Atop the Rockpile

Wild weather, wondrous views and spring thaw soupIf you think a book about the Mount Washington Observatory is likely to be a real snooze, think again. Eric Pinder’s “Life at the Top” [Hobblebush Books, 2009, $16.95] is a great read — full of well-told stories about living 6,288 feet up on a mountaintop that sits in the middle of the world’s worst weather. Pinder lived among the observatory’s intrepid scientists as a weather observer for seven years and for two years was the editor of the observatory’s quarterly magazine, “Windswept,” so he knows his stuff.

The book, which is a revised and expanded version of the 1997 original, explores Mt. Washington’s wild weather and tells the reader why it’s so wild (a convergence of several major storm tracks is the main reason). He also paints a picture of daily life for the crew on the summit, who are the “highest” paid people in New England with no room for “upward mobility” in their work (the cold doesn’t diminish their sense of humor). There are some hair-raising tales (out-of-control sledding on glaze ice, and mixing metal and fierce lightning to name just two).

Inside, though, there is good cooking (lots of recipes in the book, like Spring Thaw Soup) and Nin, the cat, who has her own book by Pinder called “Cat in the Clouds” [The History Press, 2009, $16.99]. The recently released book, written for children but enjoyable for adults, tells the real-life story of Nin coming to the observatory and making a life among the scientists and some of the most extreme weather in the world. Nin, who died this summer, was just one of a number of cats that have enriched the lives of people at the summit, including eight cats and kittens that were there in 1934 when a new world record was set by a 231 mph wind.

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