In North Conway, New Hampshire, Mt. Washington stands at 6,288 ft. Although it is not the tallest mountain around, (it is the tallest on the East coast) it is not the height that makes this one a difficult climb. Mt. Washington is known as the “home of the world’s worst weather,” and for a good reason. On April 12th, 1934, the highest ever recorded wind speed was recorded at the summit of Mt. Washington at 231 mph. This record held strong for quite some time until it was broken in 1996 by Cyclone Olivia. However, it still remains the highest ever recorded wind speed as recorded by a human being because the cyclone’s wind speed was recorded by a machine. In order to withstand such strong wind speeds, the buildings on the summit of Mt. Washington are literally chained to the ground to keep them from blowing away.
If one is looking to climb Mt. Washington then the climber certainly has a keen interest in unpredictability. In fact, Winter is the best time to climb the mountain because during this season the mountain is most unpredictable, unstable, and the weather is at its worst. On January 16th 2004 the summit observation center measured a temperature of -43.6 F with sustained winds at 87.5 mph. With the factored in wind chill the temperature read -103 F. To give you an example of literally how extreme this is, Antarctica’s average temperature in the Winter is -58 F, and exposed human flesh freezes solid within seconds at -40 F. Knowing all of this, who wants to give climbing Mt. Washington a shot? I do, and I did.
I monitored the weather for about a month before the day of my climb (January 4th 2011) and by doing this I found just how much the weather fluctuates. Each day ranged from sunny, to extreme storms, +4 F to -30 F, 3 inches of ice accumulation to 8 inches of additional snow to 2 inches of rain, and lastly, 2 mph winds to 105 mph winds. Because of this, it was impossible to predict what the weather was going to be like on the day of my climb, but I knew that I was hoping for the worst. After all, If I’m going to attempt to climb Mt. Washington, I mines well attempt it in all of its glory.
On the morning of January 4th the radio call from the observatory was that their wind monitors were currently not working however their last wind reading was around the 80 mph mark. Looks like we were heading up blind, without knowing the current conditions. As we climbed the mountain, long wispy clouds around the peak indicated high winds and a possible storm. It began to snow as we climbed to higher altitude, and once above the treeline, as expected, the winds picked right up and the temperatures dropped. Out of fear of my goggles fogging, I didn’t use them right away and didn’t put them on until I couldn’t keep my eyelids from freezing together anymore. A short lunch break under some rocks and out of the wind revealed that my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches had partially frozen in my backpack. This was the first crunchy PB&J I had ever eaten.
After about 4.5 – 5 hours of climbing we made it to the summit where we were blasted with 45 – 50 mph winds and windchill temperatures of close to -27 F. Overall this turned out to be quite the “average” summit day on Mt. Washington, but not a bad first climb experience. Being only 6,288 ft, this mountain packs a huge punch for its size. Having climbed mountains more than twice the size before, this mountain still proved to be an intense workout and was absolutely worth the trip to New Hampshire.
Hopefully next year the weather will prove to be even worse. The following are some photographs of my climb up Mt. Washington. Enjoy!
* all above images taken with and old point-and-shoot digital camera
** information above credited from multiple Mount Washington informational websites including mountwashington.com and wikipedia.com