View Full Version : question for the Old Fhart

05-25-2004, 03:43
I was admiring your awesome photos on Mt. Washington.
When you worked there did you guys stay on top for extended periods of time or did you come off each night?
The temps/winds are world famous there, I found it interesting that Grandfather Mountain close to us is just behind Mt. Washington in wind speed recorded. What was the coldest and windiest when you were there?
Wonder how many thru-hikers get halted by severe weather on top?
and on and on and on.....
Thanks OF

05-25-2004, 05:45
I was admiring your awesome photos on Mt. Washington........................................ ...and on and on and on.....
Thanks OF

MeToo MeToo MeToo!

I LOVE those Mt. Washington Photos...totally AWESOME!
i've been up to the top on day-hikes when my wife & i visit New ENgland...but have never experienced it's windy wrath like T.O.F. has & lived to take photos...on top of that! :D

Blue Jay
05-25-2004, 10:20
Not only are your Washington photos great, but all of them. You have a way of capturing more than most others, including me, unfortunately. You may be a pain in the A-- to argue with, :clap but you sure know how to work a camera.

The Old Fhart
05-25-2004, 10:20
Ah, Mount Washington. I’m originally from the northern part of NH and I could see the mountain from my window so I guess it’s no surprise that I have a strong connection to Mt. Washington. My older brother and I first climbed it in 1960 and I have climbed it a total of 72 times since then with about 25% of those hikes during winter. After I retired in 1997 and thru hiked in 1998, I had a chance to do some work for the Mount Washington Weather Observatory when a friend of mine who worked there suggested I would be a good person to do a job for them. I spent 2 weeks during the summer installing the wiring for their local area network (LAN) and went on to do everything from drywall to computer maintenance. In the fall of 1998 I was hired for the winter season to help with weather observations because they had no job classification to fit what they wanted me to do. I continued to work there for 4 winter seasons maintaining the instrumentation.

To get to the summit in winter there is a huge snowcat made by Bombardier http://www.whiteblaze.net/gallery/showphoto.php/photo/3500 that transports up to 10 people and supplies to the summit on the shift change every Wednesday, weather permitting. The work schedule is Wed-Wed, 8 days on and 6 days off. The 7.6 mile drive takes 1.5 hours on a good day but has taken as long as 4.5 hours when there was low visibility due to high wind and blowing snow. The snowcat driver has to do a lot of plowing after drifting snow has covered the previous track and sometimes the road can be obliterated in minutes. I use the word “road” loosely because by midwinter there are sections where the snowcat may be up to 40 feet above the actual road traveling on a plowed track on top of huge drifts. Even with these drifts there are sections of the road that are generally blown clear because of the normal wind patterns on the mountains. If you’re riding in the back of the snowcat, the windows frost up almost instantly and with the snowcat driver plowing, constantly back and forth to make a track to drive on, it is easy for some riders to get motion sickness. I have been riding up front when the driver has asked me to get out and tell him where the edge of the road is because he can’t see it. There are times when we’ve had to sit and wait for visibility to improve because you literally couldn’t see beyond the windshield.

The living quarters at the Observatory are comfortable with a lounge with TV, library, couch and chairs, etc.. The temperature inside is generally 70 degrees except in the bunkrooms where we generally turn the thermostats down. There are 5 bunkrooms for 2 each and one that holds 6 so the men and women who work on the summit have plenty of room. The typical shift has 2 volunteer cooks, 2 observers, and one intern as a minimum. The observers work 12-hour shifts from 4:30 to 4:30 so there is always someone on duty and generally someone sleeping. The pantry has enough food to last us for months and fresh food is also brought up at shift change. Water is pumped from a deep well on the summit and stored in 2 2500 gallon tanks that give enough reserve to carry us through the winter in case something happens. Water from sinks, showers, etc., (gray water) is skimmed and stored in different 2500 gallon tanks to be removed in the spring when the road reopens. Waste water and solids are held to a minimum and pumped in the spring as well. The summit crew are allowed one shower per shift (each, not per crew :) ) and any other water use is controlled as well.

