Friday, August 12, 2016

A Trip Up Mount Washington on the Cog Railway...

Perhaps the biggest attraction in the White Mountains is Mount Washington. It is the second highest peak east of the Mississippi at 6,288 feet. Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina is the highest at 6,684 feet. But Mt. Mitchell does not have a cog railway nor does it have a reputation for having the worst weather in the world.

The Appalachian Trail ascends Mt. Washington as does an auto road and so does a cog rail road. It was the first cog railroad and opened in 1869. 
It was a beautiful, sunny day.
 

 

 But then we got our first view of Mt. Washington, the summit of which was hidden to us.
 


The mountains around Mt. Washington enjoyed nice weather.

However, the big guy was obscured.  We thought for sure the clouds would burn off by the time we reached the summit.
 
 

We started out in sunshine.


Our brakeman was informative and knowledgeable giving us the history of this railroad and telling us of the development of the rack and pinion feature that became know as "cog".
 

The railroad operates a half dozen bio-diesel engines that are extremely fuel efficient and they still utilize a coal fired old steam locomotive that makes it up and down twice daily.
 
Nothing makes you nostalgic like the sweet smell of coal smoke and the high pitched shrill of the steam whistle. 
 
 This photo gives you an idea of incline.  34% grades were common all the way up.  Standing up in the rail car was a challenge.
 
 
Going up into the clouds, I could see how pilots can easily get disoriented.
 
 


The tree line on Mt Washington is at 5,000 feet because the weather is so bad at that altitude, trees do not grow any larger than small shrubs.  An Appalachian Trail hiker appears on the ridge...
..and wave and take our picture.

The trail is marked by cairns, piles of rocks hikers have made to show the path of the trail.  These are very helpful when you are in the fog and there are cliffs that drop thousands of feet.
 
At the mountain top shelter, Joanie faces the cloud blowing in at 44 mph gusting to 52.  The temperature was 44 degrees with a wind chill of 32 degrees Fahrenheit


 

Wearing warm clothes was a must.  Some folks ventured up the mountain in summer shorts and t-shirts.  The gift shop sells a lot of sweatshirts, wool hats and hoodies.
 

The cloud lifted just for a few seconds and we could see the research center

 
 There is a gift shop and small cafeteria a long with a museum where we learned why the mountain has the ...
 ... "worst weather in America".  The research center recorded the highest wind speed ever.  231 miles per hour (372 km/h), April 12, 1934.  

We met two young Appalachian Trail hikers who stopped off at the summit for a bite to eat before heading south.  They started in Maine at Mount Katahdin's Baxter Peak in Baxter State Park.  They had already completed over 300 miles by the time they reached Mt. Washington and only had about 1,900 more to go. By the time they reach the southern terminus in Georgia, they will need hair cuts.
 
Climbing back into the rail car, we were able to see a bit of the auto road.
 

We sat in the back of the car on the way down looking at the engine and the engineer. 

We passed hikers dressed for the cold weather.

 
We also passed trains headed up.


This the base of the mid way water tower.  The steam locomotive does not carry enough water to make it to the top and so must stop and replenish about half way at 3,800 feet.  It also burns more than a ton of coal.  The diesel engines burn only 18 gallons to get to the top.  The water tower is spring fed.

A view of the station from about 1500 feet high.

On the way down, the brakeman is constantly working two brake wheels.  The rail car is never attached to the locomotive either going up or back down.  It takes about an hour to go up but only 35 minutes to get back down. The rail car is capable of getting back down all by it self if necessary.
 

When the sun is out, the rocks shine with flakes of mica embedded in them. 

The steam locomotive is worked on down below the station. On almost level ground the nose of the boiler is pointed downward but on the incline the boiler is level and is most efficient in that position.
 
 
 

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