Could you handle the harshest winter on earth?
Could you handle the harshest winter on earth? Gary Gustafson, 58, leads Linda Dewey, 54, up an icy trail on the summit cone of Mount Washington in New Hampshire (AP photos)
Could you handle the harshest winter on earth?
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Gary Gustafson leans on his ice ax to catch his breath. His legs and lungs strain from nearly five hours of climbing and 4,000 feet of elevation gain. They plead for rest before he spies the top of an antenna on the summit. Soon, the crampons, or spikes, of his mountaineering boots are once again digging into the icy terrain. He and a partner are about to make the final push. They are going to the granite rooftop of New England.

"It's kind of like Heartbreak Hill on the Boston Marathon," says Gustafson, 58, of Conway, N.H. "(Heartbreak's) really not much of a hill but it's where it hits you ... that makes it such a tough obstacle. That's kind of what the summit cone is like. You can see the top and you want to just be there psychologically. But first you've got to grind it out."

The payoff is being able to stand on the summit of 6,288-foot Mount Washington. It is the highest point in the Northeast. The New Hampshire peak also is famous for some of the harshest weather on earth. Winds reach hurricane speeds about once every three days during the winter.

"It's one of the ultimate hikes," said Gustafson.

Gustafson and his hiking partner, Linda Dewey, waited about four weeks for the right day. Their patience paid off. They decided to climb on a 28-degree day. The midday winds reached only 30 mph.

"You don't want to be up there when the wind chills are down around 50 below," said Gustafson.

There are several buildings on the summit. They include the Mount Washington Observatory. Scientists recorded 231 mph winds there in 1934. It's a record that stood for nearly 62 years. The facilities are closed to the public during the winter. Some structures are even chained down.

On this day, large shards of thick glass lay on the ground near the wooden building. One of its windows was blown out. That was when a wind gust of 140 mph hit. Rime ice, a form of white freezing fog, clings to the windward side of nearly every building, antenna and rock on the summit. The ice gives the place an otherworldly feel.

Hikers seldom linger for long here. Most go directly to the sign that marks the summit. They will pose for a celebratory photo. Then they add an extra layer of clothing and search for a place to hunker down in the protection of a building to fuel up for the descent.

Ryan Eyestone, 31, of Portland, Maine, recently made his first solo climb. He said he was fascinated by the arctic world he had entered in just a few hours of hiking.

"That environment is intense," said Eyestone. "It might as well be a different planet."

Critical thinking challenge: What made the day Gary chose for his hike the right day?

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Assigned 58 times

  • trentonsh-And
    3/18/2015 - 01:43 p.m.

    His legs and lungs strained for over five hours while Gary Gustafson climbed a 4,000 foot elevation change. They plead for the rest of the trip until he spied on top of the mountain.

  • thomaswa-war
    3/19/2015 - 01:21 p.m.

    This gut must have nothing better to do with his life if climbing a mountain is what he decides to do for fun. That is the last thing I would do for fun if I was bored.

  • samf-And
    3/19/2015 - 03:18 p.m.

    I think he did because of the nice tempatures even if it was below freezing it was a nice day compared to some of the other conditions when you climb mountins.

  • Tiffany0307-yyca
    3/24/2015 - 08:23 p.m.

    It looks freezing, scary, and dangerous all at the same time. I think that the two partners shouldn't have done that because they might have gone seriously hurt. Plus, it might give them some kind of cold or sickness later on. Also, what if they fall down? What if they die forever? I don't think Gary wants to think about his safety. I think he just only thinks about finding something wonderful and new, discovering new things, and wants to be famous for finding them. Eyestone is right. That environment is intense.

  • VanessaC-3
    3/27/2015 - 12:23 a.m.

    By in my own opinion would be that I would not make it at all to the top or not even make it to the top maybe just halfway. Through that some people whoa re travelers or climbers to get used to climbing the highest mountain to make it by being almost the first human beings ever to climb it for ever on earth. So it that way in position states that it would make a whole difference to another line of new difference in life by going through time and making a big moment in life by climbing the tallest mountain on earth out of all the other mountains.

  • VanessaC-3
    3/27/2015 - 12:32 a.m.

    As in my opinion I think that if I ever climb the highest mountains or any other mountains I would never make it to the top I would only make it half way without surviving harsh winters or seasons during the climbing of experience. Even though that other people in the world experience throughout their lives by being a traveler or a climber gets used to doing those kind of crazy things by making a change In their lives and I think that people are good at being one of the first people to do incredible things and be the first to ever climb the highest mountain or mountains on earth.

  • CirilloP-Sua
    4/16/2015 - 07:08 p.m.

    Gary chose for his hike, He chose the right day because it looked like a good day. It looked like a good day because it was not as windy. It was also a good day because it looked like it would be a fun day. That is how he chose the right day.

  • StoneM-Sua
    4/16/2015 - 09:24 p.m.

    The reason why Gary and his partner wait 4 weeks in till they went on the dangerous hike is from these three reasons. First, Gary want to go at the right temperate so they wouldn't be so cold. Next, Gary want to make the most out of the day so they hike more. Last, Gary want to have a good paced so they get there faster. So those are why Gary and his partner went 4 weeks later.

  • ShecklenZ-Sua
    4/16/2015 - 10:25 p.m.

    the right day is when he said this "You don't want to be up there when the wind chills are down around 50 below."

    1. because it could be too cold and they could die

    2. and because it could have avalanches. which could crush them

    3. and because They decided to climb on a 28-degree day because it was the perfect day to go

  • LiCausiM-Sua
    4/16/2015 - 10:44 p.m.

    It payed off because the tempter was 25 degrees that day. I know this because it tells you in the story that I payed off. Another reason I payed off is because is was cold and they were trying to do research. I also know this because they said the they were doing research in the story. These are some of the reasons I know those two things.

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