I have lived in New England for most of my life so I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I have never been to the top of Mt. Washington, the tallest peak in the Northeast. I’ve been to the White Mountains, but we’ve always stayed at a lower elevation. When I received information about a photo workshop paired with a trip up Mt. Washington on the Cog Railway, well, I couldn’t say no.
The Cog Railway is just one of the ways up to the top (you can also drive or hike). The first cog train climbed Mt. Washington in 1869. It’s a wonderful experience, albeit a bit pricey. It may be worth it just to avoid having to drive your car up (and down) the narrow and windy Auto Road and it’s a must for railroad fans. Kids who are able to sit for a length of time (the trip up is an hour long) may really enjoy the adventure as well. I wouldn’t recommend any of it for toddlers, unless they are used to harsh weather. It’s pretty extreme at the top.
Before boarding one of their new biodiesel trains, I had a few moments to take some shots of the trains. I love the beautiful colors on the Cog train cars. You’ll see that they just pop against the skyline. My friend in the pictures is appropriately bundled up, despite the comfortable late-summer weather. The average high temps on Mt. Washington in the summer are in the low 50’s. Overall summer averages are in the 40’s. In the summer, the wind speed averages 20-30 miles per hour. It can get very chilly, even when it’s very warm at the base. The day we were there had a high of 43 and a low of 26 degrees (Fahrenheit).
The Cog Train cars are build on site. And there is some lovely craftsmanship involved. This is the ceiling of our car.
You are able to get up and take pictures as the trains go up and down the mountain. This is on our ascent. You can see the central rail for the cogs. That’s what keeps you from sliding down the mountain! That and your brakeman (who also doubles as a tour guide).
Mid-way up is a water tower for the steam-powered engine. The steam-powered train has a limited run, usually just the first of the day.
The tracks get so steep that you can stand at an angle and all of the level trees and buildings look crazy. I wish I had managed to get a decent shot, but between the moving car and the tendency to compensate for the wonky angle, I just couldn’t pull it off. I did get a decent picture of the steepness of the track. At it’s steepest point, it’s just over 37 degrees.
The view after we safely arrived. Not too shabby, huh?
This is the base station.
Visibility on the day we arrived was 100 miles. That’s pretty amazing. Peak visibility is about 130 miles, but according to the Mount Washington FAQ, the mountain is shrouded in clouds about 60 percent of the time. Add in decreased visibility due to fog and snow, and you can see that we lucked out.
The terrain at the very top of Mt. Washington is super rocky. I felt like I was walking on the moon.
The Cog trains run April through September, weather permitting. Our brakeman told us that if the wind is gusting higher than 70 miles an hour (hurricane force), they won’t bring people to the top. Seems fair enough to me.
It takes about an hour to get up the mountain on the Cog and then you have about an hour at the summit to explore.
There are plenty of these cairns dotting the landscape of the mountain. This one helps mark part of the Appalachian trail.
Don’t let these gently blowing fields of grass mislead you. The grass and moss grow over the rocky terrain, making it essential that you walk carefully. It’s easy to put your foot down where there is no ground to catch you!
There have been more than 135 fatalities recorded on Mt. Washington due to everything from hypothermia to plane crashes. Mount Washington claims the “Worst Weather in the World” due to a variety of factors, the biggest of which is the confluence of three different weather systems in this one spot. There are several markers in this general area for those who died on the mountain. For a healthy hiker in good weather, that’s about a 10-minute walk to the top, but with poor visibility, hikers may be unable to locate the summit.
My favorite Cog train descends the mountain. I love how it looks like a toy train on a set.
Despite the artic conditions, there is plenty of flora and fauna, especially in the summer.
I was captivated by the shades of blue representing the mountains on the horizon.
My friend Ali acting goofy at 6,000 ft.
There’s even a purple Cog train. The trains run every hour and at busy times of the day, they send up two trains at a time.
Just below the base of the summit is a wide plateau of land. This mound of rocks sits high on one of the plateau. I didn’t see any, but I was told there were quite a few spiders hanging out on the rocks that day.
Although we took the train to the summit, we hiked down to just below the 6,000 foot mark. Easy peasy. The climb back up to 6,288? Not so much. The asthma my doctors keep trying to convince me I have combined with my less-than-stellar physical conditioning and the high altitude made for a few hairy moments when I realized that I wasn’t able to take a full breath. My inhaler that I never use? In my bag at the bottom of the mountain. This view shot of the hike up to the Observation Center gives you a sense of just how steep it was.
The clouds give you just a small indication of how windy it was that day. There were a few moments when I thought I would be blown right over.
The plaque on the Summit Stage Office informs visitors that the highest recorded wind speed at the top was 231 miles per hour. According to them, it still holds the record for the highest wind speed recorded by man, although a cyclone in Australia now holds the highest wind speed at 253 miles per hour. That also explains the chains on the building.
The absolute highest point of the summit. I tried to get a shot up there, but it was like a line at Disney World. We did get a group shot later. I’ll share it if I can.
The western view from the summit. It was so windy on the observation deck that I had trouble capturing pictures. Peak wind gusts that day were 85 mph, with an average of 46.5 mph. Basically, it was windy!
It’s fascinating to watch the trees and plants change as you head up/down the mountain. I had hoped to capture more shots, but it just wasn’t going to happen. The lighting wasn’t agreeing with me.
Going down. Incredible!
A close-up of the water tower…
When we arrived safely back at the base, I took a shot of the top of the mountain. It’s still such a gorgeous day!
The photography workshop was a lot of fun. I am honestly not sure how much I learned (I’m still processing some of the info), but we had most of the day to explore the summit (semi-guided!), and we were accompanied by a representative from the Cog Railway who was able to provide additional information. I was lucky enough to enjoy the day with some old friends I hadn’t see in awhile, which made it even nicer.
* Most of my facts are from the Mt. Washington website, although I got some of them while still on the mountain. You can also find out more about the Cog Railway or buy tickets on their site.