Unnecessary Death on Mt Washington

A few days ago a woman from NYC attempted to climb Mt Washington and didn’t make it.  She died on the trail. She worked in the financial district and did adventures on weekends. I honeymooned along the Appalachian Trail exactly where it climbs to the Presidential Range, peaking at Mt Washington.  That was July, 1964.  No snow remained.  There’s a caution-plaque at the foot of the trail. I use it as illustration of a certain kind of passionate speech in my Thoreau book. Somehow it seemed apt to quote it today:

CAUTION: The appalling and needless loss of life on this mountain has been due largely to the failure of robust trampers to realize that wintry storms of incredible violence occur at times even during the summer months. Rocks become ice-coated, freezing fog blinds and suffocates, winds of hurricane force exhaust the tramper, and when he stops to rest, a temperature below freezing completes the tragedy. If you are experiencing difficulty, abandon your climb! The highest wind velocities ever recorded were attained on Mt. Washington. Since the worst is yet to come, turn back without shame, before it’s too late.

That is how the caution read in the ’70s and before. With the decline of literacy and penchants for efficiency, the caution got more telegraphic and non-literary over the years. Our winter hiker would have seen a three sentence abbreviation of my version, which can be found in full in The Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide, 1976 edition, (Boston: AMC Books, 1976), p. 3.


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