin. Didn’t see a single person on the trail the
whole time. I emptied my pack, hung my
clothes out to dry, and fired up the wood stove at 4:00.
At 5:00, I checked in with the
info desk at the visitor center – strange to be on the other side of the
radio. No guests expected for the
night. I poked at the fire for a bit and
then started dinner. I whipped up some
rice, beans, and vegetables and made myself a pair of burritos. I listened to NHPR while eating and then did
some chores around the cabin. I swept
the floor, refilled the 5 gallon water buckets, did my dishes, and turned in
for the night. The next morning, I got
up to take care of weather and snow work, and then headed down the hill for my
shift at the desk, where I proceeded to rave about the hanging out above
treeline and at the Harvard Cabin.
|Seriously, the cabin is awesome...|
Stop by the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center to snag your spot in the cabin! We are here every day from
6:30 AM to 9:00 PM. We are also available by phone at (603) 466-2721 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.
See you outside!
AMC Backcountry Information Specialist
Labels: 4000 foot peaks, avalanche reports, Camping, Harvard Cabin, Hiking, Huntington Ravine, ice climbing, international dinner, lunch, Mount Washington, New Hampshire, White Mountains