Mt. Washington via Lion Head
February 1, 2003

Rob Jagnow, Mike Whitson, Becky Hopkinson,
Kathy Garlo, Daniel Preda, Dan Feldkhun,
Dave Comi, Yoko Miyata, and Kelly Baker

Every year, it's a gamble. Out of four prior winter trips up Mt. Washington, only once have I ever successfully reached the summit. Temperatures well below zero and windspeeds over 100 mph are par for the course, so a successful summit bid is simply a function of cooperative weather.

We woke at 5am at the Intervale cabin. Even with a strong team, the ascent can be slow and arduous in typical conditions, so we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to reach the summit by 2pm. We woke to remarkably pleasant conditions - a still morning with temperatures in the low 20's - which made it a lot easier to leave the heated cabin and venture out into the moonless night.

Even with a team of nine, we wasted little time as we left the cabin, drove to Pinkham Notch, and assembled our gear. By 7am, we were on our way up the Tuckerman Ravine trail, stripped down to minimal clothing to enjoy the warm, but sunless day. Everyone kept a quick pace, and we were soon ascending the steep ridge up to Lion Head.

Despite the stagnant air, I warned my climbers that the conditions can be deceptive on the lee side of the mountain. But as we topped out at the ridgeline and gazed over into the cloud-filled Tuckerman Ravine, it became clear that we were all set for an easy walk-up. As we moved from the top of Lion Head to the base of the summit cone, Dave and I stripped down to bare skin, as if to taunt the mountain on this rare occasion.

The only remaining challenge was the reduced visibility. As we entered the clouds, we occasionally had near white-out conditions. But even this improved as we neared the summit.

We topped out at 11:15, hours before our anticipated summit time. To take full advantage of the astonishingly rare conditions, Dan, Dave, and I stripped down to bare skin for the summit photos. I even stripped down to my boxers for a few minutes to give a final taunt to the mountain that had defeated me so many times in the past.

After a leisurely lunch, we descended from the summit at noon. For a few minutes, we found ourselves sandwiched between clouds with a view to the west. But as we continued our descent, we entered the clouds once again, obscuring all views until Lion Head.

Near the base of the summit cone, Dave and Yoko split from the party as previously arranged. While we headed to Lion Head, they headed south to sled the base of Tuckerman's Ravine and the Sherburne Trail. We agreed to rendezvous where the Sherburne trail intersects the Tuckerman Trail - an ideal self-arrest practice area. Our route down from Lion Head was substantially slower than Dave and Yoko's. The trail had far less snow than anticipated, so glissading wasn't a safe option until the last hundred feet of steep vertical terrain.

We wasted little time on the return trip, and when we reached our self-arrest practice area, the sun was still high in the sky. Everyone was still wired from the successful hike as we raced up the slope to practice ice axe technique. Ultimately, our attention turned more to Dave and Yoko's sleds. We took turns racing down the slope, but couldn't nearly match the speed and precision demonstrated by Dave and Yoko.

Fully exhausted, we hiked the last mile to the parking lot, finishing before 4:00pm. We had an early dinner at Tuckerman Tavern, where we first heard news of the shuttle tragedy. We slowly pieced together the events of the day based on what we could read of the subtitles on the bar TV.

Afterwards, the other cars returned to Boston. I planned to drop Dave and Yoko off at Camelot, but not before they managed to convince me to take a few detours along the way. First stop: hot tubbing. Dave and Yoko had previously stayed at a resort where they noted that the hot tub was easily accessible to non-guests. 'Nuf said.

Feeling totally revitalized by the warm bath, we next set off for the Waterville Valley Ski Area for a little late night sledding. We took a quick 35-minute hike up the Mt. Tecumseh trail, which starts at the Waterville Valley parking area and eventually intersects with the ski runs. Just below the trail junction, we noticed a small fire flickering in a protected canyon. Going in for a closer inspection, we found a couple of skiers who had decided to save money by camping out next to the ski area. The campsite was well-hidden, and looked quite comfortable.

Next came a short game of snowcat and mouse as we hid in the bushes, waiting for the grooming machines to vacate our choice slope. When it rounded the top of the hill above us, we quickly hopped on our sleds for an incredibly fast descent to the lifts. Definitely worth the short hike. Finally, I called it quits, declining another run on the mountain, knowing that I had a long drive to Boston ahead of me.

