Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mount Washington, NH

It is the tallest peak in the northeastern United States at 6,288 ft. elevation. It lies at the White Mountain Range, the northern end of the Appalachian chain in New Hampshire.

Doesn't really compare in elevation to the west where there are 5 summits over 14,00 ft. in California alone.  But this is a very old mountain that was much higher before erosion took its toll.

There is a road all the way to the top which is steep, narrow, curvy, and  with precipitous drop-offs all along the way.  The road was completed in 1861 which makes it the nation's oldest man-made tourist attraction. For driving the "auto road" in your own car, the entrance station gives out a cassette tape with the story of the mountain and the history of building the road that runs nearly exactly the length of time it takes for the drive to the top.  In in only 8 miles of roadway to the top the vertical rise is 4,725 ft.  Side 2 of the cassette is for the return trip telling about all the first ascents in all kinds of vehicles.  F.O. Stanley was the first person to drive his Stanley Steamer automobile up the road in 1899.

 For those who are skittish of such roads there are tour vans that will take you up and back down again with commentary all along and giving you about a half hour at the top.

Views along the way are fantastic, first of dense forest changing through the different zones of elevation until finally you find yourself above the tree line viewing what looks much like a moonscape.  Weather up there is much different than anywhere else at lower elevations.  Clouds drift by as if in a time-lapse movie.  Being that close to the clouds is similar to what one might experience in a small private plane.
Winds on the summit have reached 231 miles per hour and in winter the buildings are not stacked with snow, but plastered with windblown snow and ice from the side.  Pictures in the museum show fantastical ice caked towers and buildings.  Average annual snowfall is 315 inches.  One hut is actually chained to the ground.  There is an open air observation deck and an enclosed observation deck for bad weather.  Several gift shops, a post office and a well stocked snack bar await not only the car visitors, but the many hikers that come stumbling over the lip of the summit reaching their nirvana to tuck into a hot dog and nachos.

If the road or hiking is not to your liking there is yet another way to get up to the hot chocolate and stunning views.  That would be the cog railway.  Built in the 1800's the cog train has been bringing passengers up the mountain in relative ease although the easy way will cost you... $65 per passenger.  Driving the road yourself costs $25 and the tour van is $30 (as of this writing).

On my visit early in the day the summit was clear, but by the time I had descended the clouds had enveloped the mountain.  Clouds cover the summit 60 % of the time.