In January 2012, Garrett Hoelscher and two buddies planned the ultimate adventure; a climb up Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, known for the “worst weather in the United States.” They set their sights on a Southbound Presidential Traverse and started the journey a few weeks later on the first Friday in February.
The alarm went off at 4:30 am, remembers Garrett Hoelscher, and the three men groggily woke to wipe the sleep from their eyes as they decided to repack their gear one last time. Hitting the trailhead at 5:30am it was not one minute into the journey when Taylor’s pack broke. Luckily, Garrett Hoelscher had brought a spare. They quickly repacked and began the ascent.
The first four miles of the Valley Way trail, explains Garrett Hoelscher, is nothing less than an intense grueling uphill battle. Only fifteen minutes into the journey, he says it became clear that the men had over-packed. Steve had brought enough food for five people for five days while Garrett Hoelscher says that he had brought enough liquid fuel to cook it all, and enough water to fill a small swimming pool. Oh well, the men agreed, it’s not an adventure unless you hate some of it. They strapped on snowshoes and trudged on as the first four miles of the Valley Way trail rose 1000 vertical feet every mile, for four miles. The higher they climbed, remembers Garrett Hoelscher, the smaller the trees got. They knew that this meant that the alpine zone was getting closer with every step.
According to Garrett Hoelscher, the alpine zone in winter is a magical place. Defined by exposure and solitude, trees and vegetation dare not venture an existence here. The men were welcomed by a wooden sign from the US forest service stating, “STOP. The area ahead has the worst weather in America. Many have died there from exposure, even in the summer. Turn back now if the weather is bad.” The weather was decent, recalls Garrett Hoelscher, so they kept moving forward.
As the three men rested for a minute outside the tightly boarded Madison Hut transitioning from snowshoes to crampons, Garrett Hoelscher was completely exhausted and ready to turn around. Fortunately though, Garrett Hoelscher says that the men continued to soldier on, up slopes of solid ice so steep that ascension would have been impossible without the aid of crampons and ice axes. The path was marked by giant piles of rocks spaced 50 feet apart called cairn, placed by the forest rangers to aid trekkers in white out navigation, says Garrett Hoelscher.
Marveling at the serene frozen world, Garrett Hoelscher was pleasantly surprised to spot a lone moose grazing on the adjacent slope of Mt. Madison. She was hundreds of yards away but stood out clearly as an inspiring reminder of the caliber required by man and beast to survive in this environment. Garrett Hoelscher remembers that he was comforted to know that the three men were not alone up there.
Click to read Part Three of Garrett Hoelscher | Conquering the Presidential