The winter of 1969 was a winter, that if you survived it, you did not forget it. At Pinkham Notch the largest single snowstorm ever occurred. When you select Pinkham Notch as a place to live, you have to like winter, lots of winter. Winter in the White Mountains of New Hampshire usually comes early and hangs on late into the spring. It could be defined more vividly as “Nine Months of Winter and Three Months of Hard Sledding”. Snow is measured at the Pinkham Notch Camp outside the administration building where a small co-op weather station with recording rain gauge and 6 foot snow stick are located. Weather has been recorded at Pinkham Notch for a long time. The legendary Joe Dodge, former Huts Manager and one of the founders of the present Mt. Washington Observatory established the co-op weather station. The location of the weather station had recently been moved, a few hundred feet, to allow construction of the new Trading Post now called a Visitors Center.
Pinkham Notch was a scene of much activity during 1968 and 1969. The Appalachian Mountain Club was in the middle of a complete rebuilding of the complex. The staging for a 100-ton airlift to Lake of the Clouds Hut for a new addition was also underway. That airlift was scheduled for late March with a crew to be in place before that time. With all of this going on, as well as the normal operation of the guest lodge and other public facilities, it was a busy place.
A few of the facts from the 1968-1969 records
October 1968 was not unusual with some rain and traces of snow remaining on the ground for four days of the month. November was not the best month to manage a large construction project. Precipitation measured 8.05 inches during the month. Almost all of that precipitation was in the form of wet sloppy snow. Much of that snow melted but at the end of the month there was 10 inches remaining on the ground. Now comes December with snow falling on 20 days of the month. In December snow is prayed for, as it is the start of good skiing and a lot of other outdoor pursuits. Well, the prayers were answered for the outdoor enthusiasts, but not for those on the front line of the construction. It snowed half of the days of the month. Precipitation was 8.73 inches most in the form of snow. The snow kept coming with 17 inches falling one day. Total snowfall for the month was staggering 66.5 inches. The month ended with 48 inches on the ground. That amount of snow made for perfect outdoor winter activity, lots of shovel work for the crew and a lot of grief for the construction workers.
January 1969 continued the trend with 4.37 inches of precipitation. It was pretty much all snow with a bit of mixed precipitation late in the month. Snowfall that month was 31.2 inches. It snowed on two thirds of the days of the month. Snow depth reached 73 inches about the middle of the month and settled back to finish the month with 70 inches on the ground. The snow gauge connected with the weather station was extended another 4 feet. We thought that would be enough but we were wrong. February came along with an impressive 12.75 inches of precipitation. It was, clearly, a big month for snow with 130.0 inches of snow falling. This raised the snow depth at the end of the month to just under 14 feet, or to the middle of many upper story windows. March was a little less extreme but still impressive with 5.22 inches of precipitation for another 50.5 inches of snow. At the start of the month there was 145 inches of snow on the ground. With normal settlement and warmer temperatures on several days, the month ended with 80 inches of snow. April was the beginning of the end of the onslaught as only 1.51 inches of precipitation fell, very little for April. Most of this was rain and with temperatures getting warmer, the snowpack just whittled itself away a little at a time and at the end of the month only 16 inches remained. May saw the end of the snow. Warm weather and very little precipitation during the first third of the month took care of the snow and by the 11th the snows of winter of 69 were history.
