Wed, Jun 7, 2006
Another fine day, three in a row now, and we were feeling fortunate indeed. So much so that we decided to tackle Mt. Washington a second time, after being rebuffed due to weather three days earlier. We expected it to be about the same difficulty as Three Fingered Jack, but once again would be surprised to find it harder.
We parked in the same location as we had three days earlier, a youth camp not yet open for the season. We started just before 5a at first light, hoping to get back earlier than we had the previous few days. As we had the day before, we used a combination of compass and GPS to navigate our way through the dense forest cover. I had tried to follow the faint steps laid down the previous time, but lost them all too soon. Our route was to the left of the original route and it landed us further down on the North Ridge. This made little difference as we made it to Pt. 6,323ft in nearly the same time of about an hour and a half. A thin layer of clouds began to sweep over the ridge and it was looking a bit like a repeat, but we knew this was the top of the cloud layer and we ought to be able to climb above it - provided the cloud layer didn't rise with us.
It was a delightful climb of the ridge with fine views off either side (though mostly of a dense cloud layer below us to the west). The east side of the ridge was hard snow butting up against the ridge itself. We could choose to use a climbers trail through the rocky ridge in many places or simply stay on the snow-filled side. Where it got steeper we switched to crampons and kept pretty much to the snow after this point, crossing rocky sections only as needed to save wear on the crampons.
By 7:30a we'd topped out on the ridge and began a short traverse on the west side to get around some gendarmes before the start of the summit pinnacle. The traverse was a bit steep and icy which Rick and I crossed without steps as they were impossible to kick. At the end of the traverse we found a steep snowfield that we climbed several hundred feet to the notch at the base of the pinnacle. It was a spicy bit of climbing for us, no doubt. We were some 30 minutes at the notch waiting for Matthew before Rick decided to head back down and find out what had happened to him. He found Matthew on the far side of the traverse unwilling to make his way across without a rope. Rick suggested he could probably climb up and around the snow on class 3 rock which Matthew then attempted as Rick rejoined me at the notch. another 30 minutes went by without Matthew appearing, and we guessed the rock was harder than it had looked. Matthew had been struggling on the more difficult terrain on this trip, seemingly more spooked by it than I've seen from him in years. Whether it was the injuries he was struggling with or the extended downtime while in China on business was hard to tell, but he was definitely not scrambling at the levels I had seen him do in our last outings.
We decided to get out the rope and start the pitch up the rotten chimney which would give Matthew another 30 minutes or so to join us before we were both out of the notch. He never showed. Rick took the lead and immediately found the route as rotten as advertised. Taking his time, he did a fine job of making it up without stumbling, good because there was nowhere to immediately put in protection and a fall would have been an ugly, skin-ripping pendulum off the NE side. After climbing a short distance out into the chimney to the left, the crux was a mantling move up to the right where easier ground was found as well as a place to put in protection. Rick climbed up to a rap station about 70 feet above the notch where he stopped to belay me up. Looking north we spotted Matthew atop a rock on the other side of the notch, separated by the gendarmes he was unable to get around. We waved as Matthew rested in the sunshine on his perch.
After this bit of rope work, the rest was easy by comparison. The rock was more solid, there were multiple ways to go, and it was an enjoyable class 3 scramble up to the summit where we arrived at 10a. Easier than Mt. Jefferson but harder than Three Fingered Jack, we were again elated with another successful Cascade summit. We found a register that was nearly filled after only being there a few years, a testament to it's popularity. We were the first to sign in since the previous year. The weather continued to cooperate, but the cloud level was rising and it seemed we'd only have a short while left with blue skies and good visibility. We hung around enjoying the views and taking pictures for about 20 minutes before starting down.
Back at the rap station, we decided to rap directly off the north side to the notch rather than attempt to rap back down the rotten chimney. We knew our rope could not reach all the way back via the chimney, and a downclimb in that awful rock seemed particularly undesireable. We couldn't see exactly where our rope landed as we tossed it off the north side, but it looked like there were horns that could be used for a second rappel if necessary should the rope fail to reach the notch. The wind picked up as the clouds began sweeping across the summit pinnacle, making the rappel a small adventure of its own. Going first, I was happy to find that the 35m rope just made it to the notch, though not a foot to spare. Rick came down in quick succession, after which we quickly packed up all our gear and started back.
We breathed easier after getting back down the steep gully and across the traverse. Around 11:15a we caught up with Matthew again who was waiting atop Pt. 6,323ft where we had left our poles. After a short break, we all headed back down, again negotiating by compass. We went far left of our previous routes which wasn't so great as we'd hoped. Instead of a shorter return we found ourselves with a lot of small traverses to get around ravine after ravine in the lower reaches of the mountain. Through the trees I spotted an unnatural orange object, which upon investigation turned out to be a NOAA weather observation balloon. The styrofoam box covered in cardboard had instructions for returning the box to the NOAA. We packed up the expended balloon, recording box, and attaching string and carried it out of the Wilderness. Later I would drop it off at the mailbox back in San Jose, happy to save the government a few bucks and hoping they'd send me a thank you note for the trouble (none came). The rest of the return was uneventful, as we made our way back to the youth camp and to our car.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Washington
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