Daredevil inspection of Washington Monument gets under way

Ben Nuckols

WASHINGTON -- A team of engineers being advised by an Alaska mountaineering ranger began a daredevil inspection of the Washington Monument today that will include them rappelling down the obelisk to look for damage from last month's earthquake.

The team of two men and two women climbed through a hatch and began inspecting the top of the 555-foot monument just after noon. After some time at the top, they will start rappelling down. They had spent several hours setting up equipment and preparing for the work.

Denali National Park mountaineering ranger and rope rigger Brandon Latham of Talkeetna is an adviser to the engineers.

The team plans to climb up and down the monument to check each stone for cracks, chips and other damage caused by the 5.8-magnitude quake that shook the nation's capital Aug. 23. Each descent can take 12 to 15 minutes. The team will take breaks as needed.

Each team member is carrying several items, including a digital camera, an iPad that includes data from the 1999 restoration of the monument, a two-way radio, masonry tools that will allow them to remove loose pieces of stone or mortar and a soft mallet for audio testing.

The team is in frequent contact with the National Weather Service and will suspend work on the monument's exterior if there's a chance of lightning or heavy winds. The weather was calm and mostly cloudy late Wednesday morning after an earlier thunderstorm and showers.

The inspection of the monument's exterior was delayed a day because of lightning. A team worked for several hours Tuesday setting up equipment and creating a protective barrier around the monument's lightning rods.

The inspection is expected to last several days, and the team has not ruled out working over the weekend.

Associated Press