Getting More From Mount Washington
2019-03-06 16:16:44.000 – Jamie Bourassa, Edu Trip Member, Saunderstown RI
Hiking in the White Mountains last summer I saw an “Extreme Mt Washington” poster showing winter mountain views, rime ice and a snow cat. It got my imagination rolling and after becoming an MWOBS member I signed up for a Mountaineering Overnight Edu trip.
The adventure started in the fall as I began to collect the extensive list of equipment to prepare for potential -40F temperature and wind chill. As the trip approached excitement was tempered by every person challenging me to why I would want to go to such a cold place in February. With nerves in check and a pack of cold winter clothes ,we got on the Snow Cat Feb 16th following a storm that blanketed the valley with 6 finches of fresh snow. Cresting the 4.5 Mile mark on the access road the sustained winds had transformed the blanket of snow into 15 foot drifts dramatically slowing progress to the summit. At 3:30 the call was made to turn back for safety as a cloud cap socked in the top of the mountain.
A week later we made a second attempt with the bluest of skies, unseasonably warm temperatures and an absence of any persistent winds. As I admired the beauty of the Presidential Range I reflected on the extreme difference from the week before and embraced the speed of the snow cat to the top.
Once our gear was unloaded we started our itinerary of mountaineering basics, that included getting to know our equipment, emergency self-arrest, snow shelters and avalanche preparedness. With the combination of the learning and great weather we made the most of a beautiful day not concluding until the sun fully set on the horizon. Looking at the forecast before bed we expected an early rise then hike to the tree line before concluding our trip.
Next morning after a great breakfast (a special thanks to Evelyn and Diane, both volunteers at the observatory) we started to get ready. As we put our gear on there was a consistent increase in wind speed and decrease in visibility. By 9AM word was we would be not leaving the mountain top today, and a look at a massive low pressure system we should expect to get comfortable as record winds in excess of 140 mph and lows of -65F wind-chill that would be in place the next few days.
While the universe delivered me a few extra needed days off of work, it also delivered some of the most awesome weather ever seen atop Mt Washington. We filled our day by looking, listening and feeling the incredible power of the storm. At 80 mph we would go out and lean into the wind, at 120mph we would stick our head out the door atop the weather tower like a ground hog looking for it shadow, at 140 go out a protected door and listen to the gusts and watch the blowing snow against the spot lights.
As the storm grew so did the excitement of the staff and those of us that unexpectedly extended our stay. We stayed glued to the Hays chart as the needle kept leaving the paper as winds exceeded 160 miles an hour and erupted with awe when the wind gusted to an astounding 171 mph Monday evening.
It took another day and a half for the winds to die and the sky to clear enough to leave. Over this time the staff, volunteers and fellow excursion goers kept each other engaged not just learning about mountaineering and weather but experiencing and internalizing what the experience was while acknowledging we are part of a very small group of people to ever see the full potential of Mt Washington from its blue sky’s to its record breaking winds.
Jamie Bourassa, Edu Trip Member, Saunderstown RI