A journey to the top of Mount Washington on the COG railway
One of the reasons for visiting this part of New Hampshire was to go up Mount Washington. This is the highest peak east of the Mississippi and is 6622 ft at the summit. It also has a reputation for wild weather and has an observatory at the top which records all these extremes – in fact it holds the record for the highest speed wind gust on land at 231 mph. The weather can be a pleasant summer day at the base but be more like winter at the summit.
We arrived at the base station of the COG at 1pm and it was a very pleasant 80F without a breath of wind. The fall colours were stunning and we were surrounded by the high peaks of the White Mountains. What could be more perfect. There are
about five or six trains running on the mountain on a normal day – the track is primarily a single track up the mountain with cunning passing points on the way up. The COG railway at Mount Washington was the first mountain climbing railway and was opened fully in 1869 after three years of construction. The project was the brain child of an ageing entrepreneur and inventor, Sylvestor Marsh, who had got lost on Mount Washington in 1859, and decided to build a railway to the summit as a result. Next time I get stuck up a mountain I have made a mental note to choose to build a giant elevator through the core of the peak rather than taking up another hobby like golf or bird-watching which might have been a more normal course of action.
The two most noticeable aspects of the train ride outside of the stunning views are its steepness and the how uncomfortable it is. The average incline of the railway is 25o but there is one section called Jacobs Ladder (this is a section of the railway which is on a trestle 30 feet above the ground and banked – according to the Guinness Book of records this is the most treacherous stretch of trestle rail track in the world – and who are we to argue) which is at 37.4 degrees. For those who don’t like heights this is not the journey for them!! The other feature is the discomfort – this is a COG railway – it runs on tracks but has a large cog on the engine which passes through a rack centred between the two rails. As a consequence there is a lot of vibration – and the seats are not too comfortable – I would recommend this to anyone looking to loose cellulite from their buttocks.
It takes about 1½ hours to the summit. It is a long, slow journey but on this clear day the views were stunning. You get about 20 minutes at the top before the next train goes down. On the summit there is a cafeteria (which is deserving rest stop for those who walked up – but not for us who came up the easy way) and a weather station observatory (which you can tour around). True to form it was colder and windier on the summit – the temperature was in the low 60s and the wind was gusting at 45mph – making it feel even colder. As with all good explorers we had to climb to the summit – about 20ft above where the train dropped us off. Whilst we were there a man – I presume of Celtic origin- produced his bag pipes and started to play an off key version of Amazing Grace. Not sure if he was bad or whether his playing was being impacted by the wind or altitude. Most bizarre!
The journey down is a rapid, joggling hour long trek and reaching the balmy, calm base station was most welcome. All in all though a worth while experience.