Visit the Mt Washington cat if you are in New Hampshire this summer. if you are lucky, you’ll get a big dose of cat when you visit the mountain’s peak. Here’s how?
There’s a cat living on top of Mt. Washington. And if visitors are lucky, they can get to hang out with the Mt. Washington cat, and get their cat fix on the top of the tallest mountain in the northeastern United States.
Nimbus is the newest feline companion, mascot, and only full-time resident at the Mt. Washington Observatory, situated on top of the mountain known as home to the world’s worst weather. Currently, he is the one and only Mt. Washington cat.
For almost a century, since 1932, the summit station, located at the towering 6,288-foot summit, has been home to at least one Mt. Washington cat, as a mouser, mascot, and pet for the overnight weather observers.
The Mount Washington Observatory is a private, non-profit scientific and educational institution organized under the laws of the state of New Hampshire. The weather observation station is located on the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire.
- Address: 2779 White Mountain Hwy, North Conway, NH
- Phone: (603) 356-2137
- Founded 1932
- Hours: Although our weather station is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, tours are only available when the Mt. Washington State Park Sherman Adams Visitor Center is open to the public. To view Center hours, visit the Mt. Washington State Park website.
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Earlier this year, a one-year-old short-hair cat named Nimbus, succeeded Marty, a black Maine coon cat who became ill and died last fall, after spending 12 years on the tallest mountain in the Northeast. He had become a favorite with visitors and observers from afar, and staff knew the replacement would have big paws to fill.
Marty’s successor, Nimbus, came to the Conway Area Humane Society via Oklahoma and moved up to the summit on April 14, 2021. Nimbus is fuzzy and gray like the rainclouds after which he’s named. As any good mascot should be, Nimbus is approachable, self-sufficient and able to promote himself in front of folks as the nonprofit’s unofficial mascot.
The Mt. Washington Cat is a celebrity
The Mt. Washington cat is more than just a celebrity and mascot. The cat is the only full-time resident at the observatory, bringing lots of solace and joy to the volunteers that spend week-long shifts at the observatory. The cat makes it feel a bit more like home.
Nimbus, whose name comes from the gray clouds that carry precipitation, was chosen from four candidates at New Hampshire’s Conway Area Humane Society. He came to the Conway shelter from Oklahoma, where Nimbus was living at Skiatook Paws and Claws Animal Rescue under the name Greg. Skiatook staff rescued Nimbus from Sapulpa Animal Shelter and from possible euthanasia, according to the no-kill shelter’s Facebook page.
That announcement came nearly six months after Mount Washington’s beloved jet black Maine coon cat Marty died after an unforeseen illness. Marty, who was elected to his scratching post atop New England’s tallest peak, spent nearly 12 years keeping the station’s staff and visitors company.
One thing that made Marty so special was that the feline was elected from a field of three contenders for this special role. He was chosen as the observatory’s mascot on Jan. 8, 2008, the same day of the New Hampshire Presidential primaries. He was elected with 53 percent of the vote, beating his fellow feline contenders Wilson and Sarah, who took 26 percent and 21 percent of the vote, respectively.
It was the observatory’s first and only election to select its feline mascot, and more than 8,000 votes were cast. Marty also had big paws to fill, replacing Nin, a black and white cat, who served visitors and staff at the observatory for 12 years before retiring in December 2007. Marty was scheduled to retire from his post at the observatory in early 2021.
His successor, Nimbus, is reportedly very sociable and vocal, meowing, chattering and purring about the summit observatory. He is likely to be a hit with visitors this summer and for years to come.
The Mt. Washington Cat is the only full-time resident at the Observatory
Cats have been atop Mount Washington since the 1930s, when the observatory opened as a weather station. The felines originally kept the station free of mice, but later came to be loved for their companionship during weather observers’ long stays on the summit.
Mount Washington at 6,288 feet is the highest mountain east of the Mississippi and north of the Carolinas. It is renowned for its wild weather, including a record-high wind speed of 231 mph measured on April 12, 1934.
This was a record until 1996 when the highest wind speed ever recorded occurred on Barrow Island, Australia. On April 10, 1996, an unmanned weather station measured a 253 mph wind gust during Tropical Cyclone Olivia. Even though Mount Washington lost its record for the all-time highest recorded wind speed in 1996, it still holds the all-time record wind gust from a manned weather station.
