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  • Writer's pictureMaanasi Sridhar

Mount Washington, the Highest Peak in Northeastern United States

Originally called by the Abenaki Indians as "Agiocochook," which translates to "the place of the Great Spirit."

A section of the Presidential Range in the White Mountains, NH.

Mt. Washington is one of the thirteen mountains in the Presidential Mountain Range in the White Mountains. Spread across north-central New Hampshire and slightly into western Maine, the White Mountains are the most rugged mountains in New England and are a segment of the Appalachian Mountains, which are among the oldest mountains on Earth.

Many endeavor to hike through the Presidential Mountain Range to reach the summit of Mt. Washington. Nearly 5.5 miles of the trail, running from Mt. Pierce to Mt. Washington, are part of the Appalachian Trail. There four distinct ecological zones here on Mt.Washington, and this section traverses above 4,000 feet in elevation through an ecologically sensitive alpine habitat, which is home to many rare plants and animals. The famous Crawford Path first laid out in 1819 is the oldest mountain hiking trail in America and has been in continuous use since!

Aside from hiking there are other ways to reach the highest peak in the Northeast of America— via the Mt. Washington Cog Railway and guided tours on the Auto Road, or by simply driving yourself up on the Mt. Washington Auto Road— whatever way one chooses to reaches the summit, the rewards include astounding panoramic views and an unparalleled experience at the "Home of the World's Worst Weather" at 6,288 feet. This mountain is also the venue of exciting events such as the Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb and Road Race aka "Climb to the Clouds." Mt.Washington's historic Auto Race, also America's oldest auto race, to the summit was first held in1904!

The oldest continuously used trail built by Ethan Allen Crawford in 1819.
At roughly 4,400 feet elevation we enter the Alpine zone, most of the plants and flowers found here are endangered.

We decided the best and quickest way to reach the summit would be via the Mt.Washington Auto Road, as hiking was not an option for us at this time. Prior to our trip we hadn't really given much consideration to how challenging the Auto Road would actually be, and to just keep the whole experience a surprise we didn't want to look for any videos about the Auto Road that were available to watch online. On the day of our visit as we were driving towards the Toll House, a big sign stated "...if you have a fear of heights, you may not appreciate this driving experience." Hmm, ok. No worries. Or, so we thought!

The once rough, wheel-breaking carriage road is today the 7.6-mile Mt.Washington Auto Road. Its steep and narrow mountain road sans guardrails guarantees an adrenalin pumping ascent to the summit. The average grade of the Mt.Washington Auto Road is 12% while the steepest section of the road, know as the Raymond Grade, is 18%. There are well over 150 turns and switchbacks as the road winds its way to the 6,288-foot summit of the tallest peak in the Northeast. There were many turnouts along the way to park our car and walk around, which also gave us a chance to cool the breaks, and calm our nerves!

We thought that all we needed to bring for this trip was our sense of adventure, so naturally any semblance of nerves or anxiety had no time to cultivate until we were mid way up the mountain. Well, let me tell you something. I'd now most definitely add to the list — a whole lot of grit and courage, and I'd throw in some humor as well (nothing like nervously laughing at your own jokes as your co-passengers are holding their breath watching you try to steer the car up a narrow mountain road... with no guard rails and inches away from a sheer drop!)

Another very popular attraction at the White Mountains is the Mt. Washington Cog Railway. Starting at the Marshfield Base Station in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, this round trip adventure on the Mt. Washington Cog Railway is a must do adventure for those visiting New England. With an average grade of 25% the Cog Railway climbs to Washington State Park at a peak elevation of 6,288 feet. This is the first mountain climbing cog railway in the world, and the only cog railway west of the Rockies. Designed and built by Sylvester Marsh of Compton, NH, the steam powered Cog Railway's first trip to the top of Mt. Washington was on July 3, 1869. Nearly 150 years on, the Cog Railway is still considered as "one of the technological wonders of its age." Today, the Cog Railway primarily operates eco-friendly biodiesel locomotives.

Mt. Washington Cog Railway, New Hampshire.

Aptly called "the windiest place on the planet," here visitors can experience the fury of the winds and extreme weather conditions. April 12, 1934, in the legendary building Summit Stage Office, the Mount Washington Observatory, recorded the fastest wind gust of 231 mph! It still stands as the record for the fastest surface wind measured in the Northern and Western Hemispheres, and for nearly sixty-two years Mount Washington, New Hampshire held the world record for the fastest wind gust ever recorded on the surface of the Earth. The record was later broken when a weather station in Barrow Island, Australia, recorded a 253 mph gust during Cyclone Olivia in 1996, now verified as the world's strongest wind gust.

As the weather changes quickly and drastically up here on the mountain, daily records are kept by the Mount Washington Observatory, one of the first mountain top weather stations in the world, where they maintain a year-round weather station on the summit taking hourly weather observations, performing research, and conducting educational programs. The Observatory also maintains the Extreme Mount Washington museum on the summit, and Weather Discovery Center in nearby North Conway. Located inside the state-of-the-art Sherman Adams Visitor Center, a visit to the museum is a must!

Another popular building to visit is the legendary Tip-Top House, the second stone house to be built on the summit. It is an original summit hotel dating back to 1853, and believed to be the oldest existing mountain hostelry in the world. At one point in time it was also a printing office for Among the Clouds newspaper printed during the tourist seasons from the summit (circa 1877). Adjacent to the Tip-Top House is the famous Mt. Washington Summit sign.

Mt. Washington State Park is located here on the summit. A 60.3-acre parcel perched on the summit of the highest peak in the northeast. On a clear day views from the summit extend beyond New Hampshire as far as 130 miles to Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Quebec, and the Atlantic Ocean. Mt.Washington is also surrounded by 750,000 acres of the White Mountain National Forest. Since only the highest summits reach above the timberline, a large part of the mountains lie within the White Mountain National Forest. With more than 1000 miles of nature trials, numerous ski slopes and outdoor camping sites and other activities, this is a very popular vacation destination.

This once remote hinterland, Mt. Washington is definitely one of the most remarkable places on the planet. The ruggedness, beauty and majesty of the White Mountains transcends time bringing happiness and adventure to its thousands of visitors year after year.

Location: Mount Washington, New Hampshire

Photos: Maanasi & Sri

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