In February 2012, Garrett Hoelscher and two buddies embarked on the ultimate adventure. The three men had no idea what they would face during their trek up Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, known for the “worst weather in the United States.”
Proceeding towards the ominously and aptly named Thunderstorm Junction the sun popped out to say hello. Basking in the joy of clarity and comfort of blue skies for a moment Garrett Hoelscher recalls that he was amazed to see how quickly the weather changed, as conditions rapidly deteriorated to five-foot visibility and blustering gusts of snow and wind over the course of five minutes.
Upon reaching Thunderstorm Junction Garrett Hoelscher and his two buddies were greeted with sustained winds of 60 mph and gusts of 75 mph. Donning goggles and heavy coats, they transitioned from the leeward side of the range across a plateau of snow that can only be described as human swallowing. Switching between crampons and snowshoes is arduous and awkward under the best of conditions; Taylor elected to forgo this transition and decided he would follow in the boot pack. However, even with snowshoes on Garrett Hoelscher and Steve were up to their waists in powder, while Taylor would have been better equipped with a snorkel. He struggled through this frozen river until he conceded defeat to Mother Nature and strapped up.
Finally through the pass, the three had plenty of daylight remaining but were running perilously low on energy. Luckily, says Garrett Hoelscher, they encountered another group of trekkers traveling opposite their route who suggested taking shelter for the night at the Perch Shelter, a mere mile descent down beneath the tree line. Exhausted, and unable to argue with the idea of sanctuary, Garrett Hoelscher says that they suspended travels for the day and headed towards the Perch via the Israel ridge.
When the three men finally arrived at camp, remembers Garrett Hoelscher, they were utterly dismayed to find that a variety of hikers had already occupied all remaining space in the cabin. These interlopers had ascended from an easy trailhead only a few miles beneath the cabin. Having traveled ten miles that day Garrett Hoelscher says that they were too tired to do anything but get settled. Fortunately there happened to be several unoccupied tent platforms. Unfortunately, adds Garrett Hoelscher, they had not yet been used that winter and the men had to immediately set to clearing four feet of snow before pitching a tent. Teamwork was essential here, and each immediately spearheaded a different need. Steve manned the stove and started melting water while Taylor and Garrett prepared the guy lines and organized the gear. In no time at all, relates Garrett Hoelscher, they were all in the tent, sipping hot cocoa and recounting the day’s trials.
Garrett Hoelscher slept well that night and was only awoken by the demonic howling winds once. He says that the men felt great in the morning, until the weight of their packs reminded them of the grueling expedition ahead. They were still eight miles from their destination as they began to ascend into the alpine zone and head towards the base of Mt. Jefferson, according to Garrett Hoelscher.
By the time Garrett Hoelscher and the other two men hit the bottom of Mt. Jefferson they could see Washington in the distance, hopelessly far away. He recalls that they paused and deliberated their options. They knew they could make it, in theory, but would not be able to descend until well after sunset. Knowing this was a recipe for disaster in any alpine environment, Garrett Hoelscher says that the three decided to turn back and head for the car, still six miles away. On the way out they reached the summits of Adams, Quincy Adams and Madison; to ensure they would be able to return with at least some bragging rights.
The descent down Valley Way was again grueling. Instead of battling gravity uphill with overloaded packs, Garrett Hoelscher says that they struggled to resist her pull as they tripped, tumbled and slid down the icy trail. Crampons helped this but only at the expense of their weary feet. Reaching the car was bittersweet, admits Garrett Hoelscher. They had escaped the icy clutch of the alpine zone, but were now far from this seldom-experienced majestic environment.
So enthralled were the men by their attempt, however, that Garrett Hoelscher and Taylor returned four weeks later with three new teammates. Steve was unable to join them this time. Most of the snow had melted and the men were disappointed to be lugging the now-unnecessary steel crampons. However, with a team of five, Garrett Hoelscher and the other men completed the entire twenty-mile traverse in forty-two hours.
According to Garrett Hoelscher, the adventure confirmed the White Mountains as his favorite backcountry destination on the East Coast. Concludes Garrett Hoelscher; nothing else can compete for their majestic beauty, epic terrain, and wild weather patterns.
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