2012-05-01 23:32:11.000 – Joe Egan, Summit Volunteer
Today is May 1st. A day set aside in many parts of the world to recognize the efforts of the worker.
During the past seven days I had the opportunity to volunteer here at the Observatory. The MWO workers certainly deserve that recognition.
Kim Henry, the volunteer coordinator, gave me a thorough orientation after I accepted her invitation to be here. Although orientations are crucial, what helped to allay the little anxiety I felt was a phone call the night before my departure on the 24th from Joe Kayan a veteran of 3 stints here as cook, dishwasher and housekeeper. His helpful advice confirmed Kim’s directions and provided first hand insights for what was expected during my stay here.
Our drive up was uneventful but it was interesting to see the drainage bars created by the Auto Road crew that are necessary to prevent extensive washouts in the roadway during the spring thaw.
Our driver was none other than Ken Rancourt, the stalwart of weather observations on Mount Washington for over 32 years. Over that time Ken has established and improved the daily routine for successful and safe weather observations.
Halfway up we stopped and installed chains on all four wheels. Even though the road was generally clear, there were patches of ice that necessitated their use.
Driving us the remainder of the way was meteorologist, Ryan Knapp. After all, someday there will be the need for someone other than Ken to transport the workers to the top. That duty is certainly in capable hands with Ryan. A graduate of San Jose State, Ryan is a quiet, unassuming observer who is always willing to answer questions and explain the significance of the many instruments, screen displays and the natural phenomena that occur each day; sometimes each hour or less.
The very first team member I met was Roger Poshur who, I think, suspected I was a poseur sneaking through the gate by tailing him as he entered. Roger is an easy going guy who refers to himself as an old man. Joe and I reminded him that we consider him a pup since we are both over 60 and he is only 55. Roger’s expertise is the IT field having worked for over 30 years at one of the largest national banks. The amazing aspect is that Roger is self-taught; a characteristic that I always find admirable. Along with his electronic capabilities, he also performs readings and observations.
Later in the week we had the good fortune to be joined by Brian Clark, the shift leader. A graduate of Penn State, he is a highly qualified meteorologist who is always willing to patiently answer the simplistic questions of a neophyte cloud gazer.
During our week here we have experienced a wide array of weather. On Thursday, Joe and I were fortunate to have clear skies with 120 mile visibility as we trekked to Mount Jefferson. However, the next day ushered in the start of three days of high winds and accelerated ice pellets. On Friday we experienced the force of steady 85 MPH winds on the observation deck. We both had the same comment as we re-entered the tower: boy, were we happy that we did not have to hike down (or up for that matter) in these conditions. We both noted that the force of the wind actually made us feel as if it were taking our breath away; along with sapping our energy within a few minutes. At dinner that night Ryan shared an insight that he believed most people cannot accurately assess the true speed of the wind. I, too, based on my own experience; also believe this to be true. What is more disconcerting is when people are told that the wind is, say 60 MPH at the summit but because of their inaccurate sense of how that feels decide to, nevertheless, proceed to the top. If they are not inclined to prudently turn back when necessary they could jeopardize their ability to safely return.
Saturday was more of the same with a -20 wind chill followed by slightly less wind on Sunday. With this slight lull, Joe and I decided to hike to Tuckerman Junction, over the Southside and Davis then up the Crawford. As we started over Southside, we realized it would be very tough going to reach the summit because of the force of the wind and opted to make a beeline back to Tuckerman where we found ourselves in a bit of a lee. Onward to the summit where we were greeted by an 89 MPH gust.
Monday dawned with diminishing winds and Joe and I ventured down Tuck’s, across the Alpine Garden and up Nelson Crag; a beautiful, serene day.
Tuesday, a day of general cleaning in the staff’s quarters, found the summit shrouded in thick fog which was just as well for us. Later we assisted Roger with acquiring dimensions at the former helipad for an upcoming installation.
The summit of Mount Washington is an exciting, dangerous place but fortunately for a hiker like me, I can rely on the expertise of observers such as Brian, Ryan and Roger to provide the invaluable forecasts that enable me to make a rational decision whether to hike or return on another day. Witnessing them perform these forecasts was a much appreciated opportunity.
Joe Egan, Summit Volunteer