Liralen Li (liralen) wrote,
Liralen Li

Mt. Washington Cog Railway

In the mid-1800's one Sylvester marsh of Littleton, N.H. went to Congress to ask for access up Mt. Washington for a railroad, the congressmen gave him the access and added permission to build a railroad to the Moon as well. They felt that the two were pretty much equivalent.

Mr. Marsh showed them otherwise. The railroad opened on July 3, 1869 and operated continuously up until this last winter, when they closed it for the winter for the first time, ever. Business for them this summer hasn't been good, and the weather hasn't helped either.

So we thought we'd help them out. *laughs* Eventhough it didn't really shine at the top, but then it rarely does.

The Coal Engine Going Up
We got there in plenty of time for the 10 am train. We'd had a quick breakfast and after a solid dinner the night before, didn't really feel any lack after some pastries and coffee at the hotel. It was only a six mile ride to the Base Station (at 2700 feet). We wandered about the gift shop, used the restrooms, and then lined up for the ride up.

The weather at the base was a little cloudy but there were moments of sunshine and clarity that invoked a rather false hope for the summit. We did see the 9 am coal-fired steam engine chug up the mountain ahead of us. The plume of black smoke was visible from miles away. The short drive up to the base station made my ears really hurt, so I played it safe and took two Sudafed. They opened up my ears and sinuses instantly and I was very, very glad of it during the ride.

It's just one engine to one car, and the two aren't coupled in any way. On the way up, the engine just pushes the car in front of it, and on the way down, the car bumps up against the engine. The brakeman, on the way up, just loosens the brakes until they're not doing anything, and just rides up with the rest of us yahoos.

Water Tower
It was a pretty bumpy ride, as the track is anything but straight, and the slope was very, very steep. Steep enough that part of the way through, the brakeman came in just to stand up on the Jacob's Ladder part of the rail, which is the steepest track the whole two miles up, and he leaned so far forward that it looked like a cartoon.

Halfway up was the water tower, which is there because the coal train needs 1000 gallons of water to make it to the top, but only holds 700 gallons in its tanks, so it has to refill the water tanks halfway through. There's also a by-pass track for when they have two engines on the track at the same time, but the diesel engines are so much faster than the coal run ones that they are able to avoid doing the switching most of the time, now.

The mountain trees grew quickly shorter, and then disappeared all together. As we got far enough up, mist started to cover everything, and outside was nothing but stunted evergreens, rock, and lichen. Then even that was only marked by the occasional cairn of rocks that marked the walking path to the top of the mountain. The fog got really really thick and we could see nearly nothing, and suddenly there was a tent and some guys parked by the side of the track, one guy even got a camera out to take a picture of the train. So people really do walk up the trail, even in the weather.

When we reached the top, we saw the coal engine at the top, getting ready to go down. The sulfur infused smoke was something else, and we were pretty glad that we got the diesel engine, though the coal one is pretty spectacular to watch. There's a visitor center at the top with a post office, a gift store, a snack shop, and a museum for the weather observatory up at the top. The fiercest winds in the continental US were recorded up there. And it turns out that the weather is foggy up there nearly 90% of the time because if there's any humidity at sea level, the winds that bring air over the mountain get compressed, and all the moisture is squeezed out of them up there.

So the winds go faster, the humidity turns to rain, snow, and fog, and the weather up there is just astonishingly bad. The rime up there freezes horizontal in the winter.

We wandered about the little museum in the basement, bought some post cards, and I mailed them to addresses we could memorize. Then we went outside again and saw a little boarding house that was used a long time ago to shelter guests that made it up that far. It was cute and warm with modern heaters.

At the Top
Then we went out and climbed a little pile of rocks to the 'top' of Mt. Washington. As soon as we were above the mound of rocks at all, the wind just grabbed us. John and Jet worked really hard to stand by the sign while I took their picture. I was afraid to use both hands for the camera as I needed them to balance against the wind. You can see that John's glasses are totally fogged over...

And then our hour was up. The funny thing was that the top of Mt. Washington is just a bit over 6000 feet... which is less than 1000 feet above where our house was. So it was interesting to be at a top of a mountain and not feel all breathless or have that little rock climb be harder from the altitude. There are good reasons to be up high normally. *laughs*

It felt really, really good to get back into the little cabin of our train and start heading back down. It was a little noisier and bumpier as the brakeman really did his job and worked the little car's brakes hard as we went down after the engine. The idea was to not hit the engine too hard and to keep our speed reasonable as we went. We could see the slope better as we were going downhill and seeing the valley spread out all below us.

It was fun seeing the brakeman leaning back the whole time as he worked his brakes as well. It was nice to break out into the clear and see again. And at the bottom, we got out and got some lunch as it was 1 p.m.. I was very happy to find top-cut hot dog buns. *laughs* We don't get those at home, at all, and Jet enjoyed his. The funny thing was that we all kept feeling like the diningroom was tilted as we were still on our train legs. *laughs*

From there we headed out to Bar Harbor. About 250 miles, and John and I traded off driving. It wasn't as far north or east as we could get, but we really just kind of wanted ocean. Also, one of John's ex-roommates from college has a home out here, but they're out for nearly all of July on their vacation. They'd left us a bunch of recommendations, though, and we reserved the last room at the Anchorage Inn in Bar Harbor while we were still out on the road.

One really amazing find, for me, was actually seeing Tim Horton's bakery and coffee shops along the way up here. I keep thinking of them as a Canadian Icon, so it's amazing to think of them actually being in the US. We actually stopped at one, and they made me a fresh pot of decaf coffee to go with my donut hole that I just HAD to get.

But other than that, we didn't really stop while we drove. So we were able to stop for dinner near the end of the drive, finding lobster stew, steamers, a mac nut encrusted halibut, and Jet even had fish and chips in honor of coming out on the coast.

We got to our room and just fell over.

The really good thing was that after being so totally stuffed up all day, when I went to sleep, my nose was finally clear. I might actually have a chance of beating this cold.
Tags: 2009_roadtrip, train, travel
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