Mount Washington

Mount Washington is the highest peak in the American Northeast at 6,288 ft (1,917 m). It is famous for its dangerously erratic weather, holding the record for the highest wind gust directly measured at the Earth's surface, at 231 mph (372 km/h) on the afternoon of April 12, 1934. It was known as Agiocochook, or "home of the Great Spirit", before European settlers arrived.

The mountain is located in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, in Coos County, New Hampshire. It is the third highest state high point in the eastern U.S., after Mount Mitchell, North Carolina – 6,684 ft (2,037 m) – and Clingmans Dome, Tennessee – 6,643 ft (2,025 m) – and is the most prominent peak in the Eastern United States.

While nearly the whole mountain is in the White Mountain National Forest, an area of 59 acres (0.24 km²) surrounding and including the summit is occupied by Mount Washington State Park.





Mount Washington has notoriously erratic weather. This is partly due to the convergence of several storm tracks, mainly from the South Atlantic, Gulf region and Pacific Northwest. The vertical rise of the Presidential Range, combined with its north-south orientation, makes it a significant barrier to westerly winds. Low-pressure systems are more favorable to develop along the coastline in the winter months due to the relative temperature differences between the Northeast and the Atlantic Ocean. With these factors combined, winds exceeding hurricane force occur an average of 110 days per year. From November to April, these strong winds are likely to occur during two-thirds of the days.

Mount Washington holds the world record for directly measured surface wind speed, at 231 mph (372 km/h), recorded on the afternoon of April 12, 1934. Phenomena measured via satellite or radar, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and air currents in the upper atmosphere, are not directly measured at the Earth's surface and do not compete with this record, although a tornado might qualify if measured directly and accurately. (The highest wind speed ever measured in a tornado is approximately 301 mph (484 km/h) in the F5 Moore, Oklahoma tornado, though the reading was taken about 100 ft (30 m) above the ground.)

The first regular meteorological observations on Mount Washington were conducted by the U.S. Signal Service, a precursor of the National Weather Service, from 1870 to 1892. The Mount Washington station was the first of its kind in the world, setting an example followed in many other countries. For many years, the record low temperature was thought to be −47 °F (−44 °C) occurring on January 29, 1934, but upon the first in-depth examination of the data from the 1800s at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina, a new record low was discovered. Mount Washington's official record low of −50 °F (−46 °C) was recorded on January 22, 1885. However, there is also hand-written evidence to suggest that an unofficial low of −59 °F (−51 °C) occurred on January 5, 1871.

On January 16, 2004, the summit weather observation registered a temperature of -43.6 °F and sustained winds of 87.5 mph, resulting in a wind chill value of −103 °F (−75 °C) at the mountain. During a 71 hour stretch from around 3 p.m. on January 13 to around 2 p.m. on January 16, 2004, the wind chill on the summit never went above -50°F. Snowstorms at the summit are routine in every month of the year, with snowfall averaging 645 cm (21 ft) per year.

The primary summit building was designed to withstand 300 mph (483 km/h) winds; other structures are literally chained to the mountain. In addition to a number of broadcast towers, the mountain is the site of a non-profit scientific observatory reporting the weather as well as other aspects of the subarctic climate of the mountain. The extreme environment at the top of Mount Washington makes using unmanned equipment problematic. The observatory also conducts research, primarily the testing of new weather measurement devices. The Sherman Adams summit building, which houses the Observatory, is closed to the public during the winter and hikers are not allowed inside the building except for emergencies and pre-arranged guided tours.

The Mount Washington Observatory reoccupied the summit in 1932 through the enthusiasm of a group of individuals who recognized the value of a scientific facility at that demanding location. The Observatory's weather data have accumulated into a valuable climate record since. Temperature and humidity readings have been collected using a sling psychrometer, a simple device containing two mercury thermometers. Where most unstaffed weather stations have undergone technology upgrades, consistent use of the sling psychrometer has helped provide scientific precision to the Mount Washington climate record.

The Observatory makes prominent use of the slogan "Home of the World's Worst Weather", a rather doubtful claim which originated with a 1940 article by Charles Brooks (the man generally given the majority of credit for creating the Mount Washington Observatory), titled "The Worst Weather In the World" (even though the article concluded that Mt Washington most likely did not have the world's worst weather).


Uses of the Mountain

The mountain is part of a popular hiking area, with the Appalachian Trail crossing the summit and one of the Appalachian Mountain Club's eight alpine huts, the Lakes of the Clouds Hut, located on one of the mountain's shoulders. Winter recreation includes Tuckerman Ravine, famous for its Memorial Day skiing and its 45-degree slopes. The ravine is notorious for its avalanches, of which about 100 are recorded every year, and which have killed six people since 1849. Numerous hikers have died on the mountain in all seasons, due to inadequate equipment, failing to plan for the wide variety of conditions which can occur above tree line, and poor decisions once the weather began to turn dangerous.

