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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

From Toasty to Frigid

~Friday, October 1, 2021~

Day 474

Piano moving day. Thank you Marilyn (a dear friend and former piano student of mine) for giving my treasured piece, a home all these months we’ve been on the road. In all the years that the piano has been part of our family (it was my grandmother’s), this would be a first that it’s actually going to a temporary holding spot, and not a home. It does feel a bit strange coordinating the move clear across the United States. But it is what it is. Can’t wait to be back to playing again… outlet, my therapy.

Happy October everyone, and happy Fall (my favorite season). But, how can it be here already? It’s not hard to tell you’re in the midst of it when in New Hampshire this time of year. The colors are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. And it’s not even at full throttle yet. Each day seems to be growing colder with the winds picking up. So what will be in store for us at 6,000 feet today as we take a train ride to the top of Mt. Washington?

On the drive to the Mt. Washington Cog Railroad tour, the scenery grew more dramatic as we headed to the base of the mountain at around 2,700 feet. We checked in to receive our tickets for the 12:00-3:00 tour. Since we had time to spare, we took a look around the grounds and stumbled on the coal storage area. It was also fun watching the other “cars” come down as they appeared out of the clouds. We even checked out the cog track itself, which seems like a simple system.

Evidently, there are a few men who descend the 3 miles of track once a week, inspecting each and every pin on the track to ensure each and every ride is safe. They do this by taking a hammer to each one to hear the responding sound. A clear bell sound is good, a dull, flat sound is bad. Hopefully the inspectors have great hearing! 😳We struck up a conversation with a fellow train guest and avid photographer from Illinois. His camera….a fancy Canon with a huge lens on it. Jeff is in the market for a high-end camera so he can get back into his love of photography. Anyway, they were having fun exchanging experiences with their old cameras vs. the current technology. Neither misses having to use “film”. We grabbed a few hot drinks before boarding the car. And every car was FULL!!

As you’re seated, the first thing you notice is that your bench is angled downward to compensate for the 25% to 37% grade that you’re traveling, so you don’t roll down the western slope of Mt. Washington. On the descent, the benches are reversed, angled upward. Even the boilers for the steam engines were mounted to the locomotives’ frames with twin trunnions, allowing them to move with the fluctuation in grade, with gravity always keeping the boiler upright. The Mount Washington Cog Railway (also known as “The Cog”), is the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway. (Cog means rack-and-pinion railway). During construction, the workers made their time more efficient by inventing slide boards (also known as “Devil’s Shingles”) which fit over the cog rack which provided just enough room for their tools and themselves. The average time for the descent with these slide boards was about 15 minutes. The record was 2 minutes/45 seconds with a speed of about 62 mph. Now that would be a thrill ride. Sadly, after the accidental death of an employee back in 1908, the slide boards were banned.

The company’s first paying customers began in 1868 with the use of steam/coal engines. Each steam locomotive ride up the mountain burns 1 short ton of coal and consumes 1,000 gallons of water. Today, they’re down to one steam/coal cog with the rest being more “eco-friendly” biodiesel-powered locomotives and they’re faster. The diesel gets you up in 35 minutes as opposed to the steam engine’s 65 minutes. Less polluting and faster…….sounds like a win, win!!

Our conductor was very knowledgeable and friendly. He also gave us plenty of warning of what to expect at the top. Though not the coldest/windiest day ever recorded, the temps today would be around 25 degrees F, with a windchill of 9 degrees F. Winds would be at around 40 to 50 mph. The highest ever recorded low has been minus 50 degrees F with a windchill of minus 110 degrees F. The highest winds ever recorded were 250 mph., classifying it as the windiest place on earth next to the natural phenomenons of hurricanes and tornadoes. Now you wouldn’t think a mountain of only 6,000 feet in elevation would have this kind of insaneness. But they say it’s the convergence of 3 different types of weather patterns that cause these conditions. In fact, many K2 and Everest adventure seekers train here since the conditions can be similar to what would be expected on those big mountains. The first fatality on Mt. Washington was a young woman...Lizzie Bourne, age 23 who succumbed to the harsh conditions back in September of 1855 while hiking with a few relatives to try and reach the summit. The tragedy is that she was only 100 yards from the top where she perished.

