Trip to Mt. Washington, New Hampshire with John McAlevey, Cory and Chuck, with stops in Pittsfield and Sunderland, Massachusetts.
(Pictures are here!)
April 21, 2000
Saturday, April 15th
After making sure I had everything on my checklist and packing the car, I took off for Pittsfield, MA to spend the night with Sigurd. I got there around 7:00 PM and attended a nice dinner party that he and Helen were throwing to celebrate their new addition. The addition was top quality with beautiful wood flooring in side and a nice Mahogany deck in the back. I saw Dave OíConnor from the old salt mines there, and also Mike Bathrick from berkshire.net fame. He's got a new Internet Café venture in Pittsfield that sounds really great. The food and company was great at the dinner party. Iíve got to throw one soon.
Sunday, April 16th
Woke up and had tea with Sigurd. He packed up and took off with Tim to the MIT flea market. Part of me wanted to go, but I also wanted to visit with Jay, Jennifer, and Samantha, so I stayed in town and called them. It turned out they were not too busy, so we had breakfast and chatted, then Jay and I went for a short walk with the dogs. It was great to see everyone! Around noon or one, I took off for New Hampshire. The drive was nice, especially between Pittsfield and Rte. 91. Once I got up into New Hampshire, it got cloudy. I drove by Pollyís Pancake House on Sugar Hill up near the mountain, but they were closed. I like to get pancake mix there.
Once I arrived at Pinkham Notch around 5 PM, I checked in and upgraded my package to include dinner. I didnít know if I was going to be in time for it, but I was. It was a yummy family-style meal in the visitorís center. I talked to two guys, Mike and Steve, who were there over night to hike on Monday. They were from near Boston. Dinner was great---there was fresh bread, spinach and bean soup, salad, and pork tenderloin. For desert there was cheesecake with blueberries on top. Yum! After dinner, I repacked a little and checked out my bunkroom. It was a private room with two bunk beds. Very nice. Then I went to the Pinkham Notch store and got a backpacking book just for something to read. I did not get an ice axe.
Later on I had a smoke and then sat in the common room in the bunkhouse and read. Eventually I went to bed around 10.
Pictures from Sunday at the Base
[From the base of the auto road looking up at the mountain] [From the base of the auto road looking up at the south end of the mountain] [From Pinkham Notch looking up at the mountain] [Moose] [Moose, closer]
Monday, April 17th
Got up around 6:30 and showered. Eventually I ambled down to breakfast. It was a buffet style breakfast. I didnít really talk to anyone. I think everyone was sleepy. There were pancakes, eggs, and bacon. After breakfast, I hung out until I saw John drive up a little after 8:00. I went out and packed with him and decided to bring my skis up after all. Eventually Cory and Chuck arrived and we finally got on the trail around 10:30. Unfortunately, Cory locked his keys in his car, but only after we were all ready to go, so he decided to defer messing with it until we got back. We all weighed our packs. Mine was around 70 pounds (too heavy for 2 nights!). I dumped around 3 pounds of water, but there really wasnít anything else I could ditch. I think the weight was in the non-dehydrated food I brought.
Pictures from Monday at the Base
[From Pinkham Notch looking up at the mountain...] [...pan left...] [...pan left...] [...pan left...] [Pinkham Notch sign] [John packing] [My pack]
We climbed up from around 2000 feet at the base to around 4000 feet at the Hermit Lake shelters in a couple of hours. The walk up was very strenuous, but not exhausting. I used my crampons for some of the walk, and they helped. I stripped down to my bergelene underwear and shorts. I think the temperature was around 30 to 40 degrees with very little wind. We checked in and got our shelter. The caretaker has a little counter and sells some things like straps and candy bars, but doesnít have anything major. The shelters sleep 10 and are basically a raised platform with a roof and three walls. No campfires are allowed, but of course stoves are ok. We didnít hang around too much, because we wanted to get moving so we could get to the summit. We dropped our food, sleeping bags, extra underclothes, but kept skis, crampons, and foul weather gear. John has crampons that are a little different. They only have grabbers in the front. They are made by Atlas. Mine are Grivel G10s.
