The tallest mountain in the northeastern United States, nestled deep within the White Mountain range with its peak a towering 6,288.2 feet above sea level. A winding, seven-mile long mountain road, and beautiful vistas as far as the eye can see. A 2012 Honda Accord coupe with an appetite for adventure. And a driver who is absolutely terrified of heights. On a beautiful, late summer day, why would I drive up a mountain? In the words of mountaineer George Mallory: “Because it’s there.”
Mt. Washington is the most famous U.S. mountain east of the Mississippi. Native American peoples who lived in the area believed the mountaintop to be the dwelling place of the gods, their name for the mountain was Agiochook (meaning “the place of the Great Spirit”). Although first surveyed by European settlers in the 1640s, the first trail to the top was not established until 1819. Since then, the mountain has become a noted tourist destination, with several hiking trails that lead to its summit (via Wikipedia). The mountaintop also can be reached by the Cog Railway, a “rack railway” that has been bringing people to the summit since 1869 (a rack railway uses a system similar to how a roller coaster is brought to the top of a lift hill- a rack and pinion system keeps the train from rolling out of control down the mountain). Finally, the Mt. Washington Auto Road is a seven-mile long mountainside road that was first built in 1861. More than 45,000 vehicles ascend the road every year, and on Saturday afternoon, with my friend Steve as my navigator and co-pilot, I took DH up, up the mountain ahead.
The only thing I wish I had done differently was to have purchased a GoPro camera and filmed a time-lapse video of the drive to the summit. Instead, I thought I would share this footage of rally driver David Higgins’ record-setting race to the top of the mountain in 2011 for Subaru Rally Team USA. His run to the top begins at the 3:16 mark.
The Mt. Washington Auto Road is the most exciting drive I have ever done, the only experience that approached it for excitement and terror being a drive through the Alps in Europe with my friend Jason several years ago. The Auto Road opens in late May and closes in late October, although weather conditions can close the road at any time, so you should call ahead to check on road status before heading there. It costs $29 for a car and driver, and $9 for each additional adult ($7 for each child, although children under 5 are free). For those of you who would prefer not to drive the road yourself, the Mt. Washington Auto Road also offers guided shuttles to the summit, if you would like to sit back and leave the driving to someone else. A second thank you to my friend Steve for his co-piloting skills as well as his help with the photography on this trip. And thank you for coming along on another journey down The Open Road Ahead!