Winter Ascent of Mt. Washington Via Lion Head Trail
Rate this Adventure New Hampshire › Pinkham Notch
Added by Mike! Miller
An 8 mile winter out and back up New England's highest peak with big views and diverse terrain.
Park at the Pinkham Notch visitor center off of Route 16, your stopping point for all things Tuckerman’s Ravine and Mt. Washington related. The ranger station is open year round and there is food and up to date weather conditions from the summit. There is also a locker room with showers available on the lowest level. The forecast should not be taken lightly and can be quite miserable, it is Mt. Washington after all. Everyone hikes at their own comfort level but I stay away form New England's High peaks if I am solo and always approach any hike knowing that if it gets too hectic, this mountain isn’t going anywhere. Bruised egos are a lot easier to recover from than physical harm.
Due west, heading straight in from the parking lot you will find the Tuckerman Ravine trailhead with ample signage and advice. The trail starts at just above 2,000 feet and climbs gradually but will not likely require traction until you hit the Lion’s Head turn off on the right about 2 miles and 1,500 feet from the starting point. Lion Head has a summer and a winter route. Signage should be clear in telling you which way is which. Tuckerman's is a well hiked section of trail.
Up onto Lion Head. This trail is steep and requires traction. Conditions pending, some may be most comfortable with crampons over microspikes. The name of the trail is better understood when viewing from the bottom of Tuckerman’s Ravine but the views make up for any ambiguity. Right away Wildcat mountain looms across Pinkham Notch to the East. As you come around the knob and into the Alpine Garden you may get blasted by the winds they had forecasted at the ranger station below. Be prepared for big gusts from this point forward.
About a mile and 1,000 feet up from the Lion head cutoff is the Alpine Garden. The National Forest Service has designated it an official research area. Don’t slow or cool down too much but enjoy it because it’s a beautiful, 4 season winner. Locate the massive Cairns looming ahead up the cone of Mt. Washington. Visibility can be quite low and there is limited signage around here. Up the cone towards the summit, trust in the Cairns, and the sense that upward is the right direction. Personally, I felt more comfortable having done this in the summer because it can be easy and dangerous to get off course.
Keep heading upwards for another mile and some 1,500 feet onto the summit. The trail levels out and manmade structures appear. Get that summit pic, you earned it. Every building is closed but if you walk around the main lodge there are nooks and crannies that can protect you from wind. Potentially a good place for a breather but, weather pending, you might just want to hit the summit and get down. The way down Lion’s head can be tricky. Follow the Cairns and the direction. There are potentially some opportunities to glissade as you make your way down, always fun. And there you have it, an 8 mile, 4,200ish elevation gain winter time Washington out and back. Enjoy with caution.
- Layers! For myself this is a ski jacket and ski pants as an outer shell, a down jacket, and several other layers that thin down to an athletic T shirt.
- Dry Layers! As you hike you heat up and then you sweat. Wetness and winter are not a safe combo. I always over pack with an extra down jacket and some warmer layers I keep in a dry bag.
- Drink and Snacks, the less freezable the better. I tend to keep a bar or two in a breast pocket of one of my under layers which keeps everything warm!
- Light Traction, like micro spikes, will be needed. Some may be most comfortable with crampons and/or snowshoes for parts of this hike.
- A non technical Ice Axe can be useful.
- Goggles, gloves, and face mask
- Winter boots and warm socks
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