The crown jewel within the White Mountain National Forest is arguably Mount Washington. Standing at 6,288 feet above sea level this rock is the tallest peak in the northeast and most prominent mountain east of the Mississippi. One thing that makes this mountain especially incredible is the weather at the top. Located right under the convergence of three jet streams the weather can change from amazing, to deadly very quickly. In April of 1934 a wind gust measuring 231 mph was recorded here, the fasted wind speed ever recorded not associated with a tropical cyclone. Today there is a weather/science station that is manned 24/7 around the year, even the dead of winter when the mountain gets over 300 inches of snow.
The peak of Mount Washington is the target of numerous hiking trails, one pretty amazing road, and a cog railway. Since the visibility at the top of the mountain can be as limited as 5ft, markers for both trails and road are at extremely close intervals. In 1861 the the road was opened to the public, in fact the original price list was on display at the visitor center. For the amazing price of only 16 cents you and your horse could ascend the great mountain. Now it surprises me that people would take a horse up the road, but apparently that was the norm (no word on how many horses didn’t make it all the way up and back down).
I was extremely excited (that’s probably an under statement) as I entered the line to pay the toll and head up the mountain. A sign welcomed us that only served to make me more excited for the trip up.
I was a bit surprised at the size of the line of cars and motorcycles waiting to make their way up to the summit. I’ll also have to admit that I was a bit envious when I say a couple Jeeps in line, sans roof and doors, preparing to make their way up. Now that is how I’d like to be doing this kind of drive!
When it was finally time for us to hand over the somewhat sizable toll, to my great and utter disappointment I was told that our vehicle was too long. WHAT?!?!?! But I just waited in line for 15 minutes, and I… I HAVE to make this drive!!!! Someone didn’t get the memo that everything was suppose to work my way it seems.
Feeling somewhat similar to a deflated balloon now I accepted the discount ticket for the shuttle up to the top and shamefully made a U-turn to head out to the main road. I was crushed, honestly I had been so excited to drive to the top of this little hill that being told ‘no’ just sucked the energy out of me. Yes, there is a MAJOR lesson in this, but even a day later I’m still trying to shake the full feeling of that disappointment. I’ll come back and reflect on this when the wounds are healed. 🙂
So now what?!? I just drove an hour and a half to get here, I can’t turn around!
We decided to sign up for the shuttle ride to the top, though there was over an hour wait until our shuttle would go up. I was starting to get a bit grumpy having to give up the adventure of the drive itself, but as would become evident when we actually headed up the road, the rules are there for a reason, and I would have had a hard time with our uber big truck. With that realization in mind I realized that my initial reaction was a bit like one of my kids when they begrudgingly obey a command even though they don’t realize the point of it (and most rules I make have a reason).
Since we had some time prior to the shuttle ride we headed up the road and took a short hike to visit the tallest free falling water fall in the state, Glen Ellis Falls. Coming in at about 64 feet high it was a pretty amazing little side trip to kill a bit of time with.
The shuttle ride up was pretty insane, I have to admit there is something to being able to spend all my time looking out the windows and not worrying as much about if I am going to hit a passing car or slip off the side of “Mother-in-laws Drop off” (yes that was the actual name of a very tight spot on the road). Once we got to the top… WOW!!!!!!
Typically it is quite normal for the top to be considerably colder and much windier then the base, however this day was a very rare exception. Our shuttle driver, who has been working various roles on the mountain for over a decade, told us that the day we had was one of only maybe three or four every year that the weather was this good. Visibility was over 80 miles in each direction, the temperature was in the low 60’s and the wind was only about 10mph!
We were given an hour on the top (we easily could have used twice that much) to take in the sights. It was actually pretty crowded given the amazing weather and we had to wait in a line to take a picture with the summit sign at the very top of the summit. I could go on and talk about other things, such as details about the ‘Tip Top House’, the weather station, or the cog railway, but I’m already getting pretty wordy here.
The ride down brought more amazing views of the surrounding mountains and some amazing drop offs. Despite the disappointment of not being able to drive up, the day turned out to be fuller and more amazing then we had expected, and despite mostly just sitting and either driving or riding in vehicles we all felt pretty exhausted!