Monday, October 15, 2012

Vermont/NH: Day 4B - Mount Washington

Part of the reason we saved the New Hampshire day for a "good weather" day was because the road up Mount Washington has a tendency to close due to bad weather. In fact, this was the scene the day before we visited Mount Washington. Although, I can't confirm one way or the other whether that closed the Auto Road or not. (For those of you too lazy to click the link: it snowed at the summit the day before our visit.)

Well, Tuesday was a great day for a journey up Mount Washington. Let's go!

Mount Washington has long been a 'bucket list' item for me. Sure, it's the highest entire Northeastern United States, but there's more to it than that, for me. The main draw for me is its place as a meteorological curiosity. They claim to be "Home of the World's Worst Weather" (debatable, of course). They average 311 inches of snow per year, and since it's a highpoint in the mid-latitudes without much surrounding resistance, the summit frequently gets very strong winds; Mount Washington experiences hurricane force winds on an average of 110 days each year. (Disclaimer: The exact numbers are ripped from Wikipedia, but they sound about right.) Mount Washington also boasts the strongest ever wind gust recorded at Earth's surface at 231 mph, recorded on April 12, 1934...or, at least they used to. There wasn't any indication of this at the summit, or on the audio CD*, that their wind record was actually broken in 1996 (made official in 2010) on Barrow Island, Australia during Cyclone Olivia. Geez, first the Old Man of the Mountain falls down, and then Mount Washington loses its wind speed record; it hasn't been a good decade for New Hampshire, has it?

(* - When you pay your toll and drive up the mountain, both Mount Mansfield and Mount Washington provide a free audio CD for you to listen to on your way up and back. The Mount Mansfield CD was mostly an advertisement for Stowe and the surrounding area, and only lasted 10 minutes; the Mount Washington CD was far more educational, and lasted 40 minutes, or virtually the entire length of the drive up and back. So, again, Mount Washington wins, despite not admitting that they don't have the wind record anymore.)

Notice that the sign says "by man". Technically, that's true, because the Cyclone Olivia observation was automated, while the Mount Washington observation was not. But, come on...we don't record winds "by man" anymore! That era is long gone.

Let's talk about the road up the mountain. Holy crap! Not recommended for those afraid of heights. It's plenty wide enough for two cars, but there are no guard rails, and only 75% of it (give or take) is paved. The road is 8 miles long and takes 20-25 minutes, depending on how many slow people are in front of you. It was thrilling! It was also a bad idea to come to a complete stop on the road, which is why I don't have any pictures of the road itself. (The Mount Mansfield road, on the other hand, we almost had to ourselves.)

Even in the Smokies, where a few of the mountains are higher than Mount Washington, I don't think you get such dramatic views, from above or below. Driving up Route 16, it was almost like I was in Colorado, given the difference in elevation from valley floor to mountain top (between 4,000 and 5,000 feet, I think, which might actually be close to what you see in Colorado). And then once you're actually at the top, the views are really something. Sorry, Mount Mitchell - you may beat Mount Washington by a few hundred feet, but Mount Washington has more dramatic views.

The Auto Road (which cost us $33) isn't the only way to the top. There's also a train, which approaches the mountain from the other side. And, of course, you could hike up. Even in our pre-children days, I think hiking the entire mountain would have been beyond us.

So, here's proof that we made it to the top:

The summit was very crowded, which is the main reason why we don't have more pictures from the top. There was a line about 10-15 people deep waiting to get a picture with the summit sign. But like I said, it was a nice day, so I doubt it's like that every day. It's reasonable to think that there were a bunch of people who would have come the day before if not for, you know, the snow. I mean, the temperature at the summit when we were there was 44°F! That sounds cold, but for Mount Washington, that's actually quite warm by October standards. By comparison, let's look at (yesterday's weather atop Mount Washington: high of 25°F, max wind gust of 88 mph, and an average wind speed - that's an average over the entire day, mind you - of 53 mph. Safe to assume the summit was probably not as crowded yesterday as it was during our visit. And that's if the Auto Road was even open yesterday. (They're likely to close the Auto Road for the season any day now; their announced "tentative closing date" is October 21st.)

Now I could put the bumper sticker on my car, if I wanted to. I probably won't, but I will hold onto it.

Finally, here's our route from the second half of Day 4, just for documentation purposes. (Point B - the Mount Washington summit.)

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