Mt. Washington Cog Railway, once known as “the railway to the moon,” still climbs the mountain after 142 years. We tried to do the same. Mt. Washington is located in the white mountains of New Hampshire, and is the tallest mountain of the northeast (6288 ft). The iconic peak remains the most meteorologically fierce place on the planet, with its cold winds in summer and life threatening cold in the winter. It is also the first mountain to operate a cog railway by coal-fired steam engines, which reaches the top of the mountain within 90 minutes time. We decided to hit Mt. Washington on a rainy day in May. It had been raining overnight, and the rain stopped by the time we reached the base of the mountain. We each paid a train ticket of $32, instead of $65 in season. We were the last trip before the season started, and we thought were lucky to get a bargain on the train ride.
The sun was shining, and slowly but surely, people were flocking towards the train that left around 10.30 am. There is a small museum at the bottom of the mountain next to the train ride. People were enjoying taking pictures, and some were just getting into the train. The train was packed, and the conductor started the tour. The train left the base slowly, and we were finally climbing Mt. Washington. First, we reached the big water tank standing by the train tracks (elevation about 3800), and next we passed the halfway house (over 4500 feet elevation).
Then we crossed the railway’s most iconic spot, Jacob’s Ladder: a 300 foot-long, curved trestle as high as 30 feet from the ground. We were invited to stand in order to experience the severity of the tilt. Jacob’s Ladder is one of the steepest lengths of track in the world, with a grade of 37.4%. This means that there is a 13’ height difference between the heads of the passengers in the front and back ends of the coach.
We then climbed towards the summit of Mt. Washington. As we went up, the fog started to settle in. We could hardly see what was out there, and it was sad not to be able to see the surrounding of the mountain. We somehow reached the summit without needing to see much on the way, as the fog got heavier and darker. We could see snow over the summit, and on the way up, we saw vestiges of a trail and some water as if it’s coming from a waterfall. We were told by the conductor that on a clear day, you can see the Atlantic Ocean, Canada, and all of the New England states.
Mt. Washington is famous for the worst weather on the east coast, and also the worst weather on the planet. Not even Mt. Everest can compete with it. When we reached the summit, we couldn’t see anything at all. The wind was strong and chilly. The fog was intense and only got darker. We could not even see each other, nor how to get into the building. Thanks to a worker, we found the way inside the building. We were frozen, wet, and hoping that some cool stuff was awaiting us after the disappointing climb.
The building was big enough to support few hundred people: a small restaurant, a gift shop, and, of course, the observatory. The restaurant food was pricey and, frankly, awful. Sometimes, by the time you reach the top of a mountain, everything tastes good, but not this food. We were disappointed by being there. The observatory was closed for renovation with no dates in the future of the opening. The gift shop was overpriced, and there was nothing to enjoy outside. We felt like we were trapped until the next train came. Disappointed, yes, but fortunately, we didn’t pay full price for a train ride with nothing to see. It would have been nice if they had told us there was nothing on the top to be seen. Then at least we wouldn’t have been expecting anything.
You have to have your return tickets with you when you go back. If you don’t have it, or if you accidently tossed it, they will make you wait until all other passengers with tickets boarded the train (whether you are a baby, kid, or an older person). I saw babies cry and older people shivering in the cold, forced to wait while others were getting onto the train. They were finally allowed in, but made to ashamed of themselves for not having the tickets. Would this strategy be to prevent hikers from taking the train back? Don’t know, but I didn’t get a clear answer from the guide.
On the way down, we got to see the surrounding mountains and the area more clearly, since the fog seemed to dissipate a little. We could see the other train coming up, and we had to stop few times for the conductor to go and readjust the train tracks for the other train. Downhill was a smooth ride, and people were ready to get out of the train. Far away, we could see the Mt. Washington resort with a distinctive red roof. We slowly came down and got off. We went to the museum and enjoyed the history of the cogwheel, but then we got out of the place.
Please take some advice before you go in. Sometimes, it seems nice and dandy, but the reality is that you don’t get to enjoy the top if nothing is available to you. For us, the price of the ticket was not justified by the amenities we were supposed to get. However, Mt. Washington is a great place to be if you are a climber. There are plenty of trails to go up, or if you want to, you can drive up to the top also.