Year and year over New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington makes the cut for one of the deadliest mountains in the world. It’s not big, its not really that steep; so what makes it so deadly?
Hailing from Pennsylvania, I didn’t have 14,000 ft peaks in my back yard. We had upstate New York and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. There were many weekends of packing the car tight and hitting the road for 9 or 10 hours to get to New Hampshire, it was always an adventure though. I’ve been on Mt. Washington 7 or 8 times over the course of 3 years, only summiting twice. Here’s a look at what makes it so deadly and why I have so much respect for that mountain.
- Elevation: 6,288ft
- 135+ deaths since 1849
- Average Year Round Temp. 27.2° F.
- Average Wind Speed (Annual) 35mph
- Highest Wind Speed 231mph
- Most deaths are attributed to; exposure to the cold, wetness and wind; falls down steep slopes and avalanches.
Heather Porpiglia looks into Tuckerman Ravine, January 2013.
After being on the mountain multiple times, I’ll note my most extreme; New Years week 2012.
Long time friend Joe Lockwood and I set out for a summit bid for New Years. After the overnight drive to NH, we logged into the ranger station and set out. We intended to head into Tuckerman Ravine, however got off course and ended up on the south end of the ravine heading up near the Boot Spur Trail. We reached treeline somewhere around 3pm and dropped back down 100ft or so to set up camp in the trees and out of the wind. The snow had been coming down all day, making visibility poor. We weren’t very sure of our location, so after eating we figured a rough plan for the morning and crawled into our sacks.
Joe Lockwood wakes at 3am in -15° F temps for our summit bid, January 2012.
3am came very quick, waking up I looked at my thermometer, which registered at -15° F. We set out in winds and snow and quickly broke through tree line. With a steep face in front of us, we went south around a ridge and up a chute packed with snow. On reaching the ridge, the clouds broke, the sun came up and the wind died. It was perfect. 15 minutes later that all changed. A northern front was moving in and the winds picked up; slowly at first but becoming more aggressive. We made it about another 3/4 of a mile when my left eye froze shut (with goggles on). With winds so strong that we were knocked over, we had to bail into the ravine and get off the mountain. It was about 45 minutes in the deep snow till we were back into the base of the ravine and in the shelter of the trees.
Joe Lockwood taking a look at where we are, somewhere near the Boot Spur Trail, January 2012.
We didn’t make the summit and upon reaching the ranger station and the base of the mountain, we found that winds had peaked at 85-90mph and temps dropped well down near -40° F with the wind chill. I learned a lot from that trip, what I could take, what I needed to bring and that sometimes we need to turn back and say no.
Heather Porpiglia and James Drogalis head down the mountain after another failed summit attempt, January 2013.