Alpine Training on Mt. Washington

Working on roped travel techniques.

Met up with a unique crew this past weekend for alpine training at Pinkham Notch.  Seems the Central Maine Medical Center has a pretty solid idea of what constitutes health, because on a fairly regular basis a group of doctors, residents, interns, and med students on rotation get together to enjoy the great outdoors.  This past weekend they took on the challenge of alpine training.

We met up at 8am on Saturday in the Pinkham Notch basement.  Many people have varying opinions of the AMC, but anyone who climbs on Washington will tell you that the basement prep area is an indispensable asset–thank you AMC.  After guide Ansel & I got folks fitted up with the basic alpine gear (crampons, ax, etc) we headed up toward the Harvard Cabin, where we’d be staying the night, along the way discussing appropriate boot lacing strategies for comfort, the rest step, and basic crampon/microspike technique.  Caretaker Rich and his new wife Marsha (congrats!) were there to greet us at the cabin.  And just as the AMC basement is a tremendous asset, so too is the Harvard Cabin an amazing asset for Mount Washington adventures–on top of that, Rich is an amazing asset to the Harvard Cabin.  If you haven’t been up there in awhile, check it out.

After unloading some overnight gear, we continued up to Tuckerman Ravine on the (correct) suspicion that if there was snow to be found, it’d be there versus Huntington.  Tuckerman was light on snow to be sure, but wow, the ice climbing looked fantastic and several parties were enjoying 3-4 pitches of WI2-4 climbing.  At the base of the Headwall we did find some light snow and some low-angle ice that proved very useful for covering various crampon steps.  After practicing the basics, Ansel and I set up a rope circuit where everyone could try some higher-angled terrain on ascent and descent with the safety of a belay.  Though the day was cold, the activity and excitement managed to keep everyone warm.

After a convivial evening at the cabin, we headed out day two back to Tuckerman.  I’d spied a bigger snow patch up near Hillman’s Highway and we went to check it out.  Our plan for the day was to focus on steeper snow terrain and roped travel and the site turned out perfect for that, allowing us to cover rope management, communication signals, coiling in, hip belays, steep snow descents, and team arrests.  With a lot of hands-on learning the day passed quickly.  There’s always so much more to learn, but it was time to go, so we packed it out toward Pinkham, where we wrapped up a valuable weekend of alpine learning.

This was an energetic and ambitious group and I suspect that we’ll be seeing many of them in the mountains in the future.  And if you ever have a health issue that needs tending, you’d be fortunate to be tended by a crew so dedicated to walking the talk of being health professionals!

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