Mount Washington Observatory – March 26-April 2, 2014

DAY 1 on the Rock Pile, March 26
Peak Wind: 104 mph; Average Temperature: -4F; Wind Chill: -45F

Big Wind. That’s what I wanted and that’s what I got this afternoon and evening. The building roared inside. I think about all that energy blowing by, uncaptured, and seemingly wasted. I think about how this unique experience for me is just an ordinary day on the Rock Pile.

The day started with meeting the crew at the base; 3 weather observer/meteorologists, Becca, Kaitlyn, and Ryan, the IT guy, Roger and my co-volunteer Patty; and riding to the summit in the snow cat. Wednesday is the shift change between the two groups that alternate staffing the observatory every-other-week. We had a couple hours to meet with last week’s volunteers who filled us in on our kitchen duties. This week we have 2 overnight groups (lunch, dinner, breakfast as well as snacks) and one day trip group (snacks and lunch). The job requires some creativity using food and ingredients available in the pantry. We cannot make a run to the grocery store!

Patty, my volunteer partner, and went outside to the observation deck to check out the view and the wind. I wanted to calibrate my anemometer and experience what 70 mph winds really feel like. I’ve been on hikes with “big winds”, and I know that people tend to overestimate the speed they experience so this was a reality check. My first measurement read 65 mph and the wind certainly was stronger than any other I had experienced. I climbed up to the highest point in the northeast, the observation tower parapet, where the wind was so strong and my experience so little that I stayed on hands and knees for a minute until I felt brave enough to stand. The wind measured 72 mph on my little anemometer and that matched the observation reading.

It was a long night adjusting to the tight quarters, bunk beds and wind noise. Thanks to Patty for letting me sleep in the bottom bunk after I freaked out at the thought of falling out of the very high top bunk.

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Last Minute Adjustment on the Snow Cat

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Mount Washington Observatory Snow Cat

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Two Crew Human Chain Unload and Load Gear and Food

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MWO Observation Deck and Tower

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Wind at 60+ MPH on the Observation Deck

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Volunteers’ Quarters

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Kitchen and Living Room

DAY 2 on the Rock Pile, March 27
Peak Wind: 97 mph; Average Temperature: 3F; Wind Chill: -43F

Volunteer cooking is a time consuming job – I have more of a healthy respect for people in the food preparation industry! My day started at 5 AM (by choice) making desserts for the day: peanut butter/chocolate bars, a chocolate cream pie from scratch, and a not-from-scratch butterscotch pie. I could not get the chocolate to fully melt at 6200 feet, so I had to be satisfied with light brown pie filling with chocolate specks. Patty and I spent most of the day and evening preparing lunch, dinner, snacks, and breakfast the next morning for the Summit Adventure group that arrived early today.

The observers are fantastic making sure we volunteers are included in the day and answering our many questions that they have certainly heard hundreds of times before. Kaitlyn, MWO’s newest weather observer and education specialist, gave me a tour of the main weather room and later allowed me to follow her on her data collection rounds. It is a thrill to stand on the parapet, the highest point in Northeast, and experience overpowering wind alongside the famous anemometers.

Patty and I took a short hike on this beautifully clear day.

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This Map Tells it All! Weather Points to Mt Washington

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Weather Room Instrument Panel

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Kaitlyn Fighting the Wind

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Kaitlyn Taking Wet Bulb Temperature Measurement

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De-Icing the Parapet

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Clear View of Mount Washington Observatory

DAY 3 on the Rock Pile, March 28
Peak Wind: 85 mph; Average Temperature: 24F; Wind Chill: -1F

Should anyone be wondering if it might be dull here on the summit, the answering is NO! This is day 3 and it’s the first time I’ve had the opportunity to write.

After making a pancake breakfast for the Overnight EduTrip group I decided to “take a little exercise” as my husband, Bob, would put it. I put on all my winter gear except I put my feet into zip lock bags and then into my old running shoes with microspikes on. The visibility was pretty darned low but I made my way out to the stairs that lead from the parking lot up to the summit. I ran 50 reps of the 52 available steps for about an hour until the winds picked up further and chunks of ice started raining down from one of the nearby towers invisible to me in the fog.

Chris, a NH State Parks employee, graciously gave Patty and me a tour of the underbelly of the Sherman Adams and the Yankee Buildings showing us the electrical/mechanical side of keeping these buildings running in such extreme conditions.

