A volunteer

2006-11-25 10:00:44.000 – KD Talbot,  Observer

Alpenglow on the Northern Peaks…

The start of my third full day as a volunteer on the mountain. The usual run of perfect weather while I’m here continues. This is not perfect weather for those of us who like to ski. It looks like Bretton Woods has a few trails open, Wildcat may have one or two. Way to the south we can see that Waterville has snow on the summit trails and there is some at Loon. I can’t really tell if there is any at Attitash. All of this snow is of course manmade and what the conditions are for skiing I don’t really know. Here on the summit we are enjoying an awesome inversion, when I got up at six it was 41 degrees with a 28mph wind. Pinkham Notch was 11 degrees with very little wind. When I went outside there was a group of young climbers from just north of Boston who left home around midnight, got to Pinkham around 3am and climbed to the summit over Lions Head in time for the sunrise. Ambitious hikers, oh, to be their age again!

Yesterday the wind kept me near the summit, venturing only down to the edge of the Great Gulf then back across the west face on the Gulfside Trail to Crawford and up. I plan a much better hike this morning. One that I have always wanted to do is circumnavigate the summit stopping at all the highpoints. Descending Nelson Crag Trail to Nelson Crag, then south along the Alpine Garden Trail to Tuckerman Junction, across the Lawn Cutoff to Boott Spur, then along the Davis and Camel Trails to Mount Monroe, then back up the Crawford to Westside, north to Mount Clay and back to the summit on the Gulfside and Trinity Heights Connector. Can I pull this off? We’ll see. I can always bail out and head back to the summit if conditions change or I get too tired. There is no snow and very little ice on the summit cone, temps are mild and there is bright, clear skies, I wouldn’t consider this trip otherwise.

The fact is though that this could change drastically on Mount Washington, often in a matter of minutes. If you’re considering a climb today or tomorrow do not be lulled into a false sense of security. Come fully prepared for winter conditions. I don’t want to see anyone up here today in sneakers! The trouble with this weather is it’s cold at the base of the mountain and as you climb the temperature is rising and your exertion is causing you to sweat. Now you get to the summit and the wind is blowing and you cool down very fast. If your underwear is soaked you will keep cooling down until you’re hypothermic. The best thing to do to avoid this is have good wicking underwear and dress in removable layers. Start out hiking as cold as you can stand it, believe me, you will warm up quick.

While I am on the mountain I love to read and reread the old classics such as “Three days on the White Mountains- The Perilous Adventure of Dr. B. L. Ball on Mount Washington,” published by Bondclif Books. If you have never read this, please do. Briefly, it is the story of Dr. Ball, (someone who should have known better), and his visit to Mount Washington in late October of 1855. Incredibly he survived being lost in a terrible snowstorm with little more than an overcoat, a borrowed hat and an umbrella for three days and two horrible nights in a little cleft in the rocks. His story is nothing short of miraculous, over 140 others were not as lucky and you can read their names on the wall in the summit building. This mountain is not to be taken lightly. To quote Dr. Ball, “From what I am able to learn, I should say that September is as late as any attempt to ascend to the summit ought to be made, and particularly if the visitor goes for pleasure. I am inclined to think that people are not usually aware that September is late, and that the month following snow occasionally makes its appearance. It ought to be known to all that the two summit houses are closed by the middle of September each year, when the proprietors leave, and do not return again until the next June.” And also, “The weather is so variable, and liable to the most sudden changes, that, although a person may make the trip in the majority of cases safely, yet occasionally there might be a failure, and the consequences prove fatal.” And more,”It is true many prefer to go alone and independently, to the risk of an uncompanionable and unintelligent associate; but safety here demands more than the gratification of minor wishes.’ All I can say is heed well the warnings and don’t hike alone!


KD Talbot,  Observer

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