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Mount Washington Observatory New Year's Eve and Winter EduTrips soar above the treeline

Trip participants bid the summit farewell and prepare to board the snow tractor to head back down (click for larger version)
January 20, 2011
The event kicked off the New Year and the beginning of the Mount Washington Observatory's (MWOBS) Winter Summit Adventures on top of the tallest peak in the Northeast. This was the second annual New Year's Eve fundraiser, led by Michelle Cruz, Mount Washington Observatory education director and her husband, Dave Lottmann, an experienced climber. John Bauhs and Ed O'Malley, Observatory volunteers, put on a culinary extravaganza.

"It was a blast," says Michelle Cruz. "We had nine people sign up this year, members and non-members ranging in ages. Everyone was up for an experience on top of Mount Washington," she adds. It was an opportunity for people to walk around the summit, talk about hiking the mountain and learn about the behind the scenes operation at the weather station. You see, the MWOBS operating under the laws of New Hampshire is a private non-profit scientific and educational institution, which promotes understanding of weather and climate. MWOBS maintains the weather station at the summit. Cruz says the summit was in the fog New Years' Eve day, it was weirdly warm, in the low thirties, but the fog cleared just in time for sunset. Guests, all fourteen, staff included, and then sat down to enjoy a nine-course meal.

The dinner began with a salad of smoked salmon and lentils, followed by cauliflower soup with cumin and roquefort. The third course was shrimp primavera with roasted garlic sauce; the fourth course roasted quail with grapefruit and green peppercorn, followed by roasted tenderloin of pork with mustard sauce and dried fruits. To cleanse the palette, the sixth course was assorted fresh sorbets, chased with medallions of venison with a confit of wild mushrooms and red wine sauce. Course eight was introduced with assorted cheeses and the finale was mango tarte tatin with vanilla sauce and coconut ice cream snowballs. The courses were paired with wine and chef Bauhs presented each course with descriptions. It was a leisurely meal beginning around 7 p.m. and culminating at 10 p.m.

Great food: great conversation. "We shared stories of mountaineering. One guest has climbed six of the seven highest peaks and is preparing for Everest," says Cruz. He also gave a presentation. "It was just like hanging out with friends and family," says Cruz. Guests share a passion for the mountain, appreciation and support of the Observatory and staff.

The idea was born from two volunteers.

Bauhs, who is a trained chef living in Washington, D.C., teamed up with Ed O'Malley from New Jersey to put together the culinary event. "Each shift a volunteer cooks a meal for the staff. Last year Bauhs, who is a gourmet chef, found out he'd be on the summit New Year's Eve and said let's do a fund raiser," explains Cruz. O'Malley was scheduled to work, too. They put the dinner together and seven people signed up, this year we had nine says Cruz. She adds that they plan to offer the New Year's Eve celebration next year which includes the gourmet meal, lunch, the day of, breakfast the following day, a ride up and down in the snow tractor, overnight accommodations in the Observatory's bunkroom and all educational content. Bauhs and O'Malley will work together again.

The adventure is not for the faint of heart. To access the summit during the winter, guests ride up in the snow tractor. "On an ideal day, no high snow drifts, no high winds and good visibility, the trip takes over an hour. Times when snow is falling the trip can take two to three hours," says Cruz. One must always be prepared for the worst scenario when summitting the highest peak, even in a snow tractor. "We have to be especially careful of the wind chill and concern for the human factor, wouldn't want to expose humans in some conditions," says Cruz.

There are times when conditions dictate that guests may have to hike out. "Participants must be prepared and be in good physical health. This is one of the requirements to attend New Year's Eve celebration and other overnight and day EduTrips, says Cruz. There are health forms to complete before taking part, a release form and an equipment list for guidance and packing advice. Don't forget: "It is Mount Washington, we have to be careful what we do," says Cruz.

So far the trips have gone smoothly, says Cruz and there are others to choose from during upcoming the winter months. Trips run to April. Want to know some of the challenges Bauhs and O'Malley faced cooking a gourmet dinner at an altitude of 6288 feet? Check out Bauhs' overnight workshop on Alpine Culinary. Other EduTrips, both day and overnight, include: Weather Basics, Global Climate Change, Winter Mountaineering Essentials, Outdoor Photography, Winter Survival, Winter Navigation above Treeline. There are trips for educators, too. Visit http://www.mountwashington.org/education/ for more information, cost and a complete schedule. Cruz says there are still some spaces left for winter trips.

Reaching the summit of Mount Washington in winter is special. During the summer, a quarter million people visit, while during the winter months only a few hundred access the top of the Rockpile. "The EduTrips offer a very unique way to visit the summit, otherwise wise forbidden unless you are a climber," says Cruz. "Folks are thrilled they can have the winter experience."

It is a love for Mount Washington too that lures winter visitors. "What I love about Mount Washington is everyone has the same interest. They want to be on the summit at the Observatory. When you get together at dinner, it is always great. It's especially nice to see everyone exchanging information at the end. That's how John and Ed got together," says Cruz smiling.

For more information visit the web site: www.mountwashington.org or e-mail Michelle Cruz at mcruz@mountwashington.org.

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