Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mount Washington

Last Thursday, Judy and I took the Mt. Washington Cog Railway to the summit of Mt. Washington, at 6,288 feet, the tallest mountain in New Hampshire, and the tallest mountain in the northeastern United States (the closest mountains that are higher are to the southeast in North Carolina (6,684 ft.), to the west in South Dakota (7,244 ft.) and to the southwest in Tennessee (6,643 ft.). The photo below, I believe of Mt. Washington, was taken from the Kancamagus Scenic Byway in the White Mountains. 
The cog railway, completed in 1869, was the first cog railway up a mountain in the world. 
There is only one other in the United States, up Pikes Peak in Colorado,  which Judy and I rode two years ago. The Pikes Peak Cog Railway starts at 6,537 feet and climbs 7,439 feet in 8.9 miles, to 14,110 feet. The Mount Washington Cog Railway starts at 2,700 feet 
and climbs just short of 3,588 feet in 3 miles. 
Although Pikes Peak is substantially taller and the views from the top are more spectacular, there are quite a few things about Mount Washington which made it, in some ways, more fun. It is more rustic and not as technologically advanced. We were in one car, made of wood, with a door open to the elements (it was raining and windy at the time). 
The seats were tilted forward on the way up to compensate for the 25% to 37% grade. 
Below, the grade is so severe that we were able to lean forward substantially and stay upright.
On the way down, the hinged seat backs were flipped which made the same seats now tilted backwards to compensate for the grade going down. We were able to interact with the conductor, ask him questions, 
and watch while he inspected the track to make sure the switches were working correctly. 
The grade was generally steeper and the terrible weather 
on Mt. Washington and its history made for fun and interesting stories. Also, there are grave markers along the route highlighting some of the deaths that have occurred on the mountain over the years. The Appalachian Trail, which goes from Maine to Georgia, crosses the cog railway near the summit and is marked by rock cairns to help hikers follow the trail in poor visibility. 
This is my first time seeing any portion of the Appalachian Trail. Very near the summit we passed a marker for Miss Lizzie Bourne, daughter of Judge Bourne, of Kennebunk, Maine, 
who died on that spot in 1855. Later, in the observatory at the top, we found a chart detailing those who have died on Mt. Washington. The first one listed is Fredrick Strickland of Bridlington, England who died in a ravine on the way down on October 19, 1849. Lizzie Bourne is listed as the second death, on September 13, 1855. She died of exhaustion and hypothermia just short of the summit. 
The last listed death, number 145, was Christopher Baillie of Forked River, New Jersey, who slipped on some some rocks at the top of a water fall and fell to his death on July 18, 2010. It is renowned for its bad weather and holds the world record for the highest recorded wind speed at 231 miles per hour. 
We got a taste of that poor weather. While we were up there, there were significant winds, rain and fog. The engine (on the left) and the passenger car (on the right) as seen from the observatory.
A marker, right near the observatory, showing the path to the summit.
A closeup of the Appalachian Trail symbol.
The summit sign at the top of some rocks.
Judy and I at the summit.
The Appalachian Trail touches the summits of each of the peaks in the Presidential Range and this experience has whetted my desire to hike the portion of the AT through the Presidential Range and perhaps to the terminus at Mt. Katahdin in Maine.


  1. Reminds me when Rick came and hiked the Pacific Crest. I thought it would be soo cool to do it myself, after about 10 miles I soon learned it wasn't as fun as I thought it was.

  2. Thank you for explaining the seats flipping! That was puzzling us!