At approximately 6:30 pm the USFS MWAC team was notified of a party of two climbers unable to continue in Yale Gully, Huntington Ravine. Temperatures at the time were in the negative single digits F with winds from the northwest at 33 mph. Avalanche danger was low, with icy hard snow being the greater hazard. The party started climbing at around 8:30am, moving slowly and carefully through the day. By the evening they were tired, very cold, possibly off route, and still far from the top of the climb. They were well dressed for the weather, equipped with headlamps and extra food. Nonetheless, after a long day in the cold, knowing the top was still far off, they decided that retreating was the safest option. The climbers also were concerned that given how cold and tired they were, the process to down climb and rappel could exceed their capabilities. As a result,they made the decision to call for help using a cell phone and then began the descent.
A hasty team of one USFS Snow Ranger and the Harvard Cabin Caretaker arrived on scene at 7:15 to assess the situation and were able to monitor their progress while a second Snow Ranger gathered technical climbing equipment and began the trip uphill to assist the climbers descending if needed. The climbers made good progress and reached the bottom of the climb unassisted. After a quick assessment, it was determined that the climbers were mildly hypothermic, which was largely resolved by the heated cabin of the snow tractor used for transport back to Pinkham Notch. We arrived back at the USFS garage at 9:45 pm.
The two climbers were experienced with 5th class climbing, but understood that this long climb would be challenging. They were well prepared, started early enough, used good judgement and moved carefully. Ultimately what they lacked was the ability to move efficiently and safely over alpine terrain, a skill which requires more time to develop even when experienced with standard practices of 5th class multi pitch climbing. We learn by experience when it comes to climbing, and these two are in a good position to try this climb on another day.