Every year in June, the mountain is host to the Mount Washington Road Race, an event which attracts hundreds of runners. In July the mountain is the site of Newton's Revenge and in August the Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb, both of which are bicycle races that run the same route as the road race. The hillclimb's most notable victor to date has been former Tour de France contender Tyler Hamilton.

The view from the bottom of Mt Washington.Another event, although not a race, is the annual MINIs On Top event. Now in its fifth year, the drive to the summit began with 73 MINI Cooper and Cooper S vehicles and now exceeds 200 cars. MINIs On Top (or MOT) is held the Saturday of Father's Day weekend every June. In 2007 on the same weekend the Mt. Washington Auto Road will host the Mt. Washington Alternative Energy Days, a two day expo of alternative energy and alternative vehicles.

In June, 1933, Raymond E. Welch, Sr., became the first one-legged man to climb Mount Washington. An official race was held and open only to one-legged people. Mr. Welch climbed the "Jacob's Ladder" route and descended via the carriage road. Raymond Welch had lost his leg due to a sledding injury as a seven year old child. This climb was recognized by the Boston Globe, Manchester Union, and Plymouth Record newspapers. At the time of his climb, Mr. Welch was the station agent for the Boston & Maine Railroad in Northumberland, New Hampshire

Pinkham Notch

Pinkham Notch (elevation 2032 ft. / 619 m) is a mountain pass in the White Mountains of north-central New Hampshire, United States. The notch is a result of extensive erosion by the Laurentide ice sheet during the Wisconsinian ice age. Pinkham Notch was eroded into a glacial U-shaped valley whose walls are formed by the Presidential, Wildcat, and Carter-Moriah Ranges. Due to the volatility of the area's climate and rugged character of the terrain, a number of rare or endemic ecosystems have developed throughout the notch.

The notch was discovered in 1784 by Jeremy Belknap, but its isolation prevented further development for several years. The construction of New Hampshire Route 16 has led to increased accessibility and a rise in tourism. Its location makes it a hub for hiking and skiing.

The notch separates the Presidential Range, which forms the western wall, from the Wildcat Range, which forms the eastern wall. Two rivers drain the notch; the Ellis River drains the south end and is a tributary of the Saco, and the Peabody River drains the north end and is a tributary of the Androscoggin.

The bulk of the western slope of the notch is formed by Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeast United States, reaching 6,288 ft (1,917 m) above sea level. Mount Washington rises almost 4,000 ft (1,200 m) from the floor of the notch. A number of glacial cirques are found on this side of the notch. The Great Gulf and its tributary cirques form the largest cirque in the White Mountains. South of the Great Gulf is Huntington Ravine, with a rocky, precipitous headwall renowned for its rock and ice climbing. The slope then dips into the Ravine of Raymond Cataract, a non-glacial "V-shaped" valley with a notable waterfall. After this comes Tuckerman Ravine, with a uniform, smoother headwall that is known for its high-quality skiing. After passing the Gulf of Slides, a smaller and lesser-known cirque, the notch opens up and continues until Jackson.

The eastern slope of the notch consists of the Wildcat and Carter-Moriah Ranges, slightly lower than the Presidential Range to the west. The Wildcat Range consists of five peaks, named A, B, C, D, and E from northeast to southwest in order of height. Wildcat A is the highest, at 4,422 feet (1,348 m). From the main ridge, the slopes drop very steeply, but not precipitously, to the floor of the notch. The Wildcat Mountain Ski Resort occupies the western slopes of Wildcat up to the col between D and E peaks. As the notch rounds E peak, the slope becomes extremely steep, and Wildcat Ridge begins to drop to the end of the notch.

The Carter-Moriah Range lies to the north of Wildcat Ridge, forming the eastern side of Pinkham Notch all the way to the Androscoggin River. From south to north, the peaks overlooking the notch are Carter Dome (4,832 ft / 1,473 m), Mount Hight (4,675 ft / 1,425 m), South Carter Mountain (4,420 ft / 1,347 m), Middle Carter Mountain (4,600 ft / 1,402 m), North Carter Mountain (4,530 ft / 1,381 m), Imp Mountain (3,720 ft / 1,134 m), and Mount Moriah (4,049 ft / 1,234 m).

The climate, and as a result, the flora and fauna, of Pinkham Notch varies greatly with elevation. As elevations increase on the walls of the notch, climate and ecosystems change to those of increasingly northern occurrence. Biomes range from a low-elevation northern hardwood forest at the base of Mount Washington to alpine-Arctic vegetation near the summit comparable to vegetation found at the latitude of Labrador.

Below 2500 ft. — Northern hardwood forest
The lowest elevations of Pinkham Notch are occupied by a northern hardwood forest. This forest type is primarily deciduous and consists mostly of sugar maple, American beech, and yellow birch. There is also a proliferation of understory and forest floor plants; common examples include wild sasparilla, painted trillium, hobblebush, and Indian cucumber-root.

