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Day 12 - Mount Washington - Riding the Cog Railway to the Top



PictureMount Jefferson is the one with the snow. That snow doesn't melt until July.

Incredible. A must do. Ride, don't drive. 

If you ever get up to the New England states and you travel to New Hampshire, a visit to Mount Washington is something you do not want to miss. On a good day you will get to witness one of the most spectacular views anywhere in the country. Reaching 6288 feet into the New Hampshire sky, Mount Washington is the king of the White Mountains and is one of many peaks in the Presidential Range. If you look it up on Wikipedia, you'd see this...

"The Presidential Range is notorious for having some of the worst weather on Earth, mainly because of the unpredictability of high wind speeds and whiteout conditions on the higher summits. Because of the poor weather conditions, the Presidential Range is often used for mountaineering training for those who go on to climb some of the world's highest mountains, including K2 and Everest.

One thing they tell you right before you get off the train at the top is "don't miss the train going back down",  You don't want to have to hike down this mountain. Even in the summertime, the top of Mt Washington is covered in fog 90% of the time. During the trip up and down the mountain on the cog railway you'll notice all of the stacks of stones known as cairnes (can be seen and talked about in the videos below). Those are used as trail guide markers for the hikers. Since you can hardly see in front of you in the fog, the markers are placed VERY close together to help keep you on the path and not fall off the mountain. As you approach the top of the mountain the Appalachian Trail crosses the tracks, and the hike across Mount Washington and the Presidential Range is considered to be the most difficult hike on the entire Appalachian Trail. 

The Presidential Range of the White Mountains
You have three ways to get to the top of Mount Washington, you can walk, you can drive, or you can take the cog railway, and that is the method we took. It's about a 4 hour hike to the top and then another 3-4 back down, so unless you are REAL adventurous and have perfect weather, that is probably out of the question. You can also take your own car to the top by driving on the Mount Washington Auto Road, but a word of caution. This road has no guardrails and if you mess up, there is nothing to stop you and your vehicle from tumbling to the bottom.  I haven't been on it but I hear from others that have that it's terrifying. It's makes it hard to enjoy the views when you have to worry about driving off a cliff. See the video at the very end of this post, then decide. 😉

So... that leaves the cog railway. THIS is the way to go. This is from their website:
The Mount Washington Cog Railway is a narrated 3-Hour-Round Trip train ride to the summit of Mount Washington on a historic and awe-inspiring railway. Averaging around 1 hour each way, you have 60 minutes to explore and take in the Summit of Mount Washington, including the Sherman Adams Visitor Center. Inside the Visitor Center is a museumpost office, small snack bar and 360° views of the surrounding areas including up to 5 states, Canada and the Atlantic Ocean!
Here's a video of the train that took us to the top pulling into the station. They operate multiple trains up and down the mountain during the day and our engine is one of the bio-diesels that they run. The Cog Railway also has a couple of steam locomotives in case you want that old time feel to the ride.  Notice that the engine pushes the passenger car up the mountain instead of pulling. The engine has a cog (it's like a gear) that engages slots in the center of the track and that is how you get pushed up the mountain. The steepest grade is about 38%, so it looks like you're headed off into space at times. If not for the cog, the train would never be able to make it up the mountain. 
The passenger car has two sections of seating. The left side of the car (facing forward) has three seats and across the aisle are two more seats. When you make your reservations (and you MUST or you probably won't get a seat and certainly not the best seat) you want to get the front seats on the left because the best views are on that side of the train. 

The day we went up was about as good as it ever gets on Mount Washington, so the windows were down on the train. Keep in mind, some of the worst and wildest weather in the U.S. occurs on Mount Washington.  Most of the time the mountain is in the clouds with fog and mist. In the winter, that fog and mist become rime ice that covers everything up there.  For nearly sixty-two years Mount Washington held the world record for the fastest wind gust ever recorded on the surface of the Earth: 231 miles per hour, recorded April 12, 1934 by Mount Washington Observatory staff. To learn more about the day that wind speed was recorded, click on this linkAnother item to note, the tree line starts about 5000 feet. Out in the Rockies, that elevation is about 10,000 feet. 

