Notes from a volunteer

2010-10-13 21:12:02.000 – Richard,  Summit Volunteer

‘Green Flash’ close up.

I was really excited for the chance to volunteer at the Mount Washington Observatory. It seemed like an ideal opportunity for me.Mountaineering + cooking + science = awesome, as far as I’m concerned. I remember when the volunteer coordinator called me earlier this year, wanting to make sure that I was a reasonable fit for the role.She wanted to make sure I knew there would be a cat around, that the weather might be atrocious, that in case of an emergency I might be required to hike down under my own power, etc. Every question she asked seemed to affirm in my mind that I was going to have a blast.I am happy to report, having come to the end of my week on the summit, that my suspicions were correct.

I set some goals for myself during my stint here. The first and most important was to cook food that the staff enjoyed eating. Either I’ve succeeded or the staff are all very very kind. With any luck, both.My second goal was to knock ice off of something in the furtherance of science. Just my luck, there was significant glaze ice accumulating on the very first full day I was up here. I got to accompany one of the observers up onto the parapet, wield the Crowbar of Science, andremove ice. Scientifically. It was great. The fact that the weatherwas horrible (read: awesome) at the time only made it that much more satisfying.

The final goal I had set for myself was to make an attempt at joiningthe century club, conditions permitting. Unfortunately, thisrequires sustained winds above 100mph, which we didn’t see this week.Still, we did see winds gusting to as high as 98mph, and I did get the chance to go outside and experience what wind gusts above 90mph feellike. As a rookie to conditions like this, I can say that thesewinds are formidable and I have a new respect for those who have even made a century club attempt, successful or otherwise. I hope that some day I have the opportunity to return and experience winds like these again.

I can’t help but think that I just happened to get assigned the bestpossible week to be up here. The fall colors down in the valley wereat their peak. In addition to the awesome winds and thick fog already mentioned, the weather was kind enough to clear up (after four days) to allow me to see the tremendous views offered by Mount Washington.I got to see the rimeice that had accumulated lit by gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. I got in a great hike over to Mount Jefferson, allowing me to see a classic vista of the Mount Washington Summit from across the Great Gulf. One final, and quite unexpected, event that I was fortunate enough to witness was last evening’s greenflash sunset. I got lucky and managed to capture a picture of it.

The final experience I want to comment on here is one that is internal to the observatory, and that is getting to see the crew going about their jobs. I have to admit that I’m a bit of a weather idiot, so the finer details of their observations are lost on me. What struck me was the dedication with which the observers and interns perform theirduties. The small crew of five keep the instruments working 24 hoursa day, despite—or perhaps because of—the brutal weather outside. Every hour, on the hour, I hear the unmistakable sound of crowbar on railing, and I know that someone is out there beating back the ice. I had the privilege of watching one of the observers doinglive distance learning courses with school children. I could see inthe faces of the kids that they were entranced with what they werelearning. Getting people, particularly children, excited aboutscience is a noble yet difficult task that the folks here excel at.It was an honor to be involved in this effort, even if my involvement was just providing observer fuel.


Richard,  Summit Volunteer

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