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Adventure Travel

The Works: Mt. Washington In Winter

Hurricane-force winds and a snowfall average of 246 inches per year? Cake, compared to the challenge the mountain poses in summer.

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Proving ground Hell hath no fury like a mountain scoured. Hurricane-force winds pummel the summit and pile snow onto avalanche-ready ravines, making this a classic big-weather peak. On a clear day, you’re on an island of white above a sea of New England green.

Wind chills The Northeast’s highest peak makes up for its stumpiness with its climatic unruliness. Average midwinter temps hover around 5°F, but can drop to -45°F. The wind topped hurricane force on 100-plus days last year, whipping around an average of 256 inches of snow. But its greatest claim to fame is the highest wind speed ever recorded anywhere: 231 mph in April 1934.

The summit Paradoxically, the 6,288-foot peak, which lords over New Hampshire’s Presidential Range, is easier to climb in winter (in fair weather) than in summer, when you have to clamber over a half-mile of talus. Risk Washington has claimed 134 lives to date-more than any other North American peak. Most common causes: falls, hypothermia, and avalanches.

Trail Hike from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center (sign in and out) up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to Lion Head Winter Trail. The 4.1-mile trek gains about 1,000 feet per mile and takes 4 to 5 hours. At 4,400 feet, the forest gives way to an icy alpine zone.

Forecast Get updated weather and avalanche reports from the Mt. Washington Observatory (

Do or die No matter where you are, start heading down at 2 p.m.

Food Pack easy-to-eat food like PB&J sandwiches and fill an insulated thermos with soup or tea. Gear Aside from protective layers, firestarter, and headlamp, bring crampons, an ice axe, compass, altimeter, and a balaclava. Pack extra goggles, mittens, and socks.

Skill Know how to self-arrest.

Navigate Write out compass headings and GPS coordinates and keep them with your map in a map case and out of the wind.

Stay dry Adjust layers and pace to minimize sweat, which increases the risk of hypothermia. Sleep Rent a bunk at the AMC’s Joe Dodge Lodge ($59, 603-466-2727) or crash at Hermit Lake Shelters ($10), a short detour from Tuckerman Ravine. The three-sided shelters have no heat, but there’s a new water pump and the caretaker has daily weather and avalanche info.

Guide Alain Comeau of New England Mountain Guides is a skilled veteran who charges $130. (207) 935-2008

How to Pack for Backcountry Skiing

Get to know the winter safety gear you need in your pack.