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Mount Washington for the Record

This site will document the week long experience of volunteer work at the Mount Washington OBS in New Hampshire. My time in Alaska taught me how much I didn't know about New Hampshire. The journey begins, for the Record.

Diary Entries

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Location: USA

Having spent the last 122 hours and 22 minutes at the summit of Mount Washington with the MWO staff, I have an enriched appreciation of their efforts. I am just now acclimated to breathing 20% less 0xygen and can climb the 61 stairs to the Observatory tower without being winded. I have been lucky to draw a good partner who has (patiently) taught me much about cooking.

The staff has shared their excitement by encouraging us to interact more closely with the weather. We have stood in winds blowing 60 mph (3½ times less than the 231 mph record set in 1934) and have been pummeled by hail. Oh by the way, we have enjoyed endless sunshine, warm temperatures and sunsets with beauty beyond my description.

My life here is humble and I focus on conservation in every aspect of my responsibility. We recycle and reuse everything before we reluctantly throw something away. Even then it is compacted to save space.

The historical experience has been impressive. I have walked trails cut hundreds of years ago and imagined those who have come before me. I have stood on rock shaped by eons of glacial time. I have contemplated locations where people have perished, sometimes a few hundred from the safety of the summit. My reading and research has become more complete with the experience of the physical opportunities. Descriptions in “The White Hills”, “History of the White Mountains” and “AMC White Mountain Guide 28th Edition” have been enhanced and Nicholas Howe’s “Not Without Peril” has touched me. Peter Crane (Director of Programs Mount Washington Observatory) wrote praise and was referenced many times in the book. Peter has been in twice and participated in web casts with interested groups and autographed my NWP copy.

This has been a life molding experience and I continue working to improve my cooking and cribbage skills.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Early afternoon the weather surprised us with a sudden change for the better. Skies cleared from what seemed like would be a day long fog and light rain. Winds reduced and temperatures moderated. We made a quick decision to hike from the summit to Clay. Much like the decision Lizzie made in 1855.

My day pack was stocked and ready, and in short order we were on the Gulfside Trail.
I used trek poles for the decent and found them to be helpful, but on the ascent I stowed them to free my hands.

The Great Gulf didn't break her promise of a wonderful view despite some clouds and haze that challenged photography. I was tempted to test some modest repelling sites but forgot my figure eight and would rather have an experienced rock climber along with us.

On the ascent Rob and I split at Westside Trail as I wanted a shot of Lizzie Bourne's marker, a small stone cairn alongside the cog rail tracks, and a simple white cross. The daughter of Judge Edward Emerson Bourne of Kennebunk, Maine, Lizzie her, uncle George and cousin Lucy Bourne set out for the summit of Mount Washington on September 14, 1855. Lizzie was described by her father as having “resolution (that) transcended her physical power. No obstacle could discourage her in the pursuit of any object which she had resolved to attain.” This seemed fitting to satisfy her goal of witnessing the spectacular Mount Washington sunrise.

The party left the Glen House around 2:00 PM (exactly the time we left for our jaunt) and enjoyed the shelter of the forest for the four miles of the Bridle Path to it's end. Soon they were above the tree line and shortly thereafter the weather changed. In a howling wind and with temperatures dropping, they pressed on, stopping frequently to rest. When George decided they could no longer continue, he built a stone shelter against the forceful winds. At 10:00 PM he checked on the girls and found Lizzie “passed silently away, uttering no word of complaint, expressing no word of regret or fear.”

As dawn broke, George got his bearing and saw the Summit of Washington just a few hundred yards away.

Lizzie Bourne was 20 years old (although newspaper reports set her age at 23).

Monday, 18 August 2008

I was asked to write for the daily MWO website comments section. Here is my entry:

After spending time in Alaska in the summer of 2007, I realized how little I really know about New Hampshire. I am a native, a native son, and a native grandson. I never knew why Darby Field climbed Mount Washington. The tallest point in the northeast seemed like a good place for me to start. After becoming a member of the Mount Washington Observatory, the administrators were kind enough to accept my application to volunteer for a week at the summit.

Viewing any mountain summit from the base instills an urge in most everyone. “I wonder what it is like up there? I bet the view is great. I bet I can climb right up there to the top.” Some may assess the climb to include stepping over a few rocks and under a couple of tree branches. Too many may focus on the destination and not the journey. Maybe a hike is a little like life.

