It had been nearly two weeks since Teton's last outing and he was getting restless. Burnt out from screens and walls, Moose suggested he take advantage of the following day in which he had off of work. Teton headed straight for the gear closet and started packing.
A solo ascent of Mt. Washington had always been on Teton's agenda and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to tackle this test of his mountaineering prowess. Having ascended the mountain the previous winter, Teton felt confident in his abilities. He packed his backpack and set his alarm. Leaving Portland at 4:30 AM, Teton reached Pinkham Notch at 6:30 AM in the dark. When he arrived, he suited up and hit the trail by headlight.
His plan of attack was via the familiar Lions Head Trail; only eight miles round trip. The gamble with this climb is not length but rather the weather. The final push to the summit traverses a barren and jagged mountainside marked only by low lying cairns. These cairns quickly disappear in low visibility conditions that frequent Mt. Washington's high summit.
Positioned at the center of three weather systems, the peak is notorious for quick and ever-changing weather, record high winds, and blinding snow storms. Getting caught in this bad weather has led to death for many and is why Mt. Washington claims the title of the deadliest "small" mountain in the world (ranked #8 overall of the worlds most deadliest mountains).
The first 2.5 miles on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail were accomplished in retreating darkness. Entirely alone, Teton felt a bit concerned about the foggy conditions he was facing. By the time he had reached the Lions Head Trail, there was enough light to see through an opening where the higher summits should have resided, but all Teton could see were clouds. Determined, he continued on knowing that he still had time before he would have to make the call to push onward or pass for another day.
Teton's previous ascent was accomplished via the Lions Head Winter Route, but due to the lack of snowfall, the Summer Route was still open and Teton was unexpectedly forced onto this unknown trail.
The Lion Head is a massive pile of granite that spears out from the mountainside and is the only sizable landmark along the climb. Once you meet the Lion Head, the trail flattens out a bit as you begin your traverse alongside Tuckerman's Ravine, a massive gully that features steep cliffs and awesome views.
After hiking past Tuckerman's Ravine and the slopes of the Alpine Garden, the ascent to the summit begins. This is where decisions have to be made. Once you start the climb up the rocky mountainside you are in the hands of the weather. With only low lying cairns marking the trail, it is easy to lose your course if visibility gets too low. The clouds had momentarily cleared from the summit so Teton felt confident making the push.
The final push to the summit is only .4 mile, but it is within this short incline that you have to be the most cautious. The terrain is rugged, jagged and unforgiving. If the snow is deep, this is where it would be advised to use a piolet ice axe for stability and self-arresting on the rocky slope. This time, the peak had not yet been covered and Teton found no use for the piece of equipment.
After taking in the breathtaking views and consuming a few calories, Teton decided it was time to go as he had already spent a chilling 30 minutes atop the mountain. He wanted to stay longer but clouds began to rip across the summit from the northwest and he didn't want to press his luck.
Teton was back at the parking lot by noon. The climb was five hours round trip; three hours spent cautiously moving through the early morning darkness on the ascent and two flying down the mountain on the return. Watch the weather, start early and be prepared for any outcome then you too can enjoy the wonderfully intimate and invigorating excursion of a Mt. Washington solo ascent.