A Purr-fect Storm
The Mt. Washington Weather Cats
You’ve seen Marty on TV. And you’ve probably seen
or heard of Inga and Nin, the other famous Mount Washington Observatory cats. Don’t forget Jasper, a shy, seldom-seen orange cat who lived with them on the windy summit
of New England’s highest peak. [updated below]
by Eric Pinder
I first met Jasper the cat on a chilly evening when westerly winds were whipping across the summit at seventy miles per hour. I stood alone on the mountaintop and watched a dark fist of cloud punch slowly toward the peaks, beaching itself on the rocks. Gray mist splashed on the boulders like ocean spray. As I stumbled through the fog, bullets of hail nipped at my face, and the hood of my jacket flapped like a sail. With each strong gust, the precipitation can I was carrying squirmed in my arms like an angry cat.
New summit cat Marty’s dark fur and constant motion make him a challenge to photograph. Illustration © T.B.R. Walsh from Cat in the Clouds.
A rare photo of Jasper and Nin together on the summit, circa 1996, when Jasper was the old-timer and Nin was just a rookie.
Nin is now the star of his very own children’s book. See the Observatory through Nin’s eyes in Cat in the Clouds, with an appendix featuring Marty, Jasper and other Mt. Washington cats dating back to 1932.
I encountered a truly angry cat back in the shelter of the observatory. Jasper was not a happy animal when I rudely walked in from the cold and picked him up; I even had the nerve to try to pet him. He squirmed and struggled in my arms until I let him go, but graciously accepted a bowl of milk as a peace offering. He even begged pitifully for a second peace offering two minutes later.
“Is Jasper an outdoor cat?” I wondered aloud.
One of the meteorologists laughed. “I wouldn’t say that. The only door Jasper waits in front of is the refrigerator’s.”
For fourteen years, Jasper has survived inside the warm belly of the Mount Washington Observatory while sleet and hail battered the windowpanes and hurricane-force winds rattled the walls. Outside, sheets of ice rain have shattered on the rocks like glass, but a snoozing Jasper has purred through it all.
Like most cats, Jasper is a hunter. One night, he trotted off into the twilight and jogged back with a mouse tucked between his jaws. He deposited his prize in the doorway and ran back for more. By night’s end, a row of rodents lay scattered across the observation deck, sorted by size. Everyone was surprised.
“He was stacking them up like cordwood,” announced one early riser. We expected the Environmental Protection Agency to show up any minute to delcare the American house mouse an endangered species.
What’s so odd about an orange tabby cat who lives on a mountain and likes to eat asparagus? In Jasper’s case, quite a bit. He often flees in terror from children but tolerates adults, so long as they hold him upside down (he hates being held right-side up) and put plenty of milk in his drinking bowl.
For more than a decade, a traumatized Jasper played second fiddle to Inga, the famous calico cat with frosty whiskers. Inga was always the teacher’s pet, the spoiled child. A darling of the media, she was “interviewed” by Cat Fancy magazine while a jealous Jasper sulked in obscurity.
Inga is most famous for a picture in which she’s covered in rime. Here, Inga demonstrates the importance of staying hydrated at altitude.
A picture of an icy Inga is still printed on T-shirts, posters, postcards, and refrigerator magnets that are sold each summer in the Mount Washington Museum gift shop. When Inga passed away in 1993 at age nineteen, her estate generously donated all proceeds from her modeling career to the Observatory.
Sadly, Jasper has enjoyed no such notoriety. While thousands of Inga postcards are shipped to mailboxes all across the continent, poor Jasper lurks in the shadows, far from the public eye. Even worse, a new nemesis named Nin appeared on the scene in 1996, just when Jasper finally thought he had the summit to himself. (Rumors to the contrary, Nin’s name is not short for nincompoop—though it should be!) Nin poses for the cameras and purrs in the arms of visiting journalists. He also robs Jasper’s food bowl when the older cat isn’t looking.
Jasper, patient as always, endures. The only legacy of this big, shy, but basically friendly cat is likely to be a clump of orange furballs left behind on the living room rug
Nin, hard at work.
This information has been excerpted from Life at the Top, by Eric Pinder (First edition published by Down East Books 1997. Revised and expanded second edition published
by Hobblebush Books 2009).