[draft written in 2017]
For Mt. Washington spring skiing, Hillman’s Highway is a classic. A classic that I had not yet checked off my bucket list, but this looked to be the perfect day to do so. The sun had warmed things early, the sky was blue. Just the conditions that my spring AMC trips up Mt. Washington have been getting a reputation for. After collecting in the “boot room” of the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center, we had a quick review of what people wanted from the day. The trip had been posted as “Tuckerman Ravine”, which is a largish area. With such perfect spring conditions, the crowds were predictably large. A number of us were interested in skiing Hillman’s. It also had the advantage of not being the primary target of the herd. Concensus was that Hillman’s would be our destination.
We headed to the outside and stepped into our skis to skin up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. The trail was a congested highway of eager skiers, boarders and those coming just to spectate. We reached HoJo’s in time for a rest and early lunch. Here is where we parted ways with the core of the herd and took the road less traveled by.
It is a short distance from HoJo’s to the base of Hillman’s. There we found a 6 year old girl skiing down from where Hillman’s forks with her father. It was her first trip up Mt. Washington. Her father was suitably proud of her and accepted when I offered to take a picture of the two of them with Hillman’s in the background. Though we had chosen Hillman’s, in part, because we expected the crowd to be smaller than in the bowl, we found the crowd even smaller than expected. We were not disappointed about this.
Hillman’s is the longest of the routes in the greater Tuckerman Ravine area. After loading our skis on our packs and putting crampons or micro-spikes on, we still had 1,300 ft of steep vertical to hike.
Booting up a steep ski route generally involves following in the footsteps of others. A track is formed on one side of the route so as to not leave foot steps where people will be skiing. If people are careful, the steps become established making the footing more secure for everyone. Due to the height of Hillman’s, it is a lengthy climb.
We passed one gentleman relaxing on the ridge on climber’s right of Hillman’s. Since the heavy packs and steep climb resulted in slow movement, there was time to chat with him as we progressed. It turned out that he had decided that where he stopped was high enough and steep enough for him. He asked about the Gulf of Slides and I suggested that he might enjoy the southern snow fields found there.
Emilie had not been feeling well. She recently had a case of the flu and was not fully recovered. Figuring that she would be the slow one of the group, we had put her first to set the pace. This tactic had failed during the hike up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. She continued to outpace some of the group as we ascended Hillman’s. Emilie was fired as pace-setter, for her own sake and also that of the rest of the group.
At the top we enjoyed a rest, the views and some refreshment before heading back down. Though the snow was soft and the weather perfect, that wasn’t quite enough to avoid a minor catastrophe. One of our group lost their nerve in the narrow pinch-point and took a tumble that resulted in a twisted knee and one ski making most of its way down the run. After a review of the injuries, they were given a quick lesson on self arrest with an ice axe to control speed while sliding down to shallower terrain. The rest of us helped by carrying their skis and pack down. From there, they received a snowmobile ride from one of the rangers to the base of the mountain while the rest of the group skied down the John Sherburne trail.