An Arctic Sojourn at Mt. Washington
Experience Winter Extremes on a Summit Adventure at Mt. Washington Observatory
Embark on the ultimate winter adventure on one of Mt. Washington Observatory’s Summit Adventures. These thirty-six-hour experiences put visitors right in the middle of the world’s worst weather and offer curious adventurers a behind-the-scenes look at the crucial meteorological and climatological work performed in the mountain’s Observatory.
“It’s great to be able to share the experience of Mt. Washington,” says Brian Fitzgerald, Director of Education at Mt. Washington Observatory. “Sharing stories, watching people experience the extremes—staff, volunteers, and visitors all bring a lifetime of learning about the mountain.”
During the winter, the Observatory offers both day trips and overnight “EduTrips”. Visitors travel to and from the summit in a heavy-duty vehicle known as a “Snowcat”, originally designed for use on high-angle ski slopes, and get the opportunity to experience the arctic conditions first-hand. Participants choose from course topics ranging from basic meteorology to mountaineering to yoga, all taught by experts in the field.
“‘Weather Basics’ is probably the most popular theme, and the mountaineering course is definitely my favorite,” says Fitzgerald. “We try new and different things, too, like courses on climate change and yoga, and we’re also trying to add more photography courses about nighttime photography and astrophotography. We’re really interested in mountain stories—the folklore and the rich history of Mt. Washington.”
The notoriously wild weather on the summit is the primary draw for visitors, who get to spend plenty of time outside during their stay. “Mt. Washington is an extreme place,” Fitzgerald explains. “It’s an arctic island in the middle of a temperate zone. It’s an incredibly unique zone. We measure snowfall every month of the year and average 281 inches annually. The coldest conditions I’ve ever experienced was -35 F with winds of 85 mph, which amounts to a wind chill of -80 F.”
The dedicated weather observers at Mt. Washington have extraordinary stories to share with visitors. “Most weather stations today are fully automated, but Mt. Washington is unique because we need to keep people on the summit. Observers live and work on the mountain for eight days at a time in twelve-hour shifts,” says Fitzgerald. “It’s an island in the sky, and you’re totally disconnected from the world around you. It’s an immersive experience—you’re constantly aware of conditions.”
Despite the many challenges of life on the summit, observers are carrying out cutting-edge climate research. For Fitzgerald, who began his career at Mt. Washington as a weather observer, his dedication and passion for weather makes Mt. Washington a truly special place. “For me, this is a dream job,” he says. “Mt. Washington is the number one place in the world for meteorologists to work. I’ve measured some extremes and witnessed some wild weather. You get to the point where 100 mph winds are no big deal.”
- By Ettractions Digital Content Editor, EMILY JARMOLOWICZ
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