“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.” ~ William Blake
Growing up in the White Mountains
As someone who grew up in the Mount Washington Valley, I can count on two hands the amount of times I have actually been to the top. I did the obligatory hike as a kid, and I have driven up a couple times with my family, one of which I slept the whole way up, NOT bitter about that.
Mount Washington has always acted like a guardian above the town I lived in. A picturesque, oft times snow capped, one, standing stoically in the distance. I may have come from a small town, but when I mention Mount Washington, more likely then not people have heard of it.
As the highest mountain in the North East of the United States it also has the highest wind gusts ever recorded in the world. Mount Washington’s very proud claim to fame. It also has a bunch of firsts, it was the first man made tourist destination with the building of the auto road which at the time in 1861, only carriages used it. It also built the first pinion railroad in the world and was dubbed the railway to the moon. It is also home to the oldest maintained hiking trail in the world, which also happens to be part of the Appalachian Trail.
At 6,288-feet of elevation, Mount Washington was known to Native American’s as Agiocochook, and considered to be home to the Great Spirit. They had a reverent respect for it and it wasn’t until European Explorers came, that people finally climbed it. On a clear day you can see to the Atlantic, as well as the surrounding states of Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and New York. When I use to fly into Maine, there were some days where I could see it in the distance and I knew I was close to home.
Mount Washington is a State Park and is maintained by the organization. There are several ways to access it, including driving up the iconic Auto Road. You can drive up either in your own car or take the stage coach, which depending on who is driving, the latter might be the safest option. You can also take the historical cog railroad which is still in Operation. And if you are very daring and looking for an adventure, you can hike the numerous trails to the summit. Even in July the weather doesn’t get higher then fifty and then their are the windchills. So warm clothes are a must, especially if you are like I am and freeze when it is seventy!
It had been a few years since I drove up. The last time I was still living in New York. I admit the drive isn’t my favorite thing in the word, though I feel like it has gotten better, or I have just resigned myself to it as I have gotten older. It is insanely beautiful and cool to see the transition from thick to sparse as the tree line changes. There are drop offs so if heights aren’t your thing don’t look down. There are also a ton of outlooks to pull into so the drive doesn’t get monotonous, (though with the views, it really can’t) it is also perfect for going down as it gives your breaks, a well, much needed break so they don’t overheat.
It was busy up top, as it is a safe social distancing activity to do. It was also FREEZING. Below, it was in the low seventies, at the peak, it was in the thirties and the windchill was a good twenty degrees below that. It literally made me freeze thinking about how it is in the winter, where it turns into a frozen tundra. And actually the next day the summit did receive frost. And they have since gotten a ton of snow! ‘Tis the season!
The summit has several buildings, including the tip-top house which is believed to be the oldest surviving mountain top inn in the world. While you can’t stay there, you can go in. There is also the Observatory, where scientist stay year round tracking the weather as well as a visitor center and a museum. The visitor center has a gift shop, restrooms, and even a small canteen to warm up with hot chocolate. While the center building was open, we did not go in, so I don’t know if the gift shop or cafe were open. They also were requiring masks to go into the building itself.
We drove up, right before the foliage really started to change, but the views were still stunning. Despite the freezing temperatures and wind gusts, it was a clear day and we could see for miles. We even got to see the cog come chugging up the tracks. We didn’t get a picture with the sign as there was a line, and despite wearing coats scarves and mittens, the wind was STILL cutting through our coats. I needed my heaviest winter jacket!
The kiddos ran around for a little bit, we snagged some pics, and then we rushed back to the car to warm up, before heading down. We stopped at a couple of the pull offs, to soak in some more views on the way down. Despite the cold, it really was the best day, and I am so happy we got to go up.
Have you driven up or climbed Mount Washington? Have you ever been atop a Mountain?