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Thread: Celeste's First Winter Summit Attempt

  1. #1
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    Post Celeste's First Winter Summit Attempt

    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.

  2. #2
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    Kudos to you for recognizing desperate signs before it was too late. And, man, do I know how disappointing it is to get that far - planning, driving, hiking - only to get within SIGHT of the summit and have to make that awful determination that you really shouldn't "go for it". Again - congratulations! you made the RIGHT decision back there and both you and Celeste are still here to talk about it! There are so many who aren't! It is an awesome feeling to put yourself "out there" - to test your physical limits - to push a little against the force of nature. Those of us who do are truly rewarded with sights and memories of a lifetime . . . I'll look forward to hearing more "short adventure stories" . . . thanks so much for sharing this one . . . . . .

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  4. #3
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    An amazing story!

    Donna
    "If you can't find time to fix it right, when will you find time to fix it again."

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    donjohnson007 (12-09-2012)

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    You know, I'm usually not so harsh on other hikers, "Hike your own hike!" I always say, but this was just stupid. When she started having trouble, you should have gotten her out of there. Even though you say she was showing signs of hypothermia, fatigue and dehydration early on, you continued on towards YOUR goal, and her near death. You were the one who supposedly knew what you were doing and she had no clue and you almost got her killed. If you want to go out there for braggin' rights and try to get killed, then I say go for it, but don't drag someone else that knows little of the possible consequences along, then push them beyond their limits. You're lucky she's alive and has all her appendages and that you apparently still have a hiking partner in her. If I was her, I'd have told you flip off after that.

    KDT

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    I agree with kd talbot,

    also mt washington in the winter might not be the best place for someone to do a winter climb and wear crampons for the first time just a thought. And I cant believe she went out on the trail with you again

    jim

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    donjohnson007 (12-09-2012)

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    I can't be silent on this, and I understand I walk a fine line.

    Ego, bravado, aggrandizement, ignorance, selfishness, ill preparedness, and willfull dismissal of best advice/practice are real killers on Mt Washington. Mother Nature will toss that salad as she pleases.

    I'm not enjoying the OP's story at all, except to be relieved that he never got his party higher than HoJo's, and no one in his party needed true rescue assistance, they got themselves into and out of trouble with a good end result.

    Breeze

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  12. #7
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    Some of you may not agree on the decisions I made but the end result proves that my 35 years of experience in extreme winter survival skills and how to handle a situation that could have ended badly were in fact the right decisions made at the time. You are entitled to your opinion. I will never over look another well trained hiker/survivalist suggestions in a situation such as this. Not only does she still hike with me, she still trusts me with her life. I do not believe in rescue. I believe in self rescue. She knew the dangers before we started this adventure. If you reread the story you will see I trained her for over a year before she was ready for this adventure. Any extreme sport is dangerous especially if you are not experienced. Anyone who hikes with me knows well in advanced the dangers of the tasks at hand. We all have a say in deciding most aspects of a multi day/night trip where most people would never consider taking on. If the risk is too high for some can choose a much safer journey and we will meet them in the middle. No one will twist your arm to to what we do. Celeste's trip was well planned. I took every precaution into consideration well before we left home. I think I understand how a few of you feel but we do not and are not your average hikers/climbers. We don't just do this for fun. We do it to push ourselves to our limit or not at all. Celeste made it clear for me to push her to her limit. I did what we both wanted to do and with excellent results. Not only did things work out well, we both learned from this experience and have made the necessary adjustments to further our skills. If it was easy, everyone would do it. We don't want easy. We want challenging even if it cost us our lives. Like you said. Hike your own hike...and I have been for over 38 years now. I have sever frostbite on both feet/toes and a few fingers. All worth every second. I'm currently training Celeste for new and harder adventures. Both of us just turned 54. We don't just do this because we can, we do it because most people wouldn't even attempt what we do.

  13. #8
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    Thank you all for your input and comments!!!! Hope to see you soon somewhere in the snow or on the ice!!!
    Thanks,
    Don J

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