Find out how Windy Earth can reach the “world’s most dangerous little mountain”

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We’ve all been on windy hikes: the trees creak, the snow blows, or the tent starts to collapse (or all three). Now imagine your own windiest hike made up to 1000. This is what you will find on Mt. Washington, which doesn’t have a single monthly average wind speed of less than 20 mph and is home to the second highest wind speed ever measured, 231 miles per hour, topped only by a tropical cyclone off the coast of Australia.

Despite frequent storms, the 7.4-mile round-trip Tuckerman Ravine to the summit is a popular hiking trail. And no wonder: Mt. Washington is the highest peak in the northeast at 6,288 feet and offers views to match. The mountain, however, requires a lot of preparation. Storms can explode out of nowhere even in midsummer, with temperatures near the top 40 degrees cooler than the valley and gales that can quickly reach over 100 mph. The rapidly changing conditions and the force of the storms have earned this summit the nickname “the world’s most dangerous little mountain”.

But it’s not just the natural threats you need to worry about on the trail: some of the more than 130 hikers who have died on Mt. Washington is widely believed to have stuck around since 1849 and is known among White Mountain aficionados as “The Presence.” Some are benign, while others seem less than happy to have hikers in their territory. But when the weather is nice (and the ghosts are gone), it’s hard to find a better hike anywhere in New England.

The Path

The most popular route to Mt. Washington follows Tuckerman’s Ravine from Pinkham Notch. Before starting to climb, the trail passes the shelters of Hermit Lake at km 2.4, a good place to take a break to admire the view of the ravine and a small waterfall. The huts themselves have drinking water available in the summer and can be booked through the Appalachian Mountain Club. Yellow arrows mark the first part of the trail, then cairns take over. The escalation intensifies over the next 1.5 km of trail, completing the 4,242 feet of elevation gain to the summit, where you can enjoy a 360-degree view of the White Mountains. Hikers are careful: although this is a popular trail in the summer, it can be icy and dangerous in the winter; prepare yourself accordingly.

High science

Photo: “Mt. Washington Observatory “by thisfeministrox is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The observatory site which recorded the mountain’s record 231 mph wind in 1934 still houses an active weather station, which conducts weather and climate research in partnership with universities and laboratories working on everything from product testing to the surveillance of extraterrestrial cosmic rays. One of the very few mountain-top research stations in the world (and the only one of its kind in the Western Hemisphere), the observatory takes advantage of Mt. Washington’s position at the convergence of three different storm tracks to study some of the worst weather conditions on Earth. Data sets for wind, rain, visibility and several other atmospheric measurements generated by the observatory and the surrounding network of weather monitoring stations are also used by scientists from several different disciplines for the analysis of weather patterns and climate modeling.


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