While the summit of Mount Washington is a crowded tourist attraction in the summer, all facilities are closed from late fall to late spring. And it is expected the Observatory and the Mt. Washington Auto Road to be open this summer, after being closed to tourists in 2020 due to COVID-19. The Mount Washington Cog Railway, dating from 1869, also goes to the summit and normally runs from May through November.
However, we do advise checking their website to be sure they are open before venturing out to the top.
History of the Mt. Washington cat
The history of cats on the summit of Mt. Washington goes back to the early 1930s, when the observatory was built. Cats were kept to keep the rodent problem under control and to keep the weather staff company.
The history of the mountain cats is recorded on the Mt. Washington Observatory’s website.
The first known cat is Tikky (Roberts, 2010).
By 1934, logs recorded at least eight felines at the observatory. They included Oompha, Blackie, Ammonuisance, Elmer, Manx, and George.
As decades passed, the summit cats became relatively famous.
Inga, a calico, was brought up the mountain in the 1980s. She was featured on T-shirts, posters, postcards, and other souvenirs (Roberts, 2010). The picture of Inga outside during a winter storm is seen on a poster and postcard in the Observatory’s gift shop. She passed away in 1999.
Then came a cat named Nin. He showed up as a stray at the home of one of the staff in the valley in 1995, and was named after the writer Anais Nin. He watched ravens, had staring contests with a fox, hiked over boulders, purred on people’s laps and patiently watched as they played Scrabble (Roberts, 2010). Nin retired in 2007 and passed away in 2009.
After Nin’s retirement, an election was held for the next resident summit cat.
The Conway Area Humane Society proposed three candidates that were in their care, and they felt would be suitable.
Marty, the Observatory’s most recent feline, won the Mascot Primary with more than half of the 8000 votes, being elected to Top Cat. He quickly became a valued member of the summit community, and was very curious. He would always peek inside an open drawer or cupboard. He had free range of the entire summit building, as well as outside, and was usually seen lying in his bed in the observatory.
In 2009, Marty developed a few health problems which included infected teeth. Ten teeth were removed which made him much more comfortable.
Mt Washington cats more than mascots
The observatory collects weather data every hour of the day, and their work is especially important during the cold winter months; interns and meteorologists are at the summit 24-hours a day, for seven straight days to make sure instruments are de-iced and functional.
Average monthly winds measure 45mph with an average daily temperature of 7°F. Although Mount Washington is in the fog about 60 percent of the year, it gets quite dry inside the Observatory during the winter because of the heating system.
The summit never gets very hot — the record high temperature is 72°F set in August 1975.
This isolation can take its toll. The cats have served as a connection to something you might find at home.
Marty who took over the position as the Mount Washington Mascot in 2008, became a particularly beloved kitty as workers endured their long shifts.
He was about 14 (or 15) years old when he passed on in November of 2020. Marty would sit in their laps while they worked or would offer a reminder of his presence by rubbing against their legs. And in typical cat fashion, Marty could be cuddly one week and aloof the next.
Information taken from https://mymodernmet.com/marty-cat-mount-washington-observatory/
More history of the cats of Mt. Washington
Since the Observatory’s opening, there has nearly always been a resident pet or pets, mostly cats. In fact, they are the only permanent residents, as the human staff members work a weekly shift system.
Early on, they tried having dogs, but it was not successful, because of the shift changes. The dogs could not connect with one person. Cats did not care if the people changed every week.
In earlier times the cats kept the rodent population under control. Today, there are fewer mice, and therefore, they only need one cat as a friend and companion to the staff in what can be a remote and rather lonely outpost, especially in winter.
For nearly half a century (1954 to 2002) WMTW-TV (Channel 8) operated a transmitter broadcasting from the summit, housed in a separate though connected building. Occasionally, there were different cats in the two buildings. Now that the transmitter has been Ived elsewhere, the TV building no longer exists.
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More history of the cats in the clouds
Paws found an interesting account of the cats’ history on Pur’n Fur’s website, and as we are unable to interview these previous summit cats, we are sharing some of the information here, just to fill in some of the histories of the mountain cats.
An account of ‘The First Christmas at the Summit’ (presumably 1932) by then-observer Alexander McKenzie mentions a cat called Tickie, or Tikky; she had no tail.
By 1934, the year of the ‘big wind’, logs record the presence of no fewer than eight felines; one was called Oompha and she had five kittens. A photo exists of the staff with one person holding a cat named Blackie, presumably one of the other residents.
