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My January Adventure Atop Mt. Washington

My January Adventure Atop Mt. Washington
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Welcome to the January 2009 edition of “Jud’s New England Journal,” the rather curious monthly musings of Judson Hale, editor-in-chief of Yankee Magazine, published since 1935 in Dublin, New Hampshire.

My January Adventure Atop Mt. Washington

With the temperature at 20 below zero and the wind blowing at 110 mph, one isn’t apt to figure in the “wind chill factor.”

For years I’ve been mildly irritated by the constant references on TV and radio to the “wind chill factor.” “It’ll be five below zero tomorrow,” the weather person will say, “but with the wind at 15 mph, the real temperature will be 25 below zero.” /

Baloney. The real temperature will be what was said originally: five below. A 15 mph wind can go from zero to maybe more than 15 mph constantly. It comes in gusts. So what does that do to the “wind chill factor”? I would much prefer they tell us the temperature and the average wind velocity … period. We can all figure out the rest.

I have experienced a steady high wind only once. It was on the summit of New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington one January day some years ago. I’d accompanied a half-dozen others as a passenger in a Snowcat tractor that brought us all up there to experience a day and a night atop New England’s highest mountain. We dressed for the Arctic Circle, of course, but in truth, our accommodations were warm, cozy, and very comfortable.

When we first arrived at the summit, they told us that the wind velocity was 80 mph and the temperature was about zero. Incidentally, there was no mention of the “wind chill factor.” To stand against that 80 mph wind, I had to lean so far forward that I could practically reach out and touch the ground. If there had been any variation in that velocity, I would have fallen on my face.

Later that afternoon, at about “cocktail hour,” the wind velocity rose to 110 mph. We were told that if it remained that high, we wouldn’t be going down the mountain the following day. Too dangerous.

Anyway, while enjoying a drink before dinner — yes, it’s very civilized up there –someone asked whether we’d like to join the Century Club. Seems that if you can walk around a certain circular deck on the roof of the building we were in without falling down when the wind is at 100 mph or more, you can become a member. Oh, yes, one more thing: Touch a railing or the side of the building and you’re disqualified.

Well, a couple of us decided to give it a try. Maybe the drink was a factor. And nobody told us until later that only two people had become members in the last 50-some years. So, full of enthusiasm, up some stairs we went to a door opening to that particular metal circular deck. My friend went first. The amount of time between his stepping out that door and being blown flat on his face was possibly as much as three seconds. Or less. At that moment I decided I didn’t really need to belong to another club.

We were on the summit for the next three days and nights — even watched the Super Bowl up there. The wind remained at about 110 mph, you couldn’t see more than a few feet outside, and the temperature stayed around zero. Then, early on the fourth morning, the wind died down, the temperature went to 27 degrees below, and all the clouds vanished suddenly, providing us with a most spectacular view, extending all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. I’ll never forget that particular moment, when miles and miles of New England were spread out before us.

As to that “wind chill factor” thing? Bah, humbug.

View mountain guide Joe Lentini’s photos of Mount Washington in winter.

Read about Joe Lentini’s mountain rescues: White Mountain Guide.

Read about Mel Allen’s unforgettable sleepover: Overnight on Mt. Washington.

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My January Adventure Atop Mt. Washington

Updated Thursday, January 1st, 2009

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