|National Geographic Feb 2009|
The February 2009 edition of National Geographic arrived this week. There on the cover were two magical words “Mount Washington”. Mount Washington(6,288 ft), the highest peak in the northeastern United States, is located in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. What makes this article, Backyard Arctic, all the more interesting to me is that for 12 years I lived within 20 miles of this magical peak. Over those years each member of my immediate family had their own experience with the mountain. There are many ways of traversing Mount Washington and we lived to tell about it.
If you have never heard of Mount Washington you might be quick to ask: “What do you mean you lived to tell about it, Mount Washington only has an elevation of 6,288 ft?” I, too, was skeptical when I first arrived in New Hampshire in 1985. After all I had lived most of my life in Southern California where a 6,288 ft peak might be considered a foothill. As a young adult I had backpacked to the top of Mount San Gorgonia (11,499 ft) and San Jacinto Peak (10,834 ft). I had lived in Alaska and toured Denali National Park to witness Mount McKinley (20,320 ft), but after living in New Hampshire for a very short time I learned that Mount Washington is “Home to the World’s Worst Weather”, holding the all-time surface wind speed record of 231 mph (April 12, 1934). And sadly, Mount Washington is one of the 10 deadliest mountains in the world!
Perhaps what makes this jewel of the White Mountains so deadly is its accessibility and unfortunately not everyone who visits is prepared for the fact that the weather can turn quickly. You do not have to be a hiker, backpacker, proficient ice-climber, or skier to enjoy this mountain. Since 1861 people have been driving up the Mount Washington Auto Road, the oldest man made attraction in America. Not interested in driving up the mountain? Then you can ride to the top on the Cog Railway which has been carrying passengers since 1869. If you are really adventurous, then in the Spring you can hike up the mountain with your skis on your back and ski down the bowl, Tuckerman’s Ravine.
And if all this is not enough to capture your imagination there are races to the top of Mount Washington. The Climb to the Clouds, an auto race, was held in 1904 and continues to this day. There is the Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb, a tradition for the past 36 years; the Ride to the Sky for motorcyclists; for runners there is the Mount Washington Road Race, and most years there is the Nordic Ski to the Clouds Race (North America’s Toughest 10K).
I started this post by saying each member of my family had been to the top of the mountain and lived to tell about it. Since they are a little reticent to share their feats with you, I will. Enjoy today’s photos from the family scrapbook…
|Dennis Helfand (right) hiking up Mt. Washington, Circa 1989|
Around 1989 Dennis hiked up Mount Washington with a number of our guests from Cranmore Mountain Lodge. It was a Spring day and they were going to ski Tuckerman’s Ravine. While Dennis opted out of the ski run, he did hike up and down the mountain that day.
|Aaron Helfand Tuckerman’s Ravine, Circa 1992|
I believe it was 1992 when Dennis convinced Aaron(who was about 11 at the time)to hike up the mountain with another group of guests. Not only did Aaron hike up the mountain, but being a proficient downhill ski racer, he skied the bowl.
|Daniel Helfand at the finish line 1996 Ski to the Clouds, Tom Thurston, his coach looking on|
In 1996, Daniel, a ski racer from the age of four, was the youngest competitor in the inaugural nordic Ski to the Clouds Race. He was 12! Not only was he the youngest to compete, but he finished the race.
At this point you are probably wondering how I traversed Mount Washington. Take a guess? You are correct…in a Mt. Washington Auto Road Stage Line Van driven by a tour guide. I was taking no chances. I had to live to tell about it. Today the Mount Washington Auto Road also offers the SnowCoach, weather permitting.
There is so much to learn about Mount Washington and so many ways to do it. Until you have a chance to experience it for yourself, I invite you to visit the sites referenced here today. One of my favorites is The Mount Washington Observatory. The history and majesty of this mountain will intrigue you. But you will learn that while man’s ingenuity continues to try to tame and groom this mountain, it remains a force of nature that we can and must respect.
I would like to thank Howie Wemyss, a trustee for the Observatory. This week I contacted Howie at Great Glen Trails to ask if the records still existed regarding the 1996 Ski to the Clouds Race. Howie was nice enough to write me back: “I remember the race very well and how impressed we all were with your son…but unfortunately all of the records were destroyed in a fire in 2001.” At Howie’s suggestion I contacted Tom Thurston, Daniel’s fifth grade teacher and X-Country ski coach. Tom, too, has fond memories of this race: “I remember that day on the toll road when he (Dan) skied the Ski to the Clouds. He was so tired but loved the ski back down.”
As I sign off today I would like you to know that the current conditions on Mount Washington (9:45 AM EST 01/24/2009) are:
Temperature -7.6 degrees F
Wind 71.7 mph
Direction 298 degrees (NW)
Gust 76.0 mph
Wind Chill -46.2 degress F
A great spot for Geocaching!
If you have been to Mount Washington, let me know about your experience.