|Feb. 14, 2003 (Fri.)
|Elevation: 4867 feet; Order of Height: 5
|Participants: Ewart Tempest, Adelia Chetreanu, Caroline Doucet, Markus Wandel, Andrew Lavigne, Brian Mullen, Pu Chen, Deborah
This was a grand winter adventure! We decided that we wanted to try out our backcountry winter camping skills in the dead of winter, so we planned an outing - and the itinerary was to be Whiteface and Esther (Esther being one of my yet-to-be-climbed peaks at this time). The objective of the winter camping portion of this outing was to construct and sleep in a snow shelter, and so, to that end, we did not pack tents. And to add to the excitement, the forecast for the weekend predicted what turned out to be the coldest temperatures of the whole winter! (Markus, Pu, Brian, and Adelia did not want to try out the winter camping, so they agreed to instead hike in the next morning and meet us).
We hiked in from the trailhead off of route 73 just before sunset. We reached Connery Pond around dusk, where there were some nice views of Whiteface mountain. From that point onwards it was headlamps time, although there was a rising full moon in the east that promised some light later on. We snowshoed along the gently rising and then falling trail to Whiteface landing, where we made a sharp right to head up towards the Whiteface lean-to. We planned to make our snow shelter there.
The moon was up now, and cast a ghostly bright glow over everything. I took a 30-second exposure with my camera that captured the feeling quite well. Nearing the lean-to, we had Ewart catch up to us (he had not been able to drive down with us, and had started separately). The lean-to area was deserted and untouched since the last snowfall.
Ewart agreed to use the Lean-to as a cooking area, and started whipping us up a tasty hot meal. In the meantime, Caroline, myself, and Deborah started constructing our snow shelter. The type we built is known as a Quinzee, and is made by piling up a huge mound of snow, letting it settle slightly, and then hollowing out the interior. It took us about 45 minutes to do this, and, in the end, we had hollowed out a 4-person sleeping area.
After our meal and a bit of cleanup, we retired inside. The temperatures for the evening fell to below -30C (and -30F). Inside the shelter it was considerably warmer, although, because of a slight error in construction, not as warm as it could have been (lack of a lowered entrance tunnel). Still, it was pretty nice.
The next morning we were up fairly late, by our standards, since we had to wait for the rest of our gang to hike in to our location. It was perfectly clear but very cold, and Caroline melted a hole in one of Ewart's water bottles trying to unfreeze it. Markus and gang arrived sometime after 10:30 am, and by the time we were rolling it was after 11. Deborah was having knee problems and so decided to skip the climb and head back. The rest of us started up the south side of Whiteface. The trail was tricky in spots, with very soft snow even for our snowshoes. Adelia was finding it tough going, and, as a result, we were not making rapid progress. It wasn't until after 4pm that we summitted. Above treeline the combination of -25C temperatures and a brisk wind meant one had to be very careful to cover everything up. Ewart actually managed to get a bit of frostbite on his fingertips.
The summit was beautiful in the clear afternoon sunlight, with rime ice and crusty snow everywhere. We realized that the late time meant that there was no chance for Esther, so we decided to simply head down the Auto Road (which was closed for the winter) to the car (which was parked at the toll entrance on the road). On the way down, Pu was possessed for a moment and wrestled with Caroline (he says it was just fun...) to the point where one of her snowshoe bindings snapped! Caroline was then relegated to bare booting it down through some fairly soft snow, which was pretty tiring for her. The road seemed to go on forever, but finally, at 6:40pm, we arrived at the toll entrance. Caroline and Ewart went on ahead to fetch the other car, while the rest of us did laps around the parking lot to keep warm (the temperature had fallen to below -30C again). They came back before we succumbed to hypothermia (kidding!) and that marked the end a successful and interesting winter ascent!
Trip Reports, Image Galleries or Other References:
Trip Report and Pictures: Winter Whiteface Climb