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S U M M E R T H E AT R E
HILLTOP 103 things that everyone should know about the Northeast’s highest summit In Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech he proclaimed, “Let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.” King called Boston his second home and knew a lot about our state, so did he have Mount Washington in mind as he spoke those timeless words? Our state’s most famous geological feature has a history of influencing the world in ways that are both profound and ridiculous. Like the following ...
Photo by Greg Kretschmar 36
nhmagazine.com | June 2019
nhmagazine.com | June 2019
Guest editor Dan Szczesny literally wrote the book on Mt. Washington (see more about “The White Mountain” on page 62). We invited him to write some key installments, and asked him to tap experts on a variety of topics. You’ll find them throughout these pages, as well as additions from New Hampshire Magazine staff and regular contributors. Where to start seemed a tough choice, but Dan knew right away — it had to be Marty.
Of all the amazing people, records, history and weather that can be found on New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington, there is one creature that tops the list. Seldom does a book reading or presentation go by that I’m not asked about the summit’s only full-time resident. On January 8, 2008, New Hampshire held two elections. The first was the presidential primary. The second, in which more than 8,000 New Hampshire residents voted, decided the fate of arguably the most important nonhuman in the Granite State. That nonhuman is Marty, the Mount Washington Observatory’s current mascot cat. The black, longhaired Maine coon beat out opponents Wilson and Sarah in a three-way race to decide which kitty would replace the recently retired mascot Nin (see more about Nin
2 Tickey Paved the Way
Originally named Sally, Tickey was the first observatory mascot, opening the station along with the human founders in 1932. The only sound the original kitten would ever respond to, according to observatory lore, was the “tick tick” of stirring energy drinks made by observers, thus her name. Tickey was closest to founder Sal Pagliuca, who would toss the cat into his sleeping bag at night for some extra warmth. — Dan Szczesny
nhmagazine.com | June 2019
below). Marty won in a runaway. Cats have been a near-continuous presence at the summit observatory since its beginning in 1932 as a weather station. The first cats were mainly strays brought up to serve mouse-catching duty, but also to offer some companionship to the observers, as the crew stayed for much longer shifts back then. Over the years, the summit cats have had far more company than in those early years, with TV crews, state park employees and visitors arriving via foot, Auto Road and Cog Railway. Marty’s a little older now, a little more settled in his ways, but he continues to “write” a monthly column for the OBS Newsletter, and if you’re lucky, the mountain’s biggest celebrity will pay you a visit during a tour. — Dan Szczesny
3 “Cat in the Clouds”
Eric Pinder, who worked at the Mount Washington Observatory, chronicled the journey of the feline mascot who preceded Marty (see above). Follow stray cat, Nin, as he drifts from home to home until he meets a meteorologist named Mark. Nin then begins his greatest journey up Mt. Washington where he learns that the best friends can be found anywhere, even high above the clouds.
tickey photo courtesy of ken mckenzie
The mountain’s most popular creature
photo by dan szczesny
1 Marty the Cat
4 Giovanni da Verrazzano
6 Agiocochook Crag
Agiocochook is a Native American name for Mount Washington. Today, there aren’t many places you’ll find the name, though one exception is a crag located about 500 feet from the summit on Nelson Crag Trail, near the Auto Road. A hiker named Steve Perry noticed this rocky bump didn’t have a name on any maps, so he petitioned in 2011 to name it Agiocochook Crag, as it is now known.
7 First Fatality
Frederick Strickland owns a grim first — he was the first-recorded person to die on Mt. Washington on October 19, 1849. Despite winter-like conditions, the 29-year-old Englishman did reach the summit, but was less lucky on the return trip. While on the way down, he got lost, eventually meeting his fate in the bed of the Ammonoosuc River in the Ammonoosuc Ravine.
8 1918: The White
Mountain National Forest, home to Mt. Washington, is established.
9 First Ascent Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano was the first European to see Mt. Washington. He noted seeing “high interior mountains” from the coast as he sailed north in 1524.
5 Sylvester Marsh
Sylvester Marsh was an enterprising young man, hiking to Boston from his Campton farm at age 19 to work at Quincy Market. He quickly moved on — and up. A founder of the Chicago meatpacking industry, he made his fortune after devising a process for drying corn and grain, which was used in the making of cereal. Returning to New England, he and friends developed a steam-driven locomotive that climbed on cogged tracks. New Hampshire legislators greeted his plan for a railway up Mt. Washington with derision, but granted a charter, never expecting the project to proceed. With eight others, Marsh bought 17,000 acres extending to the summit, and by August 1866, completed enough track to host dignitaries and rail tycoons on a short ride. Railroad money soon flowed in to complete the track and Marsh’s dream became reality. Sadly for Marsh, his big investors soon pushed him out and he retired to Concord, where he died in 1884. His legacy, however, lives on — the Cog Railway is celebrating its 150th anniversary. — Barbara Radcliffe Rogers
The first recorded ascent was by Darby Field in 1642, though there is some question about his use of Native American guides, and the likelihood of prior ascents by Native Americans. nhmagazine.com | June 2019
10 The Willey Slide Tragedy
12 Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory
New Hampshire claims a number of firsts, but the country’s first weather observatory is not among them. At midnight on January 31, 1885, the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory opened in Massachusetts. Over 130 years later, it’s the oldest, continuously operated observatory in the US. It’s thanks to Blue Hill that our own observatory had one less hurdle to clear when it opened in 1932 — the Blue Hill director at that time, Dr. Charles Franklin Brooks, donated both instruments and training to help the Mount Washington Observatory get underway. In fact, the anemometer used to record the 1934 world record-setting wind speed was from Blue Hill and now resides at the Weather Discovery Center.
In 1826, the Willey Slide Tragedy turned the White Mountains into a tourist attraction. In the decades after the American Revolution, the White Mountains were still a vast, empty wilderness. Nevertheless, that is where Sam Willey decided to settle his family, at the base of what is now called Mt. Willey. During a violent rainstorm and fearing mudslides, the Willey family fled their home to a nearby stone structure they’d built for just such an event. Ironically, their would-be refuge was destroyed, killing all inside, but the mudslide missed the house entirely. Word spread, and the house began attracting tourists, and soon artists and writers were drawn as well, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote “The Ambitious Ghost,” a short story about the tragedy.
11 Lizzie Bourne
In September 1855, 23-year-old Lizzie Bourne set out from Glen House Hotel to climb Mt. Washington with her uncle and cousin. Lizzie had a heart condition, but was determined to spend the night at Tip-Top House to see the sunrise. Like other 19th-century women, she wore full skirts, petticoats and pantaloons — yards of heavy fabric. Despite warnings of bad weather, in late afternoon they left the Halfway House and the protection of trees. Winds turned chill and damp, and clouds obscured the trail. Skirts now soaked and heavier, Lizzie faltered and they stopped for the night, sheltered behind a hastily built stone pile. That night Lizzie became Mt. Washington’s first female casualty. In the morning, clouds lifted to reveal Tip-Top House, only a few hundred feet away. A simple monument beside the Cog Railway commemorates the spot where she died. — Barbara Radcliffe Rogers
nhmagazine.com | June 2019
13 Weather Discovery Center
The Mount Washington Observatory Weather Discovery Center in North Conway is an interactive science museum that’s linked directly to the summit, with simultaneous wind speed, barometric pressure and weather conditions. Hands-on exhibits designed for all ages demonstrate wind force and other weather indicators. A great favorite is the replica of the observatory at the time of the record-breaking wind velocity. The cabin shakes and creaks as the wind increases — watch the window to see the summit cat. — Barbara Radcliffe Rogers
14 “Not Without Peril” “Not Without Peril: 150 Years of Misadventure on the Presidential Range” by Nicholas S. Howe profiles people who found trouble on New Hampshire’s Presidential Range, from the 19th century through the present day. The result is a compelling story about our changing relationship with the mountains we love and the risks they pose.
photo by stillman rogers
The tragic death of the Willey family in a mudslide turned the country’s attention to the White Mountains, helping to set the stage for the area — and Mt. Washington — to become tourist attractions.
15 Tuckerman Ravine
Each spring, thousands of skiers travel to the famous ravine to test their skills on some of the steepest yet most accessible backcountry skiing in the East. Itâ€™s a storied sports tradition that dates back to the early 1900s. Though it can be skied from late fall into June, April and May are the most popular months because avalanches are less likely. Tuckerman is on the eastern slope of Mt. Washington, and is named for botanist Edward Tuckerman, who studied alpine plants and lichen in the area in the 1840s and â€™50s. Photo by Joe Klementovich nhmagazine.com | June 2019
nhmagazine.com | June 2019
16 The Cog Cleans Up
Since the mid-1800s plumes of wood or coal-generated smoke and steam have appeared over the Mt. Washington Cog Railway tracks on their 3-mile route to the top. In 2008, the first eco-friendly version of the Cog was cranked out by the railway shop crew. For more than a century, the engines have been built and maintained on-site. This one featured a biodiesel-powered John Deere engine that ran much cleaner than coal and the fuel was even cheaper. This development, along with such innovations as the use of solar-powered track switches, show that the Cog is a technological envelope-pusher as well as a historical people-mover. Photo by Joe Klementovich — This is one of the Cog Railway’s coal-powered steam engines that still bring tourists to the summit of Mt. Washington. They don’t make every trip — they only run once or twice per day. nhmagazine.com | June 2019
17 150 Years of the Cog
On July 3, 1869, Old Peppersass became the first cog-driven train to climb 6,288-foot Mt. Washington. One hundred and fifty years later, the Cog Railway is designated a National Historic Engineering Landmark. To celebrate the sesquicentennial, a number of special events are planned throughout the 2019 season. The refurbished Peppersass went on tour to Pennsylvania and Washington, DC, in March and will be coming to a town near you throughout the year. Look for her to appear at rest stops, town festivals and parades around New England. Meantime, on June 22 at Marshfield Base Station, the company is holding a history and fireworks celebration, with a special Cog Railway employee reunion taking place the next day, June 23. Book a space at the gala or on the Cog for a ride here: thecog.com. — Dan Szczesny
19 Cog Convergence In “The Mount Washington Cog Railway,” local historian Bruce Heald ties the history of the Cog Railway’s construction with the grand romance of the goldenage of rail as they converge at the top of Mt. Washington.
20 Tip-Top House
The oldest surviving building on the summit of Mt. Washington, called the Tip-Top House, now contains exhibits and artifacts of the mountain’s history, but was originally a hostel. In fact, it’s said to be the oldest existing mountaintop hotel in the world. It was built with mountain rock for $7,000 by Samuel F. Spaulding, and beginning in 1877, it served as the printing office for the mountain’s official newspaper, Among the Clouds.
When Sylvester Marsh had the first experimental locomotive built to perform the “impossible task” of summiting Mt. Washington, it was constructed from his plans at the Campbell Whittier & Co. machine shop near Boston. Once built, it was broken down and transported by train to Littleton, then ox-carted 25 miles to the Mt. Washington site and reassembled. Marsh dubbed it “Hero.” Reportedly, when it was unveiled on August 29, 1866, someone in the crowd observing the tall upright boiler cried out, “It looks like a peppersauce bottle.” Being a Yankee, the person pronounced the word as “peppersass” and that name stuck. Another story says that Marsh’s daughter Mary, who was fond of pepper sauce, bestowed the moniker. Either way, Peppersass went on to help build the cog railway and now welcomes visitors to the Cog when it’s not out on tour or making a star appearance at a steampunk festival somewhere. 44
nhmagazine.com | June 2019
photo courtesy national park services
21 Literary Perspective
Twenty previously written pieces cover every aspect of the mountain’s storied past in this unique volume of work, edited by Mike Dickerman. Follow the history of the nation’s first mountain-climbing train and witness Mt. Washington’s tales of human tragedies.
22 Fourth Annual Railway to the Moon Steampunk Festival
25 Ravine Geology
photo courtesy rebecca metcalf
The large ravines that carve the upper slopes of Mt. Washington are glacial cirques, bowl-shaped depressions scooped from the mountainside. Their steep sides and headwalls were carved about 2 million years ago by alpine glaciers eroding the rock as they moved. Tuckerman Ravine is the poster child of glacial cirques, a well-rounded bowl with talus piles at its floor composed of rocks dislodged from above as the glacier moved. Great Gulf is the largest cirque and Huntington Ravine has the steepest and highest headwall. Oakes Gulf separates high ridges to the south. There are 17 in all, but some, like the Ammonoosuc Ravine, have lost their characteristic shape to erosion by mountain streams. — Barbara Radcliffe Rogers This free event takes place from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on August 17 and 18 at the Mt. Washington Cog Railway. The two days include vendors, activities, food, performers and an invitation to come decked out in your best steampunk outfits. For a fee, rides aboard the Cog will also be offered. railwaytothemoon.com
23 High-blown Verses
Illustrious Mountain! thou dost stand alone, The loftiest sentinel that guards our land; The glorious images of the Eternal One; The work sublime of his Almighty hand. On every side what boundless prospects rise! What oceans vast of mountain scenery! What dread magnificence of earth and skies! What regions of unrolled immensity!
photo by bruce luetters
When Charles Burroughs, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Portsmouth, summited the mountain on July 9, 1845, he was so moved by the experience he wrote a short poem that was eventually published in “The Poets of Portsmouth” (1865). It still captures some of the rapture felt by first-timers looking out on the majesty of creation. Here are his first two stanzas.
24 Mount Washington Road Race
The good news — there’s only one hill during this race. The bad news? That “hill” is Mt. Washington. This historic running event, happening on June 15, draws thousands to the Auto Road. Registration takes place each winter, with “lucky” runners selected at random. For the 2019 Northeast Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race, cheer on the brave folks who will make the grueling climb to the summit and earn rights to a bumper sticker that reads “The Driver of This Car Ran Up Mt. Washington.” mtwashingtonautoroad.com
In winter, the SnowCoach, a van-sized vehicle driven by four tracks, climbs the snow-covered Mount Washington Auto Road as far as the tree line. Here, at the site of the former Halfway House, passengers can step out into a subarctic world, at about 4,200 feet. The coach climbs through a changing landscape of snow-covered forest into one of sweeping views framed in stunted, rime-coated trees. Early birds can ride to the tree line to watch the sunrise. — Barbara Radcliffe Rogers
27 Old Summit House The first Summit House opened in 1852, and was enlarged in 1853 to accommodate 60 overnight guests and 150 in the dining room, a popular stop for Cog Railway day-trippers. Guests retired with candles to upstairs guest rooms warmed by steam heat, and during storms, bellmen were ready with wooden panels to replace window panes shattered by the wind. A larger Summit House opened in 1873, destroyed by fire in June of 1908, and in 1915 a third opened, eventually replaced by the Sherman Adams Building. In 2016, Cog Railway owners proposed building an upscale hotel on railway land a mile from the summit; backlash from conservationists and hikers’ groups was almost immediate, but the plan is still on the table. — Barbara Radcliffe Rogers nhmagazine.com | June 2019
At times on the summit, you can lean into the fierce wind and not fall over.
On April 12 of this year, observers at the Mount Washington Observatory cut into a Big Wind cake to celebrate a very special anniversary; 85 years ago on that date, OBS recorded the world’s fastest surface wind speed ever observed by humankind, a mighty gust of 231 miles per hour. The 1934 record put the young observatory on the map, and sealed Mt. Washington’s fate as home to some of the world’s most extreme weather. For nearly 62 years, the observatory held the record for the fastest gust ever recorded on the surface of the Earth. That was exceeded by a gust of 253 mph in 1996 at Barrow Island, Australia, during Typhoon Olivia. However, unlike Mt. Washington, it was not observed by people. The 1934 wind is still the fastest surface wind measured in the Northern and Western Hemispheres, and the fastest witnessed in person. Two of the original four founders — Alex McKenzie and Sal Pagliuca — were up top on the day of the Big Wind, and Pagliuca noted the experience in that evening’s log book. “The wind was furiously blowing my parka out of my storm pants,” he wrote. “The hood was on my face, almost blinding me.” The mountain still has frightful gusts — in February 2019, a 171 mph blow was measured — but the Big Wind has yet to be topped. — Dan Szczesny
29 Tuckerman Inferno
The Tuckerman Inferno adventure race is one of the most challenging in the country — and has deep historical roots. Covering approximately 36 miles, this Friends of Tuckerman Ravine fundraiser starts at Story Land in Glen with an 8.6-mile run and finishes with the difficult task of skiing down the notoriously tough ravine. Between those two tasks, the pentathlon also includes kayaking (5.5 miles), biking (18.2 miles with 2,000foot climb) and hiking (3 miles, 2,268 feet total climb). Held in April each year since 2000, individuals and small relay teams sign up for this grueling race that’s taken place in just about every type of weather. The modern-day inferno is inspired by the legendary American Inferno races held in the 1930s, when testing one’s mettle in Tuckerman Ravine started to become incredibly popular. These races and other events at Tuckerman at the beginning of the 20th century helped create the sport of backcountry and extreme skiing — participants in today’s race are a part of a historic sporting legacy. friendsoftuckermanravine.org 46
nhmagazine.com | June 2019
30 Casualty List Across from the information desk at the Mt. Washington summit, there is a “wall of fame” where no one wants to see their name. It’s the framed “Casualties of Mount Washington” poster, a list of the 161 known deaths (a total that keeps changing) since the state park started recording them in 1849 (presumably the mountain was just as dangerous before the list began). The cause of most of these deaths can be summarized by the six words also tacked to the wall in a much larger font: “The Worst Weather in the World.” An unscientific breakdown of the list, which includes several vague causes of death “indirectly associated with Mt. Washington,” reveals the following reasons as the most common: • Falls (44) • Hypothermia/Weather Exposure (33) • Heart Attacks (23) Inevitably, some of the deaths in the park were avoidable. In two separate incidents over the past decade, two men in their 20s fell to their deaths in Tuckerman Ravine after hiking off the trail to get a better view of the waterfall. Other incidents are more heartbreaking, involving good Samaritans dying while trying to rescue injured/missing skiers or hikers. “Primarily, we keep this list as a respectful memorial to those who lost their lives in the Presidential Range,” says Patrick Hummel, manager of Mount Washington State Park. “It’s not meant to be sensational in any way, but it’s also a reminder to visitors about the dangers that can be present every day here.” As of this publication’s deadline, the most recent fatal accident happened on April 11, 2019. Nicholas Benedix, 32, of Campton, New Hampshire, was buried in an avalanche while skiing alone in the Raymond’s Cataract area northeast of Tuckerman Ravine. Rescuers were able to dig out Benedix from the snow after more than 90 minutes being trapped, but he later died of cardiac arrest. Wind speeds at the summit of Mt. Washington can exceed hurricane force (75 mph) more than 100 days per year. For tips on how to be prepared to hike the mountain in any season, visit hikesafe.com. — Darren Garnick To read the full text of the “Casualties of Mount Washington” list, visit nhmagazine.com.
photo by stephen crossman
28 Big Wind
photo courtesy of ken bennett
31 Hiking Gear — My, How Things Change!
Hard to believe there was a time when hikers in the White Mountains didn't wear Gore-Tex or wicking rain gear. Hiker Ken Bennett was only 27 years old when he and a group drove north on a whim in June 1976 to climb Mt. Washington. They took the Glen Boulder Trail up and then over to the summit. Ken wore leather boots, a cotton shirt, jean shorts and an oversized external pack with a steel water container. He didn't own hiking poles so instead he used an old brown cane for support. “We had one of those instant cameras, and had no idea that there was a 4,000-footer list to climb,” Ken says. “My, how things change.” Forty-three years later and Ken is still tackling the mountain. Keep hiking, Ken, keep hiking! — Dan Szczesny
32 Literary Ascent
So you’ve heard about Mt. Washington’s world’s-worst weather and thought, “Hey, I’d like to check that out for myself!” For a little over $1,000 in the winter and $499 in the summer, the Mount Washington Observatory invites you to stay for the night. The winter EduTrips include transportation to and from the base in a snowcat, a chance to learn about topics ranging from the science of winter storms to climate extremes, exclusive tours with the observatory staff, accommodations in the bunk room, meals and, yes, the chance to experience the mountain’s famous weather extremes. For everyone’s safety, there are health and gear requirements you’ll need to meet before embarking on the journey, either in the winter or summer. This year’s summer topics are on — you guessed it — bad weather, with the chance to learn about the science of thunderstorms or hurricanes and cyclones.
Appalachia is America’s longest-running journal of mountaineering and conservation. The journal comes out twice a year and delivers content about mountain exploration, ecology and conservation, mountaineering expeditions, poems and much more.
35 Life at the Top
Writer Henry David Thoreau visited the Mt. Washington during the pre-Civil War White Mountains tourism boom. Drawn as other artists and writers were by the transcendent landscape, he climbed the mountain in 1839. Though by then there were other ways up, he preferred to hike, and seemingly didn't agree with turning the summit into a tourist attraction complete with hotels, writing years later, “I think that the top of Mt. Washington should not be private property; it should be left unappropriated for modesty and reverence’s sake, or if only to suggest that earth has higher uses than we put her to.” It just goes to show arguments over balancing tourism with preserving natural spaces are nothing new.
In “Life at the Top: Weather, Wisdom & High Cuisine from the Mount Washington Observatory,” former observer Eric Pinder describes the joys and terrors of living in the clouds and explains Mt. Washington’s geology and weather. The book concludes with a one-of-a-kind cookbook, “Recipes from the Rockpile.” nhmagazine.com | June 2019
As the Northeast’s tallest peak and an iconic New Hampshire symbol, it’s inevitable that our mighty mountain would inspire others to use its name. Tuckerman Brewing Company
Located in Conway, Tuckerman Brewing Company is named for Tuckerman Ravine. Many of their beers reference iconic parts of Mount Washington, including their winter seasonal, the 6,288 stout. A portion of the proceeds from this beer is donated to the Mount Washington Observatory. tuckermanbrewing.com
37 Ride to the Sky
It’s a big mountain so there’s something for everyone, even on the famous Auto Road where each June the road is closed to tourist cars and open only to motorcycle traffic for Ride to the Sky. A pass for a bike and operator is $17 with an extra $9 charge for a passenger (though this is waived if you head up the mountain before 10 a.m.). Photographers from phantombiker.com are on hand to capture your ascent with the Mt. Washington Valley rolling into the distance and will happily sell prints of this once-(or as often as you like, really)-in-a-lifetime experience.
The S.S. Mount Washington
The M/S Mount Washington
The M/S Mount Washington started as the S.S. Mount Washington II. Launched on Lake Winnipesaukee in 1940, it was originally steam-powered — and 25 feet shorter than its current length of 230. Diesel engines replaced steam in 1946, and she was rechristened as M/V Mount Washington. Then, in 1982, the ship was cut down the center and those extra 25 feet were added, reclassifying her as an official ship by maritime standards. Once again the name changed, this time to the M/S Mount Washington. Today, the Mount is one of the state’s most popular tourist attractions, offering a number of scenic cruises around the state’s biggest lake. cruisenh.com
The Omni Mount Washington Resort
Opened in 1902 in Bretton Woods, this is one of the state’s few remaining grand hotels, where you can take in views of Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range while surrounded by history, luxury and, legend has it, more than a couple ghosts. When you step inside, it’s easy to imagine the hotel’s heyday at the turn of the century, when the country’s wealthiest families (think the Rockefellers) walked the halls. omnihotels.com/mountwashington
nhmagazine.com | June 2019
Each October, there’s quite the sight to behold at Mt. Washington. No, it’s not foliage. Think higher, above the trees. Much higher. On October 12 this year, glider pilots from all over New England will come to the Mt. Washington Soaring Association’s “wave camp,” where they will fly the “wave” — air currents that are particularly strong on Mt. Washington. In fact, the Mt. Washington wave is the strongest in the Northeast, and some pilots have reached 35,000 feet. If you read that and thought, “Oh, fun!” instead of “Well, that sounds terrifying,” the Franconia Soaring Association offers scenic rides, introduction to soaring flights, glider rentals, flight instruction and glider towing. You can learn more at franconiasoaring.org.
39 First Words In 1846, Lucy Crawford published “History of the White Mountains.” Crawford was the wife of Ethan Crawford who, along with his father Abel, built the first footpath to the summit of Mount Washington. Her book was the first to be published about the region.
The S.S. Mount Washington, or “Old Mount,” was a 178-foot-long wooden side-wheeler steamship. Launched in 1872 by the Boston & Maine Railroad, she ferried both people and cargo across Lake Winnipesaukee. By the end of the 19th century, she boarded more than 60,000 people a year. Eventually, the Old Mount became a tourist attraction, and was ultimately destroyed by fire in 1939.
40 Sunrise Drive
The Mt. Washington Auto Road opens early on three Sundays every summer, allowing guests to drive themselves to the summit of Mount Washington to view the sunrise from the highest peak in the Northeast. It’s a popular offering and people arrive extra-early to avoid waiting at the Toll House behind traffic. There’s limited food service at the state park building on the summit on all three of these mornings. Or, if you’d rather experience sunrise on Mt. Washington from the comfort of a Mt. Washington Stage Coach, you can leave the driving to experienced tour guides or “stage drivers” as they call them, who will drive you up the Mt. Washington Auto Road. They leave promptly from the base lodge — no waiting for stragglers, as they need to keep a tight schedule for all the early risers. Sunrise Drives take place Sundays June 30, July 28 and August 25, 2019.
minis on top photo by steve crossman
41 A New School of Art
Painter Thomas Cole, who is known as the “Father of the Hudson River School,” first traveled to the White Mountains in 1827. “View In the White Mountains” (pictured below) is one of his many paintings of the area. Others include “Flume in the White Mountains,” “View of Mount Washington,” “Mount Chocorua,” “Notch of the White Mountains,” “View Near Conway” and “Mount Washington from the Upper Saco Intervale.” Other Hudson River artists followed Cole, forming what’s known as the White Mountain School. Cole’s paintings were detailed yet romantic, and he felt it was his obligation to depict American nature as the “visible hand of God.” His paintings and others helped open the world’s eyes to the beauty and grandeur of Mt. Washington and the surrounding area.
42 MINIs on Top Rally
One of the more popular annual Mt. Washington events is the MINIs on Top rally. Hundreds of MINI owners from all around New England meet for a weekend of fellowship and driving. The centerpiece is the summit sunset drive. With a “go” signal, the long snakelike line of about 200 MINIs uncoils onto the Auto Road and disappears into the forest. You can hear gear changes, turbos spool up, and exhausts singing sweet songs. Above tree line, a series of S curves, switchbacks, and steep drops-offs test nerves but also provide a great driving experience. MINIs fill the summit parking lot. Everyone takes in the 360-degree views of majestic mountains and then watches the sun dip below the horizon, setting the sky on fire. A breathtaking, amazing, one-of-a-kind experience you’ll never forget. — Steve Crossman
nhmagazine.com | June 2019
43 The Presence
Elevator doors open and close with no occupants. Doors slam. Empty stairs creak. Items are rearranged. Lights flash. People working on the summit could swear they’re alone when they feel something in the room, turn around and find only themselves. Some say it’s “The Presence.” What a better place for scary tales than the eerie Mt. Washington summit, with its blankets of fog, howling winds, unearthly isolation, deep darkness and blinding snow. Factor in more than 100 recorded deaths on the Rockpile and alpine folklore flourishes with the ghostly Presence. The phantom incidents are repeatedly
linked to the spirits of those who died on the mountain, as it is said the Presence is more active following a summit fatality. Other possible explanations? The long line of summit house cats roaming about, scurrying hard-to-see small mammals like mice and voles, mischievous colleagues, hikers popping in at odd hours, and science with its atmospheric oddities. Of course, working alone at night on an isolated mountaintop leaves much open to the imagination in a place known as “home of the world’s worst weather,” with its commanding winds creating mysterious auras with each great gust. — Marty Basch
Photo by Jim Salge — This photo was taken from Mt. Washington’s summit, at a place called Goofer Point behind the Yankee building, looking west and southwest over the southern Presidential Range, Crawford Notch and Mt. Moosilauke.
nhmagazine.com | June 2019
nhmagazine.com | June 2019
Mt. Washington — and its infamous weather — has sparked curiosity and fascination for hundreds of years. In 1870, hoping to improve their ability to forecast storms, a group of scientists braved the winter weather to gather data. Though many predicted failure, they succeeded, bringing back important information. Seeing their success, the United States Signal Service, a precursor to the National Weather Service, maintained the weather station on the summit until 1892. The station on the mountaintop was one of the first of its kind in the world. The foundation for the current Mount Washington Observatory was laid. Forty years later in 1932, Bob Monahan, Sal Pagliuca, Alex McKenzie and Joe Dodge continued the mission and reestablished the station with a modest amount of money from a research grant and donors. Again, some were skeptical, but on April 12, 1934, the group’s hard work paid off — the observatory recorded the world’s fastest surface wind speed ever observed by humans at 231 mph. People outside of the observatory’s small founding group and benefactors began to recognize the value of such research, and it became the private, nonprofit organization we know today, dedicated to researching weather and climate, keeping a weather data record and educating the public about the mountain, its environment and weather at large. The weather station, which has been continuously staffed since its founding, is operated by two alternating crews who live on the summit for a week at a time. Their observations are reported to the National Weather Service for use in nationwide forecasting, and they produce special forecasts for the summits of the White Mountains and the region. With data collected going back to the observatory’s founding, they maintain one of North America’s longest continuous climate records. You can learn much more at mountwashington.org.
47 Mortal Stakes photo by jerry monkman and courtesy mt. washington auto road
44 Weather Watchers
Randi Minetor describes the circumstances behind the tragic tales of those who have lost their lives on the mountain. With “Death on Mount Washington,” learn from the mistakes that others have made from the comfort of your own home, and remember to respect Mt. Washington on your next trip.
48 Definitively Worst
45 Jay Leno: Celebrity Steamer
Many celebrities over the years have enjoyed the view from the summit of Mt. Washington, but none have shoveled coal on the Cog Railway and driven a Stanley Steamer to the top in one season. In July, 2017, Leno drove one of his own antique Stanley steam-powered cars up the Auto Road and filmed it for his show “Jay Leno’s Garage.” The idea was to recreate the first time a Stanley drove up the mountain in 1899. In that same month, Leno went around to the west side of the mountain where he took a turn shoveling coal on another sort of steam-powered vehicle, the Cog. To this day, train announcers point out Profile Rock to tourists, a rock outcropping along the tracks that looks suspiciously like the big-chinned profile of Leno. — Dan Szczesny
46 Weather Geeks, Assemble!
You can experience the world’s worst weather up close and personal by volunteering at the Mount Washington Observatory, but first you have to be a member (mountwashington.org/ get-involved/become-a-member). With that detail taken care of, opportunities range from light cleaning, carpentry and landscaping to working a standard shift (Wednesday to Wednesday) as an on-site volunteer planning and preparing meals for all the staff, volunteers, interns and guests (up to 17). The winter months offer the most weather action, but volunteers must complete a summer week to familiarize themselves with the station before staying over in the winter. 52
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In “The Worst Weather on Earth” by William Lowell Putnam, read a history of the state’s famous weather observatory atop Mt. Washington.
49 The White Hills
If a steep ascent up Mt. Washington isn’t for you, there are ways to keep tabs on what’s happening at the summit. The Mount Washington Observatory’s website lists the current conditions, and has links to a user-submitted photo journal and several webcams with various views. For Amazon Alexa users, you can now enable her to answer your observatory questions, such as the day’s forecast or what the weather was on any day from 1935 to present. She even knows a thing or two about Marty the cat. The observatory’s blog is a trove of interesting science, photos and weather explanations for those who want to take a deeper dive.
52 Don’t Take Mt. Washington for Granite
Living in the Granite State, you’d think our tallest peak would be exhibit A on how we got that nickname, but, according the Lee Wilder, the public outreach coordinator for the New Hampshire Geological Survey, less than half the bedrock beneath the feet of Granite Staters is granite. In fact, pretty much the entire Presidential Range (including Mt. Washington) is composed of schist. Granite is igneous rock, the result of volcanic activity that has cooled and hardened. Schist is metamorphic rock with layers of different minerals squeezed together over time. The process produces a variety of tones and textures, which is just one reason that a New Hampshire mountain hike is such a colorful experience.
53 Ski Up Fast In 1859, Thomas Starr King published "The White Hills: Their Legends, Landscape and Poetry.” Part hiking guide, part White Mountains marketing book, it was one of the first books to speak at length about the many natural wonders of the area. After his trip to the region in 1850, he wrote to a friend, “Mt. Washington and the gullies, the Old Man of the Mountains, and Echo Lake, the Flume! O Randolph, shall we ever have another such walk as that? I fear not this side of Jordan. There must be grand mountain scenery in Heaven ... In my musings it seems as if North Conway might be entrance to Paradise.”
50 Tourist Trek
The Mount Washington Auto Road, opened on August 8, 1861, is America’s oldest manmade attraction. Before the Cog Railway opened in 1869 or the advent of the motorcar, tourists headed to the Summit or Tip-Top houses had to travel by open horse-drawn wagons. An all-day journey up a steep, serpentine road through uncertain weather was considered a tourist draw in the 19th century and, for some, it still is today.
Is skiing downhill not tough enough for you? Then consider the SkiMo (aka Otto Rhode Ski Mountaineering Race). Ski mountaineering is pretty much what it sounds like — it involves climbing a mountain, either on skis or carrying them, and then skiing back down. For this event on the Auto Road, racers can choose any distance they like, though attempting the summit (7.6 miles) is an option. Or choose to stop at the tree line (4 miles), where the warm SnowCoach awaits. No matter how far you go, everyone will celebrate back at the base with beer, hot showers, food, live music and prizes. nhmagazine.com | June 2019
54 Rare Flower
When you think of Mt. Washington, you probably picture gusting winds and a snow-andice-covered summit. While that’s certainly the case sometimes, it’s actually home to fascinating plant life, including the rare Robbins’ cinquefoil. In fact, it’s likely the rarest plant in New England, found only in the alpine zone of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, including Mt. Washington. The flower, a member of the rose family, was first discovered along the Crawford Path on Mt. Washington. It grows in some of the harshest conditions you’ll find, withstanding freezing temperatures and those infamous high winds. The flower was put on the endangered species list in the 1980s, and trails were ultimately rerouted away from the flowers, helping them recover. To do your part to protect the Robbins’ cinquefoil and other fragile, endangered plant life, always make sure to keep to the trails, and be mindful of your steps.
55 Horse Race to the Top
The gala opening of the road to the summit took place on August 8, 1861, with many local dignitaries arriving at the summit in a Concord coach. But the honor of driving the first horsedrawn vehicle to the summit went to Col. Joseph Thompson, then proprietor of the Glen House. To be sure of beating out his friendly rival, Col. John Hitchcock, landlord of the Alpine House, Thompson drove his horse and carriage to the summit three weeks before the official opening. The last few yards were still so strewn with boulders that help was needed to keep the carriage upright, but he made it. And he saw to it that a photographer was there. After the road was opened to the public, its business doubled every year until 1869. That year, the Cog Railway was completed, on the west side of the mountain, and many found the relatively short trip and enclosed cars preferable to an all-day journey on the road in open mountain wagons. — Excerpted from “History of the Road” at mtwashingtonautoroad.com/history 54
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56 Memorial Ride
Like many events on the Auto Road, this one filled up fast. The 20th annual Gerry Pomerleau Memorial Ride on June 29 may be sold out, but for you ATV enthusiasts, think of this as your chance to plan for 2020. The event benefits the New Hampshire ATV Club — last year’s event raised $10,000. mtwashingtonautoroad.com
57 Heroic Sacrifice
In the middle of a January night in 1982, Joe Lentini’s phone rang — two people were lost on Mt. Washington in dangerous winter conditions. The temperature was around 20 below, the wind was blowing, and visibility was terrible. Still, Lentini’s search-and-rescue team set out in the early morning to find the two men. They eventually retreated, but returned the next morning. Volunteers Albert Dow and Michael Harrich were searching O’dell’s Gully where they found tracks that might have belonged to the missing climbers. As the rest of the team convened at the bottom of the mountain, Dow and Harrich began their descent. It was then an avalanche swept through, killing Dow. He was 28 years old, and is the first and only Mountain Rescue Service volunteer to die during an active mission. In 2018, 36 years later, the Mount Washington Observatory's summit Weather Museum rededicated the Extreme Weather Exhibit in Dow’s memory. The two climbers Dow died trying to save, Hugh Herr and Jeffery Batzer, were found a day later by an Appalachian Mountain Club employee who was out snowshoeing. They were both severely frostbitten and close to death. Herr, who was 17 at the time, lost both of his legs. Today, he’s a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is the head of the bionics lab. As a pioneer in prosthetics, he creates limbs for amputees, helping them participate in sports like mountain climbing. After Dow’s death, the Legislature passed a law making Mountain Rescue Service volunteers working under New Hampshire Fish and Game covered by both life insurance and workers compensation.
58 Our Mountain Photographers The earliest landscape photos taken in the White Mountains were daguerreotypes taken in 1841 by a Boston dentist named Samuel Bemis. Mt. Washington has played the muse for hundreds of professional photographers and countless amateurs since then. Each has in some way added to the fame and glory of its rugged peaks and slopes. The following six photographers are among the best working to capture the strange beauty of the mountain and a number of their images appear throughout this story.
Joe Klementovich specializes in environmental photography and he’s shot everything from Mt. Washington to the Everglades.
Kathie Fife is a fine art, commercial and documentary photographer who focuses on environmental conservation and historic preservation.
Greg Kretschmar of “Greg & The Morning Buzz” also photographs stunning natural scenes in New Hampshire and beyond.
Conservation photographer, filmmaker and writer Jerry Monkman can usually be found shooting nature and outdoor lifestyle images.
59 Washburn Gallery
Explorer, mountaineer and mapmaker Henry Bradford Washburn is justly famous for his pioneering black and white aerial photography of the Alps, the Grand Canyon and deep Alaska, but his very first book of images was on the Presidential Range, and a map of Mt. Washington that he produced for the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Mt. Washington Observatory is considered a classic of the art and science of cartography. The complete 1937 portfolio of 63 stunning images of Mt. Washington and the Whites was donated by Washburn and his wife Barbara (herself a remarkable explorer) to the observatory as a resource to support its work. The images, all drum-scanned from original negatives, can be purchased from the Washburn Gallery at the observatory or online from washburngallery.org.
60 The AMC
The Appalachian Mountain Club, incorporated in 1878, is the oldest and one of the most famous outdoor groups in the United States. Founded by MIT Professor Edward Charles Pickering with the goal of tracking and preserving the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the club has expanded regionally with chapters as far away as New Jersey. The AMC “hut system” maintains eight high retreats that provide creature comforts and shelter for mountain hikers in New Hampshire along with many trails, campsites and shelters throughout the Northeast. The AMC also famously administers the Four Thousand Footers Club that requires members to have hiked to and from the peaks of all 48 of the state’s 4,000-foot-plus summits including, of course, Mt. Washington.
61 Seek the Peak
Nature and landscape photographer Jim Salge captures the beauty of New Hampshire and the New England area.
The work of Bruce Luetters of 3Sixty Photography ranges from stunning portraiture and fashion to New Hampshire landscapes.
This annual hike-a-thon, happening this year from July 19 to 20, is the nonprofit Mount Washington Observatory’s largest fundraiser. Though many hikers choose the challenge of climbing Mt. Washington, there are other, less-grueling ways to participate. You can opt for an alternate mountain trek or a short nature hike. You can even sign on as a “virtual” hiker. No matter how you choose to take part, it’s a wonderful weekend that brings together like-minded outdoor enthusiasts and those who value and support the observatory’s scientific contributions. nhmagazine.com | June 2019
Is the fifth time the charm? After four fires and four iterations of The Glen House, the brand new version is open and ready for guests. The Glen House’s history goes back to the 1850s, when John Bellows created a hotel out of a farmhouse to provide accommodations for visitors who arrived via the newly completed Grand Trunk Railway. In 1852, the property was purchased by Col. J.M. Thompson and renamed The Glen House. Guests were greeted by stunning views of Tuckerman Ravine and the northern Presidential Range.
63 Trail Mix
There is nothing easy about hiking windswept Mt. Washington. Every hike is a strenuous undertaking. Inexperience and inhospitable weather can team up for one really bad day. Misadventure finds even the most prepared. Elevation matters. Have hiking experience, know the forecast, read the trail guides, and carry the essentials. Still, Mt. Washington is a bucket list item for hikers of all abilities, but 56
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which trail should you choose? Though the steady westside Jewell Trail is a fine choice, the busy Tuckerman Ravine Trail is a magnet for Rockpile rookies. It’s an 8.4-mile round-trip journey on the mountain’s eastside, starting from the bustling AMC’s Pinkham Notch Visitor Center with its staff and store for last-minute tips and items. There’s a 4,000-plus-foot elevation gain to the morethan-mile-high summit, and the trail passes by the Hermit Lake shelters, called HoJos by old-timers, near the floor of the ravine. Tuckerman, the famed vista-filled glacial cirque, which often holds snow into summer, is named after botanist Dr. Edward Tuckerman, and its impressive headwall is favored by spring skiers. The ravine is followed by a rocky stretch to the summit. The mountain’s above-the-tree-line sections provide scenery unrivaled in the East, revealing a tundra-like landscape with tremendous rocks, fragile plants, and sweeping views to the Atlantic Ocean and awe-inspiring mountains. For a stunning clear-weather selfie, the storied 8.5-mile long Crawford Path, turning 200 this summer, gets a nod as most scenic. Considered the oldest continuously maintained footpath in the country, it’s part of the Appalachian Trail. Use it with the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail for a memorable 9-plus mile round-trip trek on the mountain’s westside. Washington’s challenges are real, and the notorious Huntington Ravine Trail has the well-deserved reputation as the most difficult in the White Mountains. Steepness, scrambling up a precipitous talus slope called The Fan, severe ledges and exposure can create a nerve-racking day for some, while a formidable challenge for others. Throw in wet surfaces and ice, and the trail can be downright dangerous. Descending it is not suggested, as a fall in certain spots can have serious consequences. The trail is used as a 4.4-mile, one-way trek along with the Tuckerman Ravine Trail and Nelson Crag Trail to the summit. So choose your trail wisely. — Marty Basch
The hotel’s location offered the opportunity to visit the area’s rugged natural attractions, such as Mount Washington, with the luxury of game rooms, parlors, library, lawn tennis and croquet. Unfortunately, the hotel was devastated by fire three times between 1884-1893. After the third fire, the hotel survived a number of years before burning down yet again in 1967. Howie Wemyss, general manager of the Mount Washington Auto Road, played a large role in the recent opening of the fifth hotel in the Glen House line. “We’ve been talking about bringing this historic hotel back for years,” says Wemyss. “It is nice to return to our hospitality roots, and complete the picture that we started talking about 25 years ago.” The new Glen House Hotel has been a long time in the making, but Wemyss says extra time to plan turned out to be a blessing in disguise. “We were ready to start building in 2008, but the recession put it on hold,” he says. “That added time allowed us to come at it again with fresh eyes and a greater push for sustainability, and the finished result is unlike anything we could have ever imagined.” The new hotel opened in September 2018, and is complete with geothermal heating and cooling, LED lighting, energy-efficient elevators and more. The hotel also features 68 rooms, an indoor heated saltwater pool, and full-service restaurant, The Notch Grille. “The hotel was built with the future in mind,” says Wemyss. “We wanted to make sure we honored the hotel’s history and family legacy, while also giving people a place to create memories with their families for years to come.”
photo by joe klementovich
62 Glen House
photo by jim salge
64 The High Huts
The Lake of the Clouds AMC hut
Within the Appalachian Mountain Club’s hut system, there are eight locations in the White Mountains known as the high huts. Placed about 6 to 8 miles apart along the Appalachian Trail, they give thru-hikers (those tackling the entire trail) and others a chance for a good night’s sleep and hot meals or simply a place to rest before moving on. The highest and most popular of this elite group is Lake of the Clouds, which is perfectly situated for those who want to climb Mt. Washington. You can get there via the 7-mile Crawford path, then use the hut to recharge before finishing the last 1.5 miles to the summit. The hike to the hut is difficult, but the views are unbeatable. If you’ve never experienced the unique beauty of the alpine world above the tree line, put Lake of the Clouds on your bucket list.
65 What’s in a Name?
bicknell thrush photo by brett hillman
Presidential Range The 19-mile Presidential Range is located mostly in Coös County, and consists of 13 mountains all named after US presidents (with one exception — see below). The tallest mountain in the range is Mt. Washington and the next is Mt. Adams. Mount Washington The famous mountain was technically named after Gen. George Washington, as he was not yet president when it was designated Mt. Washington. Manasseh Cutler In 1784, Reverend Manasseh Cutler made a statement containing the words “the base of the summit of Mount Washington,” and so the name was born. Washington This might be the most popular place name in the country, but only two
towns are named Mount Washington. Mount Washington (a city) is found in Kentucky, and Mount Washington (a town) is found in Massachusetts.
66 Bicknell’s Thrush
You need to get up pretty early in the morning in late May and early June to catch the downward spiraling bzz-bzzbzz-chic-chic-chic-churEE-churEE song of a Bicknell’s thrush — but it’s worth the effort. This rarest and shyest of the northern thrushes breeds on Mount Washington at elevations of about 3,800 to 4,500 feet. It starts singing before dawn to attract its mate, and usually stops before the sun gets much above the horizon. Luckily, the Mount Washington Auto Road company understands birders’ passion for this elusive thrush, so they offer special tours beginning at 6 a.m. during the breeding season. Tour guides know exactly where the birds can be found, giving you the best chance of laying eyes on one. Visit mtwashingtonautoroad. com/events/bicknells-thrush-tours for the schedule. — Randi Minetor, author of “Birding New England”
67 Peak Wildlife
Although it may appear inhospitable, a surprising variety of animal life thrives — or at least survives — above Mt. Washington’s tree line. Mammals are rare — only mice, shrews, fox, meadow vole and the occasional northern flying squirrel are seen. Strong winds discourage birds, although summit observers report seeing saw whet owls, grey jays and ravens. A notable exception is the rare American pipit, the only bird species found in New England that can nest only in alpine zones. Mt. Washington’s alpine zone is the only place in the world to see two species of butterfly, the White Mountain arctic, and the bright orange White Mountain fritillary. — Barbara Radcliffe Rogers nhmagazine.com | June 2019
70 Sunrise Ascent 68 The Rise of Alton “Mr. Mount Washington” Weagle
69 The AT and Mt. Washington
Anyone who’s hiked part of the Appalachian Trail knows that the trail part is secondary; it’s a path made of mountains. There’s Clingmans Dome, the highest mountain on the trail. And then, of course, there’s Katahdin — the terminus of the AT in Maine — where the famous weather-beaten sign welcomes finishing thru-hikers. But for me, the apex of the trail, the mountain I was always walking toward, was Washington. Although I was from New Hampshire, Maggie Wallace at the summit I hadn’t actually climbed Washington when I started the AT. I was saving it, hiking the peaks that overlooked it, and knowing that one day I would “earn” the summit (with all the romance of being in my early 20s) by walking there from Georgia. I think, as a result, I had Washington built up in my mind as this unconquerable Goliath, all rime ice and rock edge. True to its reputation, when I finally climbed up onto the ridge in early September, I had to hike 5 miles in a low-visibility hail storm and seek shelter on the floor of the Lake of the Clouds Hut. Thru-hikers can’t be choosers; hiking an unbroken line from Georgia to Maine means that you can’t always pick your weather. But being caught in that storm also meant I could summit just after dawn, when the cloud sea gave way to a rare day of max visibility. I summited in time to see the first train of the day come puffing up the mountainside and unleash a crowd of people. It was a surreal experience. After nearly 2,000 miles of continuous hiking and a lifetime of standing in the shadow of the mountain, I waited in line to take a picture of the pinnacle sign. All around me stood tourists in flip-flops and jeans, eying my teal long-johns. “Did you hike up here?” One of them asked me, and I was able to answer them, “Yes, I did.” — Maggie Wallace 58
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When the Mount Washington Carriage Road (as it was known then) began in 1854, a small house was built at the 4-mile mark to house supplies and shelter workmen. Climbers stopped there to rest even before road reached the shelter in 1856. Road construction continued, and in 1857 a new structure was built to collect tolls and provide a stop for travelers on the mountain. It served that purpose until it burned in 1984. Today the site is a scenic pullout where motorists and Mount Washington Auto Road vans stop to cool brakes and engines; in the winter it is the destination of SnowCoach tours.
photo courtesy dan szczesny
71 Halfway House
72 News from Among the Clouds In 1874, Massachusetts journalist Henry Burt spent a stormy night in the Summit House on Mt. Washington. The winds inspired him to start a summer newspaper up there. Three years later, inside the old Tip-Top House building, Burt published the first Among the Clouds. By 1885 he’d built its headquarters. Chatty articles promoted the region, predicted weather, and — in brilliant marketing — printed names of guests at local hotels and riding the Cog Railway. Tourists eagerly spent 10 cents on souvenir copies. An article described the view of distant Portland, Maine, “as a low white hill, with a long light blue line beyond it.” In 1881, Burt described the moon over clouds as “almost in fairy land.” Burt died in 1899, and his son Frank H. Burt took over. The building burned in 1908, but Frank rebuilt and continued until 1917. A journalist can’t ask for a better beat. — Christine Woodside, editor of the Appalachia Journal
I'm a half-mile from the summit, but today I have no view. I see only words from my copy of “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman, which I am reading out loud as I walk up the road. I'm taking part in the Mount Washington Auto Road’s Alton Weagle Day, an annual event where hikers attempt to set the craziest records they can imagine in the spirit of the most famous individual associated with the mountain that you've never heard of. I am attempting to become the first person to read poetry out loud while walking. Born in 1911, Weagle set his Mt. Washington records while he was a state-registered Journalist Dan Szczesny channeling poet Walt Whitman for Alton Weagle Day mountain guide in the 1930s and 1940s. His most famous records include climbing the mountain backward, walking up barefoot, and hiking the road blindfolded. Most (in)famously, he pushed a wheelbarrow full of sugar up the road without setting it down. He set these records out of love and reverence for the mountain, like a priest paying homage to a holy place. Now, once a year, the auto road encourages mountain lovers to walk in his shoes. I do reach the top, setting a record and amusing tourists as I read from my book at the summit sign. A stiff wind blows, and I’m pretty sure Weagle is in the air signaling his approval. Have an idea for a record-setting hike? Alton Weagle Day takes place every May. Call the Auto Road at (603) 466-3988 to register. — Dan Szczesny
On August 4 before sunrise, teams will gather at the base of the Auto Road to begin this unique benefit for Adaptive Sports Partners of the North Country (ASPNC). Each group includes an adaptive athlete and “mules,” those who help the athlete get to the summit by any means necessary, making this a true team event. adaptivesportspartners.org/sunriseascent
cartoon by don bousquet originally appeared in yankee magazine
73 The Bumper Sticker
There’s surprisingly little authentic New Hampshire kitsch, probably due to the fact that the kitschiest Granite State offerings — say embroidered Yankee aphorisms, lobster keychains and moose droppings in Lucite — are all equally associated with neighboring states. Thank goodness for the “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington” bumper sticker. Last year alone, 49,000 of these simple blue, white and red stickers were distributed (along with a certificate of authenticity) to brave souls with good brakes and transmissions who made the 7.6mile drive up the Mount Washington Auto Road. There’s no official total, but they’ve been awarding them in various forms since the 1950s. Regina Ferreira, operations manager of the Auto Road, says that the sticker is world-renowned and, while you have to take the Auto Road to get one, they do replace stickers on cars that lost bumpers or incurred damage, as long as the owner supplies some evidence of what happened to the original. They get about a dozen requests in a year for such replacements, some from as far away as England, Israel and Germany. Variations have been created for special events on the mountain (such as “This ATV Climbed Mt. Washington” or “The Driver of This Car Ran Up Mt. Washington”) and there are smaller versions and even a magnet. And while, as a cartoon that ran in Yankee Magazine back in 1989 suggests, you’d think there was a huge industrial print shop cranking them somewhere, the sticker has been produced from the start by the tiny
This Don Bousquet cartoon from 1989 hangs on the wall at Sunflower Graphix.
Sunflower Graphix screen printing operation in upstate New York. Owner, manager and printer Carol Hammer says it’s been a long, friendly relationship. The original hand-rendered design came from an artist, Jim Palmer, who worked there in the ’50s and has since passed away. “Howie [Wemyss, general manager of the road] once asked me for the typeface we use, but it doesn’t exist,” says Hammer. “When they want a new one, I create letters by taking apart the original and them putting it back together again.” — Rick Broussard
74 Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and Joe Dodge Lodge
It’s not the place to go if your goal is roughing it in the wilderness, but the Joe Dodge Lodge at Pinkham Notch is full of rustic touches and within easy reach of the top of the world or the middle of nowhere. Open year-round, the lodge offers accommodations like private rooms and bunkrooms with hallway bath, plus towels, linens and soap. Dinner and breakfast are included in most room packages. Guests can also enjoy a wide variety of free, walk-on programs, from guided day hikes to evening talks on astronomy and other topics.
