View Full Version : Describe the worst weather you've ever experienced on Mt Washington!

12-03-2010, 08:54 AM
I've always wanted to ask this.. so here goes..

This is for the hard core hikers amongst you (there must be some.. me I am NOT hard core like this)... I want to know about the worst weather you've experienced on Mt Washington.. How cold, how windy? (100 mph + then I really want to hear about this) driving rain, sleet , ice, snow?

What is it like hiking in-- er into--- a hurricane?

I'm sure this is ho hum stuff for the observers who live out there and experience bad weather all the time.. while I am interested in their impressions I'm more interested in the hikers' impressions.

At what point hiking up the mountain do you decide.. as an experienced hiker.. ah nope.. this isn't for me, I'm turning around (for reasons other than daylight)?

I once went on an AMC trip up Little haystack in December. 0 degrees at trail head. On top wind was easily 50 mph almost sustained.. it occasionally slacked off but only to re load.. I've never experienced anything like that. I imagine Mount Washington must be much much worse.


12-03-2010, 09:12 AM
I dont have much winter experience so I am sure others have felt much worse. I have had two days at summits that were in my mind pretty intense one was lafayette and the other moosilauke. lafayette it was about 20 degrees out with a 60-70mph winds and foggy so you could not see more than 10 feet in front of your face it looked like this


we actually started descending the wrong way and had to back track about 2 tenths of a mile to the summit and find the right path. The next was on Moosilauke 4 days later It was raining at the bottom when I started but as I hit the alpine zone snow was pelting me in the face sideways thanks to 50-60mph winds. The snow felt like being pricked by a hundred needles. I was glad you are not exposed to long on Moosilaukes alpine zone because it hurt like hell


12-03-2010, 03:28 PM
when I left the car a good hour before dawn at Pinkmans forecast said 15-20 degrees for HIGHs in the valley with wind sustained 20-30mph....... I'll leave the rest to imagination, but when you popped your head over the bowl approaching lion's head treeline there was a little bit of wind

12-04-2010, 11:46 AM
I think its easy for hikers to over estimate wind speed and force. If you are in the alpine zone and the winds are gusting 30 to 35 it makes it pretty diffucult to travel but when they start gusting to around 50 plus its a pain most people are going to fall over and stumble there way up. I carry a anemometer to try to get a idea of how much it is gusting. I dont think its really possable to "hike" in 100mph plus winds its more like crawling from rock to rock or dragging you're self up with tools. I summited madison on 11/20 around noon and I will say it was on wild trying to come back down I spent more time looking for rocks to jam my ice axe into for stabilty then it should have to go up and down two times. Not to mention the second I broke tree line I bent one of my bd treacking poles so much its pretty much useless thats why had to use my ice axe other pole would have broke like a twig. Time of day and travel speed and ouviosuly current condions and visabilty are what I think of when I decide to turn back or not. The mountain will always be there but there was a slight break in the winds and visabiltiy that day so I commmited because I wasnt out of my comfort zone. All in all it was a safe trip up and down I had gone out that day fully knowing the forcast and pack my backpack accordingly. Here is what the day looked like from the mwo current conditons page.


12-04-2010, 02:46 PM
It's handy when the summit buildings are still open and you can see what the windspeed actually is. One time in October I came up the Nelson Crag trail and had a tough time staying on my feet. The anemometer up top said 70 mph, so now I know that's where it really starts being a problem. Of course the nature of the terrain makes a huge difference. I was knocked off my feet completely a couple times between Bondcliff and Bond one time in winter, but then again I was on glassy smooth ice (with crampons, but still, unless you were braced exactly the right way, it was difficult). I would bet the windspeed there was quite a bit less than 70.

12-06-2010, 10:49 AM
My brother and I decided to make a go at a winter Presidential Traverse a few years back. It was bad up there. Check out the link in my signature. I had so much fun I decided to do it solo next year, thankfully with better weather, and I got the summits that time. I'm looking at when to take time off to make a go at it again this (2011) year.

The only worse I've been in was on Lafayette (with my brother of course). The wind was so strong between Lafayette and Lincoln that my brother got lifted of the ground right in front of me, and I grabbed onto his pack to hold him down.

This is what we were dealing with right around when we on the side of Washington.


12-06-2010, 07:06 PM
Ditto what a previous poster said about most hikers overestimating wind speed. I have climbed a good bit with experienced guides who are much more accurate estimating wind speed and traveling up hill at much more than 50 mph sustained with higher gusts is pretty much impossible. Keep in mind that the speeds posted by the OBS crew are measured 20+ feet above the highest ground on the summit and are usually much higher than wind speeds elsewhere on the mountain.
That being said - I was on an overnite at the OBS several winters ago and the winds were sustained at 120+ in the morning (temps around zero but with clear visibility) as I was due to hike down. I was allowed out on the OBS deck to experience it and to try and join the century club which involves circling the deck without falling down - I failed at it needless to say. Words can't describe winds that fierce. By late morning they lessened to around 90 and we were able to start descending down tucks to lion head. I would never have tried to hike UP in these conditions as the severity increases as you climb. The winds were from the west as they often are and once we got below the parking lot the winds that measured 90 up on the tower were probably only about 60 and at our back as we were descending. Still tough going but they lessened the further down the lee side we traveled.

