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Mount Washington State Park Blog Post: Friday January 13th, 2012

Posted on by Mike Pelchat, Manager of Mt. Washington State Park

Human Interest in Mt Washington’s summit began in 1642 with the first ascent of the mountain by Darby Field. Darby was an explorer/pioneer, and according to local lore, was in search of valuable minerals, little would he know that the same rocky peak he scaled some 370 years. ago would hold invisible treasurers in the form of a 6,000′ high antenna!

Aerial View of Mount Washington State Park

2008 Aerial Photo of Mount Washington State Park

Radio broadcasting from the summit of Mt Washington came of age in 1938 with the Yankee Radio Network, a chain of radio stations carrying broadcasts from Boston and New York that delivered programming to the public via a series of antennas that could hear a station from a high vantage point then re-broadcast that same program up across the valleys to the next station who would then keep pushing that signal further away from its source to other listeners and network antennas. With new FM radio technology, listeners heard & felt the music as if they were right in the same music hall as the musicians, which was sometimes hundreds of miles away! John Shepherds Yankee Radio Network hired radio inventor Major Edwin Armstrong often called the ‘father of FM radio’ to help with his network. In 1938 Armstrong designed and built the 93′ high red & white free standing girder antenna that is still in use today. A few years later he completed the Yankee Building in 1941, which housed the transmitters of WMNE-FM. This station only lasted a few years due to the costs associated with staffing, generating power and lack of winter access. In 1938 the Yankee Building was leased to the USAF who conducted jet engine icing research from the building’s roof. Icing research on Mt Washington from the 40′s into the 60′s was a very important project of the US military and aviation industry. More of this fascinating history can be found here:  http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4306/ch6.htm.

Yankee Building Plaque

WPKQ and Yankee Building

Inside Yankee Building

When WMTW-TV8 left the summit in 2002 after converting their signal from analog on Mt Washington to a digital signal in Baldwin Maine, closer to their viewing audience, the only ‘big’ stations left on the summit were FM: WHOM 94.9 and WPKQ 103.7 each having their own 200 mph+ antenna. There are over a dozen smaller 2-way radios broadcasters with their own antenna on the Yankee building’s sturdy roof. These radio leases provide a welcome source of income for Mt Washington State Park’s recent land purchases and summit maintenance needs. Most antennas in use on Mt Washington summit have special radome covers to protect the radiating elements from ice. Some are as small as a baseball bat while others like WHOM & WPKQ antennas look like 40′ torpedo silos. The cylindrical radomes protect the antennas inside from Mt Washington’s harsh weather.

Summit Stage Office and WHOM Antenna

Ice encased antennas on the roof of the Yankee Building

Armstrong, RCA & WHOM Antennas

Ice Storm Damaged Microwave Dish

Ice Encrusted WHOM Antenna

Last Wednesday, Park staff transported a team of 4 from AT&T to inspect the summit and Yankee Building with the idea of placing cellular telephone antennas on the summit. With the recent installation of a fiber optic cable along with reliable valley grid power the use of the summit as a cellular telephone site is now more practical and a less costly investment then was possible even just 10 years ago. Still it will take AT&T engineers a while to proceed through all the permit requirements and radio interference studies before any site work can begin. Given Mt Washington’s very short summer construction season we may have to wait another year before hikers and visitors can use their cell phones on the summit and in and around the Presidential Range with the same signal strength they are accustomed. One can still use a cell phone in the mountains today by finding a ‘hot spot’, stand till and hope your battery has not been too depleted by ‘roaming’. Speaking of roaming, at times the cell tower one hooks up with is in Canada with international roaming charges or one many area codes away. Once a cellular station is established on the summit of Mt Washington I feel it will become an important safety tool for hikers to have good cellular telephone access. Of course a map, compass and common sense can’t be beat but lacking that, a cell phone will allow us to hopefully talk hikers into a safer position by themselves without having to send a rescue team. Of course it always be neat for visitors to make a cell phone call from the summit just for fun: ‘Hello Mom, You’ll never just where I am standing, on the summit of Mt Washington in New Jersey! ;)’

On Thursday we had a 7″ snow storm with 40 mph winds gusting to 76 mph out of the East. During middle of storm three male hikers arrived on summit via Lion Head Trail and pounded on the entry door asking to come in and warm-up. While the summit buildings are closed to the public during winter months, park staff will help hikers out when sincere requests are made such as this one. We took the hikers in, gave the one in wet jeans a spare insulated wind suit, pile jackets to replace their wet flannel, goggles, duct taped torn gear, etc. Once watered, fed and warmed, my partner Guy Jubinville

Guy Jubinville

lead them down the top quarter mile of auto road where low visibility and high winds made even following the auto road difficult.

Storm

January 12: Hiker in black jeans.

At 5 pm AMC staff from Pinkham Notch called to say the hikers had safely returned and our lent park gear was being stored in their Search and Rescue (SAR) room for us. Park staff were happy to make sure these ill-prepared hikers made it down OK. We’d much rather help hikers while they are still capable of helping themselves than having our SAR community deal with potential consequences later. This is known as preventative SAR, which park staff at the summit plays an important but all too common role throughout the year. I think Marty the Observatory cat has the best idea what to do during a storm!

Lounging Cat

On Friday during a lull in the storm Chris Uggerholt made it to the summit with Danny but a strong snow squall on our descent dropped our visibility from inside the snow cat to zero. I volunteered to walk the left side of the road in front of the ‘Cat’ so Chris could follow me until we were down out of the swirly snow laden clouds on the 6th mile. Thanks to the new snow we were able to drive the snow cat all the way to the base of the mountain for the first time this winter. This will make future shift changes much simpler doing away with the need of shuttling passengers by tire chained pick-up truck.

Guy running the snowblower

Snowcat on January 13, 2012

Grab a cold coke, brrr!

Aerial View of Mount Washington State Park in Winter

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About Mike Pelchat, Manager of Mt. Washington State Park

I've been working atop Mt Washington for past 30 years so you can guess I like it above the tree line! After all these years I still never tire of the beauty of our NH White Mtns and consider my employment an extreme honor and privilege to work for the State Of NH and serve its visitors. When not on the summit you can find me enjoying the rock & ice climbing one of the many beautiful granite cliffs we have in Franconia, Crawford or Echo Lake State Parks. I have taken these climbing skills learned at our NH State Parks to climb in Alaska, Andes, Canadian Arctic and Himalayas. I live in Gorham NH with my wife Diane Holmes. View all posts by Mike Pelchat, Manager of Mt. Washington State Park →
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