Cold and Windy on the Summit

2013-01-24 17:59:39.000 – Mike Dorfman,  Summit Intern

The Observeratory Door in -30 Degree Temperatures

When I went outside to help sling for an observation this morning, I was caught by surprise by the strong northwest winds. In order for the sling to work, which measures humidity from the difference in temperature from a dry thermometer and a wet thermometer, I must make the measurement in the shade. Unfortunately, the only significant shade nearby this morning was behind a protrusion on the other side of the deck. Taking one step out of the wind shadow behind the tower, I was quickly blasted with 80+ mph winds, pushing me off balance. I took one step, then another, walking slightly out of control while trying to slow myself down, but I was not succeeding. At this point, I was in the middle of the deck with my back leaning into the wind, accelerating forward. I knew there was no hope to stay on my feet, so I crouched down and rolled onto my back. Glancing down at the fragile and expensive cold-weather thermometers in my hand, I was relieved to see that they had not broken. I looked up to make sure no one was looking and started crawling back to the tower door. After slinging in the shade immediately next to the tower and out of the wind, I made my way back into the observatory to report my data and tried to redeem my dignity.

Hiking in the Whites can be extremely rewarding some days, but challenging, miserable and dangerous others. On days like these, if you have the wind at your back you can very quickly accelerate and be thrown to the ground. On bulletproof ice, it may even be impossible to stop from sliding without specialized equipment. Several years ago, there was a group of two people who lost their footing on the summit cone. Without proper gear, they slid out of control downhill for close to a mile before they were able to stop below Lion’s Head. The risk for these types of falls can be mitigated by learning how to use mountaineering equipment and carefully reading both the Observatory’s higher summit’s forecast and the Mount Washington avalanche Center’s daily snow report. If you’re planning a winter hike to the summit, be sure to check the higher summits outlook the morning before you head into the mountains, or else your winter ‘hike’ might become a desperate crawl back to treeline!


Mike Dorfman,  Summit Intern

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