My first trip the to the White Mountains in New Hampshire back in December really got me thinking about how much planning goes into many of the trips I take. I spent so much time with my eyes on the weather, going over my gear, finding everything I could on the route and much more. It really made me realize how important planning is to the things I do but that doesn’t mean I’ll always execute that plan. So, I planned again and tried again.
Yes, sometimes you can just throw everything in a bag and take off but not on the trips to the big mountains, the trips for days out on the water, and the trips to the woods for weeks on end; these require a little more finesse. Once you’ve picked a place, a trip always starts with what can often be the hardest part, picking a date. You must figure out all the schedules of those involved, find the permits, work around this and that person’s requests and make it all work. From there you figure out what you need, from gear and clothing to food and cash. You pile it all together and pack it all in, you think about it over and over again making sure you have everything you need for your excursion. Next you go over the route repeatedly until all you can think about is your destination. You get excited, you start to dream of what lies ahead. Finally, you’re off, heading for the mountains, the beach, the woods or wherever your destination may be in front of you.
From the initial planning of this trip, all the way through, I had my reservations. At first, we couldn’t button down a set group to go up and once we did it kept changing up until almost the day we left. Then, the weather kept changing making us need to adjust our window to summit so as not to have too cold of temperatures or be buried in feet of snow. Finally, there was the drive; if we couldn’t make it in the window we were giving ourselves the whole schedule would be thrown off, potentially making a summit bid impossible. At the time, trying to do so much in a weekend seemed like an impossible challenge.
Thursday February 8th
In the morning we woke up to clear skies and cold air, the forest was silent without any wind, a good sign. We arranged our gear for the climb, took some photos and said our good-byes to Bryan. Brandon accompanied us part of the way up the Lion Head Trail, getting us past the hardest part of the route. He eventually opted to turn around and head back to Bryan and Lizzie and I were on our own. We continued on and shortly later we were above tree line, the wind began to whip, the summit was nowhere to be seen, lost in the clouds. As we moved from cairn to cairn we could feel the summit coming closer, but we still could not yet see it. After passing Alpine Garden we entered onto a snowfield and the trail vanished, it was a complete white-out…. I knew the mountain was up to the right and to my left was a massive drop down into Tuckerman’s Ravine. We shot between the two, straight across the snowfield.
It was a complete whiteout with visibility down to about 30 feet from all the blowing snow and fog. Once we got across and found some safety we realized we couldn’t see another cairn anywhere around us. Knowing my bearings helped, I knew the mountain was up to the right, so we headed that way. After a short while of trudging through the snow and occasionally post holing up to our knees, Lizzie finally spotted a row of cairns. From there, we went just a little further and found our salvation, a sign that simply read, “Tuckerman’s Ravine Trail, Mt. Washington .3 →”. It was exhilarating for the both of us, not knowing how far we were in the clouds had made us each do battle with our own minds but now we were almost there. I ran up the ridge, with Lizzie right behind me. Just short of the top we stopped for one last drink knowing the winds would be punishing at the summit, while we sat I heard Lizzie tell me to turn around. When I did, all of a sudden, I could see everything for miles, the fog had lifted and our time in the white abyss was over. Minutes later we reached the top of the trail and began to walk for the summit sign for a photo (Pics or it didn’t happen, am I right?), the wind was whipping at near 50mph, so this last stretch was grueling, digging our crampons and ice axes in every step so as to not be blow over. We got to the top, took our photos, rejoiced in the moment and headed down.
Near tree line we ran into a group of around 12 being guided up the mountain, we laughed as we told them about our push for the summit as theirs was cloud free and we could see the top from nearly 1,000’ below it. We arrived back at the top of the Lion’s Head after only about a 45-minute walk and glissaded down it’s steep slope (Lizzie enjoyed this part). After getting down a few steep spots, we found ourselves back at the Harvard Cabin, packing our bags gleefully thinking about the trip to Boston to visit friends. We made it the rest of the way down, to Boston, to Cleveland and finally home to Cincinnati without a hiccup.
Finishing all of this made me realize how much one could really do in just a few days’ time. I learned so much more from this mountain this winter, in my two short times there, than I ever could have expected. I finished my unfinished business, I made it to the top and I found another place that I'm sure will continue to call me back throughout my life.
"We still do not know one thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us"
The Hopeless Wanderer