Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Trip to the Summit

First off, I don't want anyone to get too excited by mentioning a trip to the summit. We're still a couple weeks away from being able to open to the public to the summit. I was in a 4WD stage with chains, and it was...well...interesting.

The last trip I'd made up the Road was on Saturday, and I wanted to get pictures of the Crew's progress on Cragway. As I reached the 4 Mile Post, it was immediately clear that a great deal of melting had occurred since then. The surrounding peaks had lost a great deal of snow and much less ice and snow was encroaching upon the sides of the Road. However, the temperatures were much lower than they had been the prior couple days. Dramatically lower. In fact, the summit temperature was in the mid twenties at noon, after climbing from a low of 13 overnight. Due to this temperature change, the Road Crew had decided that the best course of action was to wait for temperatures to rise before taking a look at the culverts. With the sub-freezing temperatures, they were certain that they would need to free up some culverts they had already opened, but it wasn't worth trying to open them up with daytime temperatures at the base hovering in the forties.

With the Road Crew working on projects at the base, I knew I wouldn't be getting any photos of them in action. But, I knew that they had broken through all the snow drifts not only on Cragway but also on the 6 Mile and 7 Mile. I was anxious to get some photos and report on the road conditions. All the snow is gone from the road surface on the 5 Mile. But, that section is very muddy and the water bars are deep. Therefore, it's not exactly a speedy trip, but the Road is holding up very well. Once around Cragway turn, I was amazed at how fast it has melted. Granted, it's still quite tall. The Crew worked straight through the weekend, and I wouldn't be surprised if they noticed a difference in the size of the drift every hour. So, unfortunately, no epic pictures of Cragway this year, but it's still fairly impressive. And, just like the 5 Mile, Cragway is quite muddy. After stopping for the requisite photos, I kept heading up through the 6 Mile. The newer pavement along the 6 Mile was welcome as driving through muddy water bars really slows things down. Of course, a drive on the Road at this time of year is never easy. With temperatures hovering at freezing, the ice on the 6 and 7 Mile was thick and deep in pockets. Traveling upbound with chains was a bit testing, but I really wanted to get images of the entire length of the Road. Plus, there aren't a lot of place to turn around. By contrast, I reached the summit, and it was completely bare. It's obvious that the winds just don't like snow to stay on the summit. I snapped a photo of the top and headed down.

The trip down was a different story. Driving down over the glacial ice was difficult. Not only is the Road narrowed by the ice on the sides, but with the cold temperatures the ice on the Road was solid. Really solid. I took it very slow, and thankfully, I don't have a hair-raising adventure story to recount. Plus, I don't think I could have lived with the embarrassment of having to call the Road Crew to come rescue me. Needless to say, it's clear that we still have a long way to go to get open to the summit.

Here are all the photos from Wednesday.

Speaking of opening, please stay tuned right here to our blog for all the updates. Per usual, we're going to try to get open to above treeline as soon as we can. Still a lot of work to do below treeline to remove sand and debris from the Road. It's a great trip to that point, and we hope you can join us soon.

- Ryan

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Bulldozer is Saved!

Here's some video of the Crew working to extricate the bulldozer on Friday.

With the work of the backhoe, the bulldozer got back to just level enough for the operator to drive it out.

Over the weekend, the free bulldozer was able to clear all the way through Cragway. The Road Crew is now working on the 6 Mile.

More pics coming soon.

- Ryan

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Note on Visibility

Yesterday was an epic day on Mt. Washington. In the words of our Road Foreman, John, "It was not a place people should be." The combination of sub-freezing temperatures, high winds and blowing snow made the conditions extremely difficult. It was the first day this spring we'd had any kind of setback. In fact, on Wednesday, the Crew had actually moved the backhoe and the ice drill above Cragway. The bulldozer had cleared enough of the Cragway Drift for the 4WD pick up with chains to bring the ice drill up near the 6-mile post. All the culverts were open, and things were looking good. But, the mountain decided things were moving too smoothly. So, the weather came in, and the visibility went to zero. John described it best: "Take pieces of white paper. Cover your entire windshield with them, two or three sheets thick. Now get in and drive." Needless to say, it was really tough to see anything.

Now, let's talk about driving a bulldozer on the Mt. Washington Auto Road. In short: it's tough. Think of Cragway Drift as a layer cake—a multi-layered cake. The bulldozer needs to scrape away each layer, one layer at a time until it eventually reaches the road surface. Sounds simple enough. But, the layer cake is tilted. Get to close to the edge, and you slide away. Did I mention that the Cragway Drift is just below 5000 feet? So, take your tilted layer cake and try to peel off a layer with you eyes closed. This was the situation on Thursday. With no visibility, you can't really see the edge of the layer. That's when this happens:

Here's the good news: No one was hurt. No fluids leaked out of the bulldozer. Today was beautiful, and the Crew was able to dig it out.

So, between the bulldozer mishap and the new snow that fell, progressed slowed dramatically today. So much snow fell yesterday afternoon that the backhoe was completely buried this morning, and now that the bulldozer is free, it is basically starting all over again on Cragway. New snow was on the road all the way down to below 4000 feet. The mountain once again reminded us that it's still winter up high.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

New Bicknell's Thrush Tours

The Mt. Washington Auto Road announces five guided Bicknell’s Thrush Tours in 2009. These special opportunities will be offered in June and will provide birders the chance to spot the rare Bicknell’s Thrush.

More often heard than seen, Bicknell’s Thrush is an extremely rare species with very limited breeding grounds. In fact, in the northeastern United States, Bicknell’s Thrush has been found in only two primarily locations: Mt. Katahdin in Maine and Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. The unique yet harsh climate is just what the birds prefer due to the combination of low vegetation and abundant moisture.

