Mt. Washington: An American Classic


Standing at 6,288 feet above sea level, it is the highest peak in the northeastern United States and the crown of New Hampshire’s Presidential Range. Its weather is legendary. The average wind speed at the summit is over 100 miles per hour. Gusts in excess of 200 miles per hour have been recorded. The combination of arctic temperatures and hurricane force winds, produce wind chills that drop to equivalent temperatures of -50°F. Located at the convergence of several storm tracks, the weather is dangerously unstable and erratic. It is a mountain to be taken seriously.

Yet it is a uniquely accessible peak. Tourists can ride to the summit on the cog railway, or drive their own vehicles up the mountain, on the auto road, in summer. Numerous hiking trails switchback up the ridges and ravines. The headwall of Tuckermans Ravine has been one of the coveted playgrounds of skiers for nearly a century. The 2000 mile, Appalachian Trail, straddles the crest of the Presidential Range, on its way from Georgia to Maine.

Mount Washington holds a special place in American climbing history. It is the classic heart of New England ice climbing. Until the 1960s, little ice was explored outside of Mount Washington’s deep ravines. The peak’s geology has created an environment that is akin to the highland peaks of Scotland, such as Ben Nevis. Ravines cut into its eastern flank by alpine glaciers have gouged out steep sided bowls, or cirques. Winds from the west blast snow from the western slopes up and over the ridge crest into the cirques, keeping them snow covered deep into the spring. Huntington Ravine’s headwall consists of rock buttresses too steep to hold permanent snow. Steep gullies between the buttresses, act as chutes for snow and melt water from higher elevations. As a result, steep ribbons of ice form, creating classic lines for ascents.

Due to its dramatic, potential for severe weather, it is one of the most accessible testing grounds for mountaineers, yet is still a classic endeavor. It is a short duration, spectacular expedition, where we are likely to have a good story to tell, and beautiful pictures.

For this Ascents of Honor project, these close-to-home adventures can be designed to be complex enough to require high functioning teamwork. There is bound to be enough stress to produce some adrenalin. Solutions to the challenges in front of us will need an endurance mindset and articulate technical assessment and execution.  The inevitable oversights, misjudgments or mistakes (of complex situations) will require a sense of humor, fortitude, re-setting of initial expectations and recovery from disaster. Here, by design, we are tired, maybe scared or frustrated and have to dig deep to perform. We have the potential to see a new perspective of ourselves.

Within the arena of our dreams and passions, we are more enthusiastic about finding solutions through hardships, that would be less palatable in our regular, day-to-day life. Our adventures are a beautiful, enjoyable arena, where we can sample and learn some, often times, distasteful skill sets.

Mt. Washington has to be one of the most high value (relative to investment of time and money) mountaineering projects on this continent. It is a rare package, located as it is, in our back yard. Certainly so, for the Eastern climber.

This trip is a deeper insight into how we can take another step to help our Veterans return home.