2013-03-06 23:13:22.000 – Joe Kayan, Summit Volunteer
My first winter shift as a volunteer is about to end tomorrow. After experiencing 4 or 5 spring and fall weeks here with the Observatory summit crew, including a very memorable and exciting visit last October when Sandy roared thru, I was expecting and hoping for something dramatically different. Way below zero temperatures, white out snow/ wind conditions, the fearsome, incredible Wrath of Winter on Washington.
The week started out as hoped for. Last Wednesday’s storm was impressive enough by my valley standards to awe me. I helped change the precipitation can and check on the condition of the Stage Office during the height of this impressive weather event. Even dressed in my best winter attire complete with many warming layers, waterproof outers, balaclava, storm hat with chin strap and goggles for my eyes, the 80 mph wind driven snow found the small areas of bare skin on my face. It was quite painful, like tiny needles being repeatedly stabbed to sensitive spots. Luckily, this unpleasant condition didn’t last too long. The single digit temperatures combined with hurricane force winds quickly numbed the same skin that was being bombarded by the snow. I took this fact as a weather god kindness- a small mercy. I knew, of course, that this numbness would too soon lead to frostbite…frostbite to hypothermia…hypothermia- well lets not go there. Sure glad I was not caught hiking a mile above tree line at this time, in these conditions.
Twenty minutes later, I was exceedingly grateful to be able to return to the warmth and protection of my mountaintop home. I shed my frosted outer clothes and settled down with a cup of hot chocolate in hand. I could content myself to watch and ‘experience’ the remainder of the storm by looking at the Observatory’s numerous weather gauges and seeing it through ice encrusted windows.
What followed was the calm AFTER the storm. Thursday morning was sunny and warm. As it turned out, the only 3 hours of sun that I’ve seen so far. On a hike to the Nelson Crag and a side trip to the head of Huntington’s Ravine, I was forced to remove my hat, then my gloves as well as a fleece. Temperatures neared 30 degrees, the wind was unnoticeable. This is winter? I returned tired and sweaty, deliriously happy. I come here not only to help cook and clean, but because walking in this glorious alpine world is the best medicine for my soul. Mount Washington is a cathedral, a place where I come to take counsel with my gods.
The remainder of the week has been a wonderful mix of the good company of Observatory staff as well as the 3 guest trip participants, great (albeit, far too much) irresistible food-mostly created by my co volunteer and room mate, Enchilada Dave-marvelous foggy, view challenged hikes and quiet, restful times. Wild, crazy, winter never returned in any very impressive manner. No matter.
Thanks to summit crew Rebecca, Ryan, Roger and Mike Kyle – oh, you too Marty, wherever you are napping, and all the wonderful hardworking Observatory staff for this experience. I know that I never give you back as much as I take from this 8 day adventure.
Joe Kayan, Summit Volunteer