Written on the Wind

Our Mt. Washington Adventure

Yes, I’d checked the weather ahead of time, and yes I know Mt. Washington has the worst weather so when it said windy with gusts of 50-70 mph, I was going to be prepared. I’d probably have to paint from inside the car, but the other bit of weather was clear skies. That was what was most important. Timing was also the other factor.

Every season has it’s own pallet of colors. Sometimes, when the timing is right and the place has a character all its own, seasons and pallets merge. That’s what I wanted from Mount Washington. The colors of Spring are soft and can be missed if you are looking too hard for the greens of Summer. The foliage of the mountains is low lying with a gentle burst of reds and oranges among the green and golden tones as though hinting at what will come in Autumn. The color of Winter, always starts with the white of snow. And what says summers coming better than blue skies and green valleys?

It was all there. From the base of the mountain road the rich greens said winter was truly over. The blue skies and fair weather clouds were beautiful, but this was Mount Washington and it wasn’t yet June. It was breezy at the base as well. We started our assent after paying the fee and placing the CD into the car stereo to listen to the history of the auto-road, the warnings about car safety and the nasty ever changing weather. I was still hopeful about being able to paint once we got up to the top. But I’m a glass half-full kinda girl. The local weather reports had likewise reported the 50-70 mph gusts on the top, but also the temperatures in the 30’s. It was in the 60’s below and breezy. As I said I was prepared, gloves hat, and bringing more layers than I could ever put on at once. I had painted outside in the winter at the same temperatures, so I knew I could handle the temperature.

Along the way we pulled off where we could and I took pictures. Each time the views became more spectacular and the wind got a bit stronger. The trees were twisted and bent. Only the beginning buds of Spring were on the trees while the valley below was bathed in the green foliage that had already taken hold. The peaks of the Presidential Range and beyond went on forever, with the sky, clouds, and mountain tops, all becoming one.

The forth pull out was my favorite. By this time we were getting a very clear idea of what kind of weather was awaiting us on top. Also at this height there were no more trees. Anything that tried to reach skyward was scarred by a constant battle with the wind that left its limbs stunted and leaning leeward. We were in the alpine area with a wide variety of mosses and low growing plants. The colors were beautiful, rich and deep but often overshadowed by massive rocks and stunning vistas. But these were the colors I sought. By themselves, maybe they would be less appealing but place them in the foreground of peaks dotted with patches of snow and you have captured that window when the seasons merge. The rocky foreground was the icing on the cake from a compositional stand point.

By the next pullout it was clear that even painting inside the car was a long shot. The car was rocking under the force of the wind. I was careful not to get too close to the edge of a slope for fear of getting blown over. Getting in and out of the car to take pictures became a two step process. I needed to use two hands to hold the car door open enough to get in and out. Once out of the car Rick would hand me my camera. The same was repeated in reverse to get back in.

The final pullout before the top was a small parking area that was nearly full. Not all these folks were your average tourists however. I noticed a young man standing by his truck in ski gear, boots, pants, polls. Rick reminded me that hikers often use ski polls, yea dear, but not ski boots. As we looked around more closely we were witness to what we’d often heard about but always shuddered to think of the reality. Skiing the ravines. These are rugged folks here. There are no ski lifts, rope toes or ski patrols. The idea is, is you are fit enough to carry your gear to the ravine and walk back up, you’re fit to ski it. A rather common sense approach that has worked quite well. There have been fatalities, but they are quite rare. This is truly skiing at your own risk. While it’s not for me, and I do think they are out of their minds, I do admire them. The two pictures in this paragraph should help you get the gist of this experience. The first shows the vista, the first large patch of snow heading down the ravine is where the skiers are. The picture is taken from the parking area, so they have to walk to that point. The next picture I took with my telephoto lens. There’s a group of skiers in the upper left corner and another one on his way down. While its not something I plan on painting, it definitely added to the adventure of the day.

A short drive to the top from here pretty much confirmed I would not be painting from there. The parking didn’t give the best views and merely standing up outside the car was a challenge so I’d take as many pictures as I could and work in my studio. There is so much to paint now, I will be busy for quite some time. Tuckerman’s ravine will be one of the first oil paintings. Capturing the light shining on the far end and the shapes of the clouds across the valleys will be the target, to say nothing of the sheer beauty of the place. Stay tuned!