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, straining from nearly five hours of climbing and 4,000 feet of elevation gain, plead for rest before he spies the top of an antenna on the summit. Soon, the crampons of his mountaineering boots are once again digging into the icy terrain. He and a partner are about to make the final push 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 an average of once every three days during the winter.

"If you're a winter hiker in the White Mountains, 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 with a 28-degree day and midday winds of 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, where scientists recorded 231 mph winds 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 by a 140 mph gust earlier this winter. 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 to 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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  • EvanM-Jac
    3/18/2015 - 12:27 p.m.

    This is very interesting. If he climbed 4,000 feet in 28 degree weather i wonder if he was hot from being exhausted or cold from the temperature?

  • DC1024Kaiser
    3/18/2015 - 12:58 p.m.

    it would be had for these kinds of weathere and that it would cost so much too get the supplies to live there. I would just live in florida

  • CarsonF-Jac
    3/18/2015 - 01:17 p.m.

    No i would not be able to be in the coldest/dangerous ever. I hate the cold and i cant even stand 50 degrees weather, let alone -50 or higher. LOL

  • JaelaJ-Jac
    3/18/2015 - 02:47 p.m.

    There are so many things that shocked me in this article. The first one is that Gary and Linda, his wife, waited for the perfect day to climb. Their perfect day was 28 degrees! The second one is that Ryan Eyestone made a solo climb! And it only took him a few hours to hike and see the amazing arctic world...all by himself. The last thing is that these people climb a 6,228 feet tall mountain! I think these mountain climbers are amazing.

  • keytonf-And
    3/18/2015 - 02:59 p.m.

    i learned that there is a guy that like to climb mountains. Then i learned that he has climbed many mountains as been through someof the worst weather. And e has broken some bones whille doing so

  • briahnaa-And
    3/18/2015 - 03:32 p.m.

    This article is about how two people climbed one of the mountains that has one of the coldest winds up to 231 mph and how they chose how to pick the day to climb it and their experience.

  • ethanst-And
    3/18/2015 - 03:40 p.m.

    The day Gary Chose for his hike was the right day because the temperature was 28 degrees Fahrenheit and winds of only 30 mph so the temperature and wind wouldn't both them on their hike to the summit.

  • carsonp-And
    3/18/2015 - 03:44 p.m.

    This article is about a man named Gary Gustafson climbing to the top of a summit. He says that it is like Heart Break hill on the Boston marathon and it is hard to breath so high up because it is a 4000 elevation gain.

  • brooket-And
    3/18/2015 - 03:47 p.m.

    The day Gary chose was "right" because the temperature was warm for hiking and the wind was slow as well. That is what made Gary's hiking day "right".

  • AinsleyW-Kut
    3/18/2015 - 05:17 p.m.

    It really tells you something about their personalities. They most be brave, daring, and tough. I know it would take a lot of effort to do something like that and patience considering that they waited a while just to get the perfect temperature. It most be crazy cold up there. it's weird because we think we have bad weather like last winter but up there the winds can get 50 below zero! they even held a record for 62 years of winds that were 231 mph in 1934! It's also a commitment, it took them 5 hours to climb up to 4,000 feet of elevation! They must've really worked hard at this and to some people might not think so but people that do things like this are inspirations. They've worked hard, been patient, was tough, and most of all they've made such a big commitment to this.

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