Top 10 Moments at Mount Washington

Ten on the (Way to the) Top

by John Stifler

I met Mt. Washington up close for the first time in 1989, running it.  Didn’t actually see much ), but loved it anyway. Now I watch the action in front, riding in one of the media vans. From the past two decades, here are ten memories that define the race for me.

10. 1998: The company she keeps.  The weather was rotten, as usual, only wetter. Cathy O’Brien had been on two U.S. Olympic teams, and she was from New Hampshire, so it was time she ran Mt. Washington. Advised to run conservatively, she handled the drizzle and the grade in 1:12:24, then the third-fastest of any woman’s time here. Then, riding down from the summit, O’Brien sat in one of the Mt. Washington Auto Road vans, squeezed between Joan Samuelson, who had also just run Mt. Washington for the first time, and Jackie Gareau, who had previously won it three times. Having just beaten two legends of the sport, the bedraggled and somewhat shy O’Brien sat there quietly while Joan and Jackie chattered about babies, camping, picking berries, and nearly everything else except running.

9. “This race is easy.” In 2001, a Russian sports agent living in the U.S. emailed Bob Teschek and requested entry for a woman named Anna Pichrtova, from the Czech Republic. Pichrtova came to Mt. Washington on a baking hot day and, while Kenyan Kihara scowled at the heat and complained of the difficulty of running in it, the Czech shrugged and said, “This race is easy!” She said the same thing in 2002‰ÛÓwhen the race was shortened by rain and wind‰ÛÓand in 2003, when it was sunny, and in 2004. In 2005 she lost to Moon (after doing all the pace-setting work) but ran her fastest time ever; in 2006, and then in 2007 after recovering from an injury, she said, again, “This little hill is easy.”
Photo (left): KING & QUEEN OF THE MOUNTAIN: Two-time Olympian and Mount Washington course record holder Jonathan Wyatt of New Zealand and six-time women’s winner Anna Pichrtova of the Ukraine. Photo by FitzFoto

8. Wyatt. Five men have broken one hour at Mt. Washington. One of those five broke it into such tiny pieces that they won’t be found for a long time. In his 2004 debut, Jonathan Wyatt showed up a few days ahead of time and ran the course once just to check it out.  That took him 65 minutes, at an easy pace. On race day he ran it in 56:42. U.S. National Champion Paul Low, who finished a hard-earned second, said later, “Jonathan is the best mountain runner in the solar system. Probably in several solar systems.”

7. 1991, 1992, 1998, 1999: Others run; Carpenter floats.  “He’s like a pair of lungs on legs.” That was how U.S. Mountain Running team director Nancy Hobbs once described Matt Carpenter, of Manitou Springs, Colorado. Carpenter won three times here, plus he ran even faster in 1999 when he was outkicked at the finish by Daniel Kihara. Each time, while the rest of the men up front ran with head slightly down and shoulders forward, visibly fighting gravity, Carpenter ran as if being lifted by invisible threads that hung down from the sky, keeping his shoulders squared and head up. In 1991 he beat Froude.  In 1992 he might have broken Froude’s record if the unpaved parts of the course had not been a mixture of mud and snow. The higher he goes, the better he gets.

6. 1995: The horror and the humor. The sky looked as though it had been drawn by the cover artist for a collection of Edgar Allen Poe stories. The wind, bad even by Mt. Washington standards, was blowing 60-mph.-plus in three directions at once. Gideon Mutisya had dropped the rest of the field and was now just trying to get the race over with. Fighting the gusts, he had to lean sideways to keep from being blown off the road. New Englanders Fram, Dunham and Eric Morse followed at a respectful distance, trailed by Eddy Hellebuyck, the diminutive Belgian who had taken turns with Mutisya setting course records elsewhere. Mutisya finished with chattering teeth and the strength to say two words: “Too cold.” A few minutes later Hellebuyck staggered up to the water table at the summit, picked up a cup, and said, “This race ‰ÛÓ too much uphill for me!” Dunham took a sip from his own cup, turned to the Belgian and said, “Race you back down?”
                                                                                                                                                                             Photo: Matt Carpenter leads Daniel Kihara in the 1999 race. Photo by FitzFoto
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