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Friday, October 12, 2007

Mt. Washington

Another mountain we’re looking at this week brings us to New Hampshire. Mount Washington is the highest peak in the Northeast at over 6,000 ft. It holds the record for the highest wind gust directly measured at the Earth's surface, at 231 mph recorded on April 12, 1934. The Indians called the mountain, Agiocochook, or “The Home of the Great Spirit.”

Mt. Washington was first climbed in the 1640s, but not much else happened here until the middle of the 19th century, when tourism was lured here with the construction of bridle paths and different summit hotels. The Tip Top House still stands, recently renovated. A stagecoach road was built, now called the Mount Washington Auto Road, and it is a breathtaking journey. It first opened in 1861, and is the oldest man-made tourist attraction in the US. If you receive the badge of honor, that bumper sticker that says “This Car Climbed Mount Washington” your car, its 2nd gear, and its brakes, have earned it.

For those less inclined to brave the winding vertical journey to the clouds, there is the less taxing Mount Washington Cog Railway, first constructed in 1869, which gives an enjoyable ride to the top. It is the oldest mountain climbing cog railway in the world. (It’s first proposal was ridiculed by the New Hamphsire State Legislature as a “railway to the moon.” Half-way to the moon, maybe.)

The top is something to behold, where the bald rock is exposed, the winds are fierce, and trees do not grow. On a clear day you can see Europe. Well, no, I’m kidding. On a clear day you can see the Atlantic Ocean, but clear days are not something one should count on. The mountain mist rolls in so suddenly, that if walking about the grounds around the summit observatory, it is best to stand still in your tracks until the cloud passes.

Snowstorms can occur at the summit in any month of the year. If you visit even in July, be prepared for a temperature drop of at least 30 degrees by the time you reach the top.

The summit building was designed to withstand 300 mph winds, and other buildings here are chained to the mountain. The mountain is the site of a non-profit scientific observatory reporting the weather and other elements of the sub-arctic climate.

Hiking is a favorite activity, but several avalances occur each year and many hikers have died for a variety of reasons. It is best to tackle the mountain only if you are prepared for its unique challenges. Above the tree line, it is a different and treacherous world, but a place of stunning beauty.

Auto races and bicycle races also take place up the mountain. However you choose to get to the top, take a good, long, look. It’s worth the effort.

Want to go? Have a look at this website. Also check out information on the Auto Road and on the Cog Railway .

Been there? Done that? Bought the T-Shirt? Let us know.

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