A Dense Shift Change

2011-01-19 22:49:12.000 – Ryan Knapp,  Staff Meteorologist

Not much but enough to slow us down.

Wednesday shift changes in the winter are always interesting because you never know what to expect heading up or down the mountain. Will the road have barely a trace of snow on it or several feet? Will ice bars greet us in the upper elevations? Are the drifts between the 4 and 6 mile markers small and made up mostly of light snow or are they deep and dense? Will visibility be infinite or barely beyond the blade requiring assistance from someone walking in front? And so on and so forth. Bottom line is it’s always a bit of a guessing game. Usually all we have to work with is what we see at the base, what the observers see on top and possibly what the Snow Coach drivers, groomers at Great Glen Trails saw below the point where they turn around, or what other operators from New Hampshire State Park or ourselves saw in earlier trips in the week. All we can do is load up, hop in, head up and hope for the best.

Today the ride up was going smoothly until we started heading up into the section of the road around the 5 mile post. The drifting here wasn’t particularly deep compared to other times I’ve seen it but it was some of the densest snow we’ve seen in a while. Although it was slowing us down, it wasn’t until we rounded Cragway turn and saw the drifts that were waiting for us that our pace literally went to inches per minute. Again, they weren’t particularly deep but they were 3 to 4 feet deep with concrete like density. So, the snow tractor would move a few feet forward than backed up to ram it over and over again. To go about a mile, it took our operator about an hour of continuous back and forth work to get things safely open again. Not an easy task for him and not a fun experience for us in the back.

Through all this back and forth motion, both of the day observers managed to catch some shuteye while I focused on…keeping my ‘composure’. Even though I had taken Dramamine before heading up (like I do every shift change), I was still feeling my ‘composure’ slowly slipping. Luckily I didn’t lose my ‘composure’ but when we finally got to the summit and I was able to touch ground again, I couldn’t have been happier. Now, today’s trip wasn’t the worst we’ve seen or experienced but when we left this morning from the base I don’t think any of us would have guessed it’d take a bit over two hours to get to the summit with so much plowing being done. But if there’s one thing I have learned while working here it that when it comes to Mount Washington, one should always expect the unexpected because odds are the unexpected is just waiting to spring on you around every corner. In this case, our corner this week was Cragway. And now we’ll wait a week and see what springs on us next shift change.


Ryan Knapp,  Staff Meteorologist

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