Don’t be a ‘Goofer’.
2010-10-17 18:25:53.000 – Ryan Knapp, Staff Meteorologist
Observer tips/reviews currently in Backpacker
So, if you haven’t deduced from our recent comments, it is full on winter up here. Snow coats the summit cone and surrounding peaks with an average of about 6 inches with drifts as deep as 6 feet in some spots. Looking at current webcams and talking to day hikers, it looks like snowline, as of today, drops all the way down to about 3500 feet. Winds have been staying high and are projected to remain on the high side until a bit of a dip on Tuesday. And temperatures remain cold. In fact, we haven’t been above freezing since Wednesday and are expected to remain between 10 and 30 degrees in the coming days. In fact, looking at long term model projections, temperatures aren’t supposed to go above freezing until possibly next Sunday, the 24th at the earliest. This makes for dangerous wind chills on exposed surfaces. Surprisingly though, this is about normal for us as October is what we consider a winter, not fall, month up here. The month’s temperature averages 30.2F, it averages 13.8 inches of snow, and our winds average out to 34.1 mph.
With weather becoming more “extreme” and winter-like, this means hikers need to start changing their frame of minds from summer to winter hiking. Hikers really need to start checking out the weather forecast prior to heading out (although, this is true any time of year). We produce one daily, NWS produce one daily, and most weather sites can provide you with a modeled forecast if you use 03589 as the zip code (don’t use “Mt Washington for your search as it won’t be as accurate for reasons I can explain in another comment). If you don’t have a computer, like Erica mentioned in yesterdays comment, we have the weather phones to use. Don’t have a phone? Then stop by AMC Pinkham, the AMC Highland Center, or pretty much any outdoor equipment store around the summit for a forecast. Stopping in at one of these locations will also allow you to check trail conditions before heading out to see what equipment might be needed (crampons, ice axe, snow shoes, etc). Hikers need to start packing for winter conditions (more layers, extra food, gloves, goggles, etc). Hikers need to be aware that days are getting shorter. This means an earlier start on the trail. Gone are the days of starting at 10 am and having light out until 9 pm. Sunrise is currently at about 7 am and is setting at about 6 pm leaving less than 12 hours of daylight to play with. And the days are only going to get shorter from here on out. So always pack a headlamp just in case. And most importantly, if the weather deteriorates, turn back, don’t continue up. The Sherman Adams buildings operation hours are weather permitting so it is always good to check the NH State Park website to ensure it is open on the day of your climb or else you will need to be prepared to stay outside. And it is only a matter of time until the building is closed for the winter season. And if you do make it up, don’t expect a ride down, even in an emergency. The only way we can currently get anyone off the summit is by foot via a carry out. Luckily this hasn’t happened yet but it is only a matter of time since in the past few days, we have seen a handful of grossly unprepared people. Don’t ask me how anyone can be so grossly unprepared when free and open sources of information are everywhere but it does happen, especially during this time of year.
But, I will say that the prepared hikers that we see up here on any given day far out number the unprepared. And hopefully by word of mouth, forums, tweets, status updates, etc, news will spread that it is winter up here and the number of sightings of unprepared winter hikers will go to zero in no time. But don’t let the winter weather here deter you from getting out there and hiking the White Mountains. Lower elevations are still in fall mode and New Hampshire has several great low elevation hikes for those that consider themselves a three season hiker. And if you want to break into winter hiking, this time of year is a great time to start getting into it. Although cold, windy, and snowy, it is no where near as severe as it gets in January or February. So you can start practicing for later winter hiking now. The first step is to do your homework and look at information on winter hiking and equipment by stopping by your local mountaineering store, your local library/book store or looking around the internet. And while you are at your local store or library to look up more information, you can pick up the current issue of Backpacker magazine, and read some of our tips on how to become a four season hiker. Once you’ve done your homework, start renting or buying your equipment. To point you in the right direction if you are looking to buy new equipment, this past winter we tested and reviewed some of the gear listed in Backpacker magazines Fall/Winter 2010 Gear Guide (this is included with the current issue of the magazine). This will give you an idea of what really works up here. And once your are prepared, start hitting the trails. Start small first then work your way up to tackling the summit of Mt. Washington. And in no time you will be a four season hiker, prepared for whatever the mountains throw at you.
Ryan Knapp, Staff Meteorologist