After hours discussion among the Observatory staff and volunteers has been spirited when the topic turns to hikers. Personal experience stories fire at Uzi like speed, and the core topic is always the same – lack of preparedness. The Hiker Responsibility Code summarizes the basic elements of vigilance essential in an environment where your life may depend how well you prepared for your journey. Too often negligence or recklessness put rescuers at risk, tax resources and break hearts.

I am struck by the diligence and passion demonstrated by the observers. These dedicated professionals observe, document, evaluate and distribute critical weather information 24/7/365. The large majority of hikers and outdoor enthusiasts glean from these reports data they incorporate into their plans.

Most hikers are good at sharing. They share trails, mountains and a common appreciation of nature. Observers are professionals at sharing. This volunteer greatly appreciates the weather information they share.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Wind: Air in natural motion, as that moving horizontally at any velocity along the earth's surface as defined in
Our biggest wind during this trip 58.5 mph gusts and 43.7 mph average brought the wind chill to 32.1°. Remember that wind force increases exponentially. A wind speed of 60 mph is 4 times stronger than a speed of 30 mph. Rob and I visited the tower and stood in the ring. The definition does no justice to our experience. Looking up the 6 rung steel ladder to the ring, the clouds raced by overhead at a dizzying speed and I instinctively tightened my grip. Hesitation was required to manage the first step where the rest came by rote if I focused on each rung. With a firm grip on the red pipe staging, I was punched in the face by a gust as I moved above the protected side. My determination took over my lack of confidence as we had been encouraged by the staff to enjoy the experience. Standing in the ring, I tested a few different stances imagining the challenge of the Century Club requirements – walking the Obs deck in 100 mph winds. The story had been told of a German group training for the CC in 90 mph winds and doing very well. When the test came just days later, all failed.
I was happy for my preparation; skull cap, goggles, fingerless gloves and layered clothing. Several visitors posed around the summit marker and I saw only one wearing shorts. But they were fashionable!
Jim made appropriately pointed remarks in his Observer Comments today ( with references to the Hiker Responsibility Code and a Boston Globe Magazine Story entitled “A Beautiful Place to Die”. One hundred forty people have died here since 1849; some victim of circumstance, some victim of user error.
The wind came directly from the West, and when I looked East I watched the clouds dive over the summit between Boot Spur and Monroe. Right over the Bigelow Lawn. It was like standing below a vapor waterfall seeing the clouds disappear in the valley. If I looked directly into the sun I could see large patches of bright blue sky that immediately disappeared by the advancing clouds.
Yep, “Old Lady Nature, she's certainly a mother, but Washington Summit weather, tougher, there's no other.”
Pics to be posted later...

Saturday, 16 August 2008

The world's worst weather! At 5:30 AM we were under a high ceiling of clouds moving quietly to the northeast. It soon cleared but the temps remained cool – about 44°. A great day for the Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb with a reported field of 600. I was assigned as a catcher and was responsible for quickly assessing the finishers then sending them to an appropriate triage location. I worked with Wade, a long time patroller from King Pine, a really good guy and was reminded that some patrollers drink and have a skiing problem. A local ambulance crew assisted, but forgot the most basic rule of EMS. While responding to a report of an injured spectator, one EMT approached the scene over the crag from above. Nearly in the exact spot of the injured, the EMT fell and broke her ankle. The rescuer now had to be rescued.
The first finisher came in under an hour. And then the weather changed. It got colder and the wind blew a little. Light rain quickly changed to pea size hail that lasted for an hour. The hail pummeled the riders who demonstrated a variety of race related symptoms: exhaustion to a point where they could not dismount, muscle cramps, vomiting and some dehydration. Then the weather changed. A thunder storm rolled through and we saw several lightening strikes.
I am reading “Not Without Peril” by Nicholas Howe. I am reminded of the opportunity available to prepare for the outdoors through education and a little common sense. What did Twain say? Common sense is not all that common. We observed 5 dogs (including a chihuahua carried to the summit) in the hiker bag room suffering from hypothermia. These dogs should know better!
Then the weather changed. Thick fog rolled in and I watched two hikers descend the north face of Washington, probably the Great Gulf Trail, not wearing rain gear, become swallowed by a tremendous fog cloud “wave”. Shortly before, I had seen a party of 6 descend the north side, soaking wet and not a slicker among them. One however was wearing a trash bag. But after they were out of sight for about 45 minutes, the weather changed. More lightening and thunder with stronger winds and rain.
We were going to hike to Lakes of the Clouds after the race; about an hour and half away. Maybe tomorrow after a closer look at the weather.
Washington is not the coldest, nor the windiest (despite holding the 74 year old record of 231 MPH). It is not the highest altitude and has modest technical terrain. Bur the weather changes drastically in a heartbeat.
Right now I am hunkered down, warm toasty and dry.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Location: USA

