“Tim, you’re working at the finish line again. I need you to get up there and check in immediately with the head race official and the Auto Road supervisor. Let them know you’re the finish line radio operator and where they can find you,” exclaimed Cliff Dickinson, N1RCQ.
Cliff was head of operations for amateur radio communications for the 2013 Mt. Washington Road Race. I was part of a group of radio operators scattered along the 7.6-mile Mt. Washington auto road that snakes it’s way up the highest peak in the northeast USA.
Saturday, June 15, 2013 dawned as a possible epic day for this foot race. It was a bluebird crisp morning when I arrived at 7:10 a.m. at the small brown building my radio club uses as the communications hub for the event.
During the week this utility structure houses the woodworking shack at the base of the Mt. Washington Auto Road. On event days they allow the Central New Hampshire Amateur Radio Club to temporarily transform the small front room into our net control center.
Not a cloud was in the sky. The view from the summit would be incredible if the weather did a freeze frame. Usually the summit of Mt. Washington is cloaked with clouds, so I was anxious to get moving. Mother Nature didn’t let me down. Once I made it to the top, the panoramic view took my breath away.
After I parked my truck at the top of the summit, I got bundled up. The 28 mph sustained wind, with gusts near 50 mph, made the 37 F air temperature feel more like 25 F. The sun was brilliant, and provided some warmth. But the wind stripped it from you as quickly as water passes through a screen door.
The race started promptly at 9:00 a.m., and hundreds and hundreds of runners started up the steep auto road. Those who succeeded in crossing the finish line would experience a punishing 4,650 feet of elevation change.
The grade averages 12 percent, with the last 150 feet a wicked 22 percent grade. That last segment of the course is a harsh slap in the face to any contestant that’s clawed their way 7.6 miles up the mountain.
I’ve worked these events the past two years and seen runners of all ages. Most runners seem to be in their 20’s and 30’s. However, I’ve seen older runners as well, quite a few with white hair like mine.
Each time I see these well-done runners, I shake my head with admiration. Walking up just one mile uphill is an accomplishment. Walking and running up Mt. Washington at an advanced age is fodder for legends.
My other fellow ham radio operators spread out on the course don’t get to see the drama I witness at the summit. Runners burst into tears as they cross the finish line. Some disgorge their breakfasts just feet before the finish line. Others nearly collapse from the feat.
But just two days ago I was fortunate to see history made on Mt. Washington. When most of the runners and their supporters were inside the summit building staying warm, I got to witness the oldest runner, and the youngest runner to participate in the Mt. Washington Road Race cross the finish line together. By that time the finish line area resembled a stadium 15 minutes after the home team looses a game by 10 runs.
George Etzweiler, of State College, PA, was wearing bib number 93. That was given to him in honor of his age. Yes, 93 years old and running/walking up Mt. Washington. He did it in three hours and 15 minutes. That’s impressive, very impressive.
He was joined by Ms. Katie Loomis-Adams, of Peteresburg, PA. Katie is the granddaughter of a close friend of George’s. The race organizers assigned bib number W93 to Katie as she and Joe were running buddies that day. Katie’s only 10 years old, so she’s the youngest person to enter this race and finish.
The official race results show Katie with a finishing time of 2:23:34, but I’m wondering about that. My understanding, after doing a brief interview with Katie and her mom after they finished, was that they both ran/walked together from the bottom to the top of Mt. Washington. That means they should both have the same finish time. But I could have that wrong. Katie may have come up with her mom and dad as they both ran the race too.
Perhaps they’ll jump in in the comments section and offer some clarity. No matter if they don’t. Just realize that both George and Katie are to be congratulated for this monumental effort.
I think next year I may work the race as a ham operator, but I’ll actually walk up the course to soak it all in. My guess is Cliff and the race event folks will have no issues with this. We’ll see. Wish me luck!