“I see the stanzas rise around me, verse upon verse, far and near,
like the mountains from Agiocochook…”
– Henry David Thoreau, 1841
1841 was one of many Mt. Washington trips for Thoreau, who knew of the mountain’s previous name of Agiocochook, a Native American word loosely translating to “Home of the Great Spirit.” Other names for the mountain have included “Waumbeket Methna” (loosely translating to “Mountain of the Snowy Forehead”), “Sugarloaf”, and “Christall Hill”. Although likely re-named to Mt. Washington in 1784, the name “Mount Washington” was first used, in print, in 1792.
I have always found Thoreau’s comparison of mountain views to the beauty and pattern of a song striking and brilliant. The view above, is my absolute favorite from Mt. Washington State Park. When a view is available, my attention gravitates towards the watchful eyes of the northern neighboring peaks of Mounts Jefferson, Adams, and Madison.
Earlier this month, a colleague and I spent a few days at the 6,288′ Mt. Washington State Park, which rises 4,000 feet above the surrounding land. The summit buildings are closed to the public in the winter, mind you. But, as the Park staff is up there year-round, we were there to assist with any projects where our help could used in the Division’s own Sherman Adams Building, in addition to the benefit of experiencing the beauty and power of winter at the “home of the world’s worst weather”.
Even though we were benefiting from the State Park’s Snowcat as our transportation to the summit and not going up by foot, the weather and storm predictions, as well as the Winter Storm Watch, still threw our plans into a chaotic, back-and-forth state leading up to our ascent. This mountain’s legacy of dangerous weather is well earned and is to be respected at all times. Once we timed out the storm and Park Manager Mike Pelchat gave us a green light to safely join him in the small window of opportunity to get up the Rockpile before the weather turned too bad, we were on it.
After loading up our gear, going over a quick safety chat, and starting our way up on a cold and snowy morning, we were informed by Mike that our work projects would be prioritized around thawing out a frozen sewage line at the summit, running from the Sherman Adams Building to the Extreme Sewage Treatment Plant (ESTP). That’s the price of admission sometimes, folks. But, more so, it is reflective of the type of work that the Mt. Washington State Park staff is faced with, not unlike many of our State Parks. However, this work is tackled on a mountain peak in severe and dangerous conditions where there is often little room for error.
After arriving at the summit, in a little less than an hour, it was time to unload our gear and get suited up for solving an issue that had not cropped up in 5 years. While the pipe was frozen, there were also no access to the toilets, sinks, or showers in the State Park Staff Quarters in the Sherman Adams Building. Suddenly, Eric and I had a vested self-interest in getting this job done.
Our first attempt at freeing the line comprised of connecting numerous hoses and taping a plumbing snake to one end. The other end would be connected inside of the building to a sink that would provide hot water. We ran this jurrigged contraption out of the bottom floor of the building into the manhole access, about 100′ from the building, with the hopes that with the mixture of running hot water and the snake, we could break on through to the other side.
We ran into the start of a blockage about 20′ down from the discharge pipe access. From then, we were in and out of the building (and the storm), hooking up and changing hoses and lines, and preventing thawing in subzero blizzard conditions. This was an all day, intermittent process that continued into the night and the following day.
After working more on this process the following day, Eric and I found some down time to go out and immerse ourselves (safely) in the brunt of a winter storm.
Add this to the foot of snow that fell, blowing all over the place!
After dinner, we checked in on the forecast for the following morning. We saw there was a slight chance for clearing and that waking for sunrise would be a worthwhile endeavor.
Mount Washington is often touted for its severe weather, and deservedly so. But, the mountain has much more to offer to put one’s soul in awe.
I have had the tremendous fortunate to experience sunrise on Mt. Washington a few times and this year’s showing was magnificent.
One of my favorite parts of the day is the early morning light, which is often as deep and inspiring as any natural splendor we experience in life.
The storm cleared out and the sky opened, but the winds were still whipping at over 40mph, which added some complexity in documenting the show. But, it did not detract from the wonder of it all.
Despite the winds remaining relatively strong, the view cleared and the mountain was able to show more of its spiritual side.
By the third morning, we had exhausted all available resources in attempting to clear a 500′ run of pipe. Mike made arrangements for additional, heavier equipment to be brought up by the staff that morning, which would help to clear the line. The staff finally broke through the next day, Saturday. Mike told Eric and I that we came within 20′ of clearing it with our ragtag Yankee set up.
But, in the meanwhile, the storm cleared and while we enjoyed the sunrise, Eric and I were back to work, shoveling and snowblowing the front of the Sherman Adams Building, as seen above.
The Park Staff were on their way up the mountain for a crew change and, after having trouble breaking through some sections of the road coming up Washington, we took some
extra time to grab some more photographs and enjoy the summit.
But, the window of good weather, as one expects up there, was short lived. Clouds began to roll back in by lunch.
After aiding with the unloading of arriving equipment and gear, we loaded our gear back up for the trip to the floor of Mt. Washington.
We also got to see the 15′ high snowdrift that caused some problems for the morning crew on their ascent.
But the high winds and blowing snow, aside from causing deep drifts, also thinned the wintry layer in other areas.
Much respect to Mike and the Mt. Washington State Park crew, who keep the summit humming. The conditions and amount of work turned out by this staff never fails to impress me and I am very fortunate that they allowed for us to assist in their duties, all the while being able to enjoy what many consider the crowning jewel of the New Hampshire State Park system.