I?ve been planning this trip for about a year. Soloed it many times in some of the most brutal weather you can only imagine. Survived 3 avalanches, two set off by my own arrogance in disregard of Mother Nature?s signs. On one summit attempt I pitched a tent somewhere around Split Rock as a front came in so quick I barely got in it before the wind picked up to 128 MPH and temperatures dipped down below minus 20 degrees fahrenheit. I stayed in that tent for twelve hours straight while I got buried under six feet of blown snow, my water bottles frozen solid. I attempted to pack up my tent almost abandoning it because my fingers were frostbitten, and I was in a total whiteout and somehow lost my compass and my way back. That?s a story for another time. In the heart of the White Mountains New Hampshire, Mount Washington. Designated to have the world?s worst weather. This mountain has claimed the lives of more people until the Mt. Everest disaster in 1996. What draws me to summit this beast in the middle of winter can only be described as the Voice of God. This is a voice I wanted to share with my girlfriend, Celeste. I set out to get her ready for her first winter summit 6288 feet above sea level. Not very high but in the right geological area where the top is directly in the jet stream during the winter. I had to make our work outs hard but fun. Celeste had never hiked any distance let alone carrying a pack with just enough equipment to stay on top one winter night. Every day I would track the weather patterns over Canada and the Great Lakes hoping to catch the almost impossible two day low pressure front that might stall at the top keeping the sky clear for optimal midnight star gazing. It came together almost like magic. Celeste was in great shape and the weather just might cooperate for a perfect weekend hike. I packed the truck and drove three hours straight to the foot of the big hill just as the sun was coming up. We signed the log book at Pinkham Notch and I wrote in our route up and back. The rule of thumb is if you?re not back within 24 hours after your due time, you?re most likely dead. The sky was clear and the sun was bright. You could see the wind wisping the snow across the top leaving behind a rainbow of color. It wasn?t long before we were stripping off layers as we made our way up the beginning of Tuckerman?s Ravine Trail. Soon, a lot sooner than I had anticipated we had to put on crampons. This was Celeste?s first time wearing these spiked appendages. It takes a little getting use to and you usually gouge holes in whatever pants you?re wearing unless you wear gators! I was wearing shorts and Hot Chilies. There?s a psychological side to hiking when it?s minus 5 degrees at the bottom and minus 16 at Hermits Lake where we planned to make camp. You have to stay focused. I pointed out scenic spots and places you never see in nature anywhere else except on the big hill and only in the winter. Celeste was having trouble keeping up and making frequent stops which spells trouble this early in a long hike. The snow was getting deeper and softer and post holing was becoming a problem with my 78 pound pack and her 35 pounder. I made a decision to change routs and try to find some packed snow. Big mistake. We wondered off a bit and missed the cut through to Boott Spur. We were now dead heading a new trail we so lovingly call, The Johnson Walsh Trail. Every step became a post hole. Celeste was becoming weak and I noticed the beginning signs of dehydration and minor hyperthermia. I took her pack and sent her ahead about 500 yards just so she could rehydrate and rest. I would follow with both packs. We did this for the next 2 hours until I finally found a small cut through with a small river to cross that would eventually take us back to Tuckerman?s and finally to Hermits where I quickly set up my tent and got Celeste in a sleeping bag. She was in stage two hyperthermia and totally dehydrated. I didn?t plan on melting snow for water so I didn?t bring enough fuel to continually boil enough water to put into all my containers and rotate all night into her sleeping bag. She was trying to sleep and I was desperately trying to keep her awake. If she fell asleep I would most definitely have to carry down a popsicle. There?s a fresh water pump about a half mile from where we were camped. I wasn?t sure if it was frozen and the rangers didn?t know at the bottom when I asked. I was supposed to tell them when I returned. She seemed to become a little more responsive after I forced her to eat and drink some hot chocolate and hot chicken rice soup. I rotated the last of my water into her sleeping bag. I told her to try to stay awake and I would be right back while I made a run for some liquid water, I hope. Before we left there were only 5 other people on the trails that day. It was too cold for the average recreational hiker/skier to venture up. There was an avalanche and frost bit alert out to anyone that was bold enough to try to summit. I stopped in at the ranger?s cabin at Hermits Lake to see if anyone was there. No answer but the door was left unlocked. I thought about getting Celeste up and into the warm cabin just as a last ditch survival move. Continued up a side trail and found the pump. Lucky for me someone had dug out 6 feet of snow all around it. As I was filling my Nalgene bottles, a hiker stopped by to fill up. I started to tell him what I was up against and he abandons his summit attempt that day and came back with me to help boil water and continue to rotate bottles in and out of her bag. Dark falls quickly in the mountains as does the temperatures and so we bundled up with everything we had in our packs. I let Celeste sleep for a short time and woke her periodically to drink something hot. Our new friend was packed in tight and sleeping before 8:00. I stayed awake and warm by shoveling out snow around us. I still wanted to attempt a midnight summit but couldn?t leave her alone in case she went south for the winter. Finally, I blew a breath of relief when she woke up and had to pee. She was going to be alright. I gave her a head light and warmed up her boots. Still dazed and wobbly, she shuffled down a little path I had shoveled out to a place we could pee. She wanted to get back into her bag right away. I told her just for one second take a breath and look up. It was all worth it. It wasn?t the stars from the summit but just as good. Almost as if God was talking to us. It was so cold I had to get her back into her bag and warm again. I stayed awake and kept boiling water with the help of our new friend?s fuel. I watched the side of the mountain start to brighten as morning was upon us. I knew the temps would start to come up and we should make our way down as soon as we both got some hot chocolate into us. I was going on 38 hours without sleep and still had to hike down 2 miles carrying both packs. Celeste felt better but was still dehydrated and would shiver if she didn?t keep moving. I grabbed her boots to find they were frozen solid. I gave it the ol? just put them on and do it try but she started to cry as soon as she took the first step. I figured I had about another 15 minutes of packing to do so I pulled out the Whisper stove and roasted her boots until they were partially unfrozen. I put them on and laced them up telling her about all the beautiful things she was going to see on the way down. She sobbed into a frozen paper towel. Things started to look good as we made our way down and groups of people were making their way up. Some getting out of my way as they tried to figure out why I was carrying two packs, sometimes dragging one behind me. We stopped and tried to enjoy the water falls at the bottom or beginning of the trail thinking back to just a couple of hours ago this little hill almost kept one of us forever.
Celeste has made two other attempts to summit Mt. Washington. One in the winter of 2006 where she made it to Lions Head. The other in spring about 2 years later. She made it to the headwall of Tuckerman?s. I?ll continue to solo my friend, Mt Washington and hope if it ever decides to keep me it?s for the best.
This adventure happened in 2005. I wrote it from memory in about 45 minutes on 5/19/2011. It?s raw and unedited with many events left out. I hope to put this and the many other short adventure stories together someday for others to enjoy.