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A Beautiful Place to Die
August 15, 2008 5:51 PM   Subscribe

"STOP. The area ahead has the worst weather in America. Many have died there from exposure, even in the summer. Turn back now if the weather is bad."

A Boston Globe piece on the White Mountain National Forest, the common disregard for danger of those who hike in it, and the people who often go and get them when things go wrong.
posted by rollbiz (44 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Also unsafe: sliding down the railroad tracks on a Devil's Shingle.
posted by Knappster at 6:06 PM on August 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


They don't look white.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 6:07 PM on August 15, 2008


He'll come in and save your sorry ass, but don't expect Todd Bogardus to share his pack of smokes with you.
posted by crapmatic at 6:12 PM on August 15, 2008


I read four of the five pages of the article linked first and then ran into a members-only login page so I didn't get to read the last page. Is this business as usual for the Boston Globe or did I do something wrong?
posted by An Infinity Of Monkeys at 6:20 PM on August 15, 2008


Some photographs are uploaded to Flickr and other websites - including one of a pink-faced man gleefully acknowledging the warning with upraised middle fingers.

Classy. Probably the kind of guy who considers a blizzard ahead a spicy challenge.
posted by Mitheral at 6:22 PM on August 15, 2008


Interesting story. Longs Peak in Colorado has a similar scene. It's 14,259 feet, the final ascent from 13k is up steep gullies and screes, and at the top you see people in sneakers, shorts, and tees, carrying a bottle of Dasani.

There was (is?) a sign at the trail head that records the number of people who have died on Longs Peak. I hiked up one time in August in the 1990s, and when I came down the total had gone up by one.
posted by carter at 6:29 PM on August 15, 2008


I read four of the five pages of the article linked first and then ran into a members-only login page so I didn't get to read the last page

I got that too, but it seems to be any page now. Even going back to previously viewed pages didn't work. Irritating...
posted by inparticularity at 6:34 PM on August 15, 2008


Pffff. I've died from exposure, even in the summer, dozens of times. I could take it.
posted by DU at 6:34 PM on August 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Infinity of Monkeys: Sorry, that didn't happen to me or I wouldn't have posted it, but yeah...The Globe has been doing that much more lately. It sucks.
posted by rollbiz at 6:35 PM on August 15, 2008


Uphill both ways.
posted by darkstar at 6:36 PM on August 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Great article until not being allowed to read the fifth page! But thanks for the post anyhow.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 6:41 PM on August 15, 2008


Is this business as usual for the Boston Globe

yes. quite annoyingly.

i can't find it online, but i read an article several years ago about some of the problems wrangling rescue teams in the white mountain area -- since different parts are under different jurisdictions, there's occasionally some tension over which agency should be footing the bill for stupid hikers.

a really good look at some of the reasons people make decisions that are, in retrospect, incredibly stupid, is the book "deep survival" (mentioned previously at least a few times on the blue).
posted by rmd1023 at 6:45 PM on August 15, 2008


and when I came down the total had gone up by one.

Er, you killed a dude?
posted by popechunk at 6:47 PM on August 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


I read four of the five pages of the article linked first and then ran into a members-only login page so I didn't get to read the last page. Is this business as usual for the Boston Globe or did I do something wrong?

Try this link to read the full story. It's the "print this article" link and is handy to beat boston.com's annoying habit of breaking articles into 5 pages.
posted by bowmaniac at 6:47 PM on August 15, 2008


As someone who spent a fair share of his youth hiking in the Adirondacks, Green and White mountains, and even in Maine, I think the Globe is overstating things. I've hiked in the White Mountains as early as April and as late as October, and I've never seen a blizzard in that time (although I've definitely seen snowflakes sometimes, and it seems to be possible to ski Tuckerman's Ravine (on the east side of Mt. Washington) in any month of the year).

