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?

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?

Assigned 25 times

  • HokettK-Sua
    4/16/2015 - 11:56 p.m.

    It made it the "right" day for Gary to take his hike because it was perfect weather for the hike. All the tool's and weather were correct. The hike he took is one of the ultimate hikes ever but winds can make it very dangerous. On this day the wind was nice but still dangerous, it just wasn't too bad. Everyone had their tools ready and was also suited up and the wind wasn't so bad.

  • ManiegoC-Sua
    4/17/2015 - 02:58 a.m.

    Why it was the right day for Gary to hike is because he could see the view from up top. I think that because they wanted to climb the top of the granite rooftop of New England. Another reason is that it was the challenging hike for him because he was getting tired. Also because he was like he was in the Boston Marathon when he was climbing the hills. Last, I think he made good effort doing his hike on big mountains on a good day in the snow.

  • HocogJ-Sua
    4/17/2015 - 10:27 a.m.

    He chose the right day because it wasn't that cold or windy in the midday. The weather was 28 degrees rather than a negative 50 degrees. Also the wind in the midday was only 30 mph the day they went. In 1934 scientist recorded wind gust of 231 mph. On the day that Gary went the wind gust recorded at 140 mph.

  • ManuelJ-Sua
    4/23/2015 - 12:35 a.m.

    This was the right day for Greg to hike because it is higher than 50 degrees. You should do above 50 degrees because there is mostly strong winds when it's below 50 degrees.

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