“Everything was going great until…”

2008-06-15 07:05:57.000 – Mike Finnegan,  IT Observer

A Stunning Sunrise

The summit of Mount Washington spends over 60% of its time in the fog. Thus it is not surprising that we have been in it since just around yesterday’s sunset. There has also been a fairly steady rain since about 10 PM. There was a chance of thunderstorms in the forecast, but these dissipated more-or-less in eastern Vermont. For the accuracy of wind measurements, this proved favorable because we are unable to use our sonic anemometer in thunderstorms. The sonic anemometer is more accurate in light winds such as we saw last night than our more commonly used instrument, the pitot tube static anemometer.

This weather is a bit of a contrast from the last two days of high pressure. Whereas today the only hint that the sun rose was the fact that black turned slowly to grey, the previous two days have seen brilliant sunrises. There have been hours upon hours of sunlight, warm temperatures, and hordes of people. Sports of all sorts are in action as I met hikers, photographers, and climbers as I was taking what may be my last turns of the season on the east snowfields.

So now for a bit of a story. I’ll introduce this with a quote from my Dad…which reminds me…it’s Father’s Day…happy Father’s Day Dad. I hope your day has a bit more sun, a bit less rain, and a whole lot of fun. As much fun as when we were backpacking in Chile, which brings me back to my story and the quote, “Ladders are your friend.” He said this while deciding to take a slight detour around a ladder believing it to be quicker and easier. As I ascended the ladder and reached the top, he toiled with the alternative route. The ladder was there for a reason.

So back to the weather, you can see how it changed quite drastically from yesterday afternoon to last night. A few folks took it upon themselves to “go ‘round the ladder” and ended up spending a cold, wet, tiresome night upon the summit. Hiking from Hermit Lake shelter, they left a bit after 5 PM for the summit, figuring if weather turned bad or light failed, they could always turn back. With this in mind, most all gear excepting small day packs were left at the shelter. Reaching Lion’s Head, they found light to be failing, but decided instead of turning back down the route they came and knew, to continue on to another trail on their map, the Tuckerman Ravine trail. Reaching this trail half an hour later, they saw a sign that read “Trail closed”. This sign is the proverbial ladder…and yes, instead of hiking back half an hour, they continued on. Darkness fell and they wandered lost through very exposed terrain. Eventually fog rolled in, moderate rain fell, cairns that were there were not able to be seen, and ones that were seen were not always actually cairns. The convenient thing about summits is that they are at the top, so they headed up, eventually reaching the summit and huddling somewhere not within the building for the night – the Sherman Adams building, open in the day, is closed at night. This morning I met the drenched, shivering, tired people and was told the preceding story. Talking to one of the snow rangers in Tucks this morning, I discovered he saw their headlamps shining far off trail in Tuckerman’s Ravine last night. The last time he saw a headlamp in that area, he was rescuing the person 100 feet below soon thereafter. These fellows got lucky.


  • Left camp late, leaving most gear at the shelter.
  • Did not have a current weather report.
  • Continued on when light was failing, against a previous decision not to.
  • Did not heed a Trail Closed sign.

“Everything was going great until…”

It may be summer, but danger is still present in the mountains. Please be careful and make wise decisions.


Mike Finnegan,  IT Observer

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