The New England mountain with the highest amount of risk, I think, is Katahdin. Both times I've hiked it, the weather was bad enough that I didn't try to hike the Knife Edge. The first time I hiked it, my friends and I were hit, on the way to the mountain, with a rain cold enough that I think we were on the verge of hypothermia. We stopped at a lodge that some people who had stayed overnight were in the process of vacating, and because they gave us shelter from the rain, we recovered, and eventually hiked up the mountain. (The weather got better).

Appalachian Trail hikers usually wait for a good weather day before climbing Katahdin, and they often have to wait a while. The northeast has dangerous mountains, but the most worried I've been in the Whites was when I was watching a thunderstorm roll across the pass from the Presidentials to the Wildcats, where I was hiking with a friend. We definitely saw some rain, but after we made it off the main ridge the weather was fine. Katahdin is the one mountain I've hiked on the east coast that has truly disconcerted me.
posted by A dead Quaker at 6:48 PM on August 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Unadvisedly climbed up there in the teenage moonlight one winter, and took shelter in a sturdy open fronted structure at the top. The wind was blowing so hard across that open front that it sucked all the air out and I couldn't breathe, but if you went outside at that time you would be blown over. So I had to lie on the floor and and put my mouth on a crack in the floor to find some air.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:51 PM on August 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


The accident and rescue logs from the S&R folks at Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines (Mount Washington) make for entertaining heart-stopping reading. The tone is often...dry.
3-24-2007: A hiker sustained soft tissue injuries after falling over the Headwall in Tuckerman Ravine. He was with a party of skiers when he decided to leave them and hike to the Summit by himself without any equipment except ski poles and the clothes he was wearing. On the ascent, he climbed the Lip and decided not to descend that way because it was too steep. He opted to try going down to the south of the Lip, which is steeper. After encountering icy conditions, he fell approximately 400' over the Headwall. The fall was witnessed by a group of bystanders, half of which went to Hermit Lake for help while the other half provided assistance to the victim. A Snow Ranger, the AMC Caretaker and a member of the Mt. Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol responded, treated his injuries and assisted him down to Hermit Lake. The person was able to walked out the next day. Five rescuers and a group of bystanders completed this incident in two hours.
posted by rtha at 6:53 PM on August 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


Interesting article, I've hiked the White Mountains in all seasons and never really thought about the danger from it. Whenever I went though it was always with the Boy Scouts who took all the precautions so maybe we weren't facing the worst conditions or maybe we just got lucky with the weather. I think the worst things we came across was witnessing some avalanches on Mount Washington from about 20 miles away. Some of the best memories I have are of hiking and staying up in the huts in the mountains.
posted by lilkeith07 at 7:00 PM on August 15, 2008


I hiked the Whites in 1996, on my hike o' the Appalachian Trail. I'd broken my foot and had to get off the trail at Harper's Ferry. After six weeks I figured I'd healed enough, and hightailed it up to New Hampshire to meet my friends and hike the last 333.1 miles from Mt. Washington to Katahdin. It was the first week of September—warm, sunny, all-around beautiful weather. Then my mother and I drove to the summit. Damn. It was just below freezing. The wind was 40 mph. I spent the night at Lake of the Clouds and the next day, hiking north, the winds were 70 mph, rime ice coated the windward side of everything, and it was snowing. In short, I froze my balls off.

Summer at the base of Mt. Washington, winter at the peak. Summing Katahdin on October 20th was significantly easier, weather-wise, than Mt. Washington six weeks earlier. I'm looking forward to making up the bit I'm missing—Washington south to the Connecticut border—but next time I'll pack a fleece and some gloves.
posted by waldo at 7:18 PM on August 15, 2008


Er, you killed a dude?

He ate all the gorp and wouldn't stop whistling Colonel Bogey.
posted by carter at 7:31 PM on August 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


the fastest wind speed every recorded was 231 mph in 1934 on Mount Washington, New Hampshire.
posted by any major dude at 7:42 PM on August 15, 2008


I've seen those signs. I've been there a couple times, and it's effing beautiful.
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 7:57 PM on August 15, 2008


carter writes "I hiked up one time in August in the 1990s, and when I came down the total had gone up by one."

