Should I Go Hiking?

2012-10-28 19:21:00.000 – Ryan Knapp,  Weather Observer/Meteorologist

Clouds from Sandy provided a colorful sunrise.

Should I go hiking the Monday or Tuesday? That is a question we have been asked and you might be asking yourself. So here is my long and short response.

The long response is this: A storm is coming up the eastern seaboard. Now, you may have heard it called Hurricane Sandy, a post-tropical low, a Nor’easter, Frankenstorm, the Perfect Storm -Part Deux, or one of many other names. Regardless of what you want to call it, the bottom line is a strong storm is coming with its impact occurring Monday through Tuesday (and possibly into Wednesday). It will bring heavy rains and high winds across the state and not just the summits. That means lower elevations will see tropical storm gusts (39-73) to possibly hurricane force gusts (73+mph). Since this isn’t the first time New Hampshire has experienced a strong storm, we know the effects a strong storm has on the state and the Mountains (think back to Hurricane Irene). It will result in flooding, excessive trail runoff, adverse road and trail conditions, flying debris, and several fallen trees around the White Mountains and the rest of New England.

How does this translate to you hiking? Trails will be a mess. Roads will be a mess. Conditions will be dangerous. Calling 911 may be difficult if an emergency arises as cell towers may be affected and call centers may be bogged down. If you do get through to emergency services, help will not be as immediate as it would be under normal circumstances. Travel and rescue resources and personnel around the state will be stretched thin in the coming days, with any search and rescue efforts that arise in the backcountry likely being slow going or possibly even delayed until resources become available or safer conditions are met.

This potential for dangerous conditions has prompted the US forest service to strongly advise against backcountry travel in the White Mountain National Forest from Sunday evening through Thursday, November First. The Randolph Mountain Club is echoing the same statement and although cabins and shelters in their system are stated as remaining open during this period, they are strongly advising against travel during the same Sunday – Thursday window. The Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Huts are realizing the dangerous conditions and are echoing a similar massage as the USFS as all their huts are listed as being closed from Sunday through Wednesday as a precaution. And even though the Mount Washington State Park summit facilities and the Mount Washington Auto Road have been closed for the season since October 21st, it doesn’t hurt to remind people that their is limited outdoor shelter on the summit and no transportation up or down the road. We don’t have vehicles up here and none of us are EMT trained. So, if we need to get you to a hospital, we will need to call the authorities, get a vehicle up here, get you loaded and then headed down to a hospital. On a good day, this takes three hours but with adverse road and travel conditions, three hours will be highly unrealistic.

So that is the long of it. The short response: Should I go hiking Monday or Tuesday? Better yet, let me reword that – Would I go out hiking Monday or Tuesday? NO.

Alright, that maybe blunt and a bit too short, but it is my personal decision and it is the answer that I would provide my friends and family, regardless of their skill level. But, let me back my response just a bit more as to why I wouldn’t. While statistically you won’t likely get hurt, if you do get hurt, remember, it doesn’t just affect you. SAR efforts require several individuals, many of which are volunteers. That means these men and women have to give up helping their family and neighbors and local community to drive to the base, under dangerous conditions, and then traverse in conditions that threaten their safety to get to you. And while the summit staff will usually volunteer to help out in SAR effort, given the conditions we see coming, we will not likely be volunteering for SAR efforts in the next two days. We know what hazards these conditions can have and it is not safe for us to assist from above.

So that is the long and short of it. So please be safe in the coming days and maybe instead of hiking, consider volunteering your time helping out family, friends, neighbors, and/or communities that might be affected in the days ahead.


Ryan Knapp,  Weather Observer/Meteorologist

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