12-07-2010, 11:21 AM
way cool climbeabout.

I think one of the coolest exhibits the Observatory has is in the museum in North Conway a film of people trying to stand up and walk in winds of 80+ 100 + etc. They could barely move!

One other question.. when winds are say 60+ sustained? why would any one want to be hiking up there? Is this "fun" in some strange way?

12-07-2010, 06:35 PM
way cool climbeabout.

I think one of the coolest exhibits the Observatory has is in the museum in North Conway a film of people trying to stand up and walk in winds of 80+ 100 + etc. They could barely move!

One other question.. when winds are say 60+ sustained? why would any one want to be hiking up there? Is this "fun" in some strange way?

Not fun in my book - going uphill in those speeds is near impossible and dangerous as you undoubtedly will get knocked off your feet and can get easily injured. I've been blown off my feet on several occasions and fun turns to serious concern quickly. Fooling around on the OBS deck with the ability to retreat inside in my case is one thing - hiking among the boulders on the summit cone is an entirely different matter. In my case noted above we were descending and conditions were improving as we descended. I personally find a real 40-50mph wind to be at the upper limit for safe travel.

12-07-2010, 07:17 PM
I am sure that the upper limit for people varies depending on how tall they are. They say taller folk have a real hard time with the Century Club. So, I am sure they would have trouble on a trail. I have walked around the summit in 35-40 MPH wind and it is a struggle. You get tired fast because every muscle is tensed just in case a gust hits you. Hiking on rough trails in 30-35 MPH wind is my personal upper limit. I am a fair weather hiker as I want to enjoy myself. Yes, I carry a wind speed meter and it is fun to track the gusts. But, spending much time out in them gets to be no fun fast.

Being a fair weather hiker I pick my days to be above treeline. I have been on the ridge by Lakes of the Clouds the first week of August in a blinding snow storm. Have been caught where your breath blows back on your face and the moisture freezes - in August. Have been in fog so thick you could move it with a pitch fork (spoken with a thick Maine accent). We held sweater sleeves and sent the first person out to find the next cairn then we all followed and collected - then snaked off to find the next one. We always knew we had good equipment and plenty of dry clothes and protection. Scary? No. Tiring and time consuming? Yes. And fun memories too.

12-10-2010, 04:38 PM
Weather Archive information below from August 18th. The wind seemed to have peaked when we had a mile left to Lakes and the temp dropped to 14 degrees with the wind chill. 90 MPH winds just knocked us off our feet (I was scared...we had our 11 year old boys with us) in August! We couldn't see 10 feet in from of us and when we found Lakes (thanks for the help Jake) it was like we hit the lottery. We carry a lot more equipment after that trip! Comment of the morning before the hike: we do not need winter coats it?s going to be beautiful...luckily, we made the kids bring all their winter gear. We didn?t make it to the top of Mount Washington that day. Lesson learned...we have done three hikes since with no issues and made it to the top this year. I?m a frequent viewer of this blog and love it.

Maximum Temperature: 36?F

Minimum Temperature: 29?F

Peak Wind Gust: N 94 mph

Average Wind Speed: 54.1 mph

Liquid Precipitation: 0.44"

Snowfall: Trace

Snow Miser
12-11-2010, 10:33 AM
Anthonyplt, glad you guys made out okay that day. Your experience just goes to show us all to always be prepared for the worst. Most likely the day will turn out as expected, but once in a while it doesn't.

12-11-2010, 02:10 PM
Brad, I agree with you. 35-45 MPH wind is a struggle. I've begun hiking just recently and things are pretty heavy from time to time.

12-16-2010, 11:35 AM
About 3 years ago. We were 1/2 way between the summit of Mt. Washington, and lake of the clouds. No mans land...and thunder/lightning storms rolled through. They struck all over the place. It was insane. It was fascinating to experience, but I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Wife doesn't let me be in charge of the forecast before we go on hikes anymore :(

12-16-2010, 03:03 PM
Labor Day weekend several years ago, took my cousin's husband who is in his 50's. He had always wanted to hike MT W but living in PA had never gotten the chance. Hiked in some of the heaviest fog I have ever experienced in all my years growing up in, and now travelling home to, the Whites. Could not see hand in front of face.( Took a nice slider into a crevice on that rock slab as you are going up the Ammo too, surgically repaired knee was the leg that went right in. No injuries! Super slippery rocks) Once we got past Lakes then the wind started to hit us head on, cold and fast, as it came out of the north for a good ol' NWCO (North West Clear Off). By the time we summited, all clouds had blown off and we could see the Atlantic before we had to head down. That wind was biting and froze any moisture present into hoar-frost all over our clothes and faces. All that low pressure I swear gave me a ringing headache. It wasn't the worst weather I've experienced, I've certainly had worse on lesser peaks in the Whites.

Probably the most life threatning weather was a thunder-lightning storm that almost vaporized us on a Mt Jefferson hike in July 1989, fresh out of high school. Caps Ridge Trail. Never will forget that one. I remember the lightning hitting rocks above treeline and hearing it sizzle around as it sought out an outlet into the ground. That one really was a hair-raiser!