Carter explained to the child accompanying him up the mountain, "You're scared? Kid, I'll have to walk down the mountain alone!"
posted by orthogonality at 8:00 PM on August 15, 2008 [5 favorites]


I had a lovely trip up Mt Washington when I was, eh, 14 or so. It was a fantastic day, and it felt pretty awesome to be going relatively easily over parts in my guidebook that had giant letters and italics of doom - only applicable in bad weather, and here it was, a gorgeous summer day.

On the way down I sprained my ankle so badly that the doctors told me I really should try to break it next time, because it would heal better. Since then I do not go to the Presidentials. They have tasted my blood, and they might want more.
posted by cobaltnine at 8:10 PM on August 15, 2008


But it looked easy on Survivorman!
posted by The Straightener at 9:02 PM on August 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


On Mt. Washington -- and elsewhere in the Presidential Range, New Hampshire -- there can be quick snow squalls and blizzards in the spring and fall, as well as plummeting temperatures all year round.

"135 fatalities have occurred on and around Mount Washington since 1849."*

Checking out the list of deaths, one finds instances where someone has died (due to hypothermia) in most every month of the year. Many were amateur/casual hikers who found themselves in unexpected and unanticipated circumstances.*
posted by ericb at 9:04 PM on August 15, 2008


Mount Washington Observatory website and webcams.
posted by ericb at 9:12 PM on August 15, 2008


Hiked it many times, packed sweaters, no cell phone, no one died. People regularly do far stupider shit in cars. It's just that dying in a car is much more banal, and the risks one takes in cars doesn't trigger an appropriate sense of the actual mortality involved with automobiles. It's the fear of an uncommon risk that sells papers.

But I'd still rather read any fluff article in the Globe than the NY Times Style section any day.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:54 PM on August 15, 2008


But I'd still rather read any fluff article in the Globe than the NY Times Style section any day.

O RLY? Whad'about how New Yorkers seem to be rushing to wear their white clothes before Labor Day? That's gotta be more important than folks dying on Mount Washington!
posted by ericb at 10:02 PM on August 15, 2008


Classy. Probably the kind of guy who considers a blizzard ahead a spicy challenge.

I told you I was hardcore.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:12 PM on August 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


kuujjuarapik writes "People regularly do far stupider shit in cars. It's just that dying in a car is much more banal, and the risks one takes in cars doesn't trigger an appropriate sense of the actual mortality involved with automobiles. It's the fear of an uncommon risk that sells papers."

Well when someone does something stupid in a car and smears themselves over a kilometre of freeway they don't expose the rescue workers to a big risk.
posted by Mitheral at 10:41 PM on August 15, 2008


No, but not every other motorist on the road is a volunteer. And I would be willing to bet that more samaritans, cops and other rescue personnel are picked off roadside than on the mountains.

I know what you are saying, and I agree that casual risks should be avoided. And maybe there should be some zones in dangerous places that are truly "at your own risk", where rescue is not an option. But in the grand scheme of things, 135 fatalities in 150 years is an absolute blip.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 10:47 PM on August 15, 2008


wind was blowing so hard across that open front that it sucked all the air out and I couldn't breathe

Nope.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 10:56 PM on August 15, 2008


If you take the little tour bus up the Mt. Washington Auto Road, there's a lot of pressure to tip the driver, and at the observation deck, the people who hiked up may sneer at you.
posted by longsleeves at 11:34 PM on August 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Nope.

