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Working in the Cold: Mt Washington State Park Blog, Feb 27

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

The BR 275′s Bombardier Snow Tractors are mechanical marvels. The way their unique parts fit together is minute compared to the likes of a Space Shuttle, however, they are still very mechanically and electronically complex machines. These snow groomers are highly specialized for the work they are designed to do which is grooming alpine ski trails. On Mt Washington with our extreme weather above the tree line we tax them to the limit.

After Saturday’s welcomed 5″ snowfall, instruments at the Observatory on the summit recorded a peak gust of 111 mph with temperatures dipping to -10F.  Around 11am winds dropped down to mere hurricane force so we decided to try a summit attempt to swap our state park caretakers. Danny was on the summit since Friday and went on emergency generator during the height of the storm. While the summit never lost power altogether, the blips and brownouts raised havoc with our radio station’s sensitive transmitters. Danny decided to switch to our backup generation system to provide for cleaner power during the storm. Danny said he could stay up longer if needed, but I know he had a long shift especially after babysitting the generator all night. So, Bill Fiske and I went up in our box cat Sunday morning followed by Slim in our smaller snow tractor.

Big and Small State Cats

Bill and I would try for summit while Slim patrolled the 5-mile to widen and maintain our snow road as well as be close by in case we ran into trouble.

We had big wind packed snow drifts to push thru on 5-mile.

Drifting at treeline Saturday (2/25)

On the Cragway we started to feel the force of the wind.

The higher we got the less snow drifts there were as the high winds transported the 5″ of new snow to lower elevations.  As we turned the corner onto Homestretch I thought the trip was going to be easier then I had hoped, when the tell-tale sluggishness of the right steering cable became noticeable. We did a quick turnaround at the summit and as Danny and I descended the steering cable froze into place. What this means is the right track becomes locked at a certain speed.  To compensate the operator has to steer the machine by speeding up or slowing down the opposite track. No small feat when traversing the huge 2000′ drop-offs into the Great Gulf.  The below zero temperatures and snow blown up by hurricane force winds entered in the innards of the snow tractor from a gap in tunnels side panel and had made an icicle around the end of the right steering cable.  Then the throttle cable froze at maximum rpm. The only thing we can do is keep going downhill to warmer and less blustery air as well as say a few Our Fathers and Om Mani Padme Omms hoping that the other steering cable doesn’t also freeze.  Once down to 5-mile the throttle and steering cable began to thaw and started working normally. We have some garage space lined up in the Observatory maintenance facility to work on these problems.

Snow Tractor Maintenance

We’ll re-lubricate the steering cables, replace the throttle cable and fill the gaps on the side of the tunnel to keep the cold snow laden air out of the moving parts.  This problem most likely would never happen at a ski area but on Mt Washington with its arctic air and high winds what can go wrong usually will!

Base today: 2/26

 

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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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