The Shift Change Update

2007-04-22 07:55:40.000 – Jon Cotton,  Observer

A lot of Really Heavy Snow

Alright, this is last week’s shift change update. A normal change takes place on Wednesday with the upcoming crew leaving the base at 8:30am (valley time). Our fleet of vehicles consists of the summertime van, a truck and of course the snowcat. In the between seasons we either take the truck with tire chains up the entire way or switch from truck to snowcat part way up the road depending on snow cover. Top speed in the cat means an hour to travel the 8 miles. Occasionally we will carry out shift change a day early or later if rough weather is headed in. The conditions that keep the cat from running are severe cold, high wind or reduced visibility usually due to a combination of fog and blowing snow whiteouts. The cat operator is the person who makes the call whether we go, stay or turn around.

Last week it was two feet of fresh snow rather than foreboding weather that provided the complications. The Mount Washington Auto Road folks put some effort in on Tuesday to clear what they could of the lower few miles but as snow was still falling there was little they could do. That meant Wednesday dawned with a fully snowed in road, several downed trees and both the Observatory and State Park snowcats were parked at halfway. The upcoming summit staff planned for a delayed departure at 10am but the real work started at 7am.

Wayne and Chris Uggerholt, snowcat operators for the Observatory and State Park respectively, skinned up the road to retrieve the machines. Equipped with skis, climbing skins and chainsaws they cleared blowdowns as they went. Once at the machines, they shared the task of plowing 4 miles downhill. Meanwhile, the Auto Road started the slow process of plowing uphill and by 10am had cleared the first mile and a quarter. Kyle, Mike F, Alan, myself and our volunteer Denise met in the parking lot with Ken and Mike D. First we had to shovel places to store our cars at the Maintenance Garage. I met with Ken and Mike to sort out some pressing technical issues prior to a noontime AMC cooperative meeting at the Pinkham Notch Visitors Center. The others continued shoveling out all the other cars. (Ending a shift week by shoveling two feet of wet snow isn’t fun. This way Jim, Ryan and Brent could hightail it to well deserved recliners.) Around 11 we loaded up the truck.

Alan fishtailed up a slippery road exactly one truck’s width wide. You wouldn’t think you could slide around much with snowbanks channeling the vehicle like a luge track, but it’s actually quite easy. We got to mile and a quarter without any trouble and paused for a ‘parking lot’ to be created. Alan commenced parking but I guess Mike just couldn’t wait. He had to bail. After a few snowball fights to pass the time, Chris arrived pushing massive piles of what he described as some of the heaviest, densest snow he has ever plowed. At least it was downhill. Wayne clipped around the corner a minute later clearing the other side of the road. We transfered gear from the truck and proceeded to the destination.

Wayne continued to widen the road following the game plan of clearing the road a little more with each trip. After several winters of experiencing the shear plowing muscle of these machines, I can honestly say that pickup trucks just don’t have the same thrill anymore. Well here’s how the road looked going up before entering into the fog. We bid the heavily laden trees goodbye to face the daunting 5-mile stretch. The rule of road travel is that if snow falls it will drift into 5-mile. Sitting in the back of the cat during epic back-and-forth plowing marathons is really not fun. So we got out (with Alan now taking the pictures) and walked, which was a fine thing because it gave us the chance to deice the ARVTP data sites. 6-mile is another notorious stretch but fortunately the east winds kept it fairly clear. Wayne drove straight over the top of it for the most part in the interests of time. But what he gained by ignoring the plowing was mitigated by the visibility. We hopped out to walk in front of the snowcat so that, once we found the road, Wayne could follow us and stay on said road. This actually didn’t take too long before rocks starting appearing and marking the appropriate boundaries. The next two miles were typically normal and the easiest part of the whole trip.

Total up time was 4 hours. Wayne’s total day was 10 hours. What the downgoing crew saved in travel time, they made up for with hard labor. Kyle and Jim made a deal on Tuesday – we shovel their cars out, they shovel the doorways. Here is the main entrance to the State Park building. And who wants to bet money that Jim, Ryan and Brent only had to shovel this once?? Anyone…No? Ah well, that concludes this trip log. Finally a comment with photos!


Jon Cotton,  Observer

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