Travelling InCOGnito

There’s more than one way to reach the top of mount Washington: walk, drive or take the train. We’d love to tell you we hiked up the mountain in record time just like the local thirty year old lady who does it twice a week! Alas we are not quite as fit as we would like to believe so we opted for the train.

That wasn’t the sole reason we opted for easy street, for this train is run on the only cog railway this side of the Rockies and at 6,288 ft it is a long way to the top of the highest peak in New England! We did not fancy adding to the tally of deaths (147) claimed by Washington since records began.

Even being pushed by a biodiesel engine it still took the best part of an hour to climb high into the clouds. The ascent was remarkable. If it weren’t for all the seniors around us and a lack of safety harnesses you might have though you were at the start of a roller coaster waiting for that first big drop! At one stage the front of the carriage was a ridiculous 13ft higher than the back! 

The train can climb such steep inclines thanks to the cog and ratchet system which works a lot like that on a roller coaster. The science is beyond us so you’ll just have to google it to learn more!

As we climbed higher the wind whistled through the carriage urging everyone to put on their coats and scarves (it was 20 Celsius at base station). The chill was a small price to pay for the spectacular views on offer. You could see for miles, even as far as Canada! Our guides helpfully pointed out the names of the neighbouring peaks – each named after presidents save for one which was named after a senator who never made it to the presidency (locals refuted a petition to rename it after Reagan so it stuck).

Once the train arrived at the top station we were immediately immersed in cloud. Unsure of what awaited, we bravely stepped off the train only to be greeted by 54 mph winds which almost knocked us off our feet, although not quite the record of 231 mph previously documented here! They say the weather is notoriously unpredictable on Mount Washington, while it was disappointing there was very little visibility the emotion of being there was exhilarating. Not wanting to miss out on the obligatory ‘we were there’ photo we sought out the summit marker then dived inside for some warm chocolate and an apple and cinnamon donut, which was recommend to us by our guide – it was excellent and all the better for being dipped in cocoa, it’s no wonder we keep being told “America runs on Dunkin’!”

Soon it was our time to leave, as we descended we spotted solo hikers following the ‘cairns’ – stone pyramids marking a path through the cloud since many years. We were lucky to have made it to the top – had we tried just a couple hours earlier we would have had to turn around just halfway up due to the poor weather conditions. I don’t know if we’ll ever be higher than we were then, with our feet still planted on the ground. Being in such an unforgiving environment is really quite humbling and reading through the names of those who gave their lives to the mountain certainly brings home how fragile we are in this world. It is a true feat of engineering that continues to deposit throngs of visitors on top of this marvel of nature without incident.

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