In 1858, after climbing Mount Washington (‘home of the world’s worst weather’), Sylvester Marsh, nicknamed ‘Crazy’ Marsh, rashly proposed building a railway to the summit, at the dizzy height of 1,917 m (6,288 ft). After the laughing stopped, the New Hampshire State Assembly granted permission for the summit. So guess who had the last laugh? The first loco ran in 1867 and the line was completed in 1869, since which time Sylvester Marsh’s quirky creation has carried over five million passengers.
Laid on trestle all the way, this extraordinary engineering feat has a maximum gradient of 37.41 per cent, and custom-built steam engines push carriages up a 4.9-km (3.1-mi) track, belching smoke as they use a ton of coal and a 3,785 litres (1,000 gallons) of water on every journey. Many of the locomotives, each of which has a name, date back to the 19th century (though much rebuilt over the years) and today’s passengers enjoy much the same experience as those who were first captivated by the Mount Washington Cog Railway 150 years ago.
The locos look weird on the flat, with forward-tilting boilers that are designed to be level when climbing and descending the mountain. Both engine and coach are pulled up the mountain (and eased back down) by a 19-tooth cog that meshes into the track’s central rail. At the same time, reassuring ratchets that prevent backward slippage are engaged on ascents. After a scenic ride that offers majestic mountain vistas, be prepared to avert your eyes as the summit approaches – a trail crosses the tracks, and there’s something of a tradition whereby hikers await the train and ‘moon’.
In winter there is a limited service (mainly weekends and school holidays) up through the snow to Kroflite Camp at 1,250 m (4,100 ft).
Mount Washington, NH
WHEN TO GO:
May to October (limited winter service November-April).
TIME IT TAKES:
Three hours for a round trip, including 20 minutes at the summit.
Peppersass, named for its likeness to a pepper sauce bottle – the first engine used in the construction of the line from 1867, now on display at the Marshfield Base Station.
A wander round the summit, known as ‘the city in the clouds’, with numerous buildings including the Mount Washington Observatory and Tip Top House (built in 1853) – some days you can see four states, Canada and the Atlantic Ocean, and on other days nothing but swirling cloud!
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The greatest wind speed ever recorded on earth – 372 kph (231 mph) – hammered the summit of Mount Washington in 1934