Sunrise can be enjoyed about 100 days out of the year from the summit of Washington. We were lucky to appreciate a beautiful view after getting up at 4:20 AM (EST – our time). The valley clouds huddled in the low lying areas and mountain peaks in the west smiled good morning. A remarkable experience.
I was responsible for breakfast this morning – Alaska omelets for the EDUtrip group of 6. Everyone enjoyed. I have been averaging about 6 hours in the kitchen per day. Which brings me to a point! I spend and hour and a half prepping and cooking. Trying to my best with the limited skills I possess. It takes the group about 20 minutes to eat and there are gone. Is it always like this?
There is a bike race tomorrow and I have volunteered to help with rescue.
With our conservative approach on water, food, gas and electricity, I took my first shower today. Water on, rinse, water off. Soap up, water on wash off. I am off to brush my teeth.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Location: Mount Washington Summit, USA

Our first meal -- pasta and meatballs, was a hit with most of the staff who took time to express their appreciation. The prep was almost flawless. Almost, since I didn't calculate the appropriate boiling time for water at this altitude. One mile above sea level doses make a difference. Also, not stirring the sauce pot often enough results in some burning to the bottom. At least after serving and eating, I forgot to turn off the burner. Oops!
This morning was awesome with a better than expected sunrise and no people. I had the mountain all to myself.
We have an Edu Group coming in today and need to accommodate their dietary needs. I'm thinking peanut butter and jelly...

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Departed at 0 dark-30 and arrived at employee parking Mount Washington base 40 minutes early. Nice drive, no traffic, Great BAy was like a mirror in the sunrise. Met up with Rob my partner from Waterville Maine, Ryan a meteorologist and Natalie a volunteer from New Jersey. I don't know what exit. After packing our gear, we were off. Well after a stop at the recycling center, then the garage, and the gas pump, but we grabbed the wrong key. Back to the garage, back to the gas pump and we were off.
The summit was in the clouds reporting visibility of 200 feet. Light wind and a temp of 43°.
We wagered on the mile marker location of Ditch Dan -- a worker responsible for weed whacking the auto roadside, but we never found him.
The ride was uneventful, but it was made clear the visitor coach travels at a slower speed. Our record time was 19 minutes over the eight mile trek.
We had a quick orientation to the kitchen, first the fresh storage frig in the pantry, then the left over frig in the kitchen. Back to the pantry to view the freezer, and back to the kitchen for oven instructions. Back to the pantry for orientation to can good storage and back to the kitchen for spices. We then went to the pantry to see where the bulk food was stored and guess where we went then? Right! To the kitchen.
We had a brief staff meeting to discuss shift changes and last week's issues. I am guessing introductions will come later.
I have some photos from the base, and will upload summit photos later today.
Drop me a line.

Some sun at the summit, clear view of Jefferson, Adams and Madison ion the north.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Location: USA

The worst weather in the world; the highest point in the Northeast (6,288’); the highest recorded wind speed of 231 mph in April 1934 and like Denali was re-defined in Alaska, Agiocochook now named Mount Washington will be my home for the next week. My goal is to become a member of the Century Club – one on a short list of people to walk the length of the OBS deck and back in winds in excess of 100 mph alive. In order to qualify for a winter venture, summer orientation and training is required.
I am expecting to provide skills consistent with my experience – MS Office Training, carpentry, wilderness search and rescue and outdoor emergency care. But, one of my primary responsibilities will be to cook for the staff. Right! Susan has been coaching and I will serve (her) meatballs and pasta the first night delivered to the summit freshly frozen from home. My partner Rob has significant cooking experience and I promise him to be a good helper.
First climbed in 1642 by Darby Field (according to known records) Washington became accessible to visitors of all ages in the 1850’s with the construction of the Cog Railway and the Carriage Road. Daily weather observations began in 1932 pioneered by 4 men establishing the Mount Washington Observatory.
Over the last month (July 2008) temperatures have averaged 51° with a high if 65° and a low of 38°. With trace snowfall, wind speeds have averaged 24.7 mph with gusts reaching 88 mph. Have you ever felt rain falling in winds blowing at 88 mph?
I will log daily updates with photos, so chcek back and leave me a message.

