How many times have I looked over at Mount Washington from the slopes of Bretton Woods ski resort and wondered how people can live up there in the winter. Even from that distance it looked cold and forbidding. Weather reports would issue ridiculous wind speeds (the highest every recorded was 231 miles per hour on April 12 1934. This record still holds as the highest surface wind measured anywhere on earth) The extremes of wind, cold, ice, fog and snow on Mount Washington are the stuff of legends not because its the coldest, snowiest, windiest place on earth but because of the extremes. When I was on top of the mountain yesterday the weather was a beautiful 60 degrees and although the cloud cover was thick there was little wind.
There are several buildings on top, both modern and historical. The Tip Top House is the oldest surviving building and is a former hotel built in 1853 that looks like a bunker. You can see the extremely thick walls, reinforced with rocks blasted from the mountain, small windows let in light. The beds were small bunks lined up along a wall one on top of the other. The kitchen is spacious with a large wood stove and a long refectory table. Actually quite nice for hikers tired after a long climb. There was a fire in 1908 that destroyed all the buildings except the Tip Top House. It was abandoned in 1968 and restored in 1987 to become a state historical site.
The Mt. Washington weather observation station is a private, non profit scientific and educational institution organized under the state of New Hampshire. It was the first of its kind in the world. Although weather was being monitored as early as 1870 by the US signal Service, the current observatory began keeping records in 1932.
How I came to be on top of this mountain was strictly a last minute whim. I was in New Hampshire for the weekend visiting friends and ended up at a restaurant at the base of the mountain looking at a billboard for the cog railroad. One thing led to another and before I knew it my friend Milly and I were on the cog railroad climbing to the summit on a sunny September 1. I had on a summer skirt and short sleeved top ready for a day or walking and touring. We found a light jacket in Milly’s car and a fleece car blanket. I changed from my flats to sneakers which were in the car from our walk that morning. Hardly what I would have planned for the summit of Mount Washington but on this beautiful day with the fleece blanket on my shoulders I was fine.
The cog railroad on Mount Washington is the world’s first mountain climbing rack and pinion railway with two steam locomotives and 4 biodiesel powered locomotives. It’s the second steepest rack railway in the world with an average grade of 25% and a maximum grade of 37.41%. The steepest is in Switzerland with a max grade of 48%! The seats are pitched forward which seems strange when you first sit down on level ground but are comfortable when you’re on the 37% grade.
I took pictures all the way up as the tree line turns to rock and lichen and the edelweiss to cairns built by the Appalachian Mountain club members to guild hikers walking through thick fog. The views of the Presidential range of the Appalachian mountain range are spectacular. On a clear day I’m told you can see all the way to Vermont. Mine was hardly a clear day from the summit but it was an amazing experience to be there.