Tent Testing on Mt. Washington

2010-03-29 21:09:43.000 – Mike Finnegan,  IT Observer

As Ryan mentioned yesterday, we have some new additions to the observation deck. Depending upon when you looked, we may have had more or less additions to the deck. These additions were 4-season mountaineering tents from various companies that Backpacker Magazine has enlisted the Observatory to test and review. The crew set them up yesterday first inside the shelter of the building to become familiar with them, then moved outdoors to the relatively benign conditions as far as the summit is concerned. We set up three tents, with Cara, our Marketing and Communications Coordinator in one tent, Kristin, Backpacker Magazine’s Gear Editor in another tent, and Nick and I in a third. We all headed out around 10:30 PM to see just how well these tents would stand up to strong winds and how they affected the people inside. For much of the night, until about 3am, winds were averaging speeds in the 50 mph range with gusts into the 60s. This alone proved enough to cause some problems for two of the tents, the one Nick and I occupied and the one Cara was in. The main failure point was the zipper on the fly which failed to have a guy point and with winds that strong, kept unzipping. I fixed this for a while by taking my shoelace and tying the zipper to a non-moving part of the fly to keep it from moving upward. When Cara’s tent began to collapse and she and Ryan, our night observer who was incredibly busy last night, brought her tent inside, she aided our tent by staking out that zipper. This made quite a big difference as the tent was no longer slapping me in the face every 20 seconds. It did not however lessen the noise of the wind which roared like a freight train coupled with the crack of a twisted up towel used as a whip. It was loud enough that Nick and I had to yell to hear one another, even though we were next to each other. It was just after 3:00 am that the winds really started to crank and our tent really started to fail. Sustained speeds were in the mid 60 mph range, gusting into the 70 mph range, peaking out in the low to mid 80s. This tore the zipper teeth apart, rendering our shoelace and stake fix useless. The tent now bent to the force of the wind in ways not seen before, such that we decided it would be totally wrecked if we didn’t get up and take it in. We worked quickly to take the tent in, breaking a pole in the process due to the force of the wind and the way in which it was constructed, but the tent body and fly were left unharmed. With two tents down, we checked on Kristin’s to see how it was faring. To our surprise, it was standing strong. This is not to say Kristin was getting any sleep to speak of either, as the wind was simply too deafening to fall asleep to, but the tent, a North Face Mountain 25, was doing great. I went back inside to catch an hour and a half of sleep before starting my shift at 5:30.

We still have several other tents to test, but weather will be the big deciding factor in it all. With rain and mixed precipitation falling through to Wednesday and potentially record breaking high temperatures extending into the weekend, snowpack to anchor these tents to will diminish quickly. As is often the case, it’s time to play the waiting game.

To view a video of the conditions inside our tent, click here.


Mike Finnegan,  IT Observer

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