Pictures from Monday at the Hermit Lake Shelter Area (HOJO's)
[John and I at the Bridge (partway up to HOJO's)] [View of Tuckerman's Ravine from HOJO's] [View of Hillman's Highway from HOJO's] [Cory and Chuck at HOJO's, getting ready to climb] [John at HOJO's, getting ready to climb] [Tom at HOJO's, getting ready to climb]
Eventually, I think around 1:00, we got underway. From the shelters, itís about Ĺ mile to the Tuckerman Ravine bowl. Itís about 1000 feet I would guess. The trail was mostly clear, but there were some snowy areas that were no problem. Once we got to the ravine, we rested for a minute. The ravine is spectacular! I would guess itís around ľ mile across. Itís bowl-shaped and has pitches of around 50 degrees, maybe 60 degrees in some places. John and Cory said that the snow cover was the least they had seen. By the way, Cory and Chuck had snowboards. Their snowboard shoes have little tread. John had his telemark skis and plastic ice boots. John and I both had two poles each, while Cory and chuck had their boards on their backs and no additional climbing gear. Well, we climbed and climbed. I happened to go first, but it wasnít a big deal. We climbed up to the lip of the bowl, and Iím pretty glad I didnít look down much, because I probably would have turned back very quickly. When I did look back, I couldnít believe what I was seeing. Itís a very strange feeling when there is a mountain on one side of you and absolutely nothing at the same level on the other side, especially when climbing a 50-degree slope! At one point, a guy lost control and took a fairly long tumble towards us. He was ok but shaken.
Eventually we got up and over the lip, and when the ice pack subsided and the terrain turned to rocks, we took off our crampons and scrambled the rest of the way up. I think itís about Ĺ mile from the lunch rocks (in the bowl) to the summit, and about 1500 more feet. The trails are marked with cairns very frequently because in low visibility itís very easy to get lost. We did not have this problem though. The weather was very nice and clear, and the report for the night was very favorable.
Pictures from Monday Climbing
[View from lunch rocks looking up the bowl towards the lip] [View from lunch rocks looking towards Wildcat] [View from above Tuckerman's looking towards Wildcat] [Cory with Boott Spur in the background] [Tom with some fragile tundra in the background] [Tom and Cory with Lion's Head and Wildcat behind] [Tom posing in front of Lion's Head] [View from part way up the mountain towards south showing ridge trail] [Same shot with better view of cairn trail markers]
We got to the summit around 5:00. This was late. We knew we were behind schedule but we knew we would be ok. We took some pictures and looked around at the radio dishes, buildings chained to the bedrock, and cog railway tracks, and then made our way to the snowfields which are between the summit and the ravine lips. The idea was to ski down from the summit to the ravine. It was very slow going for me because the snow had begun to freeze solid and this was the first time I was on skis in three years or so. John was very patient with me, and Cory and Chuck led the way toward the ravine lip. I knew there was no way I would be able to safely ski over the lip of the ravine, so we decided that I would seek an alternate route down. After eliminating the Lion Head trail because we had heard it was icy, we decided I would break off and descend Right Gully on foot. John said he would wait for me in the bowl. So I set off by myself to find the gully.
