Climbing the “Home of the World’s Worst Weather” – Mt. Washington

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!

 

 

 

 
 
Climbing over a drop-off through the clouds and blowing snow

 

Less and less visibility

 

Summit: 6,288ft, 45 mph wind, -27 F

 

* 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

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16 thoughts on “Climbing the “Home of the World’s Worst Weather” – Mt. Washington”

  1. Your photos are great! I don’t think I’ll ever climb this… I remember someone who was climbing it, and he showed me a list of all the deaths that had ever occurred on the mountain… quite frightening!

    1. Thanks SWK, It’s true, there have been quite a few deaths from avalanches or from literally being blown off the top by the wind. The way I see it, there’s always a risk no matter what mountain you climb, can’t always let that stop you, ya know? As long as you prepare yourself physically and mentally and recognize your limits you should be fine. Thanks for your comment,

      Nate

  2. “Hopefully next year the weather will prove to be even worse.” I literally laughed out loud at that. But also, I’m not surprised. 🙂

  3. Hey Nate, After you commented on my blog I thought I’d have a look at yours. It’s beautiful. And, ironically I am from New Hampshire, have climbed Mt Washington in all weather and LOVE the White Mountains. I hiked the Appalachian Trail (solo) from Mt. Katahdin to the Mass. border when I was 19. I will subscribe. I look forward to reading more.
    Kerry

    1. Hi Kerry, wow that is ironic. I love New Hampshire and Maine. In the summers I actually work in Maine as a whitewater rafting guide for North Country Rivers and I have a house in Bridgton. One of my goals for this summer is to hike the 100-mile wilderness (the last 100 miles of the Appalachian trail) probably solo as well. I’ve only ever been to Sedona Arizona, but I absolutely loved it there and have been toying with the idea of movie out that way eventually for quite some time now. It is such an incredible place. Thanks for the subscription and I hope you enjoy my posts!
      Cheers,
      – Nate

    1. Thats the best part about climbing the mountain though. As you probably know, anybody who wants to call themselves a mountaineer probably has at least a small attraction to testing themselves in the worst of the natural elements. Let me know what you think when you get up there, ill be climbing it again next year, who knows, maybe we’ll run into eachother.

  4. Great write-up Nate. After a life of being an outdoors-man, I’ve decided this is the year I start to do the back-country hiking and camping I’ve always wished I had the motivation to do. After I get a few of NH’s 4000 footers under my belt, I plan to tackle “The Rock Pile.” I’ve driven to the top of Mt Washington several times, and for some reason the bug to climb it bit me hard this winter. I found you blog, by you finding mine, at the perfect time. The perfect motivator to get out and do the back-country exploring I’ve spent a life dreaming about. 45 years old is as good a time as any I figure.

    1. Thanks Jeff. I’m glad I could help provide the motivation for you to get yourself out there. My whole life I was raised to travel around to differn’t National Parks doing all the best hiking trails, but I fell in love with the whole off-trail backcountry world while exploring the Andes in Patagonia Argentina last year. There is nothing like the feeling of being so far away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and relaxing in the middle of the wilderness with not a thing in the world to worry about. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it greatly. Let me know what you think of Mt. Washington when you get to it! Thanks for reading and commenting.
      – Nate

  5. The first two pictures are beautiful, there’s an almost dream-like quality to them, especially the second one, perfect!

    1. Thank you! It was difficult taking some of these pictures, but despite the natural elements and the camera I brought with me, I’m quite please with how those two came out. Thanks for dropping by.

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