Because of the uncommon access provided by the Mt. Washington Auto Road, the new Bicknell’s Thrush Tours will give guests a chance to glimpse these elusive birds. And, they are quite elusive. Even though they are often heard along the Auto Road, they are rarely seen. However, the Bicknell’s Thrush Tours will leave early from the base of Mt. Washington, even before the Auto Road opens to the general public, in order to limit the amount of traffic on the Auto Road and to increase the chances of a sighting.

Bicknell’s Thrush Tour Details
Dates: June 6, 10, 13, 14 and 17
Time: Tours depart from the base of the Mt. Washington Auto Road at 5:30am. Tours last approximately 2 hours.
Cost: $45
Advanced reservations required.

For complete details or to book a tour, contact Mary Power at 603.466.3988 or email.

Photo courtesy Vermont Center for EcoStudies.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Onto Cragway!

Just a quick update from the day's progress: the bulldozer was able to get up onto Cragway Drift and start clearing out the snow. Not sure just yet how deep it is's deep. Early estimates put the drift at 18-20 feet. So, even with a bulldozer, it's going to take some time.

On the culvert front, all the culverts up to the 5 Mile Post have been drilled and cleared.

Great progress all around.


Rain in the forecast for the next two days. Perhaps some snow, too. So, we have to hope that culverts don't refreeze. Never fun to back track, but that's often how it goes on Mt. Washington. We'll be looking to the skies and make decisions as we go.

- Ryan

Friday, April 17, 2009

Culvert Clearing Video, Anyone?

Why, yes. I did put together a video after yesterday's culvert opening excursion.

Did I mention there are 115 culverts on the Auto Road?

- Ryan

Clearing Culverts

Here are photos of the crew clearing out culverts along the 5 Mile.

Each spring the Road Crew needs to clear the ice from the 115 culverts along the entire length of the Auto Road. Of course, in order to clear them, they first have to find them. Luckily, the crew has a "playbook" with a page for each culvert, and we mark each with a 20-30 foot pole in the fall. Not to mention, the Road Crew has an amazing knowledge of the Auto Road done to every rock and pebble. It's impressive to hear them talk about locating these culverts.

Clearing the culverts is critical because the water needs to run under the road surface and not over it. Erosion is the battle we fight each spring. And, so far this spring, the battle is going well. We'll just keep on moving up.

- Ryan

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Road Clearing Video

Here's the first video of the spring highlighting the Road Crew's work.

More pics and video from the culvert clearing extravaganza on the way tomorrow.

- Ryan

Working on the 5 Mile

The Road Crew has lucked out with great weather the past couple days and even more in the forecast. They've made good progress up the mountain and are working on the 5 Mile. To be more specific, all the culverts are cleared to the three above the S Turn. You know, that spot right there. Seriously though, that means they've reached just above 4.5 miles on the Road. Good stuff.

The Road is 95% snow-free below 2 Mile Park, but then the snow creeps in from the side all the way to the S Turn. At Twin Bridges, the ice is close to 12" thick. So, the deep snow is cleared, but plenty of clearing to go. The crew is still running chains the whole way. John is running the grader on the Road today with hope of opening up some holes and clearing the ice away. Continued sunshine would be a big help, too.

The bulldozer is still working on the 5 Mile. There is A LOT of snow to still clear. And, that means A LOT of culverts still left to find. But, work is steady and progress is good.

Here are photos from today.

Video update and culvert update to follow.
Stay tuned.

- Ryan

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ice and Snow

It feels a little odd to be writing about ice and snow depths in April, but that's the life of a Road Crew. The good news is that below halfway, we've found less snow than we usually do. The deepest depth was about 18", which was found around the Twin Bridges. But, we have found plenty of ice. In some places, the ice has been as thick as 15". Not ideal for clearing the Road, but it means that the road surface has been well protected throughout the winter.

At this point, the bulldozer has cleared all the way to the winter cutoff—about 4.5 miles. Now, cleared by the bulldozer doesn't mean that the road surface is bare. Quite the contrary. The bulldozer clears the majority of the snow, but it's not like plowing your driveway. We're still using chains to travel on the Road.

On the culvert front, all the culverts are open to halfway, and the water is flowing just were it should be.

Progress is steady and good. In the words of John, our Road Foreman, "Life is good."

- Ryan

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Moving on Up

Two days of work in the books, and things are looking up. Literally.

The bulldozer has reached the 3 mile post and has cleared the deep snow to that point. It's not exactly plowed like your driveway, but the big stuff is out of the way. Thus far, the Road Crew has found less than average snow cover on the Road, which bodes well for our progress. Of course, snow was falling as the crew headed down yesterday afternoon. Perhaps, Mt. Washington has a sense of humor.

The battle with the frozen culverts has also begun. The crew has been able to clear a number already, but there are 115 of them, so it takes some time to say the least.

I'll be posting more updates as the Road Crew makes their way up the mountain. I'm planning on headed up next week to get some pictures and video.

- Ryan

Monday, April 6, 2009

And So It Begins!

The true beginning of spring on Mt. Washington is marked by the day that crews begin to clear the ice and snow from the Mt. Washington Auto Road. And, that day is tomorrow. The bulldozer arrived this morning, and the crew is getting the equipment ready today.

Unlike last year, there is very little snow on the Road below halfway, so the crew is optimistic that work will progress quickly. Stay tuned to our blog to keep track of the status of the Road as we look towards a May opening. Of course, the mountain always throws a few curve balls at us, so just like snowflakes, no two springs are alike. Needless to say, it's never boring.

If you'd like to see more about the Road opening process, click here. This page documents the process from 2008.

I'll have another update soon, as work gets underway.

- Ryan