The following is the continuation of an historic trip report by Montague G. Ball, Jr. In case you missed it, the beginning of the story can be found here.
…To begin with, the temperature dropped steadily. On a bright, sunny August morning the temperature at the parking lot had been a comfortable 78 degrees. Two hours later, at the foot of Tuckerman’s, Dave Carman’s pocket thermometer registered 55. Secondly, Jeff Kilbreth (who had suffered from car sickness en route) was again feeling ill. Note his less-than-perky expression at far right. Thirdly, out of the tree line I began to grasp the extent to which I had badly underestimated the size of Mount Washington. It is enormous! And fourthly, after taking the group picture, I took time to read the sign on which John Timken was leaning. It warned: “Stop! The weather ahead can be the worst in North America. Many have died on this mountain—even in the summer. Turn back now if weather is inclement.”
Well, no one was in favor of turning back—and, besides, the weather wasn’t inclement—yet. But in another hour fog rolled in; the wind rose; temperature dropped another ten degrees. I forget how long it took us to climb Tuckerman’s, but it seemed forever. Worse, we couldn’t see but a few feet ahead of us, met nobody coming down the mountain who could give us bearings, and by this time Dave Carman was carrying Jeff’s pack as well as his own. Although the trail was well marked, I was scared to death that we would get lost—and I was exhausted as darkness began to set in. Darkness? At five o’clock on an August afternoon? Not possible, I thought. Meanwhile, we were passing crosses— marking exactly where people had died in the ascent. And then it started to drizzle…
At that point a miracle occurred. The fog cleared for a moment, and dead ahead of us stood the Mount Washington Summit House. Built of granite and opened in 1915, this hotel had for half a century survived the highest winds (231 m.p.h) and lowest temperatures (minus 59) ever recorded in North America. It beckoned; we nearly fell through the door. Sitting on benches at the far end of the lobby, no one had the strength to speak, much less move. But as heat surged around us, I knew that I was going to find a way to stay—at which point, my vision focused squarely on the front desk manager. When I was able to get my legs under me, I staggered over to reception and inquired whether any rooms were available. His answer: “Are you kidding? Look at the weather! Nobody in his right mind comes up here in this stuff. Sure, lots of rooms. How many do you need?”
I whimpered, “Will you take a check?” I didn’t care what it would cost. “Sure,” he replied. Then he noticed Dave Carman and the five boys and added, “But here’s a better deal. For half the price, I can put you guys in our bunk room. Uppers and lowers, but you still get sheets, blankets, towels, and hot showers. You’ll have the place to yourselves; nobody else has made a reservation. Dinner and breakfast included.” Following the longest hot showers in Summit House history, we gorged on an enormous hamburger steak dinner, checked the weather station (37 degrees, 78 m.p.h. winds), then called home (collect) from the highest pay phone in eastern North America. By nine o’clock we were all fast asleep—snug, warm, and dry, but the wind howling outside. So, we awoke in the morning with the strangest feeling—that something was wrong, there wasn’t a sound! A gorgeous, absolutely still day—a great start to the week ahead in which we walked from Mount Washington to Crawford Notch in perfect weather, not a drop of rain.
And Tim Holbrook? Returning to camp, I got exactly what I expected— Tim, at the top of his voice: “Ball, what’s this I hear? You lead a Pine Island trip to the top of Mount Washington—and check in to a hotel!” And then, with a big laugh, “I like a man who lands on his feet.” Well, that was a generous perspective to offer a counselor who had been woefully unprepared and ill equipped (except for his checkbook). As director for twenty years I sent many trips to the White Mountains, and I made sure all were better prepared than mine was. Even so, it was great fun—including the crawl out of Tuckerman’s (if only in retrospect). And gracious living at 6,288 feet? Absolutely a goal achieved!
Montague G. Ball was a counselor for many years and Director from 1978- 1989.