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September 1, 2011

Hi Folks,

As you all know, it's been a heck of a week up here in the north country. In fact it's been tough all up the Atlantic seaboard. I've read numerous quotes from folks commenting on how this wasn't that big an event. Well, although it certainly was ONLY a tropical storm, it packed enough punch to really cause major damage everywhere it passed - end even beyond in some cases. I lived in northern, central and south Florida for many years, only moving from Miami to NYC in 1980. I have experienced many hurricanes and tropical storms and many were far worse than Irene, however this was the first time I'd experienced flash flooding on this scale.

If you have watched any of the television news coverage, I'm sure you have seen some of the amazing pictures and videos that they have shown: rivers raging, trees laying across cars and houses, bridges broken and propane tanks bobbing their way downstream. But these were all things that happened AFTER the storm passed! As it happened, the storm itself didn't actually do all that much. Unlike the 2005 hurricane Katrina, with sustained winds of over 125 mph, the winds were not all that high - only 40+mph gusts here in the White Mountains. We have Nor'easters with those kinds of winds. Like Katrina however, it was the rains and what took place afterward that caused the problems. Interestingly enough both hurricanes took place over the exact same period of time, right before Labor Day at the end of August, 6 years apart! Go figure...

We all had plenty of warning prior to this storm even impacting North Carolina, so we stocked up with extra food, checked out the generator and made sure everything in our yard was put away to reduce the possibility of debris hitting the house. When the actual storm went through we were surprised at the lack of sustained wind speed. However we got over 4 inches of rain over a relatively short duration. If you want to see the changes in weather over the time period right here at the cliff, you can check it out here:

The weather station only samples the status every hour, so it did not record any of the wind gusts. In addition it wasn't until the day after the storm passed that the winds picked up for a while. You can see this on the graphs.

Surprisingly we only had power, phone and internet go out for about an hour on Sunday morning. Some folks had gone out in the storm and posted some pictures and comments on Face book and the like. My friend Merle drove down 302 and stopped to take pictures near Sawyer Rock early that afternoon. As he was shooting he saw what he described as a 3' wall of water coming down the Saco and going over the road! Needless to say he turned around and left quickly. Around 3pm Lewis and I went out to see if the Saco had blocked access to town. At that time we could drive across 1st Bridge, but the south side of West Side Road was flooded and access into Conway was closed. Only about 2 hours later Alyssa and I drove down to 1st Bridge and it was closed. In addition the portion of West Side Rd between the strawberry fields and Echo Lake State Park was closed and totally flooded! No one we talked to had seen that happen in their lifetime. We drove north on West Side Road and there was water just starting to come over the road north of Humphrey's. and houses on both sides of the road were flooded. We drove down to 302 and turned around, realizing that if we were trapped our son would be alone in the house! Not a good scenario...

By late Sunday afternoon/evening it wasn't raining and the winds were almost nonexistent. However the fire department people were saying that the river was rising at the rate of ~3 inches per hour and it was their guess was that the river would crest around 2am. We headed home and checked our property and that of our neighbor for any damage. Fortunately we had nothing except some minor branches down in the yard. However two neighbors had moderate sized branches down in their yards, but fortunately they didn't hit the houses. We kept watching the news and pictures on the web, and at that time things didn't look too bad. When we went to bed, around midnight, the wind started picking up with some pretty good gusts. Sometime around 2am the power went off, but it came back on around 6.

Through Monday we still had winds and due to the flooding we were cut off from getting out of our area in any direction. It was pretty disconcerting for many folks. Brad White's wife Barbara had gone into her work earlier that day and was unable to get home that night, and she wasn't the only one. By now reports of the flooding were coming in fast. A video was posted of the Jackson Falls that was truly amazing. You can see it here:

My buddy Phil went over and commented that they could feel the huge boulders being moved downhill by the force of the water. Around this time the NH DOT announced that Rt 16 to Goreham, Rt 302 through Crawford Notch and the Kanc were all closed! Access too the west and north was now cut off!! AMAZING… Monday night my close friend from Vermont called and said that the situation over there was even worse. Many towns were flooded, bridges and roads were destroyed and it was still happening. Pictures came in of the flooding in Plymouth near the interstate, and of Campton and Thornton. We were all in somewhat of a state of shock. This wasn't even a hurricane, only a tropical storm. What would it have been like if there had been the predicted full-on storm? While we may have dodged a bullet, we sure did get whacked up against the side of the head.

So here it is Thursday morning, 4 days later and our Valley is recovering There are lots of folks who lived near the rivers that have lost pretty much everything, and many - if not most - who were affected had no flood insurance! As of this morning Rt 16 has been reopened, to limited traffic, however Crawford Notch and the Kanc remain closed. I rode my bike up past Bartlett toward Crawford Notch to see what happened. The bridge by the iron RR bridge past Sawyer Rock had collapsed, leaving a massive 30' open section! The DOT was there and as I watched deliveries were being made of pieces of a temporary bridge. Bear Notch Road was open and the Kanc was opened to Conway, however it was closed to the north. The road had been severely compromised on the Lincoln side, with an entire side of the road washing away. On Wednesday it was announced that a section of the bridge over the river to Loon had fallen down. It wasn't getting any better…

The cost of this storm in hard dollars as well as the future economic impact is truly significant. Current projections are up to $10 BILLION. This doesn't take into account the costs to people who were scraping by, but now have nothing. Of course we live in a tourist-supported area and this all will have a very big impact on what we had all hoped to be a good Labor Day weekend. With many campgrounds effectively wiped out and people canceling their end of the summer vacation plans right and left, Irene has hit us doubly hard. It's a very sad situation. Personally we managed OK and count our blessings for that. We hope that everyone who was affected, comes out OK.
Climbing Aftermath:
Although I haven't been everywhere, the cliffs seem to have come through this OK. There is debris in many places, mostly tree stuff and some loose rock. I have asked other guides and no one has noticed any problems in particular. That said there is a lot of water in the system right now. I went over to climb at Humphrey's on wednesday morning and there was water seeping everywhere. Brad White and I were chatting the other day and he is concerned that things might not really dry out before the winter, and based on what I saw yesterday, he may be right. If you are going climbing up here this weekend, you certainly want to be aware that there is likely to be loose stuff everywhere. With any luck things should be back to some sort of normalcy by next week and I am personally looking forward to a great fall climbing season, just possibly a little wetter.

BTW - here is a little video from the Gunks. Looks as if they had some serious rain as well -

Crank The Crawford Bicycle Race Cancelled:
For those of you who were planning on participating in this event, it has been cancelled for 2011. The bridge by 4th Iron is still out, there is significant erosion on the sides of the road and the landslide up by Willie's still poses a potential hazard. If you paid your entry fee, BikeReg will be refunding your credit card. Hopefully the event will take place in 2012. Instant Bug Report:
Hardly anything…ain't it sweet?

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Up on one of the Mount Washington Valley's finest crags and want to know what that climb you're looking at is? Or maybe you're on your way up from Boston and want to check out the Ice Report for your upcoming weekend plans. Or more likely, you're at work just want to daydream about your next adventure. Well if you have a smart phone handy, you can get to NEClimbs from anywhere you have cell service. While it doesn't offer every single feature of the site and it's not an "app", in mobile form, it does do a whole lot and is very useful. Here is the live link to the mobile version of NEClimbs:

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Remember - climb hard, ride the steep stuff, stay safe and above all BE NICE,

Al Hospers
The White Mountain Report
North Conway, New Hampshire

If you want to climb it badly enough, you will. So... why bother ?
Doug Scott
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