Mt Washington: Anticipating the Worst Weather in America

Trail approaching Mt Washington

From the time you enter the White Mountain National Forest, you start hearing about Mt Washington and the fast changing weather.

Here are some facts about Mt Washington:

  • Mt Washington is the highest peak in the northeastern US (6,288 ft)
  • It holds one the highest wind speed records on the planet (231 mph)
  • It is infamous for deaths from exposure.
  • It’s on the Appalachian Trail.

This is a story of how a group of thru-hikers did on their climb.

We arrived at the hut closest to Mt. Washington called Lake of the Clouds Hut. Mt Washington is in the White Mountain National Forest (aka “The Whites”). We planned to spend the night there before the much anticipated Mt Washington climb.

Lake of the Clouds Hut with Mt Washington in the background

We heard about the quickly changing conditions of Mt Washington. One minute, it’s sunny, and the next minute, it’s engulfed in clouds. And we had all evening to talk about it.

In the Whites, hikers have to either camp at designated campsites or “work for stay” at huts. We were lucky that this hut had room for us. We waited for the guests to finish dining then we would be put to work.

Guest dining at Lake of the Clouds Hut

Our work assignment included cleaning the kitchen and sweep the dining room floor.

Maytag and Bleach sweep after dinner

Then we ate dinner which was split pea soup and bread.

Getting dinner at the hut

The staff allowed us to sleep in the dining hall. The guys stayed up late looking at the topo maps for the next day.

Hikers examine the topography map before the climb

We awoke from our restful and warm sleep on the dining room tables.

Hikers awake after sleeping on the tables

Then we ate a delicious breakfast quiche prepared by the kind staff.

The last meal before the hike up Mt Washington

After one last cleaning assignment, we packed up and set off to climb Mt Washington. Right after exiting the hut, we saw the famous warning sign. It was humbling to read and we all took note of what it said.

A humbling word of caution before the climb

The sign reads:

STOP
THE AREA AHEAD HAS THE WORST WEATHER IN AMERICA.
MANY HAVE DIED THERE FROM EXPOSURE, EVEN IN THE
SUMMER. TURN BACK NOW IF THE WEATHER IS BAD.
WHITE MOUNTAIN NATIONAL FOREST

The weather was fair, just a little foggy, so we carried on. According to the staff at the hut, the weather was in the 50s on top of the mountain. It looked sunny from our location, so we were not worried.

The climb was rocky but not terribly difficult, but the fog began to reduce visibility drastically. Luckily, there were massive cairns that showed us the way. If you lost sight of one, you just needed to pause a second and wait for the heavy fog to lift. Everyone stayed in visual range of one another so we wouldn’t get off trail.

 

As we climbed higher, everyone had to stop and put on their rain coats for warmth. It was July, but the temperatures were dropping the further we ascended and a wind kicked up at certain points along the trail.

Finally, we made it safely to the top. Once we reached the top, it seemed like another world up there. There was a weather station and a visitor’s center! A visitor’s center meant warmth, snacks, and refreshments.

But first, we all got our pictures taken at the summit sign.

Summit at Mt Washington

Then we went into the visitor’s center for some hot chocolate and treats. While we were there, we saw the Mt Washington cog, filled with visitors, pull up to the visitors’ station. It was like Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make Believe! There were lots of tourists on board.

The cog arriving on top of Mt Washington

After a brief visit at the visitor’s center, we began our descent. The cog passed us along the way. We paused and waved to the passengers.

The cog descending from Mt Washington

The cog moved slowly down the mountain and disappeared far below into the valley.

The cog descended deep into the valley

We continued on and after we descended a little more, the clouds lifted and we saw the grandest mountains on the Appalachian Trail.

Crossing the Presidential Range

Queue symphony music. The Presidential Range is one of the most beautiful and memorable sections on the Appalachian Trail. We were so grateful that the weather was beautiful.

After hiking for a bit, we turned around and looked back at Mt Washington again. The fog had finally cleared. We could even see the towers on top of it.

Mt Washington

Although it was not clear when we hiked up Mt Washington, we were lucky that we did not encounter any bad weather. It was one of those obstacles that you hear about on the trail. But thinking back now, there are challenges all along the AT that you will hear about well before you get there. Just be mindful and prepared for any condition, rain or shine.

Happy Trails!

What sections of the AT have you heard were most difficult? Please post your comments below.

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