At over 6,200 feet, Mount Washington in New Hampshire is the Northeast’s tallest mountain, and some would argue, with merit, it is also one of the nation’s most beautiful.
On this early fall morning, we decided to go all out. We wanted to experience this breathtaking mountain in style, so we forked over $62 each for a seat on the world’s first mountain climbing rack and pinion railroad – The Mt. Washington Cog Railway.
The railway began carrying customers to the summit in 1869 and at the time was considered an absolute marvel of engineering. In fact, when founder Sylvester Marsh first approached the New Hampshire legislature with his idea to run the railroad up the mountain, it was considered impossible. A legislator even remarked that Marsh should receive permission not only to build his railway to the summit of Mt. Washington, but also to the moon, since both were equally preposterous. This lead to the railway’s long-standing nickname: The Railway to the Moon.
As the brakeman/tour guide hopped on board and started hamming it up, we started to feel like we had overpaid. But, after a we got a bit of altitude between us and the base camp, we quickly realized this railway was not about amazing engineering ingenuity, its history or its inventor. No, this railway and this ride was all about the mountain taking our breath away.
The views of the White Mountains’ Presidential Range and the surrounding valleys through the railway’s windows are heart-stirring. The mountains’ old gray faces sneer jealously at the young deep-green forests below as they are both surrounded by the early orange and yellow fires that indicate approaching autumn. We slowly poured past falcons effortlessly floating on the wind below the tree line, as we clung to the tracks and inched closer the summit .
The journey takes just over an hour, but the brakeman’s historic narration combines with the views to make the uncomfortable ride on park bench-like seats feel surprisingly brisk.
Once at the top, the mountain’s reputation is on full display. Mount Washington is notorious for the erratic weather that makes it one of the most dangerous hiking destinations in the United States. We were caught as unprepared for the mountain’s harshly changing weather as many of these hapless travelers.
What appeared to be a beautiful 65 degree morning at base camp had turned into a brisk winter day – thirty degrees at the summit with 70 mph winds. That’s not a typo – seventy mile per hour sustained winds. My casually tossed together outfit of shorts and a sweater had me shivering in the gift shop as I shelled over $27 more for a knit hat and oversized sweat pants. Don’t tell them, or Victoria, but I would have gladly paid twice that for the hat as my satellite-dish ears were really being nipped by the wind.
We spent the next hour visiting the museum and gift shops, the Tip Top House (formerly a hotel, now a museum) and snapping some picture outside before heading back to catch our train back to base camp.
While the Cog Railway is a bit brutal on the budget, it’s definitely the most interesting way to visit the Mt. Washington. We’ll let the images below convince you and, when you’re ready, you can find more information here.