McKenzie’s later account of the ‘big wind’ says: ‘The Observatory felines all huddled near the coal stove in the late afternoon, the warmest spot in the tiny building.
We hear an account in 1935 of Oompha and her five kittens; along with Ammonuisance, visiting from the AMC’s Lakes of the Clouds hut; Elmer, the timid one; and Manx, a tailless cat like Tikky from the first winter atop Mount Washington — all keeping the summit crew company.
Another account tells of a cat named George, who while well cared for, decided he would leave the summit, and set off down the trail one summer day and reached the Pinkham Hut near the bottom of the mountain. There he met up with a lady hiker, who knew he lived at the summit, so she scooped him up and took him all the way back up. Reportedly, George was furious and would not speak to anyone for a week.
Originally named Crazy Cat, and then for a while Scamp, DFC was brought to the summit in about 1967 as a kitten, following an earlier but unsuccessful attempt to raise a different kitten there. He was quite a character, ate almost anything, was a superb hunter with tons of energy. After some years on the summit, she had a litter of three kittens — father unknown — born on September 5, 1970. Pushka, a handsome ginger-and-white male with a passion for climbing things, became the ringleader.
One foggy night DFC, who was by then pregnant again, went out and was never seen again. She could not have survived the winter and it was presumed she had become prey to a weasel or a wildcat.
Lee Vincent, chief engineer and cat lover, wanted to have a cat in the TV building, and the little ginger cat was his choice, so the Observatory agreed to give him Pushka.
DFC’s other two kittens were rehomed. That was never difficult, as kittens born on the summit were regarded in the valley as local celebrities.
Pushka’s passion for climbing led him to find a favorite warm spot on top of the TV transmitter; acrobatics were needed to reach it but that did not faze him. He was soon into everything; a paper-towel dispenser was a ready-made toy for hours of fun; water dripping from a tap was fascinating (until he fell into a sink full of water); and a short wooden ladder made a great scratching post.
Pushka died of old age in August 1985 after some 15 years on the summit. He was buried deep among the rocks of the mountain that had been his home for so long.
After the loss of DFC there was no cat at the Observatory itself. There had been kittens — but in summer visitors would tend to decide they were strays and take them down the mountain to give them new homes.
In 1973 one of the Observers, John Howe, brought a black, six-toed kitten that his family had reared on their farm in Jackson, NH to the Observatory. She was equipped with a soft leather collar that read: ‘Property of the Mount Washington Observatory. Do not remove from Summit.’ She found it hard to adapt to the wild weather conditions, especially the wind, but gradually settled down — helped by the TV-station cat Pushka.
Though young herself, Blackberry was already pregnant when she arrived, and in August 1973 she gave birth to four kittens. All were rehomed in the valley.
By mid-December Blackberry had had another litter, this time of five — fathered by Pushka — in what was known as the ‘stationary closet’: not because of the stationery stored there, but because it was the only place that did not move about when the wind blew. The kittens were named Strawberry, Blueberry, Raspberry, Boysenberry and Beriberi; some were six-toed like their mother. Beriberi died soon after being born, while three of the others were rehomed when weaned.
The Mt. Washington Cat as companions
Strawberry (so called because of the orange ‘strawberry patch’ on top of her head proclaiming her as Pushka’s daughter) stayed as a native Observatory resident.
During the fierce winter of 1973-74, despite his wishes, Pushka was not allowed out of the building. Both he and Blackberry would yowl in their respective quarters, wanting to get together again.
As no one wanted her to be a perpetual mother, and neither had anyone the time to be constantly re-homing kittens, so in April 1974 Pushka made his only trip to the valley — to be neutered.
Peace reigned on the summit again as he, Blackberry and their daughter Strawberry went about their lives. In summer 1974, though, Blackberry was returned to the Howe farmstead, which she had enjoyed as a kitten and where she would feel more comfortable.
Strawberry had long, fluffy, Angora-like fur, unlike either of her parents, and a splendid tail rather like a fox’s brush. Her eyes were large and amber and her whiskers black.
She was playful — loved to hide in paper bags — and affectionate, with a deep, rumbling purr. She used to love to ride around the Observatory on Al Oxton’s shoulders, and on sunny mornings would bask by the east window.