Pictures from Monday at and Around the Summit
[John preparing to make the final drive to the summit] [John and Cory on the Summit] [Weather and Radio apparatus on the summit] [Tom, Chuck, Cory, and John on the summit] [Looking down from the top of the auto road] [Looking down from the bottom of the snow field where the right gully starts]
It wasnít very hard to find, and the top was wet and clear of ice or snow. There was a creek running down the gully, which made it a little interesting to descend on the tufts of grass that clung to the side of the mountain. It was slow going, but I probably could have gone faster if I was more confident. Soon the mud and rocks gave way to ice and snow. I had to stop and put my crampons back on. After switching to ice, the going was even slower. I tried combinations of sliding on my ass, marching backwards, and walking forwards down the steep incline. It took forever, but eventually I heard John or Cory call out in the distance. I have to say that I was very afraid of this part of the descent. The thing about the ravine and this gully is that they are wide-open. I think it was definitely in my head, but being higher than anything else around was hard for me to handle, especially since I knew that if I started to tumble there was nothing much to stop me. I did not have an ice axe!
Soon it started to get very dark, so I stopped and put on my headlamp. I had seen Johnís off in the distance on the other side of the bowl. We shouted to each other and he launched off on his skis and I kept hoofing it with my crampons down the snow. Finally I was able to turn around and walk down semi-normally to meet John at the bottom of the bowl. Looking back, going to the summit and back was an amazing thrill. Iíve kept saying that I donít get enough fear in my day to day life, but I have to say that at the time I was terrified!
John got his skis off, and we exchanged comments about our descent. We got moving back toward the shelters under a full moon. We didnít even need headlamps after the clouds moved off entirely. I did fall at one point and I later found out that I had busted my pipe. Iím glad it was then that I fell instead of earlier in the gully. Finally we got back to the shelters around 9:00. Yes, this was too late, but we were safe. I slept pretty well after having a light supper.
John later told me that before we met back up, John had taken a long tumble in the hourglass. He apparently fell for some ways before stopping near where I first noticed his headlamp. He had some scrapes and hurt his knees a bit, but was fine otherwise. He also said that he was hanging around having some venison jerky when a fox came up. John said he nearly had the fox eating out of his hand!
I slept pretty well Monday night, but my feet got a little cold and I kept waking up and having panic attacks that I wouldnít be able to open my sleeping bag drawstring. I finally found out that I could avoid this by keeping my hand on the drawstring so that when I woke up I would be able to open it right away. I felt a little stupid about this, but I guess it was kind of funny, so Iím writing it down.
Tuesday, April 18th
We woke up fairly late to full sun! It was a beautiful morning. We had breakfast. I had canned fruit, oatmeal, and shared my tang. We talked about plans for the day. The guys decided to ski and snowboard in the ravine, and I decided to start up the Boott Spur trail and see how far I could get. We got going kind of late, but the weather was pretty good. John decided to summit again.
Pictures from Tuesday Morning at the Shelter
[John cooking breakfast] [Tom cooking breakfast]
I made it part way up the Boott Spur trail, but decided that it was too icy after a while. There was one convincing spot where the trail was a sheet of dense ice. In retrospect, it might have been easier to go up Hillmanís Highway. It looked more gradual, but Iíll tell you, I had had enough snow walls for a while.
Pictures from Tuesday Exploring[Tuckerman's from HOJO's] [Hillman's Highway from HOJO's] [Looking Northeast from Boott Spur Trail] [Tuckerman's from Boott Spur Trail] [Cory and Chuck on the lunch rocks]
Failing to get up to Boott Spur, I decided to go into the bowl and check out what Cory and Chuck were up to. Cory was not feeling well, so he and I sat on the rocks and watched Chuck climb up over the lip and snowboard down. It seemed like he went up a million times. John had gone up over the lip to the summit.
Pictures from Tuesday Taken by Chuck in the Bowl[Looking into a crevasse] [Looking toward the right gully from headwall] [Looking down into bowl from headwall] [Looking down on bowl from headwall, lunch rocks on left]
Based on reports from some other people at the lunch rocks, there had been an accident a little while before we got there where a guy had lost it above the lip and had come crashing over the rock at the edge. He was ok, but really freaked out Iím sure. We didnít see him. I didnít ski Tuesday. After a long time, Chuck finally got tired out and we made our way back to the shelter. We didnít expect John for a while.
