I am typing this inside a steel and concrete re-enforced building. All I can hear is the howling of the wind outside and the pop of rebar contracting from inside the bowels of the bunker-like structure. The temperature outside is 6 degrees F and the windchill is -25 at 60 miles per hour sustained.
I have almost every piece of tv production gear I own piled to the ceiling next to me in Pelican cases, and I have a place to sleep in the basement below. Yes, there is a bathroom and even a shower! I have been battling this sketchy internet connection to bring you all some behind the scenes.
I am on the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire. The top of this “rock pile” is insane and takes the cake for the home of the worlds worst weather. Back in 1934, the highest observed wind speed on Earth by a human being was recorded at 231 miles per hour! People think, “it’s just New Hampshire”. Those same people die. The summit conditions give the top of Everest a run for its money. This mountain deserves respect, it is vicious.
The reason for the extreme environment here, so close to my home in Boston, is because of its location. I call this place “instant wilderness” because it is near large populations of people. They can drive to the summit in the summer and the mountain is dangerous year round.
In the winter, Mount Washington lies at the confluence of three major storm tracks. The geography surrounding the mountain and its height at 6,288 feet above sea level allows this place to get the brunt of insane weather and winds. And a lot of strange things happen here.
Rime ice is frozen fog and one of the craziest things I have ever seen. When the riming is occurring, just stepping outside for a few minutes, coats you in ice formations. Under ideal conditions, the small particles in the fog freeze on impact and ice feathers grow into the wind on EVERYTHING. The result is stalagmite-like cave formations that create an environment that makes you feel like you are on another planet.
I am embedded with the team of observers, engineers, and climatologists shooting an extreme weather project at the Mount Washington summit weather station. This facility is owned and operated by New Hampshire state parks. There are a few park rangers who work up here year round. About 5 people work up at the observatory and switch out with another 5 people every 7 days. There is a narrow and steep road that snakes up the mountain side. During shift change, they bring up food with trucks or in snow tractor. Trash goes back down. While doing their job, they are constantly dealing with ice buildup on weather recording gear. They must enter numbers into a computer every hour or the entire place will blow up. Kinda like that guy Desmond in the quarantine bunker on LOST.
All joking aside, the work that the people do up here helps to feed information into weather models that create accurate forecasts for everyone. This not only lets you know what the week will bring weather-wise, but it saves lives for hikers who plan on visiting the surrounding mountains. They also do long distance learning by using web cameras to teach weather related classes around the world using the microwave internet link to the valley below.
I am using a bunch of gear that I built just for this extreme environment. Over the last few weeks, I have been racking my brain and making trips to Walmart and Home Depot. I tested stuff in my freezer at home! At the time of this blog, I have shot four time lapses up on the summit with 100 percent success in ridiculous weather. The custom heated camera enclosures I designed and built for less than $100 each are actually working. Go figure!
The heated systems are working so well and the timelapses look so incredible that I almost decided not to share this information with all of you. Job security! I was told by the people who work up here that I am the first person to ever get a clean shot of rime ice forming during heavy fog on Mount Washington in time-lapse at night.
I am also using equipment from Kessler Crane, Vinten, Zylight, Sony and Canon. It is not everyday that you can have a truck drive any type of television gear to a remote mountain summit in winter so that one guy can do whatever he wants with it. Plus lots and lots of GoPros!
I am very happy with five major pieces of the puzzle up here.
1. The Kessler gear. I am getting amazing motion controlled time lapses using the CineSlider with the Basic controller and Oracle. I also have a Kessler stealth traveller and a Kessler Revolution head. I will be using the head with the Oracle to add panning and tilting to the moco during dolly movement. The K-Pod tripod with Hercules 2 pan head is working great in the extremely windy conditions. I use sand bags to hold it down, and I am getting no vibration or slipping.
2. The Zylight F8 LED. This 100 watt LED light is preforming like a champ up here. It is currently outside, caked in ice. It has worked perfectly in any extreme low temperature I have thrown at it and the icing makes it look so damn cool. This is a prototype and as soon as this light is ready, I will own one.
3. The Heated Camera Enclosures. If any of you have attempted timelapses in cold, icy conditions, you know that the lens ices over. I have figured out a way to make a weather tight box for the cameras. So far, the $100 heated contraption works perfectly. I added a bit of silica and hand warmers to the inside during the time-lapse to keep moisture down. Pelican 1300 case, Frost King 6 foot water pipe heat cable and a piece of laminate glass.
4. Deep Cycle Batteries in Beer Coolers. I found out during my site survey this past October, that I would not have any access to power when working outside. I knew that the Canon camera batteries would fail in -20 degree F weather. I came up with the idea to place EverStart 114 Amp HR deep cycle re-chargable lead acid batteries inside Walmart party coolers. If they can keep the cold and ice in, they can certainly keep the cold and ice out. Right? Yup. I built two with 410 watt inverters and they can each power 70 watts for over 13 hours! WARNING: lead acid batteries can be dangerous. When charging or under heavy load, they can release flammable gases. You must use with ventilation systems.
5. Sony UWP Wireless mics with Large Foam Windscreens. I have used these wireless microphone systems for many years. I am having incredible luck with the factory lavs that came with the UWP systems in 70 plus MPH winds. The only change I made was to buy larger windscreens for the mics heads. I use electrical tape to keep them on the mics. Also, slightly burying them in the jacket is key.
Keep an eye on this blog, I will be posting more extreme stuff. There is potential for a storm Sunday and a even larger “juicy” noreaster to hit on Wednesday! It is very fortuitous to have some of the smartest minds in weather science sitting in the room next to me.