The wind is the villain and cold deadly at the home of the world’s worst weather.
March 4, 2013
The summit of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington is a feared and a dangerous place. The weather torments and batters the rock landscape without mercy. The land at the top of the world can be so cold in the dead of winter, and the winds attack it with the force of cyclones spun out of control.
Mount Washington rises for 6,288 feet, towering above the ragged crest of the Presidential range, and once, so long ago, Native Americans called the great mountain Agiocochook, “Home of the Great Spirit.”
Only the Great Spirit, they reasoned, could withstand the bombardment of the winds on the highest peak in the northeast.
The weather is notoriously erratic. The storm tracks from the South Atlantic, Gulf Region, and Pacific Northwest all converge at the summit at breakneck speed, meeting head on with the might of angry sledgehammers, and, as a result, winds that exceed hurricane force slam into Mount Washington an average of 110 days a year.
It still holds the world record for a directly measured surface wind speed of 231 miles an hour, which roared across the crest of the White Mountains on the afternoon of April 12, 1934.
It also holds the record for the lowest temperature. That occurred on January 22, 1885. It was a day when Mount Washington awoke and saw the temperature plummet to a minus 50 degrees.
During 2006, the wind chill, with apparently nothing better to do, fell to a minus 103 degrees. A man’s breath could freeze somewhere between his throat and lungs.
And snowstorms routinely sweep across the summit every month of the year, with ice accumulations averaging 311 inches a year. It is the one mountaintop where summer never goes.
Since 1932, the peak has held the Mount Washington Observatory, whose slogan is short, brutal, and to the point. The mountain is, the observatory says, the “Home of the World’s Worst Weather.”
New Hampshire’s White Mountains rise with majesty and power above acres of verdant farmland that cling to the shoreline of the Connecticut River. Small communities have changed little within the past century. And narrow, winding roadways pass beneath the covered Cilleyville and Blow-Me-Down Bridges. The Cornish-Windsor Bridge, in fact, is the longest two-span covered bridge in the world.
Up in the high country, the forests are thick, the peaks make every effort to touch the sky, and more than a hundred waterfalls cascade over rocks and ledges toward the landscape far below. It is the beauty of nature gone wild and sometimes wilder.
A roadway cuts through the narrow confines of Crawford Notch, but there was a time when the notch was considered impossible to traverse. It had been discovered by Timothy Nash, a hunter, when he climbed a tree on Cherry Mountain in 1771. He told the governor about his discovery, and Governor Wentworth promptly offered the enterprising Timothy Nash a land grant if he could get a horse from Lancaster to Portsmouth, passing through the notch.
Land was valuable. Nash didn’t have any, at least not enough. And, besides, he and Benjamin Sawyer were the determined kind. They earned the land grant, all right, and, true to their word, they got a horse through the notch. But they did not ride him.
They painstakingly hauled the horse over the cliffs and through the notch with a rope. They were tough men, but only the tough could ever endure and survived the burly ridges of a mountain range cursed with the world’s worst weather.