It is an interesting fact that Mount Washington, New Hampshire, slap bang in the middle of the civilised world, is actually quite an uncivilised place – I’m talking about environment here, not socially! It’s average mean temperature is 2 degrees Celcius or 27 degrees Fahrenheit. The average snowfall is 7.9 m (or 26 feet). 7.9 metres !!!!!!!!!!! That’s serious snow. Plus it’s windy. The highest wind speed recorded on the mountain is 231 mph or 371 km/h which is one of the fastest surface wind speeds ever recorded – beaten only by Tropical Cyclone Olivia in 1996 – 253 mph on Barrow Island, Australia and the tornado that hit Oklahoma City in 2005 where wind speeds of 318 mph were recorded.
To continue, Mount Washington is not only known for its superb snow. It’s also a climbing and hiking haven, but one not without its dangers. 135 people have died on the mountain since 1849, 4 never to be found. Most died from hypothermia – and not only in winter. “They call them the White Mountains for a reason,” says Lieutenant Todd Bogardus, SAR team leader for New Hampshire’s Fish & Game Department. “We see snow right on through the year.”
Very extreme conditions
So we get back to my tongue-in-cheek comment above – how very uncivilised Mount Washington is. It is especially so because it is so easy to get to – for anyone from the North East anyway. Because it is just a car drive away for so many, one tends to forget how dangerous the environment on the mountain is. One might not even know that it has some of the most extreme weather patterns on earth.
In fact, the 6,288-foot Mt. Washington (the highest peak in the White Mountains) is known as “the most dangerous small mountain in the world” or, more affectinately, “the Rock Pile” because of the large blocks of New Hampshire quartzite and mica schist . Several weather patterns collide on Washington and produce its notoriously foul weather, which can move in quickly. In 60-mph winds, hiking becomes nearly impossible, climbing seriously dangerous. Mount Washington records, on average, hurricane force winds (more than 75 mph) over 110 days of the year. From November to April these hurricane force winds occur 2 out of every 3 days. But despite this, it has a rich climbing history and became a fabled ground for Harvard / Yale competitiveness with several of the ascents named after either one university or the other.
It is also one of the most popular hiking, backcountry skiing, climbing, alpine climbing and ice climbing destinations in New England.
The hiking routes go up the mountain from all directions. Spring skiing is concentrated in Tuckerman Ravine. There is a wide range of climbing and ice climbing: Damnation Gully, The Escape Hatch, Diagonal Gully, Pinnacle Gully, Yale Gully, South Gully, 2 climbs on Central Gully, North Gully, Odell’s Gully, the Great Gulf Headwall and Wait Until Dark Gully! That sounds like a spine chiller… and Pinnacle Buttress (YDS 5.7) is a nice rock climb in Huntington Ravine. I have probably missed some out, but that will give you and idea of the range and scope available.
The Mount Washington Observatory site asks people to please “not to confuse the trails on Mount Washington with smooth “nature walks”. All the trails on the mountain are rugged, rocky, muddy and slippery when wet, and steep. While Mount Washington is lower than many mountains out west, the “relief “– the vertical gain from bottom to top – is about 4,000 feet, so it is similar to the ascent one makes when climbing some western mountains. The most popular routes are not “technical” in that they do not require rock-climbing equipment and techniques, but they generally do include some areas where hands are likely to be used for balance, and some have steep places where slips or stumbles could have serious consequences (and have done in the past).”
Another warning: beware February – it is the coldest month of the year on Mount Washington with temperatures plummeting to -14C (6 F)… average.
Photos courtesy of https://www.wikipedia.org