Mount Washington: The Coldest Peak On The Coldest Week

I don’t know how many people told me we were crazy to be hiking

Mt Washington in January – I don’t think anyone thought it was

a good idea. The White Mountains in New Hampshire can hold some

pretty cold and windy conditions during the winter, and many experienced

hikers will advise novices (and even the advanced) to yield to

caution and stay inside this time of year. We’re not experts,

but we’ve done this a few times, we’ve all got the right gear,

we’ve read enough safety articles and we closely watch the weather


Throughout mid-January, New Hampshire experienced some of the coldest and most

bitter conditions on record, but this was when we scheduled

our annual guys’ trip to Mt. Washington. Fortunately, as luck would have it, the more

severe cold and wind was about to lighten, though it was still far from balmy. Here’s a link to the


Washington Weather Archive – click on any date for a summary

of the summit conditions.

January 17th was going to be the best day to make our attempt.

The daytime air temps were going to be above freezing and the

wind wasn’t expected to be too much to handle. As it turned out,

from the Lake of the Clouds Hut and beyond, the hiking conditions

were too dangerous. In the 24-hour period of the 17th, the average

wind speed was 94 mph with a maximum wind gust of 145 mph. And this

was still the best day to hike in weeks!

We started the hike at 7:00 a.m.

to make sure we had enough time to at least make

the Lake of the Clouds Hut and leave enough time to get down

in daylight. That meant we started in the shadow

of the mountain. It was really beautiful to watch the

sun come up over the mountain and rain down its heat and

light on our side.

The wind was so constant that

any previous footprints were covered over with newly blown

snow. The trail looked as if nobody had hiked it yet this

season. Everything was pristine and unpolluted.

Just as we were coming over the

crest of this incline, the sun came up in full view and

as someone stood in it’s way, it made for a pretty stellar

image. We were getting close to the hut just as the

wind was starting to really pick up. Ironically, once inside, we were all actually eager to get back out into the wind we’d spent so much

money protecting ourselves from.

Ethan is standing next to

some of the toughest vegetation that somehow survives

these harse conditions. Everything is encased with ice and snow

and stands through wind sometimes well upwards of 150

mph. The ice that collects here is very unique and

makes the mountain look more like a moonscape than a

mountain in New Hampshire.

Here I am all geared-up. While

all the gear in the world certainly does NOT make the

hiker, the absence of the right gear can mean certain

danger. I’m wearing a waterproof/windproof shell jacket

and pants, nylon gaiters, mountaineering boots with step-in

crampons, windproof gloves and balaclava (full head covering

hat) and ski goggles. I haven’t left an inch of skin exposed!

Here is a close up of my boots in Grivel

G-12 crampons on the ice. It’s almost more comfortable walking

on ice with crampons than on dry rocks with new boots. The

only problem is walking in the 100 mph winds!

The wind was whipping the

snow and ice around us as we came to the trail marker

next to the Lake of the Clouds Hut. The higher we went, the more the conditions quickly deteriorated.

Standing still, the wind would lift our hiking poles. On this side of the hut, the wind gusts were getting quite

dangerous, and as careful as we were, it did manage to

knock Rob to the ground once. Walking upright was getting near

impossible so we decided that hiking further toward the

summit would be too dangerous.

The mix of sun glare and windswept snow played

with us on the way down. Though of all the elements, it was most certainly the wind that kept us from the summit

As we looked back on our way

down we knew we were making the right decision not to

go any further. The winter summit will have to wait for

our next trip.

The wind was really doing a number

on us even as we made our way down to lower elevation. This picture captures some

of the blinding beauty of the sun, and what apppears to be something on the lens is actually some of the ice and snow blowing in the wind.

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