Nothing Says “Fun” Like the World’s Worst Weather

When most of us think of winter fun, we picture an afternoon at the skating pond, a day at our local sledding hill or a weekend at a ski resort. But to John P., senior designer at L.L.Bean, it means something a little more intense. That’s why, in the middle of February, John joins a group of L.L.Bean employees on a climb of Mount Washington, the tallest peak in New England and home to some of the most extreme weather conditions on the planet.

Climbing Mount Washington

Is there something wrong with you?

“My wife thinks it’s crazy,” John says. “She looks at me and asks, ‘Why don’t we just go to Florida instead?’” Fair question. So…why does he do it?

His answer is simple; “I do it because I enjoy it, but I also think it’s important for my kids to see me stretching out of my comfort zone. They see the careful preparations, giving them a sense of respect for the adventure.

Beautiful February weather on Mount Washington

“Of course, sometimes I think it’s crazy too,” he admits. “But once we’re on the trail, it’s incredible. There’s nothing like the intensity of winter to wake up your senses. The brightness of the snow, the sound of howling winds, the inspiration of mountain views…”

Sunset on Mount Washington

John checks his L.L.Bean gear

Preparing for the climb

Because of unpredictable weather and fierce conditions on the mountain – including wind gusts that can top 200 mph – John and his friends have to be ready for anything. Before beginning their ascent, they review safety practices and double-check their gear.

Overlooking Tuckerman's Ravine

In addition to specialized equipment like crampons and ice axes, John’s team is well outfitted with L.L.Bean outerwear, including insulating pieces like the Ascent Packaway Jacket and a weatherproof outer layer like our Ascent Gore-Tex Shell. In a place where wind-chill temperatures can reach as low as -100ºF, layering is more than just about comfort – it’s critical for survival.

The final approach

Some years, rapid changes to the weather have forced the climbers to turn back before reaching the summit. Even under ideal conditions it takes a full day to make it to the top. There, John and the team spend the night in dormitory-style housing located below a reinforced concrete bunker. The next day, they trek back down across the icy rocks and snowy terrain. Once they reach the bottom, they head for a local watering hole to share a hot meal and some great stories…and begin planning next year’s trip.

At the summit of Mount Washington with the whole L.L.Bean team

Fun for them – better gear for you

The team wouldn’t keep making the climb if they didn’t enjoy it so much. But there’s a practical side too. Back at the office, they share their experiences with the L.L.Bean product designers responsible for some of the same outdoor gear and outerwear they’ve relied on during their climb. They talk about what worked, what didn’t and what could be improved – and this valuable feedback finds its way into future product designs.

Snow on Mount Washington

But for John, it’s all about the experience. “It’s exhilarating to be in such a harsh environment, yet only two hours from your door,” he says. “Every time I climb I ask myself, Why don’t I do this more?”

Beginning the descent

  1. Al H. | March 4, 2014 | 7:44 pm

    The trip up to the top of Mt. Washington looks fantastic and I would love to do that trip with the group from LL. Bean. I don’t have the type of gear that this group has, but for me it would be a once in a life time experience. Please keep me in mind.

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