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Hike Mount Washington — The Most Dangerous Small Mountain in the World

One of the windiest hikes in the world is no slouch on views, either.

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We’ve all been on windy hikes: the trees start creaking, the snow starts blowing, or the tent starts collapsing (or all three). Now imagine your own windiest hike dialed up to 1,000. That’s what you’ll find on Mt. Washington, which doesn’t have a single monthly average windspeed under 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 the frequent storms, the 7.4-mile out-and-back up 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 it has the views to match. The mountain requires plenty of preparation, though. Storms can blow up out of nowhere even in the middle of summer, with temperatures near the summit 40 degrees below those in the valley and gales that can quickly build to over 100 mph. The swiftly changing conditions, and the sheer force of the storms, have earned this peak the moniker “most dangerous small mountain in the world.”

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

Mount Washington via Tuckerman Ravine

The most popular route up Mt. Washington follows Tuckerman’s Ravine from Pinkham Notch. Before starting to climb, the trail passes the Hermit Lake shelters at mile 2.4, a good place to pause for views back over the ravine and a small waterfall. The shelters themselves have potable water available in the summer, and can be reserved through the Appalachian Mountain Club. Yellow arrows mark the first part of the trail, then cairns take over. The climbing intensifies over the next 1.5 miles of trail, finishing out the 4,242 feet of elevation gain to the summit, where you can bask in a 360-degree view of the White Mountains. Hikers use caution: While this is a popular trail in the summer, it can be icy and dangerous in the winter; prepare accordingly.

High Science

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

The observatory site that clocked the mountain’s record 231 mph wind in 1934 is still home to an active weather station, which conducts weather and climate research in partnership with universities and laboratories working on anything from product testing to extraterrestrial cosmic ray monitoring. One of very few staffed mountaintop 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 on Earth. The datasets for wind, rain, visibility, and several other atmospheric metrics generated by the observatory and the surrounding network of weather monitoring stations are also used by scientists in several different disciplines for weather pattern analysis and climate modeling.

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