Mount Washington 1/20/2017

January 22, 2017

My first ascent of the season – Friday January 20, 2017
To all the winter lovers & adventure seekers…

At the summit of Mt. Washington
At the summit of Mt. Washington

Winter is here and for all of us winter fanatics, it’s our favorite time of the year. I spent all of Thursday monitoring the forecast. I kept the Mount Washington Observatory’s weather report tab up on my computer, “Mostly sunny under partly cloudy skies”. A rare forecast for the summit of Mount Washington in January, especially when the temperatures are calling to rise into the 30s! The average temperature at the summit in January is five degrees. With the promising weather forecast, I set my alarm for 6:00 A.M. on Friday morning, enough time for me to jump out of bed, grab my gear, eat breakfast, and get out on the trail by 7:30am.

Reaching alpine zone on Lion's Head
Reaching alpine zone on Lion’s Head

The clouds hung low and it wasn’t until I reached the second bridge on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail when the skies began to brighten and the blue started to peak its way through the clouds. I quickly made my way up to the trailhead of the Lion’s Head Winter route and switched out my snowshoes to traction. Working at the front desk at AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, I always try my best to get out on the trails as much as possible to get an accurate idea of what the conditions are for our guests who come in inquiring about information on the trails and proper gear. Full 12 point crampons and ice axes are recommended for this route for a safe travel up and down the several technical sections of this easily underestimated steep winter route.

Lion's Head winter route
Lion’s Head winter route

My favorite part about the winter route is how fast you get above treeline. As I climbed my way up, I couldn’t help but shift my focus to the beautiful views that swept behind the trees. The clouds hung low in the valley, but as I kept climbing higher into the Alpine Zone, I was looking at bluebird skies and sunshine. I rose above the trees, popped up to Lion’s Head, sat on the rocks overlooking Tuckerman Ravine and enjoyed an apple and Clif bar. The sun beat down on my head and I enjoyed catching the rays and soaking up the views. Surrounding mountains popped their heads out of the clouds like small ant hills. Wildcat’s ski trails carved the mountain’s summit in white snowy lines.

Looking at Tux from Lion's Head
Looking at Tux from Lion’s Head
Looking down the snowfield towards Tuckerman's
Looking down the snowfield towards Tuckerman’s

I touched the summit sign around 11:00 A.M., taking in the 100-plus-mile visibility, although the undercast made it feel as if I was on an island. This was my second winter ascent of Mount Washington. I summited the 6,288 foot mountain with a small group from my high school on a similar bluebird day on February 22, 2015. I’ve been lucky enough to experience the mountain on the rare, but perfect winter day. With only two base layers, a hat, goggles, and liner gloves, I was almost too warm as I made my way up the slopes. Always prepared with extra layers, gloves, hats, and coats packed away in my bag, I only had to take them out once I reached the summit. I took a well deserved break and soaked up the sun.

The Last Stretch...
The Last Stretch…
Mt. Washington Observatory
Mt. Washington Observatory

It was great to see the small, but highly grateful crowd up at the summit. Many people were there with their skis and snowboards scoping out which snowfield to cruise down, while others, hikers like myself, were enjoying some snacks and taking in the view with huge smiles spread across their faces. On this very day the summit recorded a minimum temperature of 25 degrees Fahrenheit, average wind speed of only 22 mph, and 561 minutes of sunshine! The second sunniest day the summit has seen this month so far! Once I decided I was ready to start my descent, I took one last picture and began my trek down. I headed down into the cloud zone, back under Washington’s foot and into to the valley.

Jefferson, Madison, & Adams
Jefferson, Madison, & Adams
Lion's Head pointing towards Wildcat Ski Area
Lion’s Head pointing towards Wildcat Ski Area

As the winter season progresses, I look forward to taking advantage of these rare, but exceptional days our highest peak in New Hampshire has to offer. Watch those weather reports, pack your gear, and get outside to enjoy what our White Mountains have to offer!
– Emily

Looking for trail conditions or weather? Check AMC conditions and/or call us at Pinkham Notch. We are available by phone at (603)466-2721 every day from 6:30am to 9:00pm or by email at To make reservations at AMC Lodges and Huts, please call (603)466-2727, Monday through Saturday, 9am-5pm.



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Emily Sherman

AMC Outdoors, the magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, inspires readers to get outside and get engaged. Learn more.