Mt. Washington’s Railway is the second steepest rack railway in the world next to the Pilatus Railway in Switzerland. As we made the 3-mile, 2.8 mph trek to the top, our guide pointed out the change in vegetation from beautiful deciduous pines/maples to the more coniferous, evergreen trees which can handle the cold a lot better. By the time you get to the top, they look more like shrubs than trees. But we also noticed what’s called Rime Ice. These beautiful ice formations occur when the perfect combination of wind, snow and rain hit any vertical surface, producing a horizontal fin (if you will). And they were everywhere, as we had snow at the top. It was just as our guide described…..insanely windy, cold (though we brought enough cold weather gear) and inhospitable.

If this is what Antarctica is like, I will not be buying a ticket to ride there any time soon. Everybody is allowed 1 hour at the top.

Instead of being like normal people and seeking shelter inside the “visitor center”, we headed out to the summit sign to take photos and look at the weather station up close. At 50 mph, you could barely even stand up. The wind force is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. You must see the video (go to “more” on the menu at the top of our website and scroll to videos). It really was a hoot! The weather station/observation building is actually anchored down to the ground, just in case. There were guys we saw that hiked up the mountain which would be great IN THE SUMMERTIME people!! It’s actually very dangerous where with white out conditions, it’s easy to become disoriented losing sight of the trail marked by cairns.

After about an hour, everyone was ready to head back down the mountain to more hospitable conditions. The tour guide on the way down was hilarious as he had all of us in stitches cracking one joke after another with a deadpan face. But he also demonstrated a lot of class as he asked 4 questions….

  1. “Who’s celebrating a birthday?” (There was 1)

  2. Who’s celebrating an anniversary? (There was 1 who left her husband at home 🤣🤣)

  3. Who’s celebrating a honeymoon? (There were none)

  4. and last but not least…..”how many U.S. Veterans do we have on board?” (There were 3). He went on to highlight just how grateful we should all be that we are enjoying this beautiful view, this lovely day, thanks to these men and women who serve our country, allowing us to do so. Amen to that!!

He also happened to point ME out in the crowd, telling everyone how freaked out he was by my resemblance to his daughter-in-law. When we got off the train, he said “bye Amanda!”, presumably my twin.

Moving along with our day, we took our tour guide’s suggestion and drove to, according to him, one of “the most beautiful spots” in New Hampshire, yet only a few miles from the Cog Railway tour. Without a name we just used the points of reference he suggested….”mile marker 3.9 down the hill” and “the roofed sign on the left side” . We found it! And oh my, what a beaut!! Happy we found a parking spot.

Next site….the Mount Washington Hotel located in Bretton Woods. This lovely hotel was designed by Charles Gifford

with construction taking less than 2 years between 1900 and 1902 at a cost of $1.7 million. Today, that would equate to nearly $53 million. Joseph Stickney, a coal broker from Pennsylvania, purchased the land and began his ambitious project, hiring 250 Italian artisans to build it. Sadly, he had only a very short time to enjoy the finished product, as he passed away at the age of 64, a year after the hotel’s completion. His wife Carolyn, however, continued to spend her summers there, further developing the hotel. With a series of unfortunate events such as Prohibition, The Great Depression, and WWII, the hotel’s business suffered immensely to which it was sold several times over the next century. Today, it is owned by Omni Mount Washington LLC and is one of the last surviving hotels in the White Mountains area. In fact, it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

The hotel boasts an elaborate lobby, with a beautiful outside balcony which provides spectacular views of the Presidential Mountain Range and surrounding 18-hole and 9-hole golf courses. We decided we would end our time in New Hampshire by returning here next week to enjoy this lovely little spot with a glass of bubbly perhaps. Crossing our fingers for good weather to take in the views.

There was still a little daylight left when we got back to the campsite. So we took a walk around the campground loop and found a really neat well-defined side “Connector Trail”, and well-signed. There were even several other trails branching off of that. Evidently at the 2-mile mark, there is a suspension bridge which we hope to see another day when we have more daylight. But what we did find about a mile in, was a vast, open spot with the roaring Dry River, set in the middle, surrounded by trees and mountains, all around. Sadie was thrilled to be off leash once again, releasing that good ‘ol lab energy. Now that she knows how close this trail is to our campsite, she’ll be begging everyday to return.

After our homemade pizza dinner, it was a baseball night, tuning into Sirius Radio in the car to hear the Giant’s play the San Diego Padres. The Giant’s won, but so did the Dodgers. So we’re in for another agonizing day to see who captures the pennant.

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