The Draw of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington

In this day and age, it seems alot of climbers neglect the eastern United States when planning climbs and expeditions. With no mountain breaking 7000 ft, perhaps it is understandable for the naive novice to pass over Appalachia and head to Colorado, Utah or Wyoming for some solid rock, ice and mountaineering excursions.

Though natives of New Hampshire’s White Mountains know better and understand that within their backyard, is one of the most formidable ranges in the lower 48.

If there is one specific characteristic that draws thousands to Mt. Washington every year, it is certainly the notorious wild weather which collides at the summit and is unmatched anywhere else on the planet.

Indeed, New England’s highest peak averages over 110 days of Hurricane force winds per year.

These conditions, combined with the sheer beauty and diversity of terrain in the White Mountains, produce some outstanding mountaineering, hiking and rock/ice climbing.

In 1934, staff at the Mt Washington observatory recorded a 231 mph wind gust which still stands as the record for the fastest surface wind speed ever observed directly by a human being.

The mountain’s position in New England, puts it at the precipice of many alternating jet stream patterns. Strong polar and subtropical jet stream patterns, along with west to east patterns, pass through the White Mountains of New Hampshire and on the summit of Mt. Washington, these affects are most potently observed.

Above the treeline at around 4,300 ft, the terrain and plant life largely shaped by this weather, is more akin to the alpine areas of the subarctic.

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Mount Washington standing at 6,288ft is a subtle Icon of the Northeast, in a similar way Mt. Rainier is to the Pacific Northwest.

While both these mountains are very different from each other in topology and terrain, the respect that is bestowed upon both over the centuries is remarkably similar.

Rainier was home to the Cowlitz, Muckelshoot, Nisqually, Puyallup and Yakima Tribes and they called the mountain, Tahoma.

The Tribes in New Hampshire, called Mt. Washington, ‘Agiocochook,’ which apparently means, Home of the Great Spirit’ or, perhaps more accurately, ‘Mother Goddess of the Storm’. 

How Agiocochook became Mt. Washington, is not adequately clear, though according to Dan Szczesny, a New Hampshire based writer and expert on The White Mountains, the name first appeared in 1784 in a statement by a man named, Reverend Manasseh Cutler which included the words “the base of the summit of Mount Washington,” and thus, the name was born.

Native Americans were acutely aware of the wild weather that collided on the mountain’s summit and didnt attempt to climb it due to a fear of this great spirit.

Giovanni da Verrazano was the first European to see the mountain from the waters off New Hampshire’s seacoast, in 1524. Darby Field was the first European settler to climb it, in 1642.

Field went against the advice of local tribes and wanted to prove that he was immune to the powers of “The Great Spirit” that resided at the summit.

He along with two other Native Americans that he recruited, climbed the mountain and lived to the shock of local tribal leaders. He would climb the mountain again and wrote a detailed guide to the area that adventurers would use for many years to come.

Centuries later, Mt. Washington is a regional landmark in the Northeast and home to a weather observatory that consistently observes some of the most wild climatic conditions in the world.

There is quite a deep distinction between the winter and summer season on Mt. Washington. While the weather can be chaotic year round and snow can fall in any month, the summer months are a much more hospitable place for hikers and visitors.

People can take the Mount Washington auto road which was constructed back in the 1860’s, all the way to the summit during the summer months. Yet weather conditions still must be monitored at all times, even during blue bird days.

Hiking Mount Washington during the summer is certainly still an accomplishment even without the deep snow and hikers can expect up to a 10 hour day from trail start, ascending through the treeline, summiting and then returning back down to the parking lot.

In Winter, the top of Mount Washington is one of the most foreboding places a human being can be, yet experienced mountaineers challenge themselves every season on its slopes on five primary routes:

  1. Tuckerman Ravine Trail
  2. Lion’s Head Trail
  3. Boott Spur Trail
  4. Jewell Trail
  5. Ammonoosuc Trail

While all these routes offer distinct challenges and views of the stunning White Mountains of New England, Tuckerman’s Ravine is by far the biggest draw and most famous.

The Glacier cirque, known for its abundant snow pack during the winter and spring is the Captial of Spring Skiing in North America. It is also home to the steepest established ski routes in the lower 48.

For a mountain range that doesnt break 6,500ft in elevation, that is pretty damn impressive. For most adventurer’s in the northeast, skiing Tuckerman’s is a right a passage and a way to prove their competence.

The majority of this experience mainly consists of a long hike up the ravine and then a few minutes of a heart pounding adrenaline rush, as you ski 800 ft of sheer vertical.

There are 10 major ski routes along Tuckerman’s main bowl and another 7 along nearby Hilman’s highway.

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