The summit is generally in the clouds 300 days per year and the highest winds are in the winter months. Winds in excess of 100 mph are common and the strongest winds I have seen on the summit were 145 mph. The record wind of 231 mph on April 12, 1934 was verified by the National Weather Service and is the world record. If some piece of equipment is going to malfunction it never happens on a “good” day but on the worse day possible. Rime ice, which is caused by super cool water droplets or mist hitting colder surfaces, creates these interesting formations that can grow to weigh hundreds of pounds and are one of our biggest problems. Under certain conditions the observer on duty will have to go to the top of the tower with a crowbar to clean the rime off the instruments (which are heated) every single hour. Rime grows counterintuitive in that it isn’t like weeds in a brook that grow downstream, but grows into the prevailing wind. Going out in 120 mph winds at 34 degrees below zero requires that you suit up and have every inch of skin covered. The smallest gap around a glove or facemask and goggles will cause frostbite instantly. I have been careful and have never had any frostbite. When you go up to the top of the tower in conditions like these you have to kind of back into the wind if possible because if you face into the wind your goggles will be covered with rime and you can’t see. You also have trouble breathing because your mouth is covered with a facemask and the wind pressure compounds this as well.

My job had no set hours so if I wanted to paint at 11 PM when there were fewer people up, I could do that. If it was a clear day with low winds, I could suit up and hike down to Lakes of the Clouds hut or take pictures. Some of my ATC calendar shots were taken on my free time. I might also be woken up at 4 AM to help solve some problem so life on the summit was rarely boring. I also provided technical assistance to researchers from NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research), UNH, etc., which was always interesting. When winds are 60-80 mph out of the west we generally go “deck sledding”. The observation deck (roof) of the summit building is covered with snow or ice and if you suit up, sit down and put your arms out, the wind will blow you across the deck then you fight your way back through the wind and do it again. Where else can you sled on the level? Also, if the conditions are right at shift change, The snowcat driver will let us out at the 4-mile marker on the road and we use plastic sleds for a thrilling run down the auto road to the base. Definitely an E ticket ride.

One thing you probably wouldn’t think of is there is little snow on the summit. All of it blows off because of the high winds. About the upper 2000 feet of elevation on Mount Washington is above tree line and all the snow there is windblown and glassy, sometimes called boilerplate, so hiking to the summit in winter requires crampons, iceaxe, and great care. If you are suited up in nylon and lose your footing on this icy surface, you might as well be on ball bearings because you are going to reach terminal velocity real soon. I have used the term “terminal velocity” slightly different than it’s usual usage but I think you get the implication. Hiking groups that are well prepared hike to the summit in winter with no problems and on a good weekend you could see 50-100 hikers on the summit. Most don’t use the trails that make up the A.T. but hike up the Lion Head trail from Pinkham. This route gains about 4300 feet of elevation in about 4 miles.

Thru hikers generally don’t have any problems hiking through the Whites in summer as long as they have a healthy respect for the mountain and are willing to wait if conditions are really bad. It has snowed on Mount Washington every month of the year and I have turned back several times which accounts for my still being here. I hope this rather long, rambling, reply answers most of your questions. Let me know if there is anything else you’d like to know. I have given a slide show on Mount Washington in winter at Trail Days, the Gathering, and the ATC conference so keep looking to see if they schedule me again. The pictures are much better than a boring text reply.

05-25-2004, 17:00

Appreciate the reply, it was very interesting. Hope I get to see your slide show some time.


Uncle Wayne
05-26-2004, 01:21
Very interesting. Thanks for sharing that with us.

05-26-2004, 03:00
I will scan next years TD events list to see if you are listed and make every effort to attend the lecture, hopefully with offspring in tow.
Reading your desciption I was thinking of Apollo 13 and then submariners,a wonderful experience for you to share so vividly. Thanks again.