Why does Mount Washington take so many innocent lives? What is it that makes the 6,288′ climb not only a dangerous feat, but a deadly one. Although there’s not one clear answer to that question, extreme and unpredictable weather is mostly the culprit to blame. Due to its proximity, the summit sees wacky weather patterns, substantially higher (231 MPH wind, to be exact), deadly cold temperatures as low as -59F, and snowfall as heavy as 48 inches in a 24-hour period. Mount Washington sits at the intersection of numerous major storm tracks. The jet stream carries nearly every storm moving west-to-east, and southwest-to-northeast across the country, right over Mount Washington. There, they intersect with weather systems moving south-to-north, up the Atlantic coast.
People see the photos all over the internet of the Whites Mountains. They are known for their beautiful views and rigorous ridgeline walks. Everyone wants to be in the picture on the internet they see. Blue skies, smiling hikers posing for the picture, wearing small day packs that couldn’t possibly fit more than a bottled water and bag of chips at most. This is the side of Mount Washington that they see; its good side. What they don’t see from that picture is trudging through zero visibility due to a snow squall in late July. They don’t see the body of the hypothermic hiker who underestimated mother nature’s power to kill. This why Mount Washington kills. Because we romanticize the view so much that we forget to show the struggle of the climb itself.
Day trips can be had from Boston, or New York as an overnight, within a couple hours of driving, you can be parked in a trailhead lot, boots laced up, and ready to go. The accessibility of these mountains is the real killer. People will take a walk down the dirt trail to see how far they can go, and wind up in serious amount of danger. It’s as easy as pulling into the parking lot, and hitting the trail. There are blatant warning sign and reminders of the harsh weather and relentless terrain, but most choose to ignore them and take a walk, and see what happens. Completely ignorant to the weather, the terrain, and the danger they put not only themselves in, but others as well.
The number of SAR calls solely in the mont of May, and beginning of June is a clear indication of what is to come. People are not taking the warnings seriously, and are continuing to head up this mountain without gear or skills that are required in order to do so.