Paul and I would always talk about how we climbed Hillman's Highway last year, though the last time we climbed it was four years ago--the fun memories just stayed with us! Situated on the south side of Tuckerman's Ravine on Mt Washington, Hillman's is typically known as a moderate ski descent when it fills in with snow. However early winter finds ideal conditions for a fun romp up into the alpine with super mellow ice and snow climbing. A few steps of 70-80 degree ice are interspersed between snow and ice ramps makes for nearly a 1500' ascent.
We started the morning in Pinkham Notch meeting up with our perpetually psyched friend Toby. It was warm in the parking lot, making for a very civilized beginning to the day. We traded casual clothes for the typical active attire before heading out.
"Alright, I'm boiling," I said as beads of sweat started to form on my forehead. Only a 1/4 mile, I found myself stripping down to my skivvies to remove my long underwear in favor of just my softshell pants. Sweating too much sucks.
As we gained elevation toward Hermit Lake, the temps stayed near the freezing mark. Once at the caretakers cabin, we decided to drop the rope and rack and solo Hillman's. For those with enough experience, it's super casual. Plus who wants to carry all that weight? We met the caretaker who was kind enough to let us securely store our gear inside the hut and we were on our way.
We headed out with crampons still in our packs as we got into the gully proper. Enough water ice prompted us to swap out MicroSpikes for crampons and we were on our way. Soon we met the cloud line and the snow started falling. It's so cool to experience such a multitude of conditions! Before long, we were in full winter-like winds. Blowing snow, little visibility and huge smiles were the name of the game. This was Toby's first time climbing Hillman's and we could tell he was too stoked...dangerously stoked. Thankfully the fun ended when the climbing did. Ok, not really, but the stoke meter did drop a bit. The wind was whipping, the wet snow covered everything and we opted to descend quickly. Microspikes back on and we quickly got into the lee. Trail conditions were less than ideal with snow balling up under our boots and water ice covering the trail.
"Ah shit," Paul exclaimed. "These damn things are toast."
Looking down at Paul's boots, his Microspikes were hanging by a wire. Of course he had a minimal repair kit and after giving them a quick fix, they proceeded to break again and again on the descent. Good times!
Thankfully we made quick work of the descent and before long we were back at Hermit Lake gathering our stuff and heading back down to Pinkham. As this was the day before Thanksgiving, I was happy to reflect on the gifts granted to me in this life. My friends, my family, my health and the mountains! Happy Holidays everyone!