Wimpy Weather, but Wonderful Week

2014-08-05 18:32:53.000 – Joshua P. Cohen,  Summit Volunteer


From July 30th through August 6th Tom Henell and I spent a fantastic week atop the Northeast’s highest peak, volunteering for the Mount Washington Observatory. Having your temporary home at the summit of a mountain is an adventure. In some ways there’s isolation from one’s everyday existence. In my case, I felt removed from the routine of living in Beacon Hill and working on the Boston campus of Tufts University. In other ways there’s bonding with your fellow summit inhabitants; a fun, humorous, intelligent, and motivated group of observers, interns, and guests. Our conversations at the dinner table ranged from detailed discussions of dew points and the battle between the GFS and EURO models – full disclosure: I’m a weather buff – to the telling of hilarious (war) stories about living up high in thin air. Some stories are better left unmentioned as a public comment. Others can be retold, albeit anonymously. To illustrate, a few of the museum visitors really do forget that once they venture up the Mt. Washington Auto Road their urban or suburban lives are briefly suspended. One naive museum customer asked: ‘Where’s the IMAX theater?

Volunteering at the Observatory provides you with an opportunity to brush up on any cooking skills you may or may not have. Despite an incredibly well-stocked kitchen with army-sized pots, pans, skillets, and baking sheets, creativity and improvisation are required. There’s no Whole Foods or 7-11 around the corner to get that missing ingredient. If there’s no whipped cream, make it. No mayonnaise, ditto. In the end, our motto was the sign hanging next to the stove: ‘Many people have eaten my cooking and gone on to lead normal lives.’

Weather-wise, aside from the odd lightning strike and delicious rainbow, it was a rather uneventful 7 days. Knowing the mountain as well as I do, I came prepared for wild temperature swings and gusty winds. This is Mt. Washington after all, a place known for ‘the world’s worst weather.’ Alas, the mountain did not oblige. We experienced a steady diet of ‘in and out of the clouds,’ mid 40s to mid 50s, and wind that whimpered instead of howled.

The summit is a great base for treks around the Presidential Range. If you start out hiking in the fog and can only see 50 feet ahead, just descend 500 feet or so and the Alps of New England may unfold before your eyes. Walk across the Alpine Garden or Davis Path and pretend you’re Maria or Baron von Trapp from the Sound of Music. When you get back to ‘camp’, take in the ever-changing, spectacular views from the Observatory deck. If you’re not in the mood for hiking these grand piles of rocks, you can enjoy the tranquility of the Observatory’s living room. Its library offers a truly eclectic mix of literature, DVDs, and CDs: From Monty Python to horror movies to textbooks on meteorology to Anais Nin’s diaries – whatever strikes your fancy.

In brief, this was an unforgettable experience. Thank you, OBS.

Observer footnote: Join us tomorrow, Wednesday August 6th, as we continue our free summer lecture series Science in the Mountains! Tomorrow night’s presentation will focus on the seasonal variations of temperature inversions along the Mount Washington Auto Road, and will start at 7PM at the Weather Discovery Center in North Conway. We’ll see you there!


Joshua P. Cohen,  Summit Volunteer

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