The Ups and Downs of Mountaineering

Last Saturday was such a blast! We had a great group of 8 strong and enthusiastic climbers. We met everyone at the bunkhouse and got everyone equipped for the extreme temperatures we were about to face. The forecast called for 60-80mph winds and -25 to -35 degree wind chills. We geared up for full on conditions. We headed to the visitors center to make final preparations and found a packed house. It was going to be a busy day on Mt. Washington. The Tuckerman Ravine Trail was a winter wonderland with a nice soft coating of fresh We saw some folks skinning up the trail and I was extremely jealous they were about to get what looked to be first tracks on the ski trail. We made good time up to the Lions Head Junction. The Winter Route has not been opened yet. I can’t wait for it. I enjoy the terrain on the winter route more. Once we reached treeline, we were hit with the winds. 30-40mph winds blew the fresh coating of snow into our faces but we pressed on to Lions Head where we escaped the winds and got a good rest in. Everyone was still on board with heading up, so we prepared them for the strong winds we were about to walk into on the Alpine Garden. True to its reputation, the Alpine Garden blasted us with 70mph winds and one climber made a wise personal decision and decided to turn around accompanied by his Brett headed down with them. I pressed on through the short lived winds to the protection of the summit cone with the remaining 6. As we climbed toward Split Rock, we were met by a man descending with his dog. He informed us that the group of 4 above us were asking for a rescue and the group ahead of them had turned around due to frostbite on their hands. I started to think our climb was going to turn into a full on rescue situation. We caught the group ahead of us at Split Rock and I encouraged them to descend if they had any doubt of making it back down under their own steam. After all their rescue would most likely be coming from below, so they might as well make it easier for them. After going back and forth with one another they could not be talked out of going up. I was frustrated at their stubbornness but there was little I could do besides keep an eye on them. I expected 60-70mph winds on the other side of Split Rock but I was happy to be greeted with a mild 30mph wind. Our chances of reaching the top now looked pretty good. We climbed the summit cone with two of the four from the other group tagging along at the end of our line and the other two a hundred feet back. I kept an eye on them the best I could while still trying to give my group the best chance of success. We reached the summit at 2PM. With my group tucked away in the lee of the Adams Summit Building, I went back to check on the straggling two climbers. After 5 minutes they arrived on the summit but began walking South and in the wrong direction of relative safety. They were completely out of it and had a hard time following my directions. I chased them down and escorted them to the building and out of the wind. One of them had extremely cold hands and the other had severely frost-nipped his nose and left cheek. His nose was completely white and hard as well as his cheek. His glasses were frozen solid and his goggles were also frozen on top of his head. If they had wandered the summit for another 10-15 minutes, I am convinced he would have had completely frost-bitten his face. The summit winds were at 70mph and the air temp was approx. -2F. The wind chills were at -35F to -40F. I took off my glove and warmed his face with my hand. The coloring began to come back to the frost-nipped areas after 10 minutes of warming. They kept asking me how they get a ride down from the staff in the Observatory. I repeatedly told them that they cannot rely on anyone for a rescue on the summit. With the frostnip in check, our plan was to give him a face mask, clear his goggles, and keep his face completely covered as we help him descend. His injuries would not keep him from descending under his own power. They had decided well before they had reached the summit that they would not be walking down and that they would rely on a rescue. I was extremely frustrated once again, but before I knew it, they were out knocking on the doors of the observatory to be let in. With that group off our hands, our climbers tagged the true summit and began to We were treated to diminished winds and clearing skies, just as the forecast had predicted. The descent back down to Lions Head was beautiful with the sun low in the sky and a clear, calm evening
Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 1.16.45 PM photo(12) We reached the Tuckerman Ravine Trail with some lingering light after glissading parts of the Lions Head Trail. We threw on our headlights and headed for home. It was a fantastic day with our group of climbers and everyone did a great job with the conditions we were given. I am still left with a frustrated and bitter taste in my mouth from the unpreparedness of some. It has been stated and harped upon countless times but when you go into the backcountry, one cannot expect to be rescued at the first sign of bad fortune. Too many people venture out with the cell phone in their pocket thinking that as soon as they are in over their heads, a helicopter will pluck them from the mountain. Everyone who ventures out there needs to be self reliant and capable of rescuing themselves. With that said, we saw many groups make the right decision and turn around. The majority of folks still know when to call it a day.