By Ted Waddell
CALLICOON CENTER February 14, 2003 Some guys really like freezing their butts off in winter weather.
In fact, Doug Woods of Callicoon Center likes to brave the elements so much that he traveled to the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire to participate in a workshop about extreme environments.
Throw in the chance to help rescue a 12-year-old girl and her father stranded near the summit by blizzard-like conditions and hurricane-force gales, and it made his day.
At a mean elevation of 6,288 feet above sea level, Mt. Washington is the highest peak in the northeastern United States.
It has the well-deserved reputation of boasting the worst weather in America. In 1938, winds at the summit were documented at 231 miles per hour, the highest ever recorded on the planet.
Mt. Washington is located in the Sargents Purchase in the heart of the White Mountain National Forest. On average, hurricane-force winds are measured every three days. Over the years, more than 100 people, mostly ill-prepared visitors, have died on the mountain.
On February 1-2, Woods joined a party of ten adventurers for a Snowcat trip to the top of Mt. Washington to participate in an EduTrip program presented by the staff at the Mount Washington Observatory.
The complex of buildings at the summit is known as the City Among the Clouds.
The non-technical workshop was an informal learning process about field research into extreme weather environments, the dynamics of mountain weather, special instrumentation required to measure it and problems associated with measuring world-record summit weather.
In addition, the group studied historical data from Mt. Washington and other remote surfaces around the globe to see if greenhouse warming is affecting the global environment.
I went for the adventure of it and to see whats going on up there, said Woods. Ive always been a weather person.
After trip leaders checked their gear, on Saturday the party departed the staging area for the 8-mile, 2-hour run by Snowcat to the summit in light snow pushed by 40-mile-per-hour winds over an original carriage road constructed in the early 1860s.
About halfway up, we broke though the clouds, said Woods.
Such a weather condition is called undercast.
You could see the mountains sticking up through the clouds, and there was a storm coming in from the southeast, he said.
At the summit observatory, Woods learned the days forecast had been upped to 60 MPH winds and three to six inches of snow.
On Sunday, the group woke up to a foot of snow and 70-plus MPH winds.
Around 10 a.m., they heard that a young girl and her father had become trapped on the mountain near Lions Head while trying to hike to the summit.
The temperature was slowly going down, and the barometer was taking a nosedive, said Woods. The storm off the coast really started to pop, and the weather was taking a turn for the worse.
As the storm closed in, trip leaders decided to escort the party back down the mountain, but the Snowcat driver called it quits after going about a quarter of a mile in 70 MPH winds with heavy snow and fog.
At this point, they learned the hikers were somewhere near them, and rescuers asked for volunteers to hike back to the observatory so the Snowcat could be used as an emergency vehicle.
Woods volunteered to give up his seat and hike back up to the summit in 80 MPH winds and ten-foot visibility made worse with rime ice on his goggles.
It didnt bother me, he recalled. I was having the adventure of my life.
After reaching the observatory, they got a radio call from the rescue teams: we need batteries, food and a litter brought down to the Snowcat.
So Woods and a young guy named Mark loaded up and headed back down the mountain.
Woods said the winds were now so strong that he tied one end of the litter to his wrist dont try this at home so it wouldnt be blown off the mountain in whiteout conditions.
We finally got down to the Snowcat, said Woods. All we could see was a little yellow [roof] light blinking in the snow.
Then for Woods and Mark, it was back up to the summit to make room once again for the father and daughter.
You could barely walk, he recalled. If you stood up, youd get blown right over. We had to sit down when the wind gusted to more than 100 miles per hour, and the winds had blown the snow right off the ice it was just pure ice.
After reaching the safety of the observatory, Woods learned the lost hikers had been located and were evacuated on foot by the rescuers.
Once regrouped, the party of seven hunkered down to wait out the storm. Overnight, winds topped 120 MPH.
Ive never heard winds like that before, said Woods. It just roars!
Faced with the onslaught of another storm rolling in, the leaders decided to return to base camp early Monday morning, February 3. After traveling through heavy snow for a couple of hours, the trusty old Snowcat bogged down, and the party walked the rest of the way down the mountain.
It was exciting, and I was glad to help out, said Woods.
Next winter, the 45-year-old owner of Trees in the Woods (a tree farm) said he plans a return trip to Mount Washington with his brothers Scott, 45, and just turned 50 Buzz.