by Robert F. Bukaty
MOUNT WASHINGTON, New Hampshire — It’s 2 degrees below zero, the winds are gusting more than 50 mph, and the view that 20 minutes ago had stretched all the way back to Portland, 70 miles away, has been reduced to less than 50 feet.
I find some relief from the winds on the eastern side of the weather observatory and manage to boil a cup of water for hot chocolate. My peanut butter sandwich is not only frozen, but it feels as hard as granite. It takes some effort just to crack in half.
Mount Washington is known for its notoriously quick-changing weather. Last Saturday it certainly lived up to it’s reputation.
Up here on the highest point in New England, when you’re socked in by clouds, you get the feeling you may never see another soul. I was having that feeling just about the time I looked up to see a group of climbers leaning into the wind as they passed by a cluster rime ice-coated weather instruments.
The leader of the group, Collin Blunk of Portland, walked over and gave me a high-five. Then he started asking me something — but I had no idea what he was saying. The wind was roaring, and a hat and the hoods of two winter jackets covered my ears.
When he handed me his GoPro, I realized he wanted me to take a picture of his group at the sign that marks the summit of 6,288-foot Mount Washington. When you make it up here in the winter, you want a photo to remember it by.
Blunk, who I later learned writes a blog on his website “The Wild Outsiders,” was leading three friends he met while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. They had all been on the summit in the summer but never in the winter.
The hike from Pinkham Notch gains 4,200 grueling feet in just over four miles. Most climbers use an ice axe and crampons to deal with the steep sections of the Lion’s Head trail.
On Saturday, the day started with mostly clear skies. The alpenglow from a stunning sunrise painted the snowy slopes a rosy red.
Nick Bernaiche of Vernon, Connecticut, who was climbing with Bunk summed up their reason for going: “We wanted to do something epic!”
At only 6,288-feet, Mount Washington “is small in the scheme of things, but it’s the pinnacle for the East,” said Blunk. “Before I hiked the [Appalachian Trail], I always thought the real mountains were out West — but it’s breath-taking every time.”
By 8 a.m., clouds covered the summit. For most people, the cold and lack of visibility would have been a bummer.
“I prefer snowy blizzard conditions to up the ante, rather than the pure blue sky,” said Blunk.
“To me this stands as the most adventurous thing the East has to offer. I’m blown away by the Whites,” he said.