Around 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 6, six University of Connecticut students hid behind boulders while they ate their lunch. They were a part of UConn Outdoors’ expedition to climb Mt. Washington, the highest mountain in New England.
Their mandatory turnaround time approached. They were about 1,000 feet from the 6,288 foot summit.
Earlier in the day, the group had gathered into Pinkham Notch visitor’s center to check gear, make last minute adjustments and shed a few layers of fleece before hiking. The participants looked visibly energized with a mix of nerves and confidence as they took to the trail head.
“I signed up because I really wanted to get off campus for a weekend,” Lauren Macy, a first time participant, said, “and I’ve always wanted to hike Mt. Washington.”
Within a few minutes, the crew stopped again to de-layer even further to single base-layers or short sleeve t-shirts. The participants thinned out, separating based on speed into groups. The leaders soon realized that a consistent pace must be set in order to prevent erratic stopping and starting.
They hiked up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, a gradual slope that ascends the eastern ridge of the mountain. In plastic encased mountaineering boots, the team slowly made their way up, doing their best stay together.
The group reached their next checkpoint around 11:30a.m., where the Tuckerman Ravine Trail joined the Lion’s Head trail. Some of the group were getting accustomed to walking in the bulky boots and the large backpacks, while others were fully challenged.
At the junction, the guides told everyone to put on their crampons and switch from trekking poles to ice axes. The trail ahead would begin to get steeper and icier.
The guides taught the crew more technical skills. They demonstrated how to hold the ice axe in a way that prepared a climber for an accidental slide. They also taught a specific stepping technique called the French Step, a side-step shuffle that engages all points of the crampon and lowers calf muscle exertion.
Soon, they approached an ice shelf. One of the guides stayed halfway up in order to assist and coach participants up, lending a pull of the backpack if necessary. In about twenty minutes, the group had all ascended the tricky spot, clapping and cheering for the last participant.
“I was terrified but also in such a happy place while climbing up the basically vertical slope,” Macy said. “I just fell so satisfied and at peace. It’s really hard to describe the feeling.”
As the trees became thinner in the higher altitudes, the leaders and guides decided to stop and reassess the group’s needs. Their plan was that one group would descend early and one would continue to Lion’s Head. The summit was no longer their target.
“Reaching the top is a milestone I was looking forward to fulfilling,” Tyler Luneski, one of the climbers, said. “However, my overall experience of the trip would not have differed much if we had made the summit”
The group that continued ascending reached Lion’s Head just before 1:30 p.m., celebrating with applause, high fives and cheers. They immediately threw on their extra insulating layers to block the alpine winds blowing over the ridge. There was only time for a few mouthfuls of food and a few photos, heading back down only a few minutes after they had arrived.
The descent was much quicker than the climb. Cushioned by snow and filled with accomplishment-induced adrenaline, the group completed the journey by late afternoon.
“It was a great experience, and I suppose I’ll just have to make my way back another day and make it to the top,” Luneski concluded.
Mike Tommins is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus.