Mount Washington

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

There are still eight states we haven’t visited together, so we decided to knock five of them off the list this month. We flew into Bangor, Maine this morning, and plan to drive through New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and end up in Newport, Rhode Island.

Unfortunately, we are shortchanging Maine. We’re only out here for a week so can’t take the time to visit their many beautiful parks, beaches and harbor towns. We’ll have to go back when we have more time.

Thursday, September 5

We left Bangor this morning, headed for Mount Washington in New Hampshire. While still in Maine, we noticed a sculpture of a hand-cranked telephone in Bryant Pond, Maine! We try to stop for oddities and quirky attractions, and this was no exception. A few of you may remember the hand-cranked telephones of days past. My grandparents had wall-mounted version when they still lived on the farm in Iowa, in the mid-1950’s.

Barbara and Eldon Hathaway purchased the Bryant Pond Telephone Company in 1951 for $2,500. This was the last hand-crank telephone system operating in the U.S. The Hathaways operated the company out of their home until selling it to the Oxford Networks Company in 1981 for $50,000, and that was the end of the hand-crank system.  Some local residents tried to save it, calling themselves the Don’t Yank The Crank Committee, but were over-ruled by the Public Utilities Commission.

There are two ways to get to the top of Mount Washington, by automobile or cog railway. We opted for auto due to our tight schedule. The Mount Washington Cog Railway is the first mountain-climbing cog railway, using both steam and bio-diesel to power the engine up and down the second-steepest railway in the world. The railroad was completed in 1869, 150 years ago. It takes about an hour for the train to climb the three miles to the top.

The Mount Washington Auto Road is privately operated, and is the only way to drive up. The road is about 7.5 miles long with lots of switchbacks, and it takes about 30 minutes to drive. The grade is steep in many areas, so we drove cautiously. We were warned to use low gear for the drive back down, and to stop frequently to cool the brakes.

We did stop a couple of times on the way up to enjoy the views. Our best views, though, were from the top of Mount Washington.

IMG_3503Located in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, Mount Washington is also called Agiococochook (Home of the Great Spirit) by the Abenaki people. It is almost 6,300 feet in height, and is well known for high winds, recording a wind speed of 231 mph in 1934. Only tornadoes and cyclones have recorded higher wind speeds. A February record was set just this year on February 25, 2019 when a peak gust measured 171 mph.

We were able to visit the Weather Station at Mount Washington Observatory, where we enjoyed a tour and learned more about the work that’s done here. The observatory is a private, non-profit scientific and educational institution that works with the National Weather Service, reporting its observations throughout the day and night. The staff work 12-hour shifts, from midnight to noon, and noon to midnight.

Our guide, Tom, talked about why Mount Washington experiences such strong winds. There are no mountains between the Rockies and the White Mountains, nothing to stop the winds or change their altitude. When the winds do reach here, they are effectively squeezed  between several peaks and gain speed, not unlike fluids that are compressed in a venturi tube.

Besides wind speeds, Tom and his co-workers measure temperatures year-round and snowfall in the winter. They must venture outside each hour to collect the snow and take measurements, fighting winds that make it almost impossible to remain upright. The equipment ices up quickly with rime ice, which occurs when supercooled droplets freeze and attach to any exposed surface that’s 32° or colder. Large snow pushing machines are used to keep the road open to the top of the mountain.

Today was very pleasant, and we were able to go to the top of the observatory for some phenomenal views.

The Tip Top House was a hotel built in 1853 before the cog railway even existed. It is the oldest building on Mount Washington. Built by Samuel F Spaulding with rock blasted from the mountain, it cost about $7,500 to construct. It operated off and on as a hotel until the early 1900’s, and then as an annex to the Summit House, another hotel, until 1968. The building was restored in 1987.

We stayed at the Omni Mount Washington tonight, where we could see the beginnings of fall colors as well as the observatory far away.


About kcbernick

I love to travel.
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