Odell’s Gully, Huntington Ravine, Mount Washington

Today I got to do something a little different than teaching an avalanche course and returned to my roots so to speak… ice climbing! William, his son Billy, and close family friend Jeff have climbed with us a few times over the last few years. They’ve top-roped at Cathedral’s North End, sampled multi-pitch on Crawford Notch’s Willey’s Slide, and summitted Mount Washington via the Lion’s Head Route… but today they wanted an alpine gully. After gearing up with beacon, probe, shovel, and all the necessary technical gear for the climb, we made our way up to Pinkham Notch.

Start of the climb

Start of the climb

We made excellent time to Harvard Cabin in about 1.5 hours, where we obtained the updated avalanche forecast. True “Spring” conditions have yet to visit Mount Washington as there was certainly a lot of info to ponder. “Moderate” danger means “human triggered avalanches are possible”, so I was glad we were equipped with beacon, probe, and shovel, but quite determined to use safe travel techniques and terrain selection to NOT be involved in an avalanche.

Checking the updated avalanche conditions at Harvard Cabin

Checking the updated avalanche conditions at Harvard Cabin

The hand written bulletin for the day

The hand written bulletin for the day

We made our way up into the floor of the ravine in just under two hours from leaving Pinkham.

Entering the floor of Huntington Ravine

Entering the floor of Huntington Ravine

Here we donned helmets and harnesses, and conducted a quick beacon check to make sure everyone’s beacon was functioning properly. We then climbed up towards the mouth of Odell’s leaving the established boot pack to break trail in order to choose a safer line outside the run-out since we could see at-least 6 climbers in the gully ahead of us. After reaching the start of the climbing we stomped out a ledge and crampon’d up. Out came the ropes and I led up an easy 190ft pitch of snow climbing on the left side of the gully. Within minutes we were all established on our first anchor.

Ready to start climbing

Ready to start climbing

From here I crossed the first snow field to gain the steeper ice on the right side of the gully. While more challenging this reduced exposure from falling ice from the party of 4 above us, along with the avalanche potential when they reached the upper snowfields.

Jeff finishes pitch 1 while Bill and Bill Jr wait below

Jeff finishes pitch 1 while Bill and Bill Jr wait below

The next pitch was nice easy grade 3 ice, despite the constant spindrift from the graupel falling from the sky. The camera didn’t come out again until we reached the top as I was a bit busy managing 600 feet of rope and 3 folks a bit new to such a big climb. They were amazing BTW, constantly looking for ways to help the team complete the climb in a reasonable time. After the technical pitch it eased up a bit, and after a steep 200ft snow pitch I gathered us on a small ridge to the left of the steepest ice. We put away two ropes and I “long-roped” us up to the top-out.

After topping out of the technical bit

After topping out of the technical bit

We stashed the ropes, grabbed our goggles, and made for the Alpine Gardens… and were pleasantly surprised… despite all the blowing snow and spindrift it was quite nice up there.

Crossing Alpine Gardens in surprisingly pleasant conditions

Crossing Alpine Gardens in surprisingly pleasant conditions

We made our way towards the Lion’s Head Trail and contoured down a bit into Raymond’s Cataract to cut the corner and save some time. The snow was consolidated enough to make the travel pretty easy going.

A bit of white-out while contouring over to Lions Head trail via Raymond Cateract

A bit of white-out while contouring over to Lions Head trail via Raymond Cateract

We soon caught a few groups gripped on the steeper sections of the Lion’s Head Winter Route, and they allowed us to pass. Further down we passed some folks in Yak-Traks and Blue-Jeans, sigh… but made it back to Pinkham in good time.

It was great to swing the tools today, as I have climbed less ice this season than I have in the last 10 years as I have shifted so much focus to running avalanche courses. It was made even better by doing it with such a cool group of adventures guys! Bill, Billy, Jeff, hope to see you again!

And everyone else, it’s still winter up here! Last avalanche course of the season starts tomorrow!

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About David Lottmann

David grew up skiing in the Whites and started climbing at a summer camp just north of Mt. Washington when he was 16. Those first couple of years solidified climbing as a lifetime passion. From 1996-2000 he served in the USMC, and spent the better part of those years traveling the globe (18 countries). After returning to civilian life he moved to North Conway to focus on climbing and was hired in 2004 as a Rock and Ice Instructor. Since then Dave has taken numerous AMGA courses, most recently attaining a Single Pitch Instructor. He has completed a Level 3 AIARE avalanche course, is a Level 2 Course Leader, holds a valid Wilderness First Responder and is a member of Mountain Rescue Service. When David isn't out guiding he enjoys mountain biking, kayaking, hiking, backcountry skiing, trying to cook something new once a week and sampling new micro-brews. He lives in Conway, NH with his wife Michelle and son Alex.
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