Post-Trip Commentary

Posted: February 28, 2009 in Uncategorized

I have to apologize for not updating the blog sooner about our recent trip.  For those who haven’t been following along you can read about what the trip was all about here.  The trip was successful in that we didn’t die and we learned a lot.  It was unsuccessful in that we did not complete the Presidential Traverse.

We had planned to start the Traverse bright and early Saturday morning.  However, I don’t believe any of us realized just how much gear we had rented.  The gear included an ice ax, plastic boots, crampons, snowshoes, a probe pole, a shovel and an avalanche beacon.  Mind you we went up there with fully packed hiking packs so finding room in or on the pack for these additional items became quite the chore.

This led to a) very uncomfortable packs and b) a late start.

In the process of packing and eating our ‘final meal’ we heard rumors of a possible snowstorm.  The various weather gurus were saying we could see anywhere from 4-20 inches.  The thing is, weather on top of these mountains is extremely volatile so we weren’t too sure what to expect.  What we did know is that even the experienced guides have about a 50% success rate with winter Traverses.  Knowing that there was a chance of a blizzard definitely put doubts in my mind.

It was close to 11 in the morning when we finally went to drop one truck at the end of the trail.  We all piled in my truck to drive to the other end of the Traverse and kick the adventure off.  I didn’t make it a mile before I was pulled over by a policeman for speeding.  This was not a good start for the trip.  Turns out the local police really don’t like tourists speeding down their roads.  After he berated me for a good bit, we were now later than we were comfortable with.  

We knew the first leg of the hike was really difficult and to make it to camp before sundown was going to be a challenge.

Without boring you with all the details of the actual hike, suffice it to say it included a lot of deep snow.  Snowshoeing was required the entire way up.  Many people have problems walking in snowshoes on flat ground.  This hike was straight uphill which didn’t make for an easy task.  The mountain we were climbing was Madison.  It rises well over 5,000 feet in a matter of a few miles… it’s quite a grade.  

By the time the time we reached the top the sun was heading down. Winds were nearing 100 mph and the snow was drifting wildly.  Pitching tents in these kinds of conditions with fading light proved to be the biggest challenge.  This was not a great scenario considering how quickly your body temperature drops when you stop climbing.  Real temperatures were well below zero.  Who knows what the wind chills were at that time.  Basically I manned the tent making sure it wouldn’t fly away like a kite while Gordy worked his ass off trying to stake the tent down.  Staking a tent in snow and ice so it will withstand hurricane force winds is difficult.  

After 30 minutes of standing still for the most part (I was breaking out a few calisthenics to keep the body temp up), my toes were beginning to worry me.  They hurt very badly and I could feel them starting to go numb.  The moment the tent was staked, I dove in and stripped my socks off.  My toes were near purple so I broke out my down sleeping bag that’s rated for -40 degree temps and massaged my feet.  I was surprised that my feeling and warmth came back within 15 minutes.

From there the only goal was to get as much rest as possible for the upcoming day.  This proved to be near impossible.  The wind made it sound like we were sleeping under a train.  See video of our night spent in the tent below:

Now for the anticlimactic ending:

The next morning we woke (yea right, we never got much sleep) to a pretty nasty weather report.  They were calling for well over a foot of snow.  That kind of precipitation mixed with the winds and temperatures would make for far too dangerous a trip than was worth risking.  The next leg of the Traverse would’ve been the longest and most exposed fraction of the trip.  Our biggest concerns included losing the trail from the blinding/drifting snow and not making it to the tree-line in enough time leaving us extremely exposed.

Collectively e decided to return back down the mountain safely.  The mountain will be there long after we’re gone so there’s really no point in risking it all when we can climb it whenever we want.  The rangers at the check in/out station congratulated us explaining that the expected conditions were nothing to toy with.  Mother Nature most definitely exceeds the power of mere mortals and she proved it this time around.

Here is a video showing the amount of snow we awoke to in the vestibule of our tent.  

And some more random video.

We didn’t get many good pictures and clips.  The temperatures were too cold to have your hands removed from your mitts a lot.  We certainly took good memories away from the trip though.  It’s always an amazing time up there.  We’re discussing doing some mountaineering schooling up there soon.  If a trip like this interests you, I highly recommend researching a guided trip up there.  It’s like nothing you’ll ever do.  Doing the entire Traverse isn’t necessary either… you can simply go up and hike up any of the White Mountains and have an amazing view and challenge.

Testing yourself physically and mentally with a bunch of your good buddies will never get old.

And just a reminder, this trip was for charity.  We were climbing for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  If you haven’t yet done so and are able (I know now is the worst of times to run a charitable event), please click on the link below.  Every dollar counts and 100% of proceeds will be donated to the society.  We’re going to run this link in our blog for the next few posts.

Thanks very much.

Donate to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society


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