A Winter Return to the “Home of the World’s Worst Weather”: Mt. Washington
It has been a little over four months since I last spent a week living and working in the Mt. Washington Weather Observatory on the summit of the highest peak in the Northeast and have been counting down the days before I return. I am continually amazed in how Mother Nature bears down on that mountain. There have been some days lately when it is 40 degrees F, with gentle winds, and other days in which it is below zero and has winds blowing in hurricane force categories to greet visitors with deadly wind chills. As someone that loves the outdoors and winter hiking, everything about Mt. Washington amazes me. As a science teacher at Cole, I am thankful that we have such an interesting “laboratory” just 3+ hours north of East Greenwich.
A few years back, Dr. Tim Warren visited Cole to educate my students about his trips to Everest. He talked about how he had to abort his first attempt but then came back the following year and, at the time of his presentation, was the only Rhode Islander to stand on the top of the world. In his inspirational book, Lessons from Everest, Dr. Tim would often speak of spending time in the White Mountains to prepare for a trip to Everest. It is hard to rationalize that some of the worst weather on Earth is not located just in the Arctic, the Antarctic, Siberia, or on the slopes of Everest, K2, or Denali, but also on a mountain that has three gift shops, a restaurant, shower facilities and a post office. Mt. Washington has all those things ... that is until winter takes a hold of the mountain and shuts the state park down. The auto road closes. The Cog Railway shuts down. The museum, gift shop and all facilities also shut down. For visitors to the summit in the summertime, it is a beautiful place with some absolutely amazing views. The mountain turns deadly in the winter. With conditions that can kill (over 130 people killed since the early 1800s), the weather is so unpredictable that many hikers simply are not prepared for sudden changes.
In just over a month, I will be going back to the observatory to spend a week living, working and freezing with the crew on the summit. For my summer week, I had my three-season boots, a few bits of fleece and three-season pants that converted to shorts on those 60 degree days. As I start to prep my pack now, I am getting a true sense of what I will be experiencing as I pull out my ski goggles, crampons, ice axe and heavy winter outerwear.
So, why am I doing this?
That is an easy question for me to answer ... because of my students and my fellow teachers at Cole. I am going to be experiencing ice, deadly wind-chills, fierce winds and extreme weather first hand that I will be able to share with my students. Each day, I am planning on communicating with them so that I can teach them from the summit. I am excited in thinking that I will be able to share experience with them that are so very different than any other ways in which they may have been taught. At Cole, we are always looking for new and innovative ways to reach our students and I see this as one of those unique ways.
The summit of Mt. Washington is a spectacular place to visit, study, and live. I feel honored to have the opportunity to spend a winter week on the summit and, for that opportunity, I cannot thank Dr. Mercurio, Alexis Meyer, Nick Rath, my fellow Cole science teachers and my Team Lightning teachers enough. (And, yes, I continue to thank my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Arcand, for repairing my knee). But most of all, I cannot thank my students at Cole enough.
They are the reason why I am going to live and work on the summit of a mountain that is home to the “World’s Worst Weather.” They are the ones that I will freeze my butt off for ... they are the ones that I will try to stand up in 100 mph winds for ... they are the ones that I will dodge flying ice for ... they are the reason that I so love my job. Go Cole!!!!