To our great surprise, when we arrived at Camelot, we did not find a group of ice climbers, but instead found a fraternity group having quite the party. The keyholder had been informed that rental was nonexclusive and that he might have to share the cabin with Winter School participants. However, the keyholder had failed to pass that message on to the rest of his group, who were rather surprised to see me wander into their party with an ice axe in one hand and a sled in the other.

After making a few cell phone calls, we discovered that the ice climbing trip had been cancelled. Ultimately, it was a good thing I went into the cabin, or Dave and Yoko would have been stranded at a frat party until they could hitch a ride back the next morning.

By then, the snow was falling quickly, and the roads were slick, making for a painfully slow drive back to Boston. There were lots of cars off the road, so I took my time getting home, not wanting to take any chances. We arrived back in Boston at 3am, having been awake for 22 hours. Dave and Yoko declined a ride to their doorstep, opting instead to ride their bikes, laden with gear, through the slush and snow from MIT to home. Thankfully, they also arrived home without incident.

All in all, that's pretty much all the activity I can pack into a day - A successful trip with a great group that won't soon be forgotten.

Becky and Kathy getting an early start
Nearest to furthest: Kathy, Dave, Yoko, Daniel, Kelly, Dan, Becky & Mike
L to R: Kathy, Kelly, Dan, Daniel & Becky in the alpine garden
Yoko and Dave, looking tough
Dan, Mike, Justin (front), Daniel, Becky, Yoko, Dave, Kathy
Rob, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather
At the summit. Dan, Becky, Kathy, Kelly, Dave, Daniel, Rob, Yoko, Mike
A Dave & Yoko tradition
Rob, taunting the mountain
Dave & Rob
Rob, sandwiched between the clounds
In front of Lion Head. Rob, Mike, Kelly, Kathy, Daniel, Becky, Dan
Descending from Lion Head. Wildcat in the distance
Rob, sledding
Satisfied customers
Dave & Yoko
Rob & Daniel - Wipeout!
Dave & Yoko - Precision

Ode to Winter School
By Becky Hopkinson

I just moved to Boston
from the sunny west coast
where winter and weather
have nothing to boast

But here in the East
I've found quite a shock
October, and already
ice on the dock

The temperatures plummet
snow, sleet, sudden hail
Winter blows in with
a powerful gale

With winds cold enough
to freeze off your keister
the storm has a name
it's called a Noreaster

My bike was in storage
My lips had turned blue
I needed a new sport
for something to do

But cold is intimidating
and here its the norm
so I took a course
on how to stay warm

MIT Outing club
teaches the class
with trips every weekend
in order to pass

We learned about clothing
hot drinks and frostbite
how to camp out of doors
on a cold winters night

To climb up a mountain
just bring the right gear
leave your cotton at home
and there's nothing to fear

To finish the month
nine of us found
ourselves on a hike
up a wintery mound

We were told with the weather
that we might not make it
But this was the challenge;
we surely would take it

The six thousand feet
would be quite a climb
we'd need crampons, ice axes,
and plenty of time

We were warned that the wind
would oppose us with power
with speeds that could reach
ninety miles per hour

Worse was the chance
of a warm winter day
with rain that would freeze
and cold we would stay

So to make an attempt
we rose before dawn
to summit Mt. Washington
before light was gone

We found as we started
the weather was balmy
and toward the summit
Up we marched calmly

Fog covered the mountain
thick as a cloud
We were atop before noon
Yeah, we were proud

The wind was still, the air warm
as we sat down to rest
Rob's pictures in boxers
this fact will attest

Due to perfect conditions
There's little bragging to be done
we weren't fighting the elements-
just having fun

Don't get me wrong
this was no walk in the park
A five thousand foot climb
completed well before dark

We made it up safely
we made it down fast
in time for self-arrest and sledding
which was blast

we got good and wet
pictures were taken
and movies of sledding
if I'm not mistaken

We got dry and got dinner
tired of trail food
the warmth of the tavern
kept up our mood

By 630 pm we were
back in our cars
heading to Boston
and feeling like stars

Now winter schools over
and spring's drawing near
But dreams of snow last all summer
until this time next year!

Photos © Copyright 2003 by Rob Jagnow.
Poem © Copyright 2003 by Becky Hopkinson.