Monday, February 07, 2005

Mt. Washington, NH: Surprisingly UnCrazy

The best food on earth - and arguments will not be entertained - is the foil-wrapped, room-temperature, two-day-old leftovers that you thought were in your backpack on top of the mountain that are actually waiting in the car when you get back down.

Right there on the passenger seat where you left it.

It's the first painless, comfortable sensation since you left the car
that morning, the get-well dose on a gaping calorie deficit, an unplanned reward for the climb, and it comes with that little victory of knowing you didn't drop it along the way for some lousy, unappreciate squirrel.

I was reminded of this Law Of The Human Digestive System today when I
got back to my car late this afternoon and found the last three -
THREE!!! - slices of a spinach-roni stomboli from a place that knew how
to make it. Three full, soft, warm, lustily flavorful slices.

A perfect way to cap a climb up New Hampshire's - ney, New
England's - tallest, meanest, nastiest hill, Mt. Washington.

Now, let me tell you a little about Mt. Washington, how it vaguely fits
into the Alaska Crazy profile, and how my climb today was Crazy, even
by our high standards in the 49th state.

Mt. Washington, over 6K ft, sits at the three-way intersection of three
weather corridors. Weather comes down from Canada and the great lakes,
in the from the Atlantic and up from the south, and hits right on top
of Mt. Washington's bare shoulders.
The highest windspeed ever recorded on earth - 230 MPH, or some such
lunacy - was on Mt. Washington. 100MPH winds - sustained - can happen
any day, any season. Gusts way past that.
One of the well-built buildings on top of the mountain is literally
chained to the ground, with three iron, maritime-anchor-looking chains
going all the way up and over the roof, like the building was going to
make a break for it.
In fact, in the climbing world, it's a truism that Mt. Washington is
the only place in the Lower 48 that can, reliably, simulate the
conditions that ambitious climbers are likely to find on extended trips
in - wait for it! - Alaska.

In short, no matter who you are or where you are from - even if it's
Alaska - Mt. Washington can kick your ass.

And, like the rest of New England in winter, Mt. Washington's
angriest month, on average, is February.

Which is why I must report that as I stood on the summit today, the wind whipped itself up to a howling, sustained, 3 MPH. Gusts were way past that - like, 6.
Temps in the high-30s - in the shade. Out in the sun, i'd put it at
mid-50s. And 'out in the sun' was pretty much everywhere, since it
was, as the pilots like to say, 'severe clear' tO every point of the

Now, all over the mountain were, i'd like to think, some of the
upper-crust of New England's climbing community, at least 100 other
climbers. Each of them, without exception, was dragging full-sized
packs full of what i'm sure was survival gear of the highest order.
Absolutely everyone had the sturdiest of deep-cold hiking boots, many
of the plastic kind, and much more than half had on crampons, some as
early in the trip as the parking lot.
It was a mountain of people who were, in a word, scared.
I had plastic boots and crampons, too. Right there strapped to my
backpack. Same place as my mountain axe. Nobody was going to tell me i didn't know what to
But I don't think i was imagining the just-plain resentment in
the faces of absolutely everybody i passed when they looked down and
saw I was doing the whole thing in running shoes. And a tshirt.

So to my fellow Alaskans on this list considering whether or not
they want to take on the mighty pride of east coast mountaineering, the
bruiser from New Hampshire, the meanest square mile of real estate this side of Tibet, Mt. "Worse Weather Than Alaska" Washington - deep in the heart of
February, no less - my advice to you is do NOT underestimate the Beast:
Bring LOTS of sunscreen. And maybe a kite - in case the wind ever
does actually blow.

Oh! And get the Stomboli from Delancy's the night before,

Crazy Disclosure

Okay. Just so the record is set, here's the Mt. Washington Weather observatory's page for Feb 6, 2005, the day of my climb discussed above. Note the weather report is from 5am that day, and it obviously got much warmer by the time i got to the summit about 1pm.

Here is the comments from the weather intern who lives up there:

Sunday saw some of the most extreme weather on Mount Washington in years. That's right, good weather on the summit can be considered extreme. At 42F we smashed the old record high of 33F set in 1938. Just one degree shy of the all-time monthly record. Monday's record high has also been exceeded. Daily records are broken quite regularly though, often several times a year. The extreme event happened around 9am when the winds became completely calm. Even the slightest breath of air could not be found on the summit. If you visit the top of Mount Washington in the winter you are more likely to experience 130mph gusts than calm winds.

With all the nice weather in the mountains there was a flood of activity on the Rockpile this weekend. Scores of people reached the summit on both Saturday and Sunday. At times the Observation Deck was as crowded as a summer afternoon, and the summit crew could be seen playing baseball. In the late afternoon I found corn snow skiing the east snowfields. What a weekend!

For perspective, here are the archived pages of Mt. Washington weather from the same day in recent years:
Feb. 6, 2002