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June 4, 2009
[WARNING - very long Report ahead]
I know I have previously mentioned how over the years I've made many hikes up in the Presi's and ended up turning around before I reached my goal. Sometimes this has been due to avalanche danger, sometimes bad or questionable weather, sometimes just that "bad feeling" that you get for no particular reason. Whenever I come home after a trip or hike my son Lewis almost always asks me if I was successful. On the times I say no, he has had a hard time understanding how things can be so bad that I would turn around. Over the past several weeks he's gotten a first-hand view of the reality of the decision making process...
We are well into our spring/summer hiking program, designed to get both of us into shape. For me it's about doing something that is load and impact bearing, unlike cycling and climbing. For him it's about getting his legs and core strength up to help with his wrestling and karate. Sunday's are our day to spend together and we've been getting out on a long hike pretty much every week. It's always a great day of dad & son together for 6-8 hours with no iPod or TV in the way. As I've mentioned before, after a couple of hours of babble, the talk often turns to some genuinely interesting topics.
Two weeks ago we hiked the Edmunds Path to the summit of Mt. Eisenhower. The day started off nice, turned into to a light drizzle and stayed that way until we got to tree-line. We were both surprised by the number of people on the trail, well over 20 not including a guided AMC group. As we moved out of the trees the wind picked up and the rain stopped, but we got into a fog with about a 30-50' visibility. Lewis got a little worried, but I showed him how we could go from cairn to cairn and not get lost. Once he understood that, he felt more comfortable. Not to mention the fact that there were people going up and down all around us. Unfortunately there was no view at all from the summit, but it wasn't that cold, so we spent about 20 minutes eating PB&J and then headed back down. Of course just after we got back into tree-line the fog started burning off and the views we got from a few breaks in the trees were pretty nice. By the time we were at the car it was 70 & gorgeous!
From this hike Lewis understood how even if the conditions were a bit funky, with the right equipment and perseverance you can attain to your goal. On the way down we had talked about how much worse it would have to be before we would turn around. But I could tell that he still didn't completely understand the decision process.
This past Sunday we had a somewhat more ambitious goal - hike the Valley Way trail to the Madison Hut, and then to the summit of Madison. Madison, at 5,367', is a significant undertaking. It's completely exposed and is basically a jumble of rubble. Strangely enough I've done it 4 times in the winter, but never in the summer. The hike without the snow and cold was quite different. Different enough that I didn't even remember the several waterfalls and numerous stream crossings.
It's a bit of a ride up to the Appalachia trailhead from our house and its hard to get Lewis up really early, so we got on the trail a bit late at around 9:45. There was a little rain in the first mile or so, but not nearly as much as the week before - just a very light drizzle for a 15-20 minutes. We took a short break on a sunny rock after about 2 1/2 hours for our traditional PB&J and an apple. We didn't see nearly as many people on our way up as we usually do, only a few groups of volunteer workers coming down from the Hut where they had been getting it ready to open the following week. They all talked about how nice the morning had been and that there were only some broken clouds visible up high so that was encouraging.
At about the point where the trail really starts to narrow down, about a half mile from the Hut, the sky clouded up, there was a rumble of thunder off in the distance and a few minutes later we got some light hail. This was around 1:30 PM. This really did make Lewis nervous and we discussed turning around. The MW Observatory Higher Summits weather report from the morning had mentioned the possibility of passing thunderstorms in the later afternoon. I'd figured that we could at least get to the Hut and make a decision at that point about what to do, so I convinced him that this was a reasonable option. A little more hail came down just as we popped out in the open, but it stopped when we got to the Hut and the clouds became more broken. There was a worker in the Hut, but as it was officially closed we only waved at him and didn't go in.
