There are three ways to get up to the top of Mt. Washington, at 6288 ft. the highest point in New Hampshire. One, you can drive it (and you've probably seen those bumper stickers that declare the owner's car made it all the way up). Two, you can hike it, usually on the Appalachian Trail (AT) which runs across the ridge line. Or three, you can take one of only three cog railways in the world. The image to the left shows Mt.Washington behind the historic Mt. Washington hotel. The slash on the mountain behind the hotel is the cog railway's track.
Constructed on hills that are too steep for traditional railways, cog railways have the normal two rails, plus a third running down the center of the track. This rail is slotted, and a gear connected to the engine fits into the slots to pull and brake the train as it ascends and descends. The other two cog railways in existence provide a trip up Pike's Peak, or a trip down to the entrance level at the Quincy Mine in Michigan, which we rode in July of this year.
The Mt. Washington railway runs two types of trains -- a modern, bio-diesel engine and a coal-powered steam engine. The trip takes 40 minutes, and at one point follows a 37.4% grade with a 30 degree turn. The steam engine uses 1 ton of coal and 1000 gallons of water on the trip -- but it's water tank only holds 700 gallons. So a water tower is located along the track for a fill-up. It needs no pumps to operate -- the tower is replenished by a natural spring.
After chugging up the hill, we got to the summit where the highest recorded temperature is only 74 degrees, the lowest 49 below zero, and permafrost exists just below the surface. We had a beautiful day -- sunny, 60-something, and almost no wind. And no wind is not all that common -- the average wind velocity is 37 miles per hour, and hits 75 miles per hour for half the days in winter. The highest wind velocity recorded was 231 miles per hour.
At this elevation the Appalachian Trail is marked by cairns, piles of stone that serve as trail markers in places where signs are difficult to erect and maintain. A tradition amongst AT thru-hikers (those going all the way from Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine) is "Mooning the Cog," which is exactly what you think it is! We did see several AT hikers, none of whom mooned us, probably because the local constabulary recently began arresting them for indecent exposure.
After debarking the train at the summit, we had about an hour to wander and explore. The scenery was fantastic, with a panoramic view in all directions. We made the final scramble up a small pile of rocks to reach the actual summit of Mt. Washington, where groups took turns taking each other's pictures. Here we are at the summit, and below is a short video I took of the steam train as it neared the summit.