Tim and I had planned to hike up to hermit lake Friday after work and then climb Washington Saturday morning. But as Friday came conditions were setting up to give us an opportunity to do something I have always wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to hike mount Washington in the winter under a full moon. The weather forecasted for Friday night was: Temps in the single digits, low winds, almost full moon, and clear skies.
Conditions were not perfectly clear there was a little bit of overcast
With nearly perfect conditions to do this safely on Friday night we left Pinkham Notch at 7pm. There was no wind and it felt really mild. But it was still cold enough for the snow to be squeaky under foot.
We got to the bottom of the Lions Head winter route in about an hour and stashed our overnight gear behind the emergency cache.
The more technical parts of the climb up the winter route was one of the only times we used our headlamps. The moon was so bright reflecting off the snow that headlamps were not really necessary for most of the hike.
Once above treeline it was so bright that visibility was actually better than many times I have been up there during the day. I actually turned the brightness up on this pic using Photoshop, but this is about how bright it looked to the naked eye.
Near Lions Head there was barely any snow for about a quarter of a mile. I used my headlamp for a bit here so I wouldn’t twist an angle while walking on the rocks with crampons on. When we hit the snow field Tim started to drop back a little bit.
Looking Back at Tim
I ended up getting about 500 feet ahead of Tim by the time we were just below Split Rock. I turned my light on and turned around to look back and then he flashed his light at me 3 times. I stopped and waited for him to catch up. When Tim arrived he said his legs were cramping up and he wasn’t able to move fast enough to keep warm due to the cramping. He was positive he wasn’t going to be able to make the summit. As much as I almost wanted to cry at that moment I didn’t hesitate to agree to turn around. After all, last winter I was the one who had to pull the plug on a trip above treeline due to issues of my own and Tim did the same for me. Tim is kind of my default winter climbing partner now and we have succesfully done this climb several times before in the winter, and will have many more opportunities to do it again.
As much as I wanted to keep going on this beautiful night with only about a half of a mile to go, I just knew it wasn’t the right thing to do. We descended and then down climbed the steep sections of the winter route, picked up our overnight gear and hiked up to Hermit Lake. Tim was still cramping and having a hard time for the half of mile up to Hermit Lake so it was good he didn’t try to push it too much more when we were up high.
Around midnight we arrived at the shelter that is closest to the Lions Head Summer route. The shelter had about 6 inches of snow in it, so I just put a tarp down under my sleep pad and slept on top of the snow. It was much more comfortable than sleeping on the usual wood floor of the shelter. It was 8 degrees and I was toasty warm in my-20 bag. I slept all the way through to 7am. I don’t think I have ever slept that late while winter camping before.
We packed up and headed down as the clouds descended, the winds picked up and it started to snow. We definitely had grabbed a better stretch of weather on Friday night than we would have had on Saturday.