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Mt. Washington; tale of two days.

Skiing with a belay, it's all just practice unless you fall.

Skiing with a belay, it

bootin' up Diagonal gully April 12th.


Mt. Washington: the tale of two days.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

climbing Central Gully.

climbing Central Gully.

Over the Easter weekend I went up on Mt Washington for some ski mountaineering with Mike and Chad from the Adirondacks. The objective was to train for their future ski descent of Mt Rainer. Saturday was forecast to have rain yet it never developed and the day turned out to be a perfect spring day with corn snow and a few puffy clouds. Great weather always makes everything seem reasonable. The gullies in Huntington ravine all look inviting whether you were a climber or a skier.

The neighboring Tuckerman ravine was packed with people eager to through them selves at the head wall to complete the annual pilgrimage to the Northeast’s pinnacle backcountry skiing accomplishment. Mean while over in Huntington ravine we were among a hand full of people looking for adventure. The beauty of Huntington Ravine is that it is considered an ice climbers destination, yet it boosts some of the East’s best coulior skiing. Around here they call them gullies not the French term coulior but the experience is the same; tight straight shots with rock on both sides and ice bulges at the exit to navigate. This is ski mountaineering.

The idea behind ski mountaineering is simple, pick a line that is compelling to ski and to it, not despite the hazard or remoteness but simply because it draws you to it. That is the skiing part. The mountaineering part is managing the risk. Risk is a simple thing to embrace, desire to live draw’s you to it and desire to live will bring you home. You can look at risk like an equation: Consequence X Likely hood = Risk. In other words how bad it’s going to hurt multiplied by the chances of it occurring. The great thing about climbing is that you can do what ever you want to do as long as you can get your self there and back home.

Our objective for the day was to ski Central Gully, which is visible from the parking lot. Central gully is a must for any ski enthusiast who wants a little more then a big bowl to ski in. It averages 42 degrees and drops 800 vertical feet from top to bottom. On a good year you can ski the entire gully but most years you have to contend with an ice bulge at the exit.

The conditions were perfect for us. Corn snow down a twenty feet wide coulior with a no falls exit. Since there was the ice bulge exit, which means a no falls exit I belayed Chad and Mike as they skied. The idea behind belayed skiing is two fold, one it is a great way to protect a dangerous spot the other is it is a great way to give people confidence so they don’t fall. Everything went great except the twenty minutes we had to wait as a team of French Canadians climbed through. It was the best of times for spring skiing.

The second day we set our sights on Diagonal gully. This is a hidden coulior cutting 45 degrees across Huntington ravine averaging a 45-degree pitch. It also has a no falls exit with a 30-meter ice flow.

The weather had taken a 180-degree turn. Winter was back! The summit temp was 5 F with 60 MPH wind and it was snowing. The previous days corn snow had frozen solid. It was the worst of times!

Chad finishing the WI 3 ice of Harvard Bulge to enter Diagonal Gully

Chad finishing the WI 3 ice of Harvard Bulge to enter Diagonal Gully

We climbed the WI 3 flow to enter Diagonal gully with our skis on our back and continued up, belaying each pitch. The climbing was ideal, one-inch penetration into the frozen surface. The wind was howling and the snow kept visibility to 30 meters.

Once we started down belaying was the only option. I would belay both Chad and Mike down then I would down climb. In these conditions skiing with out a belay on a 45 degree frozen surface, in my opinion, was like soloing a slab climb in the rain. We continued like this until we returned to the ice flow and rappelled. Once below the ice we resumed skiing sans rope.

Crampons off skis on!

Crampons off skis on!

The interesting part of a weekend like this is the extremes we encountered. It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. However the end result meant there was no “worst of times”. We had the opportunity to utilize a variety of skills and experienced the polar opposites in conditions. The training opportunity could not have been better. Once again Mt. Washington delivers big mountain experience with easy access.

rappelling the ice bulge in Diagonal gulley

rappelling the ice bulge in Diagonal gully

One Response to “Mt. Washington; tale of two days.”

  1. Chad
    April 15, 2009 at 11:24 pm #

    Thanks again for an incredible weekend. We picked up some new skills and had a great time in the mountains. You came highly reccomended and surpassed all expectations.
    Good luck in Alaska!!

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