We had another snack including some trail mix that I'd spiked with M&M's for him and some chocolate covered espresso beans for me. We looked over at the col left of Adam, the direction of where the clouds were coming from, and it looked as if thew were breaking up again. We also noticed some hikers coming down off of Adams. The wind died down a lot and it looked as if there was a reasonable possibility of making the summit of Madison, so we decided to give it a try via the Osgood Trail. While we could have gone around to the other side to be in the lee of the wind, I figured if we had a problem at least we would be closer to and in sight of the Hut.
The first hundred feet or so was pretty nice, up to the first slabby section, but then we started getting a little more light hail. We continued for another 50-60 feet and it got harder and the wind picked up. We had on fleece, rain gear, warm hats, gloves and fleece tights so we weren't cold. However if we turned our faces into the wind the hail was painful on our exposed skin. Things were starting to deteriorate and about 150' from the summit we decided to hunker down behind a cairn & see if it would stop. We waited about 10 minutes but it really didn't change, so we talked about it and made the decision to go down.
When I say WE made the decision, it was really ME, but I made sure that we discussed things together. I wanted him to be a part of the decision so he would understand why we were turning around. He kept saying that the summit was just "right over there". I agreed but pointed out that we would then go back down facing the wind and blowing hail. I also pointed out that the broken clouds behind Adams and up the col were now solid and dark. That was all he needed to hear to understand that we would be better off going down sooner, rather than later. Of course as soon as we got 50' back down the trail the wind slacked and the hail stopped. Why was I not surprised? I kept my mouth shut tho and in a short time we were back in the lee of the Hut drinking some Gatorade and munching on a banana and more trail mix. By now the clouds had broken up again and the wind died even more. It looked as if the main disturbance had passed across and was headed for Berlin.
We had previously decided to take the Air Line back down to where it intersects with the Upper Bruin and then down to Valley Way. The conditions seemed OK for the time being so we scooted across the Connector and got on the ridge. Conditions and visibility were good and the view down into King Ravine was spectacular. We both were surprised by the amount of snow still in the Ravine, it looked as if winter wasn't done in there. For about the first 1/4 mile things were good, then the wind picked up again, seemingly blowing right up out of the Ravine. At times the gusts had to be 30 mph, but there wasn't any hail and it wasn't that cold. Still it took us longer than planned to get to the Upper Bruin and we were very happy to get there. Lewis did really well dealing with these difficult conditions and at times it seemed as if he was actually exhilarated by the experience. Once we hung the right and headed down into the trees on the Bruin it was as if someone turned off the wind and the temperature climbed at least 10 degrees. the Bruin is pretty steep and rocky so we were very careful coming down but about 20 minutes later we were on Valley Way and we were both really happy to be there.
We hiked on for a few minutes and chatted when I noticed that he was lagging back more than normal so I stopped. All of a sudden he started to get very upset and almost fell apart. I realized that he had pretty much expended all his mental energy so I gave him a big hug and told him how great a job he'd done. I gave him some more M&M's plus a espresso bean and that definitely perked him up. I could tell he was OK when he reminded me that tho we were still close to 3 hours from the car it was "all downhill from here".
We continued down the now-muddy trail and around 30 minutes later we came on what appeared to be a college-age young lady packing up perishable supplies for the Hut. She introduced herself as Matti and paused to chat for a few minutes. We both were very impressed by the wooden frame with leather straps and how much she was carrying, plus the statement that this was her second hike up in 2 days!
We kept hiking, only stopping for the occasional drink and to pull snacks out of our packs so we could eat on the hoof. About a mile from the trailhead the couple who we had seen on Adams passed us. We chatted as we walked together briefly and they mentioned that they had camped out up there the night before. Nice folks, as are most people you meet on the trail...