Largest Snowstorm Ever for New EnglandThe big storm started after a reprieve of 4 days without snow. The morning of February 24th and through most of the day snow fell but mostly as light flurries with only a trace of new snow recorded. This flurry activity turned into serious snow as we went into the 25th. There was 8 feet of snow cover at that time and there was no place to put anymore. The lack of storage space made no difference to mother nature who, clearly, felt we needed more. The snow kept right on falling and when the day ended, we had recorded another 21 inches. This put our depth up to 113 inches on the ground. We plowed in shifts with our pick-up truck and front-end loader. The crew shoveled, had coffee, shoveled, had lunch, shoveled, had a beer, shoveled and shoveled and shoveled and the beer supply was getting dangerously low. It was hard to keep ahead and we weren’t making much headway if in fact we were making any headway at all. Then came the next day, the 26th, it again snowed all day and another 24.5 inches of snow piled up to give us a snow depth of 138 inches. We were working around the clock and were clearly losing ground. What was a small parking lot with just enough space for the guests was no parking lot at all. The state highway department worked three plows non-stop. Their crews were working 6 hours and napping two. They too were losing the battle. I finally threw in the towel at midnight to catch a few hours rest. I backed the plow truck up into the driveway of the manager’s residence facing downhill so as to get a running start when I again started plowing. The rear of that building was kept plowed out as it provided access to the fire hydrant. During those hours a lot more snow fell. On the 27th the snow increased to extra heavy in the morning and then continued as light snow with a total 27 inches recorded. That brought the depth on the ground to 164 inches. I got up at 4:00 am and started up the plow. It was back and forth a few times and then gave it all it had and it went for 30 feet. The truck was stuck and useless. I wallowed down through the waist deep snow to the path between the Administration Building and the old Trading Post. There was a wide wallow in the path that indicated that Melvin, the cook, was up and at least was headed in the right direction. I followed the wallow to the kitchen, had some coffee, chatted with the Melvin for a few minutes and set about getting the crew up to start the shovel brigade so the guests could get over for breakfast. It was no easy job as we could hardly throw the snow high enough to get it out of the way. Work they did and a path was cleared. It was apparent that breakfast was all the guests would be able to do. The main highway was closed in one direction and marginal in the other direction. It took 4 hours with the loader to make a slot to where the truck was stuck. The next day, the 28th, we were spared as very little snow fell. My wife, Mary, checked out the area around the camp on her cross-country skis. She was able to observe my oldest son taking his afternoon nap by peering in through the window of his second floor bedroom. The final fall of 4.5 inches was recorded on that day. Lodge guests were out trying to identify which hump in the snow represented their automobile. There is always a difference in time as the recorded record is taken at about 7:00 am each day. The record shows that the storm actually started on the 24th at about 6:00 am. And continued, non-stop, until the 27th at 2:00 pm. During that period, a record, 76 inches of snow fell.
The crew burned a lot of calories manning the shovels. Those calories were replaced with an endless supply of doughnuts and brownies from the kitchen. The state highway crew also stopped in each time they made a southbound trip. The huge amount of snow falling presented a real challenge to keep all exits from buildings open. That depth was well above the first floor of the buildings. Before the big storm, we shoveled out the total window of each room. After the storm ended, we shoveled out only the upper half of each window. To do that we had to excavate a hole 6 feet deep by each window. The fire escape door in the rear of the lodge was now a ramp heading out for 20 feet and up for ten feet. Shoveling the flat roof of the lodge rear was hopeless, as there was no place to put the newly accumulated 76” snowfall. With windows being shoveled out below and the rear fire door to keep open made for a hopeless situation. Carl Blanchard, maintenance superintendent, and I decided to buy a snow blower. We measured the doors in the lodge to be certain that the one to be purchased would fit through the doors as that would be the only way to get it up on the roof. Carl went to North Conway and purchased the snow blower. We walked it through the building and out on to the roof. Then we shoveled snow into the blower. We shoveled and shoveled and finally it was clear. Other roofs had to be cleared as well. The roof of the new Trading Post being constructed a few feet away from the old one avalanched and filled the void between the buildings with over 15 feet of solidly packed snow. That avalanche broke through the windows in the TP dining room. For a time a tunnel marked the entrance into the lodge as well as the basement entrance to the new Trading Post now called a Visitors Center. The front porch of the old Trading Post was a tunnel exiting at both ends into narrow paths.
Ty early March, the Pinkham parking lot that usually could accommodate about 225 cars could accommodate only 40 cars. To ready the lot for the coming spring ski season, I hired two large bulldozers and they worked for 5 days to clear the snow from the lot. There were few places to put the snow without damage to the trees. In places where we could put the snow, it was ramped up to a depth of over 30 feet. Avalanche danger was very real and many avalanches did occur. In Tuckerman Ravine one avalanche came down from Lion Head and crossed the fire trail well below the shelter. A large avalanche occurred on Mt. Madison. It started well above timberline and continued well below timberline. On some of the upper slopes of Wildcat as well as on the Boott Spur, as viewed from Pinkham Notch, open snow covered slopes appeared. These same slopes during a normal winter would be well covered with trees. The potential for a major avalanche reaching the camp was a real concern.
