09 February 2009

Humans in Nature: Mount Washington

By Isabel Roman

Mount Washington is the highest peak in northeast United States, sits 6,288 feet above sea level, is home to the world's first cog railroad, and has the world's worst weather. A proven fact recorded on April 12, 1934 when the record for the highest wind gust directly measured on the Earth's surface was clocked at 231 mph (372 kph).

Don't believe me? I've gone up the railroad to the top of the mountain and it's bad. You can watch those crazy scientists (who live there) monitor the weather on their webcam. From the summit: Observation Deck, North View, West View.

Darby Field claimed to have climbed Mt. Washington in 1642. Dr. Cutler named the mountain in 1784. The Crawford Path, the oldest mountain hiking trail in America, was laid out in 1819 as a bridle path from Crawford Notch to the summit and has been in use ever since. Ethan Allen Crawford built a house on the summit in 1821, which lasted until a storm in 1826. I hope he had insurance.

The cog railroad (technically The Mount Washington Cog Railway) is the best train ride ever. In summer. With the windows closed to prevent soot in your eyes. I'd post my own pictures but I went in the 80s, and the hair...it's best left to the forgotten scrapbooks packed away.

Sylvester Marsh of Campton came up with the idea while climbing the mountain in 1857. His plan was promptly declared insane. Because why wouldn't you want to build a railroad up a mountain? (Please, don't say it...)

Equipment and materials were hauled by oxen 25 miles to Bretton Woods, and then another six miles through thick forest to the base of Mount Washington. On July 3, 1869, Old Peppersass became the first cog-driven train up the mountain.

The men who worked on the railroad decided to minimize their time getting to and from work so they invented the Devil's Shingle--not so much an invention as slide-boards that fit over the cog track. They were wide enough so the workers could sit on them with their tools. Made from wood, with iron as handles, they could literally slide down the mountain at speeds up to 100 mph. They made it down in about fifteen minutes; the record was 2:45. In 1906, the Devil's shingles were banned after the accidental death of an employee.

Still, it looks like a lot of fun!