For 76 years, the summit of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire held the record for highest recorded wind speed on the surface of the Earth–231 mph. The weather on the northeastern United States’ highest mountain is intense, to say the least. On Martin Luther King weekend, the 2012 Mountaineers continued the annual tradition of summiting the epic peak.
15 Ohio State Mountaineers piled into vans and endured the 16 hour drive to northern New Hampshire. Despite shockingly low wind chill and some frostbite, almost all adventurers successfully summitted. Jared Blevins provides a haunting portrayal of the trek.
Preface: The following thoughts and opinions reflect those of a mountaineer who was physically unprepared and could have used an additional base layer not those of the OSU mountaineers as a whole.
This year there were two separate but equal crews that braved the face of Ol’ Mt. Washington, a fierce delegate of the Presidential range in New Hampshire. The drive out was scenic. As my ears equalized and the redbull/5hour energy cocktail coursed through my veins, I mentally prepared for the summit ahead. We arrived, rented gear, and recouped.
Before the sun approached the northern hemisphere, we were on the trail like eager miners equipped with headlamps. Instead of a thermos brimmed with the morning’s roast, I had a nalgene wrapped in a sock full of hand warmers upside down and filled with putrid tap water from the “White Lattes” roach coach. Protected by the stillness of the tree line, we could hear the howls of the wind beckoning us into the ridgeline. We paused, applied crampons and hard-shells, and were off again.
At this point we merged with the eager beavers of the overnight crew and doubled our numbers. About this time the ill fitted crampons decided to loosen and separate from my boot at the intersection of their intended use and user error (the IME representative who fitted them in haste). In an attempt to secure them properly, I sat down on nature’s foot stool, a rock with a surface temp of approx -20 degrees Fahrenheit. This first adjustment cost me my feeling in my rear. Making the future relationship between myself and the comfort of the rocks quite beneficial.
Once outside of the tree line bosom, the wind became deafening and visibility white. The method quickly became one foot in front of the other, carefully placing my feet in the postholes of those gracious pack leaders ahead of me. I noticed that the train of mountaineers had come to an abrupt halt. The decision to summit at the risk of not returning became the topic of discussion. After careful analysis we began our decent. We soon collided with the groups advisor, a New Zealand native Dave. In his infinite wisdom he brought an accessory that proved itself in full, the willow wand (a small stick with a flag on the end). We were then able to mark our trail and proceed to the summit.
The biggest challenge then became overriding the mindset of decent with that of summit. Through split rock we traveled. The rubble soon took over the landscape. At the peak of your physical fatigue you are forced to exercise your dexterity and precise foot placement. At this point my icicle laden eyelashes allowed for me to peer through enough to recognize a shelter. It was only then that I realized the summit had been reached.
Dazed and saturated with adrenaline I failed to realize that feeling in my hands had been long lost and nourishment was necessary. We all gathered into an arc shaped bungalow and funneled an assortment of mountain top muffins, trail mix, fruit gummies, and cognac into our gullets. We turned and began the true decent. Glissades and postholes led us back to the comfort of the tree line.
The weather broke, and we were able to gather the glory. An amazing feat with my frost nip to serve as a reminder. As I type this retelling, the callused tissue of my finger tips has peeled away leaving my hands appearing as if I am wearing a permanent pair of fingerless skin gloves. The feeling has returned and the memory will remain, Mt. Washington built character, and I walk away changed.