New Hampshire, Mt. Washington (6,288 feet)
- Mt. Frissell, South slope (CT) – Day 1
- Mt. Greylock (MA) – Day 1
- Mt. Mansfield (VT) – Day 2
- Mt. Washington (NH) – Day 3
- Jerimoth Hill (RI) – Day 3
Date of hike: August 11, 2014
Distance: Drive up
Time: Spent an hour at the summit
From the time we began planning our New England highpointing trip, we intended to climb Mt. Washington by foot. We are, after all, hikers, purists, warriors. Or so we told ourselves. When the time came to make a final decision about the route, drop off points, and starting time, we decided the prudent thing to do was to save our effort for the summits that actually require a hike. Our legs were a touch sore from the previous two days of rock scrambling and our bellies were full of treats from Vermont. Add to that, we needed to be done with Rhode Island’s highpoint by 6:00 that night (4 hours and 40 minutes away from Mt. Washington’s summit). To give ourselves enough time to be off the summit and make RI’s highpoint in the same day, we concluded that the only logical strategy was to drive up. Sleeping in a comfortable bed for a full night instead of hitting the trail at 4:00 or 5:00 am to stay on our aggressive schedule won out pretty easily.
That’s how we found ourselves paying $44 for the three of us to drive up the mountain. This is, of course, after a full night’s sleep and a real breakfast, complete with coffee. Resolving to come back and climb Washington by foot after we’re done achieving all highpoints, we were quite content with how this summit played out.
In the weeks and days leading up to Washington, everyone we talked to who had driven the road before us, assured us it would be the most terrifying drive we’ve ever done. We read similar reports from strangers online – women in the front passenger seat gripping their husbands’ arms for fear of toppling off the cliff. Some of us are adrenaline addicts, so this sounded exciting. We’ve each also all conquered some extremely treacherous roads, so for this to be the worst, we were expecting a dirt road fit only for a bicycle one way with no guard rails that would plummet us to certain death off of a 2,000+ foot drop. Our experience, instead, felt more like a Sunday drive after the trip to Mansfield’s trailhead the day before, but we recognize that we drove Washington on a clear day with little traffic to contend with. We mused that in a heavy fog with no visibility and high traffic, this drive would be quite stressful. Luckily, the conditions that day allowed us to more or less relax and enjoy the scenery.
At the top, we checked out the newly opened Extreme Mount Washington exhibit. From reading about it, we expected to actually experience the winter conditions through a simulation. We wanted to be equipped with parkas and thrown into a fierce, cold, wind tunnel. Nope. It’s a two-room museum where you can read about how Washington has the fiercest recorded winds on Earth and harsh winter conditions suitable only for the most serious of mountaineers. We eyed the mannequin on display, seeing if we needed to add any new winter gear to our list (not from the mannequin, of course). But, we weren’t inspired by that either. We liked their gift shop at least.
Outside of the exhibit, the summit offers several things to explore. The signature sign near the USGS marker is a great first stop. The summit also has real bathrooms with flushing toilets, a cafeteria, a gift shop, and a post office – you know, in case you have the irresistible impulse to mail a letter or buy stamps. I guess it could be fun to send someone a letter from atop a mountain. I’ve never really pondered it until now. A missed opportunity, I suppose.
After a solid hour at the summit, we packed it in and made our way down the mountain. The car has to be in low gear so your brakes aren’t smoking when you reach the bottom. Mt. Washington also provides several places to pull over so your breaks can cool. We made it down without stopping, but the car was a bit on the hot side. So, we stopped at the visitors’ center across from the auto road, also equipped with flushing toilets, to let the breaks cool before our nearly 5 hour drive to Rhode Island.
The visitors’ center at the base has an amazing handmade American flag on display outside. It was made from sticks collected by a local artist as he climbed Mt. Washington. He then assembled all of his sticks to make this incredible piece that I could not stop staring at or talking about. Seriously, this is a fantastic display – maybe more impressive than the mountain itself. Maybe. This piece is absolutely worth the drive there.
Feeling fulfilled by the American flag art, we continued on to our final highpoint of the trip, Rhode Island.