Adjusting to Life on the Summit
By Charlie Peachey
Working on the summit of Mount Washington is not your average job. There aren’t too many other places where the employees work and live together for eight days in a row and then get six days to rest. So, as you might imagine, it takes a little while to adjust to life on the summit, and I have experienced that through my first three months working at the Observatory. I went from finishing research for my master’s degree in early August this past summer to working my first shift at the Observatory less than two weeks later. It made navigating the transition from college to professional life even more chaotic. It also presented many new scenarios I’ve had to learn to adjust to daily. But, most of the new scenarios have been unique and exciting, like getting used to what we like to say is the “best office view in New England” (which tends to make it much easier to procrastinate).
Sunset looking west over the summit with an undercast below the station.
Adjusting to a New Type of Winter on the Summit
The beautiful views aren’t the only thing I’ve had to learn to adjust so far to here at the summit. Unsurprisingly, the extreme weather that the summit experiences each winter differs significantly from anything I’ve experienced while living in Plymouth, NH, or Concord, MA. So, I’ve had to start adapting to new winter challenges I had little experience with before working at the Observatory. Despite being an avid skier and New England native, going outside in -30 wind chills to take an observation minutes after waking up is not something I am used to just yet. The famous extreme winds on the summit add an additional layer of challenge, making the simple task of reaching the precipitation on the other side of the summit or de-icing the instruments at the top of our tower feel like an expedition. Unlike my college days, when snow was a delayed arrival, I now find myself preparing for winter a month in advance, packing accordingly for the unique challenges that the summit’s winter presents.
Me de-icing the instruments on our tower earlier this year.
Living Up Here: A Mix of Bunker and Dorm Life
Describing life on the summit often feels like a blend of living in a bunker and reliving dorm room camaraderie. The Sherman Adams building, where the Observatory is housed, is engineered to withstand winds of around 300 mph, offering a sense of security, and the living quarters are essentially underground with minimal natural light, much like a bunker. Sharing this space with colleagues and friends can also make it feel like a dorm-like and friendly atmosphere. Playing video games at the end of a long day in the common room with my friends is no longer an activity exclusive to my life in college. Overall, being able to relax with everyone at the end of a shift or complain about the hardships of the workday together has helped promote a sense of togetherness.
Having Two Homes
Bouncing between two different “homes” every week introduced a unique set of challenges. Keeping track of personal items at both locations and becoming more efficient at packing has become essential for me to improve. Unfortunately, I am prone to misplacing things and am not the best packer, so the constant change has fostered a heightened sense of organization and adaptability.
The Quirks of Daily Life
Living on the summit comes with peculiarities, such as the need to anticipate and list all toiletries for the upcoming week. The inability to run to the store for forgotten items requires meticulous planning. This lifestyle shift has forced me to be more intentional about what I use during my shift week and consider the essentials needed for the following week.
During the summer, our office space tends to be busier than usual. When the summit building is open to the public, we often give tours of the Observatory to our members, volunteers, and various types of schools. Hence, it’s not uncommon to have a large group of people lingering in the office. Being able to give tours and talk to the public is something I enjoy doing, but having enough time to have enough time to answer everyone’s questions and complete my other daily tasks on time can be tricky. So, I have had to get a lot better at multitasking and politely telling people I must step away from a conversation to do my job.
Finding New Hobbies and Staying Entertained
Typically, I spend my free time outside doing activities such as fishing, skiing, or playing ultimate frisbee. However, the extreme weather that frequently occurs at the summit prompts the need to explore new hobbies and re-invest in old ones. Specifically, I have begun using my camera a lot more since the unique environment around the Observatory opens up tremendous opportunities for photography. The challenging conditions inspire creativity and offer a chance to capture the beauty of an environment few people experience, so I use my camera to take full advantage of the opportunity.
Furthermore, photography hasn’t been the only hobby I have re-invested in since starting at the Observatory. I’ve recently begun playing Mario Cart again with my other shift-mates using the Nintendo Switch at the summit. I used to love playing Mario Cart since it was one of the first games I ever played on my old Wii. Being able to play it again has been a great way to pass the time so far on the summit, but my shift really likes to play Super Mario Brothers. I never truly played the game before starting my job here, so it has been fun learning something new that everyone can play.
Looking east at sunrise with rocks covered in rime ice and pockets of snow.
Being Ready for the Unexpected
The job demands being ready at a moment’s notice, even in the middle of the night, to fix the meteorological instruments whenever they break. Despite months of acclimating, using critical thinking skills before sunrise remains an ongoing learning process, and bad weather only makes it more difficult. Especially when winds are gusting to hurricane strength, temperatures are in the single digits, and freezing fog coats you in a layer of ice during the brief times spent outside.
Studying for the NWS METAR Exam
Studying old NWS manuals for the METAR examination has been an intellectual challenge. Despite five years of meteorology education, memorizing intricate rules established by the NWS, especially those predating 2000, has proven demanding. The Observatory’s unique procedures and NWS guidelines add an extra layer of complexity, requiring a flexible approach to observing weather phenomena.
In essence, life on the summit of Mount Washington is a thrilling and challenging journey. The extreme weather, shared living spaces, and the need for constant adaptability make this experience unlike any other. The Observatory’s unique charm and the camaraderie among colleagues have turned this endeavor into an unforgettable chapter of my life.
Mount Washington Observatory is a nonprofit research and educational institution. Our work in mountain meteorology and climate science relies on your financial support. If you value our mission, please donate today.