It can be very dangerous. The mountain is a foothill compared with western peaks, but it sits at the convergence of three storm tracks, along which weather systems and wind hurtle seaward. Barely 6,000 feet, Mount Washington is the largest obstacle blocking this crush of weather, an atmospheric pinch point, a boulder in a fast moving stream that churns wind into white water.
During summer, millions of people swarm into the White Mountains when the weather is fine—solid New England fare with cool nights and warm days. Perhaps some rain. Occasionally, hail. The mountains resemble anthills then, with crowds streaming up their steep trails. Others ride a small cog railway to the summit or take the winding eight-mile road. At the top of Washington there is a parking lot, often humming with motorcycles. There is also a snack bar, a museum, a weather observatory, and a large observation deck.
Winter strips away the crowds. Another Mount Washington appears, blasted by weather as fierce as almost anywhere on the planet. "Stop," the signboards warn. They are hammered into the earth by the trails leading up into the alpine zone that crowns the mountain. "The area ahead has the worst weather in America. Many have died there from exposure, even in summer. Turn back now if the weather is bad." Temperatures may drop to minus 30°F or lower, and wind screams over the rock. In April 1934 the world's wind-speed record was set here at 231 miles an hour. During winter, only a handful of meteorologists and others remain on the summit, bunkered inside the concrete observatory.
The combination of notorious storms and easy accessibility makes it one of the continent's deadliest peaks, and this has fixed it in regional folklore, shaping thought and action around the mountain the way the mountain shapes weather. It is a regular star in television forecasts, a coffee shop conversation starter, a murderer.
Of course, for some, all this is just a lure.