Severe Weather on Mount Washington
A mountain barely over 6,000 feet hardly deserves the same respect as Mount Everest (29,029 feet), or even Mount McKinley (20,320 feet), yet people get into serious and sometimes fatal trouble on the slopes of New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington all the same. Easy access invites complacency and a tendency to ignore trailside warnings advising retreat if you’re unprepared for bad weather. But do respect the facts of nature: Simply put, the Presidential Range of the White Mountains experiences some of the worst weather in the world, rivaling both Antarctica and the Alaska-Yukon ranges for consistently raw and bone-numbing combinations of gale-force winds, freezing temperatures, and precipitation. Lashings by 100-mph winds occur year-round on Mt. Washington, whose summit holds the title for highest sustained wind speed on the face of the planet (231 mph in April 1934). Cloudy days outnumber clear ones on the peak, where snowstorms can strike any month of the year, and even in the balmiest summer months the average high temperature at the summit hovers around 50°F. Compounding the weather’s potential severity is its total unpredictability: A day hike begun with sunblock and short sleeves can end up in driving rain and temperatures just 10 degrees above freezing—or worse, in a total whiteout above the tree line—even as a group of hikers a couple miles away on a neighboring peak enjoys lunch under blue skies and warm breezes.
Listen to what your mom and dad always told you: Be careful and don’t take chances. Be prepared. Don’t hike or ski alone. Carry enough water and food. Learn to recognize and prevent hypothermia. Figure out how to read your trail maps and use your compass before you get caught in pelting sleet above tree line. It’s better to feel foolish packing potentially unnecessary wool sweaters and rain gear for a hike in July than to have your name added to the body count.