The state highway workers tried their best with the longest wing plows they had to move the banks back. A huge airport snow blower was tried but with little success. The machine moved the tapered bank back a few feet only to have it filled in the next snowstorm. The road was less than the usual two lanes much of the winter and there were no shoulders. In spite of the huge amount of snow, the road was closed for only a brief period during part of one night. Navigation on the narrow road was a sobering and challenging experience. Tissue paper would not fit in the space between a car and the blade of the snowplow when you came upon one and had to pass.
The Berlin Reporter published a snow supplement on March 5th after the big storm. A few of the captions from some of the pictures add to the story of this great winter:
Conservation Officer Paul Doherty measured the snow on Gorham hill at his home as 228 inches having fallen thus far this winter. Last week’s storm represented 56 inches of that total.
The Notre Dame Arena collapsed just before a game killing one person and injuring many others.
At Brown Company a metal warehouse collapsed on tons of finished paper.
On the Berlin Gorham Road a large metal building collapsed.
Many two way streets in Berlin and Gorham were a marginal one lane.
People tied ribbons on their car antennas and crept slowly at every intersection.
At the Wildcat Ski Area, the Gondola touched the slopes at one point. The T-bar was a slot with ten-foot banks on each side. The ski school building roof was level with the adjacent slope.
A picture of the old Trading Post at Pinkham Notch shows 15- foot banks on either side of a narrow path from the road to the front door and snow to the middle of the windows of the upper floor.
Huge quantities of snow fell on the summit of Mt Washington. The Mt. Washington Observatory recorded 564.8 inches or almost 39 feet of snow over the 8 months. Snow never hangs around long enough to reach much depth on the summit. Winds relocated that snow to the lower slopes where snow reached record depths. I made a trip in early March from the summit to Crawford Notch via Lakes of the Clouds and Mizpah huts. From the summit to Lakes there were no cairns showing and in the fog, it was only by knowing the slope of the land that you found your way. The entire trail from Lakes of the Clouds to Mizpah hut was one open slope with none of the scrub trees showing. At Mizpah the snow sloped upward from the peak of the roof to the trail on Clinton. The depth at the hut was over 20 feet. The top of an upper floor window did show on the backside. Fortunately, that building was designed to withstand a 200-pound snow load. The trail from Mizpah to the Crawford path was not to be found. That trail usually through the trees on a flat flank of the mountain was one big open slope with only the tops of the highest trees looking like scattered small Christmas trees. Finding the Crawford Path was a challenge, but find it I did. The trip took over 8 hours which included digging out a door at Lakes of the Clouds hut so some measurements could be taken for the construction which was to start in a few weeks. I took along one of the crew from Pinkham for company. I did mention to him that he better keep me in sight or he would be history because we were in and out of the fog much of the trip. He was new on the crew and had done a lot of climbing, so he said. He did admit to me, after the trip, that this trip topped them all.
In spite of the challenges of the winter all projects were kept on schedule, the Tuckerman Shelter opened on schedule and guests that stayed at Pinkham Notch Camp had an experience that they will never forget. The crew at the camp could have won the gold medal if shoveling snow was an Olympic event.
Where did the Snow Go?
There was a lot of concern in the area of what next. With the water content of the snow massive floods were a real threat. If heavy rains were to be combined with warm temperatures the area would have been a disaster. The potential of roads washed out and trails turned into huge gullies was a continual topic of conversation. Well, it did not happen. Rainfall is usually heavy in the spring. Fortunately it wasn’t to be the case that year. There was very little spring rain and the temperatures were really very normal or perhaps a bit above. The snow just melted into the ground and into the brooks. It disappeared at the rate of a few inches a day. On May 10th the last of the snow melted. Leaving behind memories of a lot of hard work and aching muscles and a winter never to be forgotten.
Two weeks before the record 76 inch snowfall, a snowstorm of 36 inches occurred. Six days after the 76 inch snowfall another 31 inch snowstorm occurred. There were also some minor storms during that period that added another 5.8 inches of snow. So from the 10th of February through the 4th of March a whopping 148.8 inches of snow fell. That comes to just under 13 feet in 23 days.
During that winter due to my having to manage the Hut System, supervise the construction of the new Trading Post and oversee the addition at Lakes of the Clouds, the Hut Committee approved the hire of a staff assistant. That assistant, Alan Corindia, did many of the routine management tasks, which included the keeping most of the weather data. His signature appears on 5 of the 8 months of the records for the winter of 1968-1969. A short while back Alan passed on after a long bout with cancer. I wish that I could have received his input on this article.