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Recent Messages

From K74
Hey Del, I realy enjoyed your "How I spent my Summer Vacation" report. I recently stumbled on the the log report from that day the wind was measured at 231 MPH. (The direct measurement was actually in "clicks" (and I don't mean kilometers....).) Very cool. Remind me to tell you the story of how I ran up to the summit for a milk-shake one afternoon from Craig Camp.... Ah, vigor is wasted on youth.... --dp
Response: You ran from Craig? At what age?
From Ryan Schruender
Hey Dell! Looks like you had a great time! Are you going to try it at all in the Winter when the weather is really crazy? Looks like it was a great way to end the summer!
Response: Hey Ryan -- my goal was to return in the winter. I need to reflect for a while, but I am hoping to return. Thanks for the note.
From storygirll
Hey Del, your photos bring back such wonderful summit memories. That 8/15 sunrise was incredible as were your omelets. Mmm . . . mmm . . . good! Thanks for helping to make my EduTrip so special. I'm ready to go back tomorrow. >^..^< Shelley
Response: This has been a great trip, glad to have met you and your crew.
From Pete
Oh yeah, and your sunrise cone shadow picture came out amazing...we were wondering how that would look...
Response: I am lucky to have had the opportunity.
From Pete
Hey Del, you mentioned your blog when I was on the EduTrip last week, and I'm glad I checked it out. The food was great, but your writing and photography are even better....I'll be back in January - hope to see you then. Keep up the good work.
From mom
Hi Del, Another great experience!!Anxious to hear all.Wanted to send you date bars but Jody said no.See you soon. Love Mom
Response: Jody had better not gotten the date bars!
From billysinc
Del, great stuff. I'm glad I got to meet you while on my EduTrip. Beautiful shots. Wish I was back there.
Response: Thanks Billy. Good to meet as well.
From Sue
Del, sounds like life at the top is awesome! I can tell you at sea level the grass the tall, the trash is overflowing, and the farmer's porch has never felt so lonely! Kendall and Jackson send their best...we're all glad you have the opportunity to have this experience!! Full moon tonight, hope it's clear and you can capture it on film..LYSTR
Response: I'll try but the weather does not look good right now. Darkness is a long way away and loneliness is right here.
From rob
amazing photos. the live view
must be breath-taking. you're
lucky and i'm jealous. stay
away from the edge.
Response: Do I ever live near the edge?
From Bob
Sorry I can't make the walk up to say hello this weekend. Doug is on his way - hope the winds are still - I believe he's wering his kilt.
From Jody
Hey Del, cool pictures! Are you sleeping in the Tip Top house? It looks awesome. How's the cooking going? If you could only grill up there....
Dont fall off the mountain.
Response: We are staying in the OBS residence. Two bunks to most rooms, 6 in one. Cooking is going well. No one has died yet.
From Paul Kiely
Hi Del,
Based on your pasta log, I am guessing you didn't play much of a culinary role in the Sunday patrol coffeecakes.

Will you be on the mountain on Monday? I'll be hiking with my sister, and if she's up for a big hike, we may do the rockpile.

Have fun - Paul
Response: Hey Paul. You are right about the Sunday patrol bread. Thanks to Sue. I will be here on Sunday. Look me up at the OBS. Doug Hamilton is going to be here as well.
From Emma
grandfather, i hope you have a good time at the mountain.

love emma
Response: Thanks Emma. I have wonderful stories to tell you when I get back.
From Andrew Fredericks
Del, I learned something already as I have eaten at the Darby Field inn and had no idea it was named after the 1st person to climb MT washington. I was up in Tamworth last week. Hopefully the weather is better for you this week.

From Bob OConnell
Sounds like this will be a great experience. Congratulations on finding a new partner.
Response: Cooking partner, Bob. Cooking
From greg
hey dell u must be getting great light shows up there
Response: Awesome.
From Dell
So how is the weather? Rae
Response: Fog and cold this morning.
From Candy
We are looking forward to living vicariously through another of your “excellent adventures”