I wouldn't be so quick to judgement — I've found myself in a similar scenario, in 130mph+ winds out on the canyon rim thousands of feet above the confluence of the Green + Colorado rivers. You have to find the sweet spot between having your gag reflex triggered and having your breath stolen away. It's considerably easier near the ground, though other surrounding structures are not always helpful (even on their leeward sides).
posted by blasdelf at 11:40 PM on August 15, 2008


Still nope. Have you seen any of the AMC shelters on Mt Washington?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 12:31 AM on August 16, 2008


Talk about deja vu. Three weeks ago I decided to hike up Mt. Eisenhower on a Sunday. Since Saturday had been in the 90's on the seacost<>TM shirts and shorts and a change of socks. Five minutes into the hike, it started raining. Soaking wet, I kept pushing myself to at least make it to the tree line to get a better feel for the weather. Sure enough, I broke the tree line and found the aforementioned sign and four older hikers looking for some guidance. In a deer-in-the-headlights kind of way. Eyeballing the summit, I sure as hell didn't want to quit, but then the rain changed into ice and started to come down sideways. Without hesitation, I turned right around and headed back down. The other four new hikers followed suit

Yeah, Ike kicked my ass that day, but he'll still be there on Sunday when I take him on again.
posted by jsavimbi at 1:41 AM on August 16, 2008


This gives me some interesting perspective. I've known for a long time that my 9-greats-grandfather, Darby Field, was the first known person to reach the summit (I suppose a Native American did it earlier...), but I had no idea what that really meant. Thanks for the link.
posted by litlnemo at 1:53 AM on August 16, 2008


Bernie Dahl of Winterport, Maine, nearly didn't get out. Officials cite his case as an example of what not to do. One calls him "naive." On October 23, 1999, Dahl, now 69, hiked up Mount Washington's Lion Head Trail. He passed the warning sign. Rain turned to snow, and a group of climbers turning back urged him to do the same. "I thought, I'm from New England, this is my kind of weather," says Dahl, a retired pathologist and a hiker since childhood. "There was a certain arrogance involved." By 4 p.m., he was trapped in hurricane-force conditions. Then Dahl remembered he had a cellphone and dialed for help. It eventually came, but not before Dahl reconciled himself to dying on the mountain. "Freezing is a nice way to go. You have an abnormal sense of warmth. I did not pray for rescue, I prayed for understanding and acceptance. I risked my life, and others had to risk theirs. That's not right, I don't deny it." Today, he speaks to groups about the "spiritual experience" and maintains a website.
The website is really something else. On it, he tries to convey that this event on the mountain taught him that in order to truly live, one must be willing to accept death, and that living a fulfilling life is all about taking risks. I think it's interesting that that's what he would take away from this experience instead of, say, the wisdom of recognizing your own limitations, or when the voice of experience needs to supercede your desire to lunge forward into the abyss.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:04 AM on August 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


This 1995 article from Yankee Magazine "Fatal Attraction" about deaths on Mt Washington is a classic.

It was a runner up for a National Magazine Award and later apparently expanded into a book.
posted by Jahaza at 3:18 AM on August 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


If you're curious about what the weather is at the summit of Mount Washington right now, go here.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:23 PM on August 16, 2008


Mount Washington Observatory cat photo.
(via "Observer Comments", on mountwashington.org)
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:05 PM on August 16, 2008


An interesting read--I got all five pages without a problem. The webcams were worth a dry chuckle--no views, just darkness from what looks to be cold, wet, windy, very clouded conditions. Yep, no hike for the stupid.
posted by Savannah at 10:33 AM on August 17, 2008


I have found this is a typical pattern when hiking the White Mountains:

1. Under clear and sunny skies, snap a smiling thumbs-up photo next to one of those waring signs.
2. Narrowly escape death due to any combination of the following: thick fog, high winds, snow, hail, torrential rain and flooding.
3. Under a quickly fashioned shelter, snap a fake-smile thumbs-up photo so that the rescuers will have some sense of what happened to you when they find your body.
4. Forget all about the all pain and discomfort you suffered, and repeat the following year.


If you take the little tour bus up the Mt. Washington Auto Road, there's a lot of pressure to tip the driver, and at the observation deck, the people who hiked up may sneer at you.

Guilty. I sneered at the non-hikers. But then I succumbed to the temptation of non-dehydrated food and bought myself a burger and fries from the restaurant on the summit. God Bless America!
posted by Kabanos at 9:04 AM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


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