Decatur attorney Charles Langham spent seven days on the trails of the White Mountains. Mount Washington is in the clouds 200 days a year on average, he said. Langham got lucky the day he hiked Mount Washington, with good weather and clear visibility - "conditions that are extremely rare," he said. The day before he reached the summit, wind gusts reached 73 mph.
Decatur attorney tackles unpredictable Mount Washington - where the strongest winds on earth were measured - on a good day
By Ronnie Thomas
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Anyone who has hiked Mount Washington knows how breathtaking it can be. And that it can take your breath away.
Located in Coos County, N.H., in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, it peaks at almost 6,300 feet, and the weather is unpredictable. The strongest winds ever measured at the earth's surface — 188 mph — struck Mount Washington on April 12, 1934, with one gust reaching 231 mph.
Decatur attorney Charles Langham and two hiking buddies caught the mountain on a good day.
"It was incredibly wonderful weather," said Langham, accompanied by Huntsville attorney Patrick Tuten and Jackie Wolfe, a probation officer for Madison County. "We were lucky. Some go up there and can't see farther than their hands in front of them."
Langham said the day before they reached the summit, clouds had the mountain socked in with wind gusts of 73 mph, and the day after gusts reached more than 50 mph.
"We had light winds, temperatures in the middle 60s and fabulous visibility, conditions that are extremely rare," he said. "The mountain is in the clouds on average 200 days a year. Supposedly, we could see the Atlantic Ocean, more than 100 miles away. Anyway, they told me that's what that clear blue line I was looking at was."
Langham, 58, said the summit was somewhat of a disappointment because it was crowded with people who had either ridden up on the cog railroad or driven up in their vehicles. The cog railroad, which runs 31/2 miles to the mountaintop, was completed in 1869, the first railway of its kind in the U.S.
"The fact that we had to expend so much energy and effort hiking to the summit seemed trivialized by their easy access," Langham said.
He and his partners spent the first week of September traversing a portion of the Appalachian Trail that winds through the White Mountains, with a goal of climbing as many of the Presidential Mountains as possible.
Langham, who started hiking in the mid-1980s, had hiked in Montana, Colorado and California but was heading into the White Mountains for the first time. The journey began Aug. 31 as the trio flew from Huntsville to Manchester, N.H. They spent the next seven days on the trail, starting with Mount Garfield, which rises to 4,500 feet.
Langham said the climb was tough because he foolishly carried a backpack weighing in excess of 50 pounds as compared to about 35 pounds each for Tuten and Wolfe.
"They chose a freeze-dried packet of food, which requires only the addition of hot water from our WhisperLite stoves for a meal," Langham said. "I chose meals ready to eat. The MRE's are foil packets of pre-cooked food, such as beef stew, that merely need to be heated in boiling water to be eaten. The drawback is the MRE's weigh considerably more."
He said the trek down Mount Garfield was true to the "harrowing descent" the guidebook described.
"Some of the boulders along the trail were large and jagged," he said. "The most notable distinction between the Appalachian Trail in the Northeast and in the Great Smoky Mountains are innumerable boulders and large rocks deposited by glaciers that moved through thousands of years ago."
After some tough scrambling, the trio arrived at the Garfield campground, where they spent their first night. As they sat around chatting with other hikers, a group of recent Boston College graduates arrived, Langham said.
"I was feeling pretty good about my 5-mile hike until I discovered they had hiked 14 miles that day," he said.
As each day of their hike passed, the summit of Mount Washington drew closer. On the fifth day, the trail took them back to the Crawford Center near the trailhead, where they re-supplied their backpacks from their rented sport utility vehicle.
Langham took the opportunity to remove some of the MRE's and replace them with the much-lighter freeze-dried fare. After lunch at the center's cafeteria, Langham showered at a cost of $3 for the first three minutes and 50 cents for each additional minute, plus $3 for a towel.
"I put in four dollars worth of quarters for a five-minute shower, which turned out to be about a dollar short of what I needed," he said.
But refreshed, Langham and his partners headed out for their ultimate goal. Along the way to Mount Washington, they bagged several more of the Presidential Mountains, including Pierce (4,310 feet) and Eisenhower (4,780 feet). They reached the precipice of Monroe (5,384 feet).
"We could see the Lakes of the Clouds hut in the saddle far below," he said, "the only hut for which we had made reservations. We were excited about the prospect of the 'croo' serving us dinner and breakfast."
The hut "croo," or crew, entertain as hosts.
Because they reached the hut in record time and the weather was good, they decided to take on Mount Washington that afternoon. They returned to the hut for dinner, slept in bunks and had breakfast the next morning.
On their last full day, they tackled the summits of Mount Jefferson (5,712 feet), Mount Adams (5,774 feet) and Mount Madison (5,367 feet).
Friday, Sept. 7, they returned to the Crawford Center, spent Saturday sight-seeing in Portland, Maine, and eating lobster, flew home Sunday and were back at work Monday.
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