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One of the Many Functions of Summit Equipment

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Chris, NH State Park Employee Extraordinaire

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Ever Present Summit Data

DAY 4 on the Rock Pile, March 29, AVALANCHE!
Peak Wind: 85 mph; Average Temperature: 24F; Wind Chill: -1F

Today’s weather was a striking contrast from the previous 100+ mph wind, -45F windchill days with full sun, very little wind and warm temperatures in the 20s, but I must cut to the chase: Patty and I witnessed and took pictures of the largest avalanche in history on Mount Washington’s southeast snowfields of the summit cone.

Here’s the story: We went out for a short hike along the Tuckerman Ravine and Lion Head Trails to watch skiers climb then descend Tuckerman Ravine and the southeast snowfields of Mount Washington. The day was so gorgeous that we stayed on the Lion Head boulders for over an hour basking in the sun. Our return route took us along the Alpine Gardens Trail where we heard a loud rumble then witnessed the avalanche and I was lucky enough to have my camera available to take several pictures of the avalanche in motion.

Mount Washington Observatory volunteers carry radios when we leave the building so we were able to radio the event to the observers. Skiers began traversing the area looking for anyone who might be trapped. It wasn’t until we returned from our hike that we learned what a large magnitude avalanche this was and the news and rescue efforts it was generating. It appears that there are no casualties, fortunately. The pictures I took were used to help the USDA Forest Service snow rangers understand the nature of this avalanche.

I put a short video together of the avalanche available on youtube here (view full screen in high definition by clicking on the gray cog wheel in the lower right corner and clicking on 1440p). A full write-up of the event is located on the Mount Washington Avalanche Center website.

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Skiers Heading Up Tuckerman Ravine

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Hanging Out at Lion Head

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Beautiful Tuckerman Ravine – No Skiers Yet

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Mount Washington with Clouds Moving In

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Avalanche Area is Darkened

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Patty at Start of Hike

DAY 5 on the Rock Pile, March 30
Peak Wind: 70 mph; Average Temperature: 29F; Wind Chill: 8F

Uneventful day. The Eastern Mountain Sports group left after breakfast and then the day was quiet; precious quiet. No big wind, no extreme weather to report. I spent the day inside to catch up on this blog and other, unrelated, volunteer web duties before making flour tortillas for our fajita dinner for the core 6 of us.

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Weather Observers Becca (front), Kaitlyn (rear) and Marty the Cat

DAY 6 on the Rock Pile, March 31
Peak Wind: 68 mph; Average Temperature: 23F; Wind Chill: -1F

Our big cleaning day! Busy but not very exciting. Typically Tuesday is cleaning day but tomorrow is supposed to be perfect spring hiking weather and today certainly is not so we switched the schedule.

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Refrigerator Signage

DAY 7 on the Rock Pile, April 1
Peak Wind: 73 mph; Average Temperature: 23F; Wind Chill: -1F

Patty and I woke up early to watch a gorgeous sunrise then prepared for a day of hiking.

This was an unusual hike (perfect April Fool’s hike!) in that we started at Mt Washington with the intent to hike down Nelson Crag and come back up a different route. We needed crampons on the steep sections above treeline – Patty turned around to hike a different trail that didn’t require traction. Nelson Crag took most of the day because I could not find the entrance to the trail at tree line despite my best efforts including climbing out of spruce traps. I walked down the auto road to the AT to Nelson Crag to start from the bottom and go up. I understand now that the reason I couldn’t find the trail is because the trail is buried in deep snow and I was essentially bushwhacking through trees well above ground level. I was soaked from all the wet, slushy snow on the branches.

Altogether an interesting but difficult hike.

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Break of Dawn, MWO

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Sunrise

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Sunrise Reflected on the Observation Tower

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Patty Leading Start of Hike

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Nelson Crag Trail at the AT

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No Trail Visible Exiting from Nelson Crag Treeline

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Crampons Necessary on this Steep, Icy Snow

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Gorgeous, Warm, Sunny Day

DAY 8 off the Rock Pile, April 2

Our last day on the summit. It’s been a good week; lots of excitement with the avalanche. Today we pack up, help the new volunteers unpack groceries and let them know what food we have left over. I wanted to walk down the auto road but it wasn’t allowed; the Cat took us all down to mud season at the parking lot where we said our good-byes.

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