Mount Washington Observatory Overnight

This past Friday I co-guided a group of 8 guests to the summit of “the rock-pile” to spend the night in the famous Mount Washington Observatory. This is really one of the most unique trips EMS Schools offers. It combines a typical Mount Washington Ascent with a very atypical evening in a weather station on the highest peak of the Northeast, commonly referred to as “Home of the World’s Worst Weather”.

This opportunity allows guests, after climbing the mountain, to step inside a weather station that feels like it could be in the middle of the North Pole. We get to interact with the staff and learn about their important work in regional forecasting and research. We’re fed a hearty dinner and relax in a cozy lounge equipped with classic old books on mountaineering along with modern amenities like a Keurig & Netflix. While this was the only “Obs” trip I’ll be a part of this season I was reminded of what a unique experience each and every trip up there has been, and I look forward to the next opportunity to return and introduce more of our guests to such a wickedly awesome place.

EMS Climbing School
EMS Schools Guide Justin explains the differences in crampons before we head to the mountain
EMS Climbing School
After reaching treeline we continue to climb to Lion’s Head
Justin close to Lion’s Head with Boott Spur Ridge in the background
The group pauses below Lion’s Head
EMS Climbing School
A couple of steeper moves before reaching the small Lion’s Head summit
A size-able crown line is visible from a natural avalanche in “The Chute”, the 2nd from the left gully in this photo
EMS Climbing School
The summit so close yet so far
Moving on from Lion’s Head
Wildcat Ski Area behind us as we continue
EMS Climbing School
In the distance Cranmore Mountain and North Conway far below
EMS Climbing School
At the base of the summit cone. This stretch is probably responsible for the most people getting disorientated in poor visibility conditions. It’s about 287 degrees to Split Rock, and about 107 degrees back. Bearings one should know if taking this route unguided.
EMS Climbing School
Visibility on our ascent was excellent however, so no compass needed as we reach Split Rock (our descent the following day would prove otherwise)
Reaching the summit was cause for some celebration
EMS Climbing School
It’s a good feeling

We entered the Sherman Adams Summit Building at about 4pm. Kaitlyn O’Brien, Co-Director of Summit Operations, greeted us and welcomed us to the “MWOBS”. After an orientation and safety briefing we relaxed in the new guest lounge located in the new “Extreme Mount Washington” weather museums.

EMS Climbing School
Guest lounge at 6,288 feet

After a very hearty ham dinner served promptly at 7pm we took a tour of the weather room.

EMS Climbing School
Answering the question “So why is Mount Washington so unique?”

Some participants took a tour of the weather tower and got to climb up into the “parapit”, the highest point on the summit about 30 feet higher than the geological summit. It is quite the experience. Others relaxed and watched a goofy comedy in the lounge before turning in. The weather for the next day was quite different, and many wanted a full night’s rest.

The next morning a hearty breakfast of bacon, sausage, pancakes, eggs, and toast was served by the excellent MWOBS members/summit volunteers who were spending a week up there cooking and performing light house keeping for the staff. We then geared up an prepared to descend with this weather outlook:

“In the clouds with snow early… Winds S shifting W at 4-55mph increasing to 55-75 mph w/ gusts up to 90”

We had a couple 70mph gusts just as we were leaving…

The winds were manageable for most, but the visibility was about 40 feet at best. Staying on the trail from the summit to Split Rock was quite challenging and a few corrections with compass bearings brought us to Split Rock. From there we nailed the bearing to the Alpine Gardens Trail and made it all the way to Lion’s Head before encountering our first “up” traffic of the day. A Saturday at the end of a holiday week is sure to see many parties on the mountain and today was no exception.

Climbing down through “the steeps” of the Winter Lion’s Head Route we encountered parties of various experience, from guided groups who were moving efficiently to those realizing they had bit off a bit much we did our best to descend without impeding on their progress. Inevitably we hit a couple bottle necks, especially at the lowest technical portion, jokingly referred to in the local guiding community as “The Hillary Step”. This portion of trail, while no steeper than 45 degrees, can challenge people not familiar with moving in steep terrain with crampons and ice axe. I’ve seen groups paused on this .1 mile stretch of “trail” for the better part of an hour while new climbers cautiously negotiate 50 feet of climbing with limited experience.

Our group of 10 pretty much split in 2 with half of us down climbing the step with coaching & spotting by Justin while the other half went down a steeper alternative after receiving instruction on the esoteric skill of “arm wrap rappelling”.

Our strategy worked and we cleared the up going crowds without losing to much time. Two hours later we were back at EMS North Conway turning in gear with many sharing contact info to trade photos & video they had taken during the two day adventure.

A day later, after spending a day with some returning clients out climbing on Willey’s slide today (post tomorrow), I find myself reflecting about what a cool opportunity this is for aspiring new climbers and just those who want to try some thing new. To sleep on the summit of the highest peak in the Northeast, to learn about what makes this mountain so intense, to form a common bond with strangers though such a challenge… well it’s something I think should be on everyone’s bucket list.

If you’d like to see a bit of video about this opportunity here ya go!

We’ve only got a few spots left in the last trip of the season (April 9-10). If this sounds like something you would like to experience you can learn more (and book) right here.

Willey’s Slide trip report tomorrow… thanks for reading!

See you in the mountains,






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s