75 Joe Dodge, the Mayor of Porky Gulch “He knew they liked to hear him swear, so he would accommodate them,” the Saturday Evening Post wrote of Joseph Brooks Dodge, beloved, admired and sometimes feared around Pinkham Notch, at the base of Mount Washington, for 51 years. Porcupines dominated the area in 1922, when Joe Dodge brought his outsize personality to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s cabins there. By 1928, Dodge had been promoted to AMC hut system manager. Until 1959 he built and transformed the huts. Dodge not only ran huts and trained their staff, he rescued hundreds of the lost. He once said he would find them by heading away from where a sensible person would go. In 1932 he cofounded the Mount Washington Observatory. In 1955, Dartmouth College awarded him an honorary degree and called Dodge “a legend of all that is unafraid, friendly, rigorously good and ruggedly expressed in the out-of-doors.” — Christine Woodside, author of “Libertarians on the Prairie” nhmagazine.com | June 2019
76 Ancient Names
According to “The Indian Heritage of New Hampshire and Northern New England” edited by Thaddeus Piotrowski, long before European settlers arrived Mt. Washington was known by the locals as Kodaak Wadjo (“the top is so hidden” or “summit of the highest mountain”) or Agiochook or Agiocochook (“the place of the Great Spirit” or “the place of the Concealed One”). The Algonquians called it Waumbik, or “white rocks.” Contemporary natives often affectionately refer to it as simply “the Rockpile.”
Photo by Kathie Fife — Pictured is Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson, overlooking Moorhen Marsh and the Presidential Range. This multiuse trail is used by hikers and mountain bikers in the summer, and is groomed for snowmobiles in the winter.
nhmagazine.com | June 2019
nhmagazine.com | June 2019
You’ve probably seen the frigid photos that look like the Mt. Washington Observatory was sprayed with white sugar frosting. Those layers and folds and spikes of white are something called rime ice, made up of a coating of tiny, opaque ice crystals formed by supercooled water droplets (or fog) freezing upon contact with an object. With so much supercooling, so much airborne water and so many curious objects, Mt. Washington is an ideal spot to observe this fascinating weather phenomenon. Rime is similar to the long lovely crystals found in lower altitudes known as hoar frost, but rime is much harder and heavier.
78 Cog Crash
In its 150 years of operation, there have only been two fatal accidents on the Cog Railway. In 1929 photographer Daniel Rossiter was killed in an accident on Old Peppersass. The worst of the two, which claimed eight lives, happened on September 17, 1967. At the time, it was the brakeman’s job to throw the switches, a complicated series of nine moves that was considered the most difficult such system in the world. For those who haven’t ridden the Cog, after the train reaches the Halfway House, which marks the middle of the trip, you approach the imposing Jacob’s Ladder, the highest and steepest railroad trestle in the world. After that daunting portion of the journey is over, the steep climb continues to Long Trestle. The track then levels off a bit as you reach Skyline Switch, located just below the summit. It was here that things went terribly wrong on that day 52 years ago. The final train of the day began the descent with a packed passenger car. As the train reached the Skyline Switch, it didn’t stop — which was perfectly normal. Back then, trains didn’t stop for switches, and the crew had no reason to believe that the switch wasn’t left in the straight position, but it wasn’t. Unlike traditional trains, the Cog uses its namesake — a cog (picture a wheel with teeth) that engages a ladder-like rack to propel the train. When the engine hit the switch, the engine rose up suddenly and crashed back down, knocking the front and rear cogs out of the rack. The engine then fell off the track, leaving the coach by itself. There were just seconds to hit the brakes before the coach’s front cog hit the switch, just as the engine’s had. The brakeman wasn’t quick enough. After it hit, the brakeman and a passenger tried to apply the brakes to the up-mountain axle, where the cog was still in the rack. It didn’t work, and the coach was riding on its wheels only, picking up speed as it started down Long Trestle. With now-useless brakes, there was no way to stop. The car fell off the trestle, smashing one end and killing eight people, three of them children. Despite that awful tragedy, the Mount Washington Cog Railway has the best safety record in the world. Today, the switches are solar-powered and automated, and the trains stop before each one, assuring it’s in the correct position. 62
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In 1911, the Weeks Act was passed and signed by President Taft. Industrial innovation was beginning to take its toll on the White Mountains region — hills were stripped of trees, and streams were clogged with sawdust and silt. The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the Appalachian Mountain Club and other New England organizations hoped to conserve the area, and sought the support of Massachusetts congressman John W. Weeks. The eponymous act allowed the federal government to buy private land if the purchase was deemed necessary to protect rivers, watersheds and headwaters. It also allowed the acquired land to be preserved and maintained as a national forest. This ultimately led to the creation of the White Mountain National Forest, which includes Mt. Washington.
80 “The White Mountain”
In “The White Mountain,” journalist Dan Szczesny explores the history and mystique of Mt. Washington. Read about how this rugged landscape has reflected back a timeless history of our obsession and passion for exploration and discovery. From Hobblebush Books, $25. Learn more at danszczesny.com or hobblebush.com.
rime photo by jim salge
77 Rime Ice
79 Weeks Act
81 Annual Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb
photos courtesy of the mount washington auto road
This race is known as the toughest hillclimb in the world. The average grade is 12 percent, with long sections at 18 and the final push — the last 50 yards — is 22 percent. For nonbikers, that’s pretty much just very, very steep the whole way up. Spectator tickets go on sale at 7 a.m. on race day, August 17. mwarbh.org
83 Climb to the Clouds 82 Winging It
One of the most audacious trips to the summit was taken by Carmeno Onofrio, who made aviation history by landing the first airplane there on March 12, 1947. Because of treacherous weather, he had to try three times before he set a skiequipped, 65-horsepower 1937 Piper Cub down on the peak. He went on to make a dozen more trips the next day and a total of more than 40 landings over several weeks, hauling equipment, supplies and passengers for a weather project on the summit. Onofrio was manager of Berlin Airport, north of Mt. Washington, during those years as World War II raged across the sea. A UPI news report of Onofrio’s death in 1982 quoted Clarence Brungot of Berlin, an amateur pilot who had known Onofrio for 40 years. “‘[Onofrio] built his first airplane way back in the ’20s. He just experimented, learned to fly himself,’ said Brungot. ‘He was quite a mechanic. He built all kinds of different machinery. He was a welder, a licensed airplane mechanic. He was always puttering with something. He built his own snowblower to blow snow off the runways at the airport,’ Brungot said.”
Last held in 2017, the Mt. Washington Hillclimb — also known as The Climb to the Clouds — will return in 2020 on July 10-12. This race is one of North America’s oldest motorsports events, first run in July 1904, seven years before the first 500-mile race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and 12 years prior to the inaugural Pikes Peak Hill Climb in Colorado. The 80-car field includes some of the best drivers in the world, all competing to make the fastest drive up the Auto Road. Everyone will be vying to break Travis Pastrana’s record time — an astonishing 5 minutes, 44.72 seconds, which he set the last time the race took place in 2017. That’s quite a bit quicker than the first official time by F.O. Stanley in his Stanley Locomobile, a lengthy 2 hours and 10 minutes. Climb to the Clouds is one of the ultimate challenges for both driver and car. The 7.6-mile auto road is serpentine, lined with trees on the lower half and dramatic drop-offs that begin about halfway up. Think about that when you imagine Pastrana flying up the road with an average speed of close to 90 mph, with a top speed in excess of 130 mph above the tree line. nhmagazine.com | June 2019
84 Muster in the Mountains
87 By the Numbers
45,000 Number of cars per season that travel the Auto Road
7.6 6,288 6 Miles in the Auto Road
Summit height in feet, making it the tallest peak in the Northeast
Alan Whitney of New Haven, Vermont, demonstrates the making of birch baskets, moccasins and knives.
On the weekend of September 6-8, Colonial reenactors, representing the French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, and Mountain Man periods from 1750 through 1840, gather at an encampment at the base of the Auto Road. It’s open to the public Friday and Saturday from 10a.m.-4p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Visitors can check out the cooking competition, 1800s firearm and cannon displays and competition, archery, blacksmithing, tomahawk and knife throwing, and other fun events. mtwashingtonautoroad.com
85 Footpath Founders
In 1819, early settlers Abel Crawford and his son, Ethan Allen Crawford, built the first footpath to the summit. It is the oldest continuously maintained footpath in the eastern US.
nhmagazine.com | June 2019
86 Summit Salute Last year’s event was postponed but, thanks to sponsoring businesses, veterans of all branches of the US military will unite again at the base of the mountain for the 2019 Summit Salute this July. It’s an afternoon of fun and storytelling capped with a grilled barbecue dinner and a sunset trip to the summit (at discounted rates). For details, visit mtwashingtonautoroad. com/events/summit-salute.
