December 26-29, 2012
Not wanting to miss a chance to do some more climbing in the White Mountains while I’m home for Christmas, I headed up to Pinkham Notch early the day after Christmas. I’d packed a light climbing rack, both rock and ice, one of my twin rope set up, the necessary clothing, food, and booze for a two night stay at the Harvard Cabin.
As I left the parking lot I noticed three climbers headed up the Tucks trail. I caught up to them and asked if they were interested in a fourth person for their team, luckily they were. So I walked up with Ty, CH, and Collee. I hope I’m spelling their names correctly. Ty and Collee were visiting for the holidays from Bozeman where they were in school. We chit-chatted up the trail and once we reached the fork for the Huntington Ravine trail I told them I’d continue on ahead and get to the cabin to drop so stuff off. We didn’t have an early start so I figured this would be a little more time efficient.
I think the small amount of running I’ve been doing and living at 4500 ft has helped me out aerobically. I felt really strong heading up the trail and was able to make it to the Cabin in one hour flat. The conditions on the trail helped too, they were just enough snow to walk comfortably but not so much that it was postholing.
Pulling around the bend and seeing the avy board I was surprised to see that the rangers had moved to the five scale rating system, the first day of the year. It was only at Moderate so I wasn’t too concerned though. I’ve been up Pinnacle and in the Ravine in general and many have been on Moderate days. Smart route finding and not leaving yourself exposed to being swept off your feet is the name of the game.
Harvard Cabin’s weathered but still proud red sign was a nice sight, as well as the evergreen boughs decorating the front. Rich, the caretaker, is pretty good about keeping a festive spirit for Christmas. No one was there when I arrived so I dumped my overnight stuff and quickly repacked my bag for the climb and headed out the door.
The four of us made the trip up to the base of the ravine in decent time. It was Ty and Collee’s first time in the Ravine. CH had been up Pinnacle before, but it was many years ago. As we hiked up the fan we could see a party on Pinnacle Buttress (5.7) which is usually more of a summer route, but is done occasionally in the winter. It turned out that Rick was in that party.
We suited up near the base of the route and I found out that we only had a single rope and one half of a twin setup. I probably should have asked if I needed to bring my rope but I figured they had the other half of it. Ty headed up on the single and I waited, intending to lead on just the one half of the twin. Technically you shouldn’t do this, but two factors were in our favor. First is that the rope is physically able to hold a fall by itself, since it is a half/double rope. The other is that I was confident on the route and did not think falling was remotely likely.
Ty got up a good ways and I headed up slightly to the left of his line. Time was not abundant so I figured having both leaders climbing was wise. We were unsure if we’d top out and go down the Alpine Garden or just rappel the route. Either way, being quick was helpful.
Collee and CH, even though they were using antiquated tools were able to get through the first pitch crux. They were pretty fast actually. Ty and I shared the same anchor and once we were all at the belay he kept going up the neve for the second pitch. In the past there has been a fixed anchor at the end of P1 and at P2 from what I recall, thus allowing the option of rappelling the route. However this day Ty ran out the whole rope and there wasn’t anything we could find fixed. Ultimately we set an anchor and brought the second up to the end of P2.
At this point we were getting towards 3 pm. Ty scouted above a little to see if there was a fixed anchor we could use but we cam up dry. Ultimately we decided rapping would be the best thing and we fixed a nut and a sling for an anchor and rapped off that. Another rap from P1 and we were back to the fan. The full moon was rising and it illuminated the ravine perfectly and headlamps were really necessary until we hit the trees. It was a good climb on a perfect day.
Once back at the cabin I settled in a re-met a couple guys that were at the cabin at the same time last year. Reese and his Dad, Dick are training for Denali this summer. They’ve been training pretty hard and have the skills and should do fine as long as the weather cooperates. Rich was also at the cabin and I caught up with him as well.
The next day was a big storm, so I didn’t expect to get into the Ravine at all because of avy danger. Reese and his dad were going to get an early start, leaving just after the weather was radioed in, and try to summit Washington. This seemed like a fun plan so I tagged along. When we woke up the next morning the snow was already piling up and it took us an hour to reach treeline. Reese and I continued on but Dick decided to head back since he tweaked his knee a bit.
I was really hoping we could make it to the summit. The weather report had called out 80 mph winds and blowing snow. Pretty full on conditions as you’re going to get. It would be a nice extra accomplishment for this vacation back to New England. Unfortunately because of the direction of the wind and the amount of snow falling we encountered some significant drifts below Lions Head. Reese, who’d been breaking trail all morning waded through trying to find solid footing. We swapped positions and I broke trail the rest of the way to Lions Head. The wind was getting pretty fierce at this point, perhaps 50-60 mph with higher gusts which knocked me off my balance. We made it up onto the rocks and thought we’d get out of the wind, regroup and decide what to do. Once we did reach the rocks we didn’t really get any respite from the wind so we just started heading down. It had taken us an hour to get from treeline to Lions Head because of the drifting.
Back at the cabin we all tried to warm up and dry off. We all counted the hours down to when we could crank up the stove. The bad thing about heading back to the cabin early in the day is sitting around without heat. Its better than outside for sure but still chilly.
As per usual the cabin was filled with stories of where everyone’s climbed, what they want to climb, food, and alcohol. I made some new friends Sonja, Peter, and Marty. Rich and Marcia stayed in town into the evening enjoying the fresh powder at Wildcat. By the time Marcia and her sister showed up Marty, who’d lugged up 10 liters of alcohol, and I had had a few drinks. Rich was still a ways down the trail so we went on a welcome mission with a bottle of Jager and a sandwich. Less than 10 minutes down the trail we met Rich and all had a nice shot under the lightly falling snow. The drinks didn’t stop flowing once back at the cabin either.
This morning, Friday, I got up and since the avy danger was still unpredictable decided I’d head down in time to see my sister off for San Diego. Packing up I gave everyone a warm goodbye and set off down the trail. Harvard Cabin is one of my favorite places, even when there isn’t much climbing going on it still is lots of fun. Being up in the mountains in a log cabin, wood stove firing, some scotch in hand, snow falling outside, and climbing stories being shared. Does it get better than that?