The maximum temperature ever recorded on the summit is only 72 degrees and the high the day we rode up was about 60 degrees, so it was a relatively warm day on the top. The image below shows the conditions right before we started the ride up (we had a 12:30 pm train). It was an incredibly warm day at the bottom, we had seen temps in the low 80's driving to the mountain so we knew the top shouldn't too bad. Even the winds cooperated that day and stayed at speeds that wouldn't blow you off the mountain like they normally do.  Notice that our visibility was about 80 miles... today it's 1/16 of a mile (see image below). Here's a link to the current data.
The image below is from today, June 14th about the time we left the station. Compared to our visit, it is much colder with no visibility today. Not a great day to go to the top if you want to see a view. 
Conditions at 12:26 pm June 14. This is about the time we left. Compare this to how warm it was last Monday the 10th

PictureMansfield Station

The elevation at the bottom where you start the ride up is about 1600 feet. It's funny, but Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park is 1529 feet high and you think that's tall when you're on top of it, so this being at the bottom helps put things in perspective. 

The station has a gift shop, a restaurant, and restrooms. If you didn't purchase your ticket online, you get your tickets here.  There are no restrooms on the train so go before you board. 

It's very cool looking up toward the top of the mountain from the station. You can barely make out the tower on the top, and off in the distance you can see the train tracks going up the side of the mountain.  Now... picture yourself hiking that. 🙂

The top is on the top of the peak in the right of the image. You can see the tracks in the distance to the right of the flag.
I mounted my GoPro on the window using a suction cup mount. Stupid me... I could have mounted the actual camera part of it in the open part of the window, but instead, the whole thing was behind the window. It doesn't seem to hurt the image to much but I'm sure it helped with reducing the wind noise. Granted, the train only moves about 4 MPH, so the wind noise doesn't come from the train movement. 🙂

Anyway... here are my videos from the front of the train. I should have mounted the camera on the left side window to catch the views, and I was going to on the way down, but someone on the other side of the aisle asked if they could swap seats with us for the return trip. And being the nice person that I am, we swapped, so I didn't have the best view coming back down. And trust me, the left side is spectacular.  The pictures I have just don't do it justice.  The conductor was great and full of information, I was glad I captured his narration on the videos.
It is a ride you'll never forget. I've added a few pictures below, but if you'd like to see them all, you can click on this link.
Keep in mind that during times of bad weather, the train may not go all the way to the top. They will ride halfway and when there is snow, they stop at a newly built platform and everyone can get off the train and hang out at a bonfire and eat s'mores. We were very blessed with our weather and it couldn't have been more perfect. Because the weather on the top is so unpredictable and generally not so good, it makes it very tough to factor in to your plans. You plan for the worst and hope for the best, and in our case, that's the way it worked out, so your visit may or may not go as well. That's Mount Washington.

Once you're at the top there are several places to explore, and if you're hungry you can grab a bite to eat eat while you're there. And there is even a United State Post Office on the top so you can send mail with a Mount Washington postmark. The Mount Washington Observatory on top is continuously staffed even in the winter time. Research is conducted on new weather instruments and manually taken weather readings occur on schedule 24/7. 

Not much more to say except you need to add this place to your bucket list. I do recommend the train up, but if you think you may want to drive up, watch this video below. You will be amazed and terrified at the same time. 🙂


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WOW - your weather was PERFECT.  I've hiked it a few times and have never seen a day like that up there - looks like your brought a little bit of Georgia with you.

Just to add some context to your remarks about the severity and dangers of the hike - two deaths and a very close (disturbing) call on the rockpile this past week:


Great photos and video!  EDIT - the temp this past weekend at the top of Lions Head/Tuckermans, not even the summit, was 12.  60 mph sustained wind and freezing precipitation.  

Edited by Mudrun
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Wow. We certainly had it good the day we went up. People don't realize how dangerous those mountains are. 


Mount Washington is one of the nation’s most perilous hikes, with nearly 150 people killed on the mountain since 1849. That’s nearly half the death toll on Mount Everest where the tally is an estimated 308.


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