The northern hardwood forest also contains the greatest diversity of animal life in the notch. Mammals include chipmunks, raccoons, white-tailed deer, black bears, and moose. There are also a large number of birds in this forest; frequently seen are red-eyed vireos, hermit thrushes, and ovenbirds. Amphibians are also found in the northern hardwood forest. Red efts, the terrestrial stage of development for the red-spotted newt, congregate in large numbers after heavy rains; also present are American toads, spring peepers, and wood frogs.

At around 2000 ft (600 m), species from higher forest zones begin to mix with the northern hardwoods in what is known as the "transition zone". As elevation within this zone increases, species from the lower hardwood forest begin to drop out. By 2,500 feet (750 m), yellow birch is the only deciduous species that remains, and the forest becomes a spruce-fir forest.

2500 ft. to 4000 ft. — Spruce/fir forest
As elevation increases, the forest is subjected to colder temperatures, increased moisture, and acidic, infertile soils. As a result, conifers, or "softwoods" become the dominant species. Two trees, red spruce and balsam fir, are present throughout this zone, with paper birch, striped maple and mountain ash present in its lower levels. Like the hardwood forest below it, the spruce-fir forest also holds understory plants; commonly found are wood sorrel, Indian pipes, Canada mayflowers, and bluebead lilies. Fungi are also common in the moist environment.

Most of the animals in the spruce-fir forest have ranges that extend into the balsam fir forest higher up. Warblers are abundant; more than ten species exist in this forest type. Other common birds include brown-capped chickadees, spruce grouse, and yellow-capped woodpeckers. Mammals include the red squirrel and the pine marten.

4000 ft. to timberline — Balsam fir forest
As elevation continues to increase, only the hardiest trees remain in the forest, which is composed almost exclusively of balsam fir. Most of the understory plants and animals from the upper spruce-fir zone, however, can be found in this forest. Moisture causes nutrients to be stripped from the soil and brought to lower elevations, and decomposition takes place at a rate that is too slow to replenish them.

In the upper reaches of the balsam fir zone, winds and temperatures are extreme enough to force the trees into stunted, "bonsai-like" shapes. Known as krummholz, from the German word for "crooked wood", trees in this area are often bent into bizarre shapes by the combined effects of wind, temperature, and airborne ice particles. Branches that are perpendicular to the prevailing winds are often killed, leaving "flag trees" that point in the direction of the wind. Eventually, conditions become extreme enough to prevent any tree growth; the elevation at which this occurs is known as tree line, and usually occurs at around 4,500 ft (1,400 m) in the White Mountains, depending on wind exposure.

Above timberline — The alpine zone
On the highest slopes of the west wall of the notch, trees are unable to grow, and an "alpine zone" of alpine-Arctic vegetation exists. Vegetation in this zone tends to be lichens, sedges or small, low-lying plants that can resist the constant exposure to the wind. Most plants in this area are perennial; the growing season is far too short to allow for annuals.

Alpine plants usually occur in communities spaced between barren talus slopes. Cushion-shaped diapensia usually grows in communities in the windiest areas, and in less exposed sites sedge, heath, snowbank, and alpine bog communities can be found.


Pinkham Notch was originally a riverine, "V-shaped" valley until the Laurentide Ice Sheet shaped it into its current form, a "U-shaped" valley. This shaping occurred during the Wisconsinian Ice Age, 25–50,000 years ago. The geology of the region became greatly altered by this event; much of the weaker rock was stripped from the region, leaving only highly-resistant mica schist. As the glaciers retreated, a layer of glacial till was deposited, including several glacial erratics. A notable glacial erratic in the area is Mount Washington's Glen Boulder.

The notch first appears in recorded history in 1784, when an expedition led by Jeremy Belknap camped in the notch before ascending to the summit of Mount Washington through Huntington Ravine. Pinkham Notch was far more isolated than neighboring Crawford Notch; as a result, the first settler of Pinkham Notch came in 1827, 43 years after habitation of Crawford Notch. The first settler, Hayes Copp, built a homestead in the then-uninhabited area, near where the Dolly Copp campground stands today. Mount Washington was the main attraction in the area; a bridle path was constructed from the Glen House to hotels on the summit, which was later improved into what would become the Mount Washington Auto Road. Completion of the road in 1861 led to a massive increase in tourism.

Meanwhile, logging began in the Pinkham area. After almost total deforestation of the White Mountain region, the White Mountain National Forest was created in 1911, and the Mount Washington area was added to the national forest in 1914. With the preservation of the area, emphasis shifted from logging to recreation. The Appalachian Mountain Club converted a logging camp near the height-of-land into what is now the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center in 1921. The Appalachian Trail was built through the visitor center, making it an important trailhead for ascents of Mount Washington. Meanwhile, ski trails began to be constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps on Wildcat Mountain, and the ski resort was opened in 1958.




"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."    — Robert A. Heinlein

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