Observations from a summit volunteer

2011-09-06 23:14:57.000 – Layne Gregory,  Summit Volunteer


I do not remember who first told me about the opportunity to volunteer for a week and work with the meteorologists and staff on top of Mount Washington. However, I do recall that it was at least fifteen years ago and I have wanted to have this experience ever since. I have always loved to cook, especially for others. It is such a wonderful way to nourish the bodies and the spirits of others. I am not a professional chef. I started cooking in my early 20’s and been engaged in adventurous cooking of one sort or another ever since.

The cooking commitment on the mountain requires a week of one’s time, Wednesday to Wednesday; a big chunk of vacation, or, in my case, a week during an extended sabbatical. Volunteer chefs do not face the challenge alone. I was paired with a lovely woman, Susanne, and together we have been cooking our hearts out for the last seven days…Well, cooking and cleaning our hearts out for about 4-5 hours a day. The rest of the time we are on our own to explore the mountain trails, wonder around the weather station pestering the staff with elemental questions (which they always generously answer) and/or read a book and enjoy downtime in an extremely special place.

This adventure began last October when I connected with Kim Henry at the Mount Washington Observatory valley office and signed up to volunteer for a week (after passing the phone screening question of ‘could I cook a Thanksgiving meal for 19.’ I answered yes (and she believed me). My initial fantasy had been to cook during the winter, facing the elements, experiencing ‘the world’s worst weather’ with an apron and a recipe for Panna Cotta. That did not happen. Kim informed me that I was not alone in wanting to ‘do it’ in the winter.

Turns out that the frigid, icy months are the most sought after and that Newbies, like me, must initially test their skills during a fair weather summer week. I picked this one and it has been lovely. Susanne and I plotted and planned our meals for weeks in advance, trying to think up entrees, salads and desserts that would thrill the Observatory staff and perhaps provide them with something special and yummy. While our food has not gotten much of a rise out of the full timers and interns, I think it is because most volunteer chefs ply them with meals ‘to remember’ every day. Nonetheless, it has been a week to remember. I have never seen the Milky Way so clearly. The vistas and sunsets are breathtaking. (I am looking a particularly beautiful one right now.) Ryan has been a thoughtful and articulate teacher throughout the week and Roger has been a great, enthusiastic tour guide and living companion: always ready with a kind greeting or a teasing, fun-loving comment.

My week in the ‘Mountain Kitchen’ has been an experience that I will derive satisfaction from for the rest of my life. Standing on the observation deck in the pitch dark of night, being one of only a few who are, for that moment, seemingly so close to the stars is a memory I soon won’t forget. In the midst of such grand beauty, the opportunity to saturate oneself in it makes this week a gift so worth giving.


Layne Gregory,  Summit Volunteer

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