Mt Washington State Park, April 11th Blog
The calendar says we have been into spring season for weeks but in the higher elevations of the White Mountains you would hardly know it.
The mountains are locked in winter's icy grip with frequent snow storms, super hurricane force winds and below freezing temperatures still common. However, there are times in between storms when the sun comes out it is so bright, being reflected off the snowpack, one could easily become snow-blind unless wearing proper sunglasses or sunburned without skin protection. It can be below freezing but you would never know it as the energy from the spring sun is the strongest of the year and warms like an oven. In the sun and low humidity, wet clothing dries in minutes. These sunny, low wind days when the snow softens above the tree line are an irresistible lure to adventure-seeking backcountry skiers and climbers who wait all year long for these conditions in the high country to develop.
The Auto Road and Cog Railway are still closed so the only way up into the Alpine Zone for the general public this time of year is by leg power. More popular trails, like Lions’ Head and Jewell Trails are well packed hard snow and ice. Crampons and ice axes are recommended on all trails leading above the tree line until late May (caution will still be needed in crossing snowfields that last into late June). We are seeing more climbers and skiers adequately equipped to handle snow covered travel above tree line than 40 years ago. The more people participating in a sport the greater the odds someone may become injured. It can be from pure bad luck or poor decision making. There are hazards in the mountains that can not be ignored such as avalanche, falling ice, long slides into rocks, post-holes, rapid weather changes, etc.
There is always a lot of press that circulates around search and rescue incidents in the mountains. To an untrained observer these press reports could lead one to believe that the sport is extremely dangerous. While we are seeing increased off season use the number of rescues haven't been increasing, knock on wood! This could be a result of the 'information age' which has increased internet access to trip reports, weather, current snow and trail conditions posted by climbing guides & schools, USFS Snow Rangers and Avalanche reports for Mt Washington, etc. Today's mountaineering and ski equipment is safer, lighter and more efficient. In 1973 for example the back-country ski equipment and technical clothing available was limited compared to what is on the market in 2013.
The reasons people are getting off the couch and taking time to educate, train and properly equip themselves to travel safely or ski above the tree line are as many and varied as there are climbers and skiers. The rewards of making it to the top of Mt Washington in spring are many such as:
Experiencing the climate change while ascending through the 4 distinct vegetative zones
Observing wildlife on the mountains’ flanks or there signs
Health giving vigorous exercise
Hiking trails rough spots evenly filled with packed snow
No black flies or mosquitoes and cool, fresh mountain air
Or for bragging rights!
One's sweat and efforts are rewarded with clearest and sharpest views of the year from high country.
These views form pleasing memories which one tends to return year after year to re-capture. Photographer Brian Nevins captured recently from a airplane some of these snowy White Mountain views in a Brad Washburn like black and white photo galley that may help show the beauty of the White Mountains in snow season.
No wonder we are seeing more and more people on the summit of Mt Washington coming up to climb or ski! Not into the hiking/skiing thing but still want to visit the mountain? The Mt Washington Auto Road and Cog Railway are hard at work digging out from the winter snow and will be opening as soon as they can. You can follow their progress to the summit by clicking on their web sites at: http://www.thecog.com/ and http://mtwashingtonautoroad.com/
I've been working atop Mt Washington for past 30 years so you can guess I like it above the tree line! After all these years I still never tire of the beauty of our NH White Mtns and consider my employment an extreme honor and privilege to work for the State Of NH and serve its visitors. When not on the summit you can find me enjoying the rock & ice climbing one of the many beautiful granite cliffs we have in Franconia, Crawford or Echo Lake State Parks. I have taken these climbing skills learned at our NH State Parks to climb in Alaska, Andes, Canadian Arctic and Himalayas. I live in Gorham NH with my wife Diane Holmes.