Notes From Half a Week on Top

2012-02-20 17:23:01.000 – Leslie Schomaker,  Summit Volunteer

As trustee (treasurer) and Valley resident, I am often in the Observatories North Conway offices working with the low-level (as in altitude) staff. It was a special treat to spend 5 days on the summit as co-volunteer assisting the able 15-year volunteer Katherine MacDonald. More than ever, I am impressed by the professionalism of the staff and pleased to see their passion for the mission of the Observatory – making weather observations, science education and research.

Joining us on Wednesday’s weekly shift-change were Scot Henley (executive director) and Mary Stampone (trustee, NH State Climatologist), who were interviewing a potential candidate for our “Director of Research” position. I sat in on the shift-change meeting and was immediately impressed. The departing crew discussed topics from the problems of installing a webcam at Cannon Mountain, various technological issues beyond my knowledge, to philosophical discussions on whether a standard algorithm correctly states our peak wind gusts.

After the shift-change meeting, a video conference was set up for an all-staff meeting with the Valley. Running an organization with half the employees working in one location to support other employees working in another location, with some employees working every other week, is complicated. Using the technology developed for our distant learning programs helps keep communications within the organization open. Then it was time to prepare lunch for both crews, then get ready for dinners. The volunteers really do work.

Thursday there were no guests on the mountain, so our work load was light. Visibility was 100 miles, rime ice formations were spectacular, so Katherine and I headed off for Mt Clay, returning in time to make the staff dinner.

Friday we earned our keep. Luckily it was foggy and windy with snow, so we didn’t mind not having a minute to venture out. We were expecting a group of Edu-Trippers, so our tasks were to make up the bunks, clean the downstairs, prepare a snack for their arrival, lunch, hors d’oeuvres for their wine hour, then dinner for 17, all the while washing an endless stream of dirty pots.

Saturday morning brought breakfast and lunch detail. After the Edu-trippers’ departure, the summit is again quiet, and I am able to pen these notes. Most volunteers stay a week, but I leave tomorrow to make my bunk available to a group of German students who are coming for the week.

My few days on the summit have renewed my respect for the organization. The staff is made up of interesting people capable of fulfilling their scientific duties ably, but also willing to wash pots and schmooze with our guests. I have always appreciated our volunteers, whether they work on the summit or in the Valley, but I had no idea how much was expected of them. With our tight budget, we certainly could not afford to pay for all the services provided generously and happily by our volunteers.

Sunday, regardless of the weather, I will go out and play until it’s time to head off the mountain.

Observer Notes: This comment was supposed to be posted on Saturday, so some of the past, present, and future tense may slightly be off.

Also, on Wednesday, February 22nd, in celebration of vacation week in Mount Washington Valley, we will be holding another FREE program at our Weather Discovery Center in North Conway entitled “Mount Washington Observatory: An Inside Look”. The free program will start at 7 pm and is open to all ages. More information can be found by clicking HERE.


Leslie Schomaker,  Summit Volunteer

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