Crown jewel of the White Mountains

At 6,288.2 feet, New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington is the tallest and most imposing peak in the Northeastern United States. You can read about its singular wonders in detail at www.mtwashington.org, the website of the private, nonprofit organization that funds and staffs the very well fortified observatory at its summit—clearly the crown jewel of the White Mountains National Forest.

My father, Dominic, on the left, with his younger brother Ralph. They grew up in n a tiny paper mill town nestled in the mountains of Northwestern Maine.

We did the Mt. Washington Auto Route about 20 years ago, with Hubby behind the wheel, my father in the front seat, and me sandwiched in the back between my Uncle Ralph and Auntie Betty, who’d done the drive before and were downright gleeful to repeat it. Daddy was a man of few words, but we could tell how thrilled he was when we arrived at the summit. The trip up the mountain didn’t bother me, but my heart was in my throat all the way back down, sans guardrail, as signs repeatedly warned us to pull over to give our brakes a rest. Which Hubby didn’t do, as I recall. Thankfully, our hulking Chevy Tahoe made it back to level ground without so much as a groan. The photos I’ve provided are actually photos of photos (pre-digital-everything days) from that trip. I haven’t edited them much—they are priceless as is. Daddy and my uncle are gone now.

The observatory.

The auto route is open only during Mt. Washington’s “good weather” months. You may not know this, but the mountain officially has some of the worst weather in the world. There’s a legendary clip of a TV weatherman, tethered for security against the ferocious wind, who is blown off screen during his broadcast. The mountain sits “at the convergence of three major storm tracks” that, when “combined with its elevation and unique topography create extraordinary weather extremes unlike anywhere on Earth.” Yes, even Mt. Everest. That’s why the mountaintop observatory, one of only a few mountaintop weather research stations in the world, is so important. Hardy research scientists housed at the well-fortified observatory endure the brutal weather conditions to work on projects ranging from product testing to “monitoring the intensity of cosmic rays from outer space.” Check the website to learn more about all of this, and find out about the periodic educational programs on lower, more weather-friendly ground in nearly North Conway. Although the mountaintop is often cloaked in clouds, you can see as far as Boston a clear day, and the breathtaking vista stretches to Quebec to the north. Needless to say, even in the midst of summer the air is definitely chilly. If you go, be generous with your outerwear. 

The cog railway at the summit.

If you’re not interested in driving up, you can take the cog railway, recently featured on one of my favorite TV shows, Weekends with Yankee.  This “little engine that could” is celebrating an impressive 150 years of operation in 2019. The brainchild of a visionary businessman named Sylvester March, it was the first such train to climb a mountain. We haven’t done the cog railway but would love to at some point, as the views are absolutely breathtaking, especially in the fall. However you climb it, the vista at the summit of Mt. Washington is a bucket list-worthy, utterly sublime experience.  

And down the mountain it goes.

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