Monday, April 21, 2014
Dear Ultimate Skiers,
You really scared me!
This weekend I worked as an information volunteer at Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center at, the foot of Mt Washington here in beautiful New Hampshire. While most of the country is enjoying a warm springtime, Mt Washington is enjoying an endless winter with almost 4 feet of snow. Skiers from around the world come to enjoy these unique conditions. Spring skiing is a very popular event on Mt. Washington! Saturday’s temperature of 10 degrees felt much colder with winds of up to 78 MPH.
In order to ski Mt. Washington, a person has to attach their skis and ski boots to their backpacks, and hike in 2 ½ miles. This first stretch of the hike takes at least 90 minutes. Then, at Hermit Lake Shelter, the skier puts on their boots, drops most of their gear, and carries their skis up the Tuckerman Ravine Headwall, another 90 minute hike. When the skier reaches the top (or what they consider their top), they put on their skis and make their 10 minute descent. Hopefully, the skier does not fall. For those who tumble, the Ski Patrol is watching and waiting to help if needed.
These enthusiastic skiers need help staying safe on Washington! They have no idea that some thawing has begun on the mountain. During warm days, the ice under the snow starts to melt. Freshets and small streams start running, and turn into rivers and waterfalls. Crevasses on the snow surface open up. Skiers and hikers have fallen to their deaths in such places. Warning the skiers and hikers of such places is part of our job. Most skiers and hikers smile and listen politely. Others argue with me about the existence of these dangers. I feel quite helpless as I give out the advice.
Another danger is the falling ice. Chunks of ice as big as a bus have been known to fall in an area known as Lunch Rock. As the name implies, lots of people choose to sit there and eat. Telling them to be aware of huge chunks falling from the cliffs above often go unheeded until something unfortunate happens…..
A third danger is the ever changing weather. Mt. Washington has recorded the wind gusts of 231 mph- highest in the world. Also, it is known to have the worst weather in the world.
It is the combination of extreme cold, wet, high winds, icing conditions and low visibility consistently found atop Mount Washington which earn it the title "Home of the World's Worst Weather". As William L. Putnam states in The Worst Weather on Earth, "There may be worse weather, from time to time, at some forbidding place on Planet Earth, but it has yet to be reliably recorded." Despite its relatively low elevation (6,288') Mount Washington is located at the confluence of three major storm tracks, and being the highest point in New England, it generally takes the brunt of passing storms. The steepness of the slopes, combined with the north/south orientation of the range, cause the winds to accelerate dramatically as they rise up from the valleys.
This was my weekend. I gave out warnings that were-often unheeded. I listened to the stories of people who risked life and limb to ski and hike in one of the most beautiful and dangerous places in New England. I loved every minute of the great adventure, helping out as best I could.