Volunteer Thoughts

2008-03-31 23:08:35.000 – Ed OMalley,  Summit Volunteer

The Obs.

I grew up on the coast of New Jersey (and live there still), ocean on one side, bay on the other. Ever since I was little, I’ve liked the water. The fact that my parents took me in the ocean when I was just a baby probably didn’t hurt! For many years, I’ve spent a lot of time in, on, under and near the water – usually salt, but sometimes fresh. Sailing, fishing, swimming, diving, kayaking… – you get the idea.

Consequently, I was almost always near the coast, and spent very little time in the mountains – in the town where I live, the highest point is a nearby bridge. My house is probably about 5 feet above sea level! Sure, there were occasional trips to Vermont to ski, and to places like Montana, Colorado, and Texas – but they were few and far between.

The weather has always been something that I’ve enjoyed – ideally cold, windy, rainy, snowy, stormy weather. Happily, being near the coast, hurricanes, strong thunderstorms, and winter nor’easters are common… Unfortunately, snow is less so – there were a few good blizzards when I was little, but these days, it seems as if most winters are pretty mild. In the summer, the ocean is slow to warm up, and keeps us cool – in the winter, it is slow to cool off, and this tends to keep the snow away, unless conditions are just right.

Early in the summer of 2007, I discovered the Mount Washington Observatory’s website, and learned that they had a volunteer program, and immediately knew that this was something that I wanted to do. I had known of Mount Washington and its reputation for years, but knew very little beyond that.

A few months after applying, I was offered a spot in late October – the unique opportunity to spend a shift on the summit – Wednesday to Wednesday – at the Observatory. I of course said yes, and looked forward to October. Remember – this offered two things to entice me – stormy weather – which I know well – and mountains – which I do not.

Late October arrived, and I arrived in the valley, at the base of the Mount Washington Auto Road. The ride up, twisting and turning through the fog, was via van. The first couple of days were mild, good for hiking and photography, then the summit showed its true colors, and we had the weather that it is famous for – high winds, low temperatures, and everything else that it could throw at us. A worthwhile and thoroughly enjoyable trip.

When I arrived last Wednesday for my second volunteer week, it was via snow tractor, traveling up the Auto Road over depths of snow varying from 0 to 20 feet. The ride was bumpy, and the views (or lack there of) were impressive. Once again, the weather has been quite variable, but always remarkable – winds approaching 100 MPH, temperatures down in the low single digits, and wind chills approaching -50F. Sunday, in contrast, was clear and sunny, still cold (~5F), but calm – almost no wind at times. Perfect for photography – pictures of the Observatory, the summit, the fox, surrounding summits, and of course, sunset. I enjoy photography, but as I have told a number of people, I am not a photographer, I just know what looks right, and take a lot of pictures…

Last night was also remarkable in that the weather stayed relatively mild – cold, but clear, and relatively calm – plenty of stars to see with the good visibility. By morning, the clouds and fog had moved in, and the wind had picked up – classic Mount Washington weather. We’ll see what tonight and tomorrow bring…

Spending time at the Observatory is a unique opportunity, and has allowed me to see and experience things that I would otherwise miss. The people, the weather, the views, and the work are all worthwhile, and in my opinion, cannot be had anywhere else. Similar opportunities are available to you via Edutrips (Summer or Winter), Winter Daytrips, and you can even apply to be a volunteer. If you can’t spare the time away from work or family for an extended trip to the summit, you can still see and learn more by visiting the Weather Discovery Center in North Conway, NH.

Until next time…


Ed OMalley,  Summit Volunteer

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