Number of acres in Mount Washington State Park, located on the summit
Number of acres in the White Mountain National Forest, which surrounds Mt. Washington
250,000 Estimated annual registered summit visitors. If you factor in hikers, it’s closer to 280,000.
photo by kathie fife
Number of states plus one country you can see from the summit on a clear day — Maine, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Canada
88 First Motorized Ascent
Completed in 1861, the road to the summitof the Northeast’s highest mountain was originally referred to as the Mt. Washington Carriage Road. Motorized vehicles were still several decades away from invention, and hearty travelers braved the elements and rough conditions in horsedrawn wagons for the four 4-hour trip to the summit. On August 31, 1899, that changed with the first motorized ascent of Mt. Washington. Freelan O. Stanley, of Stanley Steamer fame, climbed the road as a publicity stunt for the Locomobile Company, which had recently bought the manufacturing rights to his new invention. Freelan and his wife Flora drove their Locomobile from Newton, Massachusetts, to the summit of Mt. Washington — a trip which took five days to get to the base of the mountain, and then 2 hours and 10 minutes to drive to the summit. Mrs. Stanley wrote of the event: “We went on and up, up, still up, the continuous climbing being varied only by a steepness so excessive that as we looked ahead to it, we felt a sickening anxiety lest each brilliant dash should be our last ... Our engine, panting and quivering, never failed us, but pushed us bravely over seemingly impassable heights.” — Crispin Battles, marketing director for Mt. Washington Auto Road
89 It’s the Worst?
It’s the mountain’s favorite catchphrase: Home of the World’s Worst Weather. But is it true? Many weather geeks have challenged the assertion, so one named Ken Jones decided to do the research. Jones, a retired engineer who has traveled extensively, may have a tiny bias; he’s a longtime trustee of the Mount Washington Observatory. But he came away more convinced than ever that, in fact, when it comes to weather in all its forms, the summit of Mount Washington has it bad. He examined Canada’s Eureka weather station near the North Pole, Russia’s Vostok Station in the Antarctic and other likely suspects. His conclusion: “I’ve looked at data for Siberian locations from Vladivostok to Provideniya to Murmansk. None of these ticks off each box — the cold, wind and wet conditions — that Mt. Washington claims. Alaska, from Ketchikan to Barrow, offers no comparable combined bad climate. Pending further evidence, therefore, I have concluded that the summit of Mt. Washington, where cold, wet and windy conditions reign, is indeed the location of the world’s worst weather. Visit nhmagazine.com/so-is-mtwashington-really-the-worst for the complete story.
“The White Mountain Guide” is AMC’s comprehensive guide to hiking trails in the White Mountain National Forest. Hikers have relied on this book for over two centuries. With expert advice, trail coverage, trip planning, safety information and even a checklist of New England’s 4,000-footers, this guidebook is the perfect companion for planning a hike.
90 Sherman Adams Center
Once, I hiked Mt. Flume via the Osseo Trail. I heard, “Help us!” from the Flume Slide, a dangerous trail. A couple hiked past the warning signs and ended up stranded. Later, I drove them back to their car. Such scenarios happen in the White Mountains. Tourists, even experienced hikers, make mistakes, sometimes deadly. “Hike Safe” is a guideline encouraged by the NH Fish and Game and the US Forest Service. Be prepared, be knowledgeable, leave a plan. Stay together, turn back in bad circumstances. Share the code and be diligent for emergencies. There’s been two deaths on Mt. Washington in 2019, a climber in February, and a skier in April. Soon, visitors will be flocking to the White Mountains. Many visitors will ignore warning signs and attempt photo shoots or dangerous climbs. Follow the Hike Safe guidelines as though your life depends upon it, because it might. — Marianne O’Connor, author of “Haunted Hikes of New Hampshire”
Despite the recommendations of a special covernor’s commission to study the options, when the Mt. Washington summit buildings and Cog Railway were offered for sale to the state of New Hampshire, the state decided to buy only the summit and to replace the hotel with a single building. The Sherman Adams Visitor Center opened in 1980, accommodating a maximum of 400 people, far short of the numbers anticipated even then. The building houses a small cafeteria and tables, the post office, restrooms, a gift shop, the Mount Washington Observatory and its museum. — Barbara Radcliffe Rogers
91 Summit Museum photo courtesy barbara radcliffe rogers
92 The Guide
Downstairs in the Sherman Adams Visitor Center, the small Mt. Washington Observatory Museum contains exhibits on extreme weather, the formation of rime ice on towers and buildings, cold weather gear, animals of the alpine zone and other subjects relating to the summit and its weather. — Barbara Radcliffe Rogers
93 Follow the Rules and Hike Safe!
nhmagazine.com | June 2019
94 A President on the Mountain
In August 1869, soon after the opening of the Cog Railway, President Ulysses S. Grant and his family made the ascent behind the Old Peppersass engine. They are pictured here on a stereopticon card, seated with other passengers in front of the Tip-Top House.
95 Marty on the Mountain
“Thirty-eight years ago, I had no idea what adventures I was in for. But it’s been a good life. The company, Channel 8, has been good to me and the Lord has been good to me but now the time has come to turn it back to the studio for the last time.” — Final broadcast by Marty Engstrom, the engineer with a Maine accent, a deadpan delivery and a infectious grin who was assigned to take care of the WMTW Channel 8 broadcast tower functioning on Mt. Washington but was told, on his first day, that he would also be doing live weather reports from the summit. Marty obliged for nearly four decades and became a beloved face and voice of the mountain.
96 Not So Dandy
Early each summer, volunteers gather to remove dandelions growing among the rocks of the summit, carefully removing any heads that have gone to seed and digging plants out by the roots. If allowed to flourish and spread their wind-borne seeds, these invasive plants could endanger other species that are part of the rare native alpine plant communities that grow here. Blowing seeds could also take root on other Presidential Range peaks. Evidently it’s working, because each year there is a decline in the number of dandelions found. — Barbara Radcliffe Rogers 66
nhmagazine.com | June 2019
97 Mount Washington on the Silver Screen
Our mountainous geological lodestar has had only a few starring roles in cinema, and in the most illustrious example, it serves essentially as a “stunt double” for a somewhat more famous peak. Peter Crane, who curates the Memorial Library on the mountain, says storm scenes from the IMax documentary “Everest” were filmed on Mt. Washington. “My impression is that, after that terrible spring on Everest, the filmmakers got back and realized that, to tell their story, they needed a few visuals that they did not capture when they were in Nepal.” At the slightly more ridiculous end of the movie spectrum is “Schlitz on Mount Washington.” Lowell Thomas narrates this 22-minute film about a White Mountains tourist who ignores warnings about bad weather, pushes himself up the mountain, and soon finds himself lost in the White Mountain snow. The black-and-white film from 1935 has a certain cult status at Dartmouth College, where it’s shown to new students at the college’s Moosilauke Ravine Lodge complete with “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”-esque callbacks hollered out by members of the lodge “croo.”
98 Alpine Post Office The highest post office in the eastern US is a single tiny room in the Sherman Adams Building at the summit. It is primarily used by visitors to send mail to friends and relatives with a unique postmark. Thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail sometimes think they can receive mail there, but for that service they must use the AMC Center at Bretton Woods. The ZIP code for the top of New England’s highest mountain is 03589. — Barbara Radcliffe Rogers
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99 Highland Center
101 No Humbug
Showman extraordinaire P.T. Barnum gave his highest praise to the carnival of delights offered by Mt. Washington with its “railway to the moon,” amazing views and death-defying inhabitants. After a trip to the top he declared it “The Second Greatest Show on Earth.”
102 Dogs on the Mountain
“Spectacular” and “magnificent” are a couple of the words commonly associated with the White Mountains’ Crawford Notch, but they also apply to the AMC’s premier White Mountains lodge, the Highland Center. Great food prepared by a dedicated staff includes a full buffet breakfast and dinner by the fire or in your room (private or shared bunks) is available. The Highland Center is home to the official AMC Library & Archives, with thousands of documents, maps, photographs, and other items dating back as far as the club’s founding in 1876.
100 The Summit Sign
The official greeter at the Summit House back when the 20th century had just begun was Leon, a St. Bernard that belonged to Col. Oscar Barron, who leased the hotel. According to one report, an annual milestone for Leon was the return of Mattie Clark, manager of the house, from Florida every spring in which “physical restraint of Leon was needed to ensure that Miss Clarke remained clothed.” Cats rule the summit now (see No. 1 on this list). The gopetfriendly.com travel blog lists Mt. Washington as the “top pet-friendly attraction” in New Hampshire but notes the following rules: Leashed pets are welcome throughout Mount Washington State Park and the White Mountain National Forest Pets are not allowed inside public buildings. Pets under voice control may be offleash in undeveloped areas of the White Mountain National Forest, but care should be taken to protect your pet from dangerous wildlife, terrain and waterfalls. Pets are not allowed on the Cog Railway or on the guided tours of Mt. Washington.
103 Last Word
Is the summit sign the most photographed image of all time? Probably not, but it sure makes a ton of appearances. Hikers and other summit visitors often wait in lines to have their picture taken with the unassuming elevation marker. It’s even recognized as a symbol of New Hampshire by the folks at Trader Joe’s, who created their own version (with an incongruous lobster trap) at their new Bedford store. 68
nhmagazine.com | June 2019
“If I had my way, the New Hampshire state quarter wouldn’t have shown the Old Man of the Mountain: It would have shown somebody being blown over while standing on Mt. Washington. With the possible exception of border-hugging liquor stores, the “worst weather in the world” is the most New Hampshire-y thing there is. — David Brooks, “Granite Geek,” Concord Monitor columnist and reporter NH
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