Volunteer Week

2013-09-10 16:12:46.000 – Dave and Bob,  Summit Volunteers

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What a week it’s been. On a blue sky Wednesday morning we met the crew, loaded groceries, gear, and us into the van, and drove up the Auto Road with the folks who would be our companions for the following seven days. The abyss of Great Gulf and the brutes that are the northern Presidentials seemed intent on intimidating all who saw them, and in our case they succeeded. If you’ve been here you know that anyone who disparages these mountains because they don’t reach extreme heights doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and that’s not even considering the weather.

Ah, the weather. We’ve enjoyed four lowland seasons in a week. That tranquil Wednesday in the valley was nothing like it at the summit. While the sun graced the high peaks, sustained winds in the 40s gusted over 70 miles per hour. We played on the observation deck like a couple of kids. Do you remember windy days in your childhood when you leaned back into the wind to see if it would hold you up, but it never did because it wasn’t strong enough? It’s strong enough here, and what a kick it was. On Thursday we spent most of the day in the clouds, but they began to break around sunset, just in time for alpenglow to set the remnants ablaze as they dashed by close enough to touch. Dawn broke crystal clear on Friday and it remained that way all day, an autumnal alpine gem ideal for hiking but kind of boring weather-wise, and Saturday was similar until mid-afternoon, when a spectacular multi-layered lenticular cloud developed above the eastern horizon. Later, thick clouds moved in again, pouring over the summit a few hundred feet above our heads like swiftly flowing water. One long-time observer said he’d never seen anything like it.

On Sunday it all broke loose: temperatures fell into the 20s, the wind chill hovered near zero, and rain, snow, sleet, and hail fell in turn, all driven by wind gusting over 80 miles per hour. It was positively malevolent. Ice crystals hitting your face at that speed feel like a million stinging nettles. Hapless hikers who hadn’t checked the forecast or had ignored it huddled in the public area wondering how to manage an escape. We felt bad for them while relishing being able to venture out into it before returning to the safety and comfort of the Observatory. Yesterday, dry conditions returned and temperatures rose into balmy mid-40s, while the ever-present wind blew at benign (for here) speeds.

We’ll long remember the weather, but most of all we’ll remember the people. Observers Mike C., Mike D., and Brian bring high expertise and professionalism to their work, and they take it uber-seriously. At the same time they have infectious (dare we old guys say youthful?) enthusiasm for all things meteorological. Interns Tom and Sam, here to learn from the best, have been our guides, keeping us abreast of what’s happening in the skies and what’s to come and why. Simply put, these guys dig weather. They’re also fun to be around. We’ll remember hanging with them in the evening, enjoying conversation and laughs around the dinner table, and joining them as humble subjects of Marty the Great.

But as the philosopher said, it isn’t over til it’s over. As we write, a line of storms races across Vermont bearing heavy rain and threatening to push the wind here to 80 mph again. Thunder and lightning should arrive soon, and the warm air contributing to the impending fireworks may bring record high temperatures in the next 24 hours. There’s never a dull moment here on top of the rock pile. It’s been our great good fortune to spend the week here, and while we look forward to going home to our families, we’ll start missing this place the moment we leave.

 

Dave and Bob,  Summit Volunteers

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