This time it really was an artic death march!
Every Martin Luther King weekend, the NY Backpackers Meetup does a trip up to Conway, New Hampshire in the heart of the White Mountains. There's a lot to recommend this area: downhill and cross-country skiing, ice climbing, snowshoing, and some amazing hiking. The big draw, of course, is Mount Washington.
Mount Washington is the highest peak in the northeast, with some of the most extreme temperatures in the world. The hike up to the summit along the summer trail (the winter trail was closed when we were there) is 4.2 miles with almost 4,000 feet in elevation gain. The first two miles are along a snow covered road. The snow and uphill grade make it fairly challenging. At the second mile, however, you turn off onto a wood trail that switchbacks up and up. It gets pretty tough. After about a half mile, you're above the treeline. This is where things start getting rough. The next half mile is a steady climb up along a rocky surface. The rock outcroppings, though, do a pretty good job of protecting you from the wind. After this ascent, you leave all protection behind and cross and exposed ridge, then start climbing again for the last mile.
Usually, it's hardpacked snow and ice and the challenge comes from the extreme cold, high winds, and low visibility. The day we were there, the temperatures were about 0 to 20 below, with wind gusts of only about 30 mph. Visibility was good, but snow was coming. The problem, for me, was that there was about two feet of fresh powder. It was like walking uphill through quicksand. I would take a step and slide backwards. It was very difficult to make forward progress. I made it to about 0.4 miles below the summit, to the last turn for the final ascent. I fell in the snow and was thinking how nice it would be to stay there and, at that moment, knew I had to get back below treeline. I feel absolutely no need to hike Mount Washington again in the winter, but would like to try in the summer, just so I can reach the peak.