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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COMMENTS (117)
  • KageM-Jac
    3/18/2015 - 05:49 p.m.

    If I ever had the chance to do this I would because I love the snow. If I could i would even snowboard down the mountain.

  • SladeG-2
    3/18/2015 - 05:51 p.m.

    This article is about a person climbing the granite rooftop of New England. A guy named Gary gustufson is going to clump one of the tallest pearl in northeast New England. He and a partner are climbing 4,000 feet of elevation gain each day until they with reach the summit of the mountain. He explains as the Boston marathon but much harder. The environment is very intense and while climbing a high elevation, it would at to the difficulty. My opinion on this article is that I think it is very astonishing that the People will be climbing up the Mountain.

  • AbbieC-Jac
    3/18/2015 - 06:00 p.m.

    Wow! that must have been really cold to climb a 4,000 feet elevated mountain i think that its good to climb mountains because its very a good exercise to do and its healthy for you. My friends dad has also been mountain climbing and one day i would like to climb a 4,000 feet mountain.

  • sophies-4
    3/18/2015 - 07:45 p.m.

    This article is about the harshest winter on earth. On Mount Washington, the weather is very hard. The hight of the mountain is 6,288 feet. The peak in New Hampshire is known for having the harshest weather. Gary Gustafson and his partner Linda Dewey started climbing the mountain when it was 28 degrees and 30 mph. I think it would be very difficult to climb this mountain. I don't think I could ever do it.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    3/18/2015 - 08:24 p.m.

    I think that it s cool for two men climb up Mt(Mount). Washington which is the harshest winter on earth climb all the way to the top with out getting really cold on the mountain or get frostbites which is really painful if you got one on your skin out in the cold. Well if those two men climb up the mountain, I hope that they don't get hurt really badly.

  • makaylab-Koc
    3/18/2015 - 08:48 p.m.

    It was the "right day" for Gary and his partner to hike because it was 28 degrees and only 30 mph winds. One of the warmest days they would have in winter. If they would've chosen a different day perhaps when it was 50 degrees below then they would encounter 231 mph winds. That would not be a safe environment for them.

  • JackR-5
    3/18/2015 - 09:01 p.m.

    Mount Washington has a very hard winter. Wind gusts up to 230 mph, and temperatures are below freezing. Hikers want to climb this month because is the highest mountain in the East. There is several buildings on the mountain, but they are not open to the public during winter. Hikers must wear snowboots, and use an axe. Only the bravest hikers do this. I think that it would be horrifying climbing up ice. The people who can do this are amazing!

  • ConnerC-Kut
    3/19/2015 - 07:42 a.m.

    I am surprised that a harsh, wintery environment is located in New England. If I was Gary and had to decide to go in 28 degree weather, I would most likely choose NOT to go on that hike. Also, 231 mph winds! I would not want to be there on that day. Especially if some structures need to be chained down, and if those chains will most likely break or snap. What I'm trying to say, I do not want to be there!

  • emmar1208
    3/19/2015 - 10:33 a.m.

    I can not believe that people climb mountains like this. This is really extreme. I know I would not be able to do this, congrats for them

  • Zacharyc1242
    3/19/2015 - 10:44 a.m.

    I think Gary Gustafson could climb a Mt bigger than Mount Washington. If he could overcome the challenges he faced, he could accomplish anything.

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