As we got onto the less rocky and rooty trail Lewis pulled ahead of me and by the time we got to the power lines he was a good 3-4 minutes ahead. I wasn't sure if he was just wanting to get to the car 'cause he was tired or because he had been thinking about the Nintendo DS game he would get to play on the way home! [grin}
While we were coming down we had a lot of time to talk about what he had learned on this hike. He was disappointed not to have actually gotten to the summit and was assuredly not looking forward to doing it again. However he understood that at times you have to make decisions about what is safe and what is not and accept it. We talked about what it must be like for climbers on mountains like Everest and K2, who get so close to the top and have to make the decision to turn around or not. I told him the quote from Ed Viesturs about how the climb isn't done until you are safely down and I think that he got the point. We did make a deal about giving it another shot and I said I'd pay for the Hut so we could hike up one day & do Madison, spend the night at the Hut and grab Adams the following day. Seemed like a pretty good plan to both of us...
A final observation in regards to Lewis' clothing for these kinds of hikes. While he has a very good pair of trail-running shoes, he really needs a pair of stiff-soled hiking shoes that are at least somewhat waterproof. Even tho he isn't carrying a heavy pack, it gets hard on your feet stepping on rocks and roots for miles & miles. He has a nice single-layer Goretex rain/wind jacket that is his mother's. However its a little big on him and he would be better served with something more his own size. He really likes to wear his fleece gloves so he can move his fingers around & do things easier when hiking, however they aren't really waterproof. I need to at least bring a spare pair of fully waterproof ski-type gloves for conditions like last Sunday. I always hate to buy expensive stuff for him 'cause he is growing so quickly. However for this kind of experience he needs good stuff. Time to hit the local consignment stores and maybe eBay!
On Tuesday IMCS had its annual Guide Training. It was a perfect sunny day with just enough breeze to keep the bugs away. We spent most of the day over at Whitehorse going over all kinds of scenarios for escaping a belay, passing knots and the like. Lots of great things to refresh our memories about things that we hope we will never need to use, but must have together in case we need them. I am always impressed with how fluent our boss Brad White is with all this stuff. He just makes it seem so effortless. He's been teaching these courses for a long time, and it shows.
I find that doing this clearly points out to me the things that I do have at my fingertips, and the things I don't. And as always I go home and spend several hours going over this stuff again, so it's right there when I need it. With climbing, maybe more than anything else I do, having this stuff available is critical.
BTW I certainly don't mean to imply that IMCS is the only guide schools that does this kind of thing. In fact almost all do. It is simply what is necessary for all of us to keep our skill levels up. That's what its like for all climbing guides.
A week ago I grabbed Brad for a couple of hours and ran over to Humphrey's to check out Joe & Judy Perez's new route, As Easy as Instant Pudding Pie. it's located on the left side of the cliff, down the hill and about 40' left of Cakewalk.
click for route description
They rated it as a 5.4, and I think that's probably the easiest climb on the cliff. It's a nice short little climb that only requires a handful of quickdraws and is probably perfect for a new leader. There is a 2 bolt anchor at the top and a single 60 meter rope will get you up and down handily. If the other climbs are busy or you are looking for something easy to do with a friend, this may be just the ticket. Check it out.
If it weren't for the fact that the bugs are pretty bad in the woods, I would probably lower BUGCON to a 2 or less. If you are anywhere out in the open these days the breeze keeps them pretty much away. I'm also sure that the generally cooler than normal temps have had an effect as well. I was on Whitehorse all day Tuesday and never got bit once, but 2 hours in the woods on Wednesday was a different story. Tho I'm sure ticks are still out there as well, I haven't seen any in several weeks and I have been out there in the woods hiking around quite a bit. Your Mileage May Vary so I'm sticking with a 3 for now.
Up on one of the Mount Washington Valley's finest crags and want to know what that climb you're looking at is? Or maybe you're on your way up from Boston and want to check out the Ice Report for your upcoming weekend plans. Or more likely, you're at work just want to daydream about your next adventure. Well if you have a smart phone handy, you can get to NEClimbs from anywhere you have cell service. While it doesn't offer every single feature of the site and it's not an "app", in mobile form, it does do a whole lot and is very useful. Here is the live link to the mobile version of NEClimbs:
Check it out and if you have issues on your specific phone, please feel free to let me know.
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Have fun and climb safe,
The White Mountain Report
North Conway, New Hampshire
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