Mount Washington Season Ender

As the days of spring grow longer and the valleys turn green, east coast skiers are left with two options: ski the man-made glacier on Superstar at Killington, or head to the high alpine terrain of the Presidential Range in New Hampshire.

Great Gulf

My plan was to backpack into the Great Gulf, a huge cirque cut by glaciers on the northeast side of Mount Washington. From there I’d set up a base camp which would allow me to access the snow-filled gullies spilling off the flank of the northeast’s highest peak.

I shouldered a heavy pack, loaded with camping and ski gear. I chose a campsite about three miles in, with a spectacular view into the gulf, and the rushing waters of the Peabody River below. That night I slept to the soothing sounds of thunderstorms, knowing that they would give the gullies a nice overnight grooming.

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Mount Washington Season Finale

During the ski season I’ve said it often: “You don’t know ’til you go.” But last week — after Memorial Day and before the first heat wave of the summer season — wasn’t one of those times.

Mount-Washington

Not exactly. You see, I’d been watching the weather closely and was really optimistic about the skiing on Mount Washington. The Memorial Day snowfall closed the auto road on Saturday and reduced skier traffic in the ravine to those willing to come up via the trail. But snow conditions were only one part of my calculation.

The time had arrived to introduce my girlfriend to the pleasures of “backcountry skiing.”  Note the quotes; I had no intention of hiking up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail with her. She hates hiking. Or more accurately, she hates it after five miles. And she would definitely hate me, the hike, and life in general, if I had pushed her up to Hojo’s with skis and boots on her back.

So, I did what any sane man would do, plunking down the $30 to drive her to the top to shred the remaining patch on the East Side Snowfields.

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Guided Winter Hike on Mount Washington

Mount Washington is a long way from New York City in more ways than one. The gulf between the two landmarks is greater than the 380 miles that separates them: the northern Appalachians tallest peak has one of the most challenging environments in the east. The drive feels especially long if you’re a young guide entrusted with a group of city dwellers who’ve never faced the challenges of an alpine zone.

Recently, I made the journey with a group of inexperienced adventurers from the city. I tried some bad snowboarder jokes to try to lighten the mood and help speed the trip; but the only true cure for lingering anxiety is diligent preparation. Once you’ve prepared, success hinges on determination and knowing when to abandon a summit bid. If you do make it, the reward is significant. Nothing beats the feeling of standing on top of Mount Washington in the dead of winter surrounded by teammates.

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