We were on the road early to drive from Old Orchard Beach to northern New Hampshire, to the base of Mt. Washington, another 96 miles. I grew up in the mountains of this part of the state from the ages of 8 to 16 and being back in the mountains reminded me how beautiful this part of the country is. The mountains in Vermont are beautiful and I lived among them for over 20 years, but they truly don’t have anything on the mountains of northern New Hampshire. There’s something so rugged and intense about them.
The GPS directions first sent us to the wrong side of the mountain, where the auto road goes up. We had to put in new directions and drive almost an hour to get to the other side of the mountain where the train station was. In spite of it being an inconvenience, we took the opportunity to enjoy the scenery and now we can say we saw both sides. Then the GPS sent us over Jefferson Notch, which is a dirt road that doesn’t seem like it’s going to lead anywhere but what you’ve seen on a DateLine special. It’s almost 9 miles with no cell service of first and second gear if you’re driving a stick shift, and there’s really not enough room for two cars to pass each other. It takes you to an elevation of 3009 feet above sea level, to a sign that states that it’s the highest elevation reached by a public highway in New Hampshire. I’m not sure about anyone else, but this certainly didn’t seem like a public highway. Eventually, it got us to the base station road that took us to the cog railway.
Going up Mount Washington on the Cog Railway was the biggest financial splurge of our trip. I had put money aside specifically for this as it was something I really wanted to experience with Zach and it turned out to be even more of an amazing experience than I had originally envisioned. Zach had been up the mountain before by train, but he was only 6 months old at the time, so obviously he doesn’t remember it. He wasn’t too sure about it at first because it was just one car and one engine on each train, but once we got on, the awe started!
The Cog Railway at Mt. Washington (the highest peak in the northeast) was the first of its kind and the first ride up the 6,288 foot mountain happened 149 years ago, on July 3, 1869. It’s a really incredible invention. A cog wheel underneath the center of the train climbs the mountain to the top. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the summit, and the views on the way up are incredible, especially if you luck out like we did and have a day where the mountain isn’t covered in clouds. We were able to see all around us and it was breathtaking!
At the summit is an observation deck, a museum, restrooms, and cafeteria. The Tip Top House also sits at the summit and was on the top of the mountain long before the railway was created. This former hotel was built in 1853 and is the oldest surviving building in the summit area. Looking at the base and walls of the outside of this structure, knowing that Mount Washington has some of the world’s worth weather patterns and winds (the highest recorded wind speed on top of the mountain was 231 miles per hour back in in 1934), I can see why it was built with stones completely piled around the base and walls. There’s no way this hotel was going to be blown off the mountain. With Zach’s fascination of all things old and vintage, he was most intrigued by the fact that everything was cooked on a wood stove, the house was heated by stove, and everything in it looked OLD. At the time this house was built, the railroad didn’t exist so everything that came up the mountain to construct it was brought by hand and foot. Even the people that came to spend their summers here.
Out of all of our moments on our trip, I think that the one I caught at the top of the mountain on video is by far my favorite. Zach was really disappointed when we got to the top of the mountain that he could see clouds off in the distance but they weren’t covering the summit. I told him that it was amazing that they weren’t because usually, the summit is covered. We had a rare opportunity to be able to see amazingly far into the distance on all sides of the summit. The view was incredible. But he still wanted cloud cover. Eventually, he got his wish. The cloud cover moved in and fully engulfed the summit and he was ecstatic! He was running all over the top, exclaiming, “I’m in a cloud!” to anyone that would listen to him. The joy and awe on his face melted my heart. It made both our day! I got to see the view and he got his cloud cover!