Unfortunately Strawberry’s life came to a premature end. In the Observatory basement were two 2500-gallon water tanks, filled in autumn to last through the winter. When they were cleaned in summer, dead rodent bodies would sometimes be found in them.
One day Strawberry failed to come in for her dinner, and her body was eventually found floating in one of the tanks. Although they were covered with planks and plywood, she must have been over-diligent in pursuing her prey, fell in and could not get out.
Inga and Jasper
It was not long after Strawberry’s sad demise that she was succeeded by Inga, a tortoiseshell (calico) who arrived at the summit during the 1980s.
She was featured on T-shirts, posters, postcards, and other souvenirs sold each summer when the gift shop was open to visitors, and she became quite a darling of the media, including having an article about her in Cat Fancy magazine.
Inga died in 1994 at the age of about 19. She was the only cat to learn how to operate the thumb latch of the Observatory front door and let herself out.
For some ten years or more there was a second cat with Inga. He was an orange tabby called Jasper, but he was more retiring and did not become so well known. He liked to eat asparagus; loved having milk in his drinking bowl; and would flee in terror from children. He tolerated adults picking him up as long as they carried him upside-down, on his back (he hated being held upright); and was quite a hunter.
After Inga’s death he had the place to himself for a couple of years. But in 1996 a new companion arrived, a white cat with black patches called Nin.
Nin had shown up as a stray at the home of one of the staff in the valley in 1995 and was named after writer Anais Nin, but that became Nin when it was discovered he was male.
He and Jasper co-existed for a while at the summit, although Jasper was not particularly enamored of the new arrival, who would steal food from his bowl. Jasper eventually retired after some 14 years on the mountain, and died in 1999.
Nin became almost as well-known as Inga had been, once he became the sole resident cat.
He was much loved by the human team and had many fans visiting him or asking about him, friends who brought toys and others who sent donations specifically for his care.
He acted as an ambassador to visitors, greeting them and checking them out around the State Park Center in summer. Nin was particularly good at seeking out tasty snacks from visitors. At one point he had to be put on a diet. He also had his image on mugs.
In 2007 it was announced that Nin would be retiring at the end of the year. For 12 years he had watched ravens, had staring contests with a fox, hiked over boulders, purred on people’s laps, and patiently watched as they played Scrabble. He was getting on in years — probably 17 or 18 — which had brought some health problems, including an infection that had claimed the last of his teeth.
After Nin’s retirement announcement he was featured in a live broadcast from the summit by a crew from Good Morning, America. In fact, news of his departure spread across the country — even to some foreign countries — and led to a huge increase in the observatory’s Web traffic.
Nin spent his last Christmas Day at the Observatory and then on December 26, took the snowcat down the mountain to his new home in the valley. He went to live with Mike Pelchat and Diane Holmes, both State Park rangers, who had been long-time friends of his. They had two other cats, one older and one much younger, so Nin had to adjust to no longer being sole cat.
Nin had just over 18 months of retirement before he passed away on July 14, 2009.
When Nin’s retirement was announced, it was decided to hold an election for a successor as resident summit cat. The nearby Conway Area Humane Society proposed three candidates that were in their care and they felt would be suitable. The winner was Marty, a black Maine Coon who gained more than half of the 8000 or so votes cast. As a youngster he had lost his home in a fire and had been in the shelter for over a year. It would be a big change in lifestyle for him when he took up his new post in January 2008.
He quickly became a valued member of the community at the summit and has been described as ‘a little bundle of energy’, more active than Nin was and very curious.
The cats of Mt. Washington have become media celebrities over the years, having been featured on Good Morning America, in Cat Fancy Magazine, Boston news media, TV specials, and several books, including Rosemary Howard Turner’s 1974 book The Mascots of Mount Washington, published by Woodchuck Meadow Publications, West Ossipee, NH., and websites, Pur’n Fur and The Mt. Washington Observatory.
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Interesting history! I love to view mountains from lower elevations but was never really into going to the tops. However, the prospect of visiting with a resident kitty at the top would have been an incentive to travel to the peaks, for sure!
You know I had never heard of the Mt. Washington cats even though I worked for a vacation guide in NH for years. Next time, I go up Mt Washington (does not happen very often) seeing the cat will be tops on my list.
Very interesting. How sad Marty passed away, but his replacement is very cute.
It’s amazing where we find cats. Also interesting to find that cats adapt well to the changing staff and are ideal companions for the weeklong shifts.