Mountain Medley

July 27, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

My ophthalmologist isn’t just a skilled physician - he climbs mountains and loves the Tetons. Better still, he's well-acquainted with New Hampshire’s White Mountains, having completed both his residency and a Fellowship at the New England Eye Center (Tufts). Right out of the gate that made him okay in my book.

Recently he clued me in to something about the Tetons I’d never heard of: The Lady of the Mountain, visible on Mount Moran's eastern face during the spring snowmelt. He pulled up a newspaper article to show me a photo. I was surprised to see the visage of a woman on my favorite peak. 

Who knew? Obviously somebody at the Cowboy State Daily did, but this was news to me. In the many hours I've spent gazing at Moran dressed in late-season winter white, never had I seen anything in the snow and ice other than...snow and ice.

Later, I reviewed some of my springtime images featuring Moran and sure enough, there she was. By the way, the paper claimed Moran's lady failed to make an appearance last year but my photographic evidence proves they're mistaken. 

I cropped one of my images to give you a better look at her.

And yes, she showed up this spring, too, not that I recognized her at the time. 

Now it's impossible for me not to see her.

From now on, I guarantee you'll be looking for The Lady of the Mountain whenever you come across a photo of Mount Moran decorated with snow.

Speaking of faces and Moran, have you ever noticed the black vertical stripe on the mountain's east face? It's more obvious from some vantage points and in certain types of light, so maybe you haven't. Like the Lady, though, once you're aware of it, the stripe jumps out as if it were a massive piece of duct tape. It seems out of place.

The stripe is quite large - roughly 150 feet wide - and was formed by molten magma squeezing into cracks in the existing gneiss long before the uplifting which created the Tetons. A souvenir from another time. 

Moran is also a non-conformist with its unusual flat peak, capped by the sandstone remains of an ancient seabed. There's only one other "flat top" in the entire Teton Range. 

While on the subject of mountain trivia, my beloved White Mountains in New Hampshire deserve a shout out. 

There are 13 peaks in the Presidential Range, but did you know not all of them were named for presidents? This includes Mount Jackson, which one could easily assume is a nod to the former chief executive, but no. It was named after Charles Thomas Jackson, a prominent 19th-century New Englander who made his mark as a geologist. The fact that Ralph Waldo Emerson was Jackson's brother-in-law probably didn't hurt his cause when it came to assigning names to the tallest mountains in the Whites.

Mount Washington was named for you-know-who, but at the time the mountain was first assigned that designation, he was still General George Washington: the presidency was yet to come. So technically, Mount Washington wasn't named for a president, either, but that seems nit-picky.

For those of you keeping score: first up we have Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. Mount Washington had already been designated but the explorers who, in 1820, took it upon themselves to name some of the other peaks ran out of presidents at Monroe (who was in office at the time). With two left on their list, they decided on Franklin (Ben), and Pleasant. The latter being a rather incongruent moniker, Mount Pleasant was re-christened Mount Eisenhower in 1969.

The rest of the Presidentials were named later: 

Mount Webster (Daniel)
Mount Jackson (Charles Thomas) 
Mount Pierce (Franklin) [This peak was originally known as Mount Clinton (DeWitt) - who did run for president in 1812 but is probably best known as the driving force behind the construction of the Erie Canal. Remember Clinton's Folly from a long-ago history class?] 
Mount Clay (Henry)
Mount Adams (Sam)
Mount Adams (John Quincy)

Clearly, New Hampshire has a fondness for the Adams family.

Mount Washington - also known, affectionately, as the Rock Pile - is the most topographically prominent mountain east of the Mississippi and the highest in the northeast, peaking at 6,288 feet. You can see five states, one ocean, and two countries from the summit. Those living in the western states might scoff at Mount Washington's stature, but don't throw shade at it. The mountain is truly impressive and home to some of the harshest and most erratic weather conditions on the planet. 

Three major wind patterns flow across North America, traveling unimpeded for more than one thousand miles before converging over the White Mountains. Because Mount Washington is significantly higher than the surrounding peaks, that air flow is funneled up and over its summit. End result? A severe, extreme climate. The mountain's tree line extends only to 4,400 feet, which should tell you something. Trees that do grow are flagged with branches on their leeward sides only, and there is virtually no soil above the tree line. On average, the summit experiences hurricane-force wind gusts 110 days out of the year. It's regularly socked in by fog, snow, ice, or some combination of all three.

And now you know why Mount Washington's weather is not dissimilar to what you might find on Mount Everest, or Antarctica - or even on Mars. In late February of this year the summit recorded a wind chill of minus 110 degrees. That set a new U.S. wind chill record, and was colder than the low surface temperature on Mars that same week. 

“If I had my way, the New Hampshire state quarter wouldn’t have shown the Old Man of the Mountain: it would have shown somebody being blown over while standing on Mt. Washington. With the possible exception of border-hugging liquor stores, the 'worst weather in the world' is the most New Hampshire-y thing there is."

David Brooks
Concord Monitor columnist and reporter

Happening Now

It's time for Christmas in July in York, Maine! Coinciding with the annual York Days festival, Nubble Light will be lit for one week beginning tomorrow evening at 7pm when they flip the switch. Santa will be on hand to collect toys for a toy drive, and there will be a reindeer petting zoo near the welcome center.

It'll look just as pictured below, minus the snow, of course. Ho, ho, ho!

While the Nubble has us thinking of a white Christmas, it's time to start planning ahead for winter in Yellowstone. Beginning on Tuesday (August 1) you can apply for a chance to get a snowmobile permit to access the park without a commercial guide. You'll find the lottery online at Successful applicants will be notified early in September.

COLD MOONCOLD MOONNubble Light, decorated for Christmas. Newly fallen snow from a storm just a few days before, along with an appearance by the December full moon (aka the Cold Moon), add to the festive scene. The decorations come out and the lighthouse is lit a second time each year - "Christmas in July" - beginning on the last Sunday in July and lasting for one week.

Cape Neddick
York, Maine


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