What a great trip! I must say that I was a bit intimidated starting out. Everyone else on the trip was far more experienced than myself and this was my first attempt at a serious winter summit. It was great to be able to afford to buy the gear I needed for this trip now that I’m working full time, but it was also a bit concerning to be trying out a new backpack, jacket, and crampons all on such a serious hike. I knew I was hiking with smart people though, so I knew that no matter what happened that I’d be in good hands.
Friday night I met up with Chet and two of his friends, Kevin and Ray at Kevin’s places near Concord, NH. We ate pizza and crashed out around 10 to rest up for the following day.
We woke up at 4 am on Saturday and headed off to the Appalachia parking lot. Keith, Kevin’s boss and the 5th man of our hiking group, was already waiting for us in the parking lot. He had checked out the trail and said that it looked like we’d be able to get away without bringing out snowshoes. We all took a few minutes to suit up and adjust our packs and then we were off.
It was a beautiful day! It didn’t take long at all before we had to stop to drop some layers. According to the caretaker at Crag Camp, it was 24 out, which might sound cold to those that don’t hike, but when you have a bag on your back and are climbing up a mountain, is actually pretty ideal.
We took Airline to Short Line to the Spur trail all the way to Thunderstorm junction, with a brief stop for lunch at Crag Camp and a 5 minute side hike to Knight’s Castle for a scenic view. Below tree line it was literally a perfect day.
Once we broke tree line was when things really started becoming awestrucking. The view was absolutely amazing. There was a pretty good amount of hard packed ice and snow covering the area, leaving only the tips of the pilons showing the path. The wind started pick to pick up a bit now that we were out in the open but with crampons you had a fine grip.
It wasn’t until we gained the ridge line at Thunderstorm Junction when the wind really started becoming serious. If you were off balance at all here it would give you that last little tip necessary to make you reach for a 3rd point of contact, but still not all that threatening.
This all changed quickly however as reached the last 200-300 vertical feet. Here the wind was so strong that it actually pushed me forward a few times and I resorted to always having 3 points of contact with the surrounding rocks at all times as I crouched to try to minimize the area for the wind to catch me.
As we climbed towards the final ascent and I was still unsure if this was really the top or another ‘false summit’, I shouted ahead that this was definitely my Comfort Level + 1, although it was probably more like + 2 or 3. I continued on, noting in my head that if this wasn’t the peak that I wasn’t going to go any further.
Luckily enough, it was the peak, but the winds were so strong that I didn’t even stop for a second to read the sign. I just continued over to the other side and took cover behind a rock with Chet and Kevin. We waited another minute or two for Keith to arrive and then immediately turned back down. My heart was racing the entire time. I knew that I wasn’t in any immediate danger, but knew that things could turn bad so quickly in those sorts of conditions that I just wanted to get back below tree line.
Once we gained cover from the trees, it was time to have some fun. I pulled out the Swiss Bob that I had been carrying all morning. I sat down on it and off I went sliding anywhere from 20-100 feet down the trail before wiping out, getting covered in snow, rolling myself over with my heavy pack and setting up to go again. Every so often I would have to stand back up and walk a little bit before the trail would be steep enough to go again but it was well worth carrying the 2 lb. sled all morning. You may be thinking that 2 lbs is a lot for such a small sled, but it is actually justified because it is made out of a hard plastic with a cushion of air in it which saves your tush when you slide over hidden rocks. The one problem I did have with the sled was that the positioning of the handles leave your knuckles exposed and can leave your hands pretty beat up if going down a trail with limited snow cover like we were. The other surprising thing about the Swiss Bob was that it really didn’t save us any time getting down. Ray and Keith had left about 15 minutes before Chet and myself and Kevin left about 5 minutes after us, so we were surprised twice on the way down, first when Kevin caught up to us, and 2nd when we found that Keith and Ray had got to the cars 30-45 minutes before us. We chalked this up to all of the wipe outs we had and the time it took to get back on your feet with a pack on, but we both still agreed that they were well worth bringing for the amount of fun they produced and strain they saved our knees.
Keith had left to go work on his house as soon as he had got back to the parking lot, so it was back to just the four of us. We headed back to Kevin’s house, where I was thinking about just packing up my stuff and going home since we got back so early, but when they said that they were going to be opening up the hot tub I was convinced to stay the night.
All and all it was a wonderful day: I got to meet some cool new people who I’ll probably end up hiking with again and I got to do my first real winter summit. And although I was more than just a little bit nervous up there, I can’t wait to do my next!
As always, pictures of this trip are available in the gallery: Gallery: 2006-01-28 – Mt. Adams.