Thirty years ago, Alex and Sage's father, then-17-year-old Hugh Herr, became lost on Mt. Washington after reaching the top of an ice climb. Hugh and his friend, Jeff Batzer, spent four January days wandering about the Great Gulf in deep snow and frigid temperatures. When they were found, they were close to death. Hugh ended up losing both of his legs to frostbite. Worse, a member of the search and rescue team, Albert Dow, died in an avalanche while trying to find the two lost boys.
Alex and Sage know of Albert Dow's sacrifice; Hugh's artificial limbs are a constant reminder. Both my girls hold a lot in their hearts each and every time they venture up a peak.
Neither Alex nor myself were anxious to hike Mt. Washington during the winter. We did not welcome the prospect of hiking the mountain that was the setting for so much pain. However, Alex wanted to complete the winter 4K list, and that list includes Mt. Washington. The hike was well within her capabilities, and I did not want to limit my daughter because of an accident that happened 21 years before she was born. We therefore set our minds to the ascent.
Hugh did not protest. He never does when it comes to the girls and their hiking, as long as I carry everything we need to spend an unexpected night out. He leaves the planning to me, though he does ask questions (which I fully answer). His trust in my judgment is and always has been 100%. For that, I am profoundly grateful.
Alex and I needed a day with summit conditions of low wind speeds, decent visibility, and temperatures above 0 degrees F. The weather forecasts pointed toward Saturday, March 10.
Our adventures began the night before, on the 9th, when I noticed one of Alex's hiking boots had a giant hole in its side; Alex had apparently sliced the fabric with her crampons on Mt. Jefferson. I grabbed my American Express card and we made it to Lahouts one hour before they closed. Thankfully, the store had one last pair of Sorels in Alex's size.
We went home and to bed. At 3:30 in the morning, a city snowplow rumbled down our street. Looking out the window, I saw four inches of fresh powder covering our extensive driveway. I grabbed the shovel and spent the next hour removing snow by moonlight. When I was finished, it was time to wake up Alex.
My daughter was unusually quiet on the way to the trailhead. When I asked how she felt, she replied, "I'm a bit scared because of Papa's accident." Nevertheless, she still wanted to give this hike a go, so we continued to Marshfield Station.
The morning was clear and beautiful when we arrived.
We walked up the road to the trailhead...
...and entered the woods.
As we approached Gem Pool, Alex once again expressed concern. Specifically, she was worried that a spontaneous snowstorm would erupt and that we'd "get lost just like Papa did." I reminded her of the forecast -- no snowstorms were expected. I also reminded her of the gear I always carry on my back, and of the many people I knew we would see on the trails. When we got to Gem Pool, I asked Alex if she was sure she wanted to continue. She nodded, so we proceeded up the steeps.
The day brightened as we ascended, and Alex's spirits rose. Soon, we were treated to views such as this...
My daughter's worries greatly subsided as the sun rose higher and higher.
Alex's confidence fully returned, and she soon began acting like her usual hiker self.
As we approached treeline, we were treated to more wonderful views...
We could see the tips of Mt. Washington's summit structures...
Up, up, up we went...
...until we reached Lakes of the Clouds Hut (closed for the season).
Alex jumped at the chance to do some "hut-bagging."
The wind was low and the sun was bright. We waived to Mt. Monroe...
...and headed toward Mt. Washington's summit.
The (badly eroded) "Be Prepared" sign...
I wore MSR snowshoes and Alex wore Hillsound Pro Trail Crampons. I didn't have any problems with my footing. Alex, however, is sometimes too light for her crampons; the points don't sink into the ice as they would under an adult's weight. I told her to stomp-step across the following snowfield but, in spite of her diligence, she slipped and fell. Since I spot her very carefully whenever we're in such situations, I was able to quickly grab her and put her back on her feet. We then made our way across the rest of the field in an incredibly slow and cautious manner.
The day was still bright and calm when we began the steeper ascent up the summit cone.
Soon, however, the fog rolled in and the wind picked up.
We stopped a few tenths of a mile from the summit to layer up before continuing on our way.
Alex became more and more excited and happy as she approached the summit. At one point, she stopped and said, "I feel like I'm going to cry." I gave her a hug and told her to get on up there.
Hugh was with us, in spirit if not in body. Here's Alex holding Hugh's scarf.
A group arrived; one of the men offered to take our picture.
Alex took my camera and snapped some photos as the clouds descended, lifted, then descended again.
We joined a group of hikers by the entrance to the (closed for the season) Sherman Adams Summit Building. Three walls blocked the increasingly strong and cold winds; this was a perfect spot for grabbing a quick bite before beginning our descent. Alex and I ate happily, but both of us knew it was too early to celebrate. The hard work wouldn't be over until we were back in the trees.
I changed into crampons for the descent and worried about the snowfields. Thankfully, every person who came up while we were heading down informed me that the snowfield was no longer a cause for concern. Apparently, many sets of crampons, snowshoes, and microspikes had crossed that section since our morning ascent and the 'field was now much easier to traverse. Relieved, we made our way back to Mt. Monroe and the hut.
The others were right; there was a sunken path through the snowfield when we crossed it on the return trip. We were extra-careful regardless, but we had no issues this time around.
After taking a break at the hut, we ascended Mt. Monroe. The winds greatly increased their speed -- I was glad we already had Mt. Washington out of the way.
Here's Alex on the summit of Mt. Monroe. The summit of Mt. Washington is behind her, hiding in the clouds.
We descended a few tenths of a mile down Ammo, found a calm place in the trees, and ate some peanut butter eggs.
Now -- NOW -- I could finally relax. We sat and admired the amazing view...
Mt. Washington was out of the way. Finally. After months of anticipation, this hike was done. Well, almost. We still had to get to the trailhead...which we did fairly quickly, thanks to our 60mph butt-sliding.
Many thanks to Mike, the kind fellow we met at Lakes of the Clouds, who agreed to descend behind us on Ammo and re-chop the trail a bit so our butt-sliding wouldn't leave a long-lasting cement chute. :)
I cannot properly describe the overwhelming sense of relief I felt as Alex and I walked back to our car.
Mt. Washington and Mt. Monroe were winter 4Ks #46 and #47. Mt. Flume is the only peak we have left; we plan to ascend it this weekend. After that, winter is over and we are done!
On a personal note, I'd like to say one final, very important thing. To those search and rescue individuals who participated in the 1982 efforts to find and save Hugh Herr and Jeff Batzer -- thank you. If it weren't for you, my daughters would not exist. As a mother, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.