We went back to the shelter and had an early meal while waiting for John to get back. I think I had a tin of chicken and couscous with lots of pepper. Chuck just kept eating and eating. I think he had like three packages of Ramen and most of a lasagna meal. He may have even eaten more, but I lost track. We discussed funny Saturday Night Live skits, including the Celebrity Jeopardy skit where one of the categories was "Colors that end in Ďurple.í" Chuck reminded us that one of the guesses (by Keanu Reaves?) was "light urple." We laughed and laughed. After a little while, John walked up! I was glad he was ok. He ate too.
After we finished eating, it wasnít really time for bed yet, and I knew Iíd get cold just sitting around, so John and I made the rounds. I fixed my pipe with duct tape and had a smoke as we walked. John had a cigar. I think that most all of the shelters were occupied, but only to about half capacity each. We found that some of our neighbors were drinking a lot. One bunch was like the four stooges, trying to pick up their spilled tortelini off the ground and laughing uncontrollably. We moved on. We talked to everyone we came upon. It was nice to see the other people there. There are about 8 shelters all told, and some of them are closed with sliding doors. Itís a very nice place!
Later on, we went back to our shelter and closed down for the evening. I had put my coat around my feet, so they were warm all night. I got a little cold sleeping against the shelter floor, so I made a note to get a sleeping pad for the next trip. I decided itís tough to tell the difference between extraneous camping paraphernalia that is for posers and stuff that is actually really good to have, like an ice axe, crampons, and a sleeping pad.
Wednesday, April 19th
Yucky morning. The freezing drizzle and low visibility that had started the previous night continued. We took some time to get moving, but ended up going to the bowl to ski and snowboard. Cory was still feeling bad, so he didnít board at all, but Chuck went for a run. John brought the sled only. I brought my skis because I had lugged them all the way up there and hadnít really enjoyed them yet. I went for one lame run in the bottom of the bowl, but it felt good to have some low-stress skiing. We got pretty wet, but luckily the temperature was warm, maybe 40 to 50. After messing around in the bowl for a while, we headed back to the shelter to pack up. After some gorp and packing, I was ready to go. The other guys wanted to ski down the Sherburne ski trail as far as they could, but I didnít want to even bother, so I hiked down the main trail. It was a quick and pleasant walk! I saw some people on their way up.
I got near the bottom and stopped at the nice waterfall, but when I tried to load my camera, the battery was dead and it wouldnít take up the new roll of film. When I got to the lodge, I had a great shower and cooked some couscous and coffee. Eventually the other guys showed up and told me that they could only snowboard 100 yards or so down the ski trail, so they all hiked down the main trail. It felt great to be clean and fed and in fresh clothes.
We were able to break into Coryís car by prying the door partly open with a wedge of oak and jimmying the lock with a coat hanger. It worked great. After this, I said my farewells to everyone and got on the road toward Sunderland.
The drive was fine. I drove by Pollyís Pancake house again, but they were closed again. Rats! I got to Tony and Reneeís house around 6:30 I think. We chatted for a while about my trip and about their trip to DC for the WTO/WB/IMF demonstration. I enjoyed hearing about their trip and I think they like my stories too. They got pepper sprayed by the cops! We watched the movie Better Off Dead and then went to bed.
Thursday, April 20th
We woke up around 8:00 and went to breakfast at Sylvesterís. Yum! We did part of the crossword puzzle, but interestingly enough got bored with it when our food came. After breakfast we went to the bookstore and then to Don Gleasonís camping supply! I got a sleeping pad, a camp pillow, a chair frame for my pad, and some gas cartridges for my stove. Now Iím all set for the next trip.
After saying farewell to Tony and Renee, I drove home into a rainstorm. The cat was very glad to see me.
I am very thankful for the time I spent with Sigurd, Helen, John, Cory, Chuck, Tony, and Renee. It was a very centering experience.