Going Places: Adventure Adviser: Mount Washington: We're talking cold

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine

Week of September 5-11, 1996
Mount Washington: We're talking cold
Question: I heard it's hellish, but exactly how cold will it get up on New Hampshire's Mount Washington in December/January?

Arlington, VA
[email protected]

Mount Washington in winter:
It's like hell frozen over.

Adventure Adviser: Hellish is an understatement, Sharon. It gets so cold that your nostrils freeze and exposed skin turns blotchy red, then white with frostbite. Exactly how cold is that? Well, according to the weather-savvy folks at the Mount Washington Summit Observatory, the average low in late December hovers around six degrees, with a frigid record low of minus 40 degrees for that month.

Curious about the all-time record low? A whopping 47 degrees below zero. And don't forget to factor in the wind. Most days in December and January it blows about 45 miles an hour, but staff meteorologist Mark Ross-Parent pointed out that they clock 100-plus-mph winds every third day during the winter. "And 100 miles per hour is a lot of wind," he says matter-of-factly. "You get that kind of gale and walking becomes pretty difficult. In fact," he adds, "you can almost bank on being blown over."

Severe storms can move in without warning, causing temperatures to plummet and visibility to drop dramatically. "It gets to the point," says an observatory staff member, "where you can't see from cairn to cairn."

Sound like fun yet? With extreme weather like this, a winter expedition to the summit requires extensive knowledge of winter hiking skills, plus all the right equipment: ice ax, crampons, snowshoes or skis, plus layers and layers of warm, windproof clothing.

If you're pining for a close-up look at winter's brutality but don't have the experience for a solo trip to the summit, consider signing on with one of the Appalachian Mountain Club's twice-weekly winter eco-trips. They take groups to the top via snow-cat for photography and natural history seminars throughout the winter. For details, call 603-466-2727. Or, for more weather horror stories, call the summit staff directly at 603-466-3388.

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