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Saturday, June 1, 2013 : The White Mountains, Mount Washington

 

Last night, I booked us two tickets on the Mount Washington Cog Railway website. We favored this solution to walking up to the summit on a path we knew nothing about but its length : 11 miles !

 

A toll road also leads to the summit of Mount Washington but, between driving and enjoying the scenery, the choice was quick and easy.

 

The weather promises to be absolutely bright. We would probably have been pretty disappointed by a mountain excursion in the midst of clouds with zero visibility.

 

Mount Washington rog railway ticket

Mount Washington Cog Railway

 

The drive from  Plymouth to Marshfield Station is about one hour. So we get up at 7:30, talk to the family on Skype, have a shower and a quick breakfast in the room, since the hotel does not have a dining room.

 

We drive up Franconia Notch again. Later on, we cross Bretton Woods, the charming winter sports resort where, in July 1944, the famous conference that established a new economic and financial world order was held. The IMF, among others, was borne out of this conference.

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Mount Washington cog railway, New Hampshire

Mount Washington Cog Railway

 

We have made it to Marshfield Station, the railway base station where the train leaves from. We quickly collect our tickets and keep the museum visit for later.

 

Each train is composed of a biodiesel locomotive pushing a single car. We will soon undertand why : at some places, the slope is 37% !

 

Each day, a genuine steam train travels the line, leaving at 8:15. We settled for a bit of extra sleep.

 

Biodiesel burns only 19 gal. of fuel, round trip. The steam engine needs one ton of coal and 925 gal. of water !

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The Peppersass, a vintage steam locomotive, Mount Washington Cog Railway

The Peppersass, a vintage steam locomotive

 

While waiting for the departure, we have ample time to take pictures of this vintage steam locomotive, the first one that traveled on the line. It dates back to the inauguration, in 1868. Due to its characteristic shape, it was affectionately nicknamed the Peppersass.

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Mount Washington Cog Railway, our guide

Our guide, a real chatterbox !

 

Our guide spends all the climb giving us a thousand details about the line, its history, the landscapes, the environment, flora, fauna ... Every subject is good ! What puzzles me most is not so much his extensive knowledge than his capacity to always find something relevant to tell.

 

The paragraphs you are reading have been written from his speech, Marie's notes and the documentation we were given before the departure.

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Mount Washington, during the climb

Mount Washington, during the climb

 

As we climb up, vegetation grows sparser, and we can enjoy the beautiful mountain landscapes of New Hampshire.

 

Did you notice that, on this picture, clouds and trees look a little tilted to the right ? We are at Jacob's Ladder, one of the steepest portions of the line. Clouds are really horizontal, it is the picture that was taken abnormally tilted !

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The Presidential Range, seen from Mount Washington Cog Railway

The Presidential Range, seen from the train

 

We are now nearing the summit, and the slope is becoming less steep. Here is our first view of the Presidential Range. Each summit bears the name of a former U.S. President, supposedly in chronological order, starting from the highest point : Washington comes first, then Adams, Jefferson, and so forth.

 

There are a few exceptions : Mount Reagan, rechristened as such in 2011 by the New Hampshire Government (but still officially recognized as Mount Clay by the US Government !), is not the 40th highest summit of the range.

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Franconia Valley, New Hampshire

Franconia Valley, where we came from

 

Mount Washington is the highest point in New Hampshire. From the summit, the view is clear on all sides. We enjoy the view of the valley where we came from. We can see the white spot of Mount Washington Hotel and Resort, where the Bretton Woods Conference was held and, in the background, the exit of Franconia Notch.

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Mount Washington summit, New Hampshire

That's it, we made it to the summit !

 

What the picture above does not show is that visitors are quietly queuing up for their turn to be photographed on the summit, just beside the sign. In France, it would likely not be that straightforward !

 

The summit is battered by a chilly wind, and my sweater is welcome. Some days, temperature does not climb higher than the mid-thirties, even in summer, although the summit is only 6,288 ft high. It is on Mount Washington that the fastest wind gust on record was measured, at 231 mph, in 1934.

 

Fortunately for us, none of those meteorological records will be broken today.

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Tip Top House, a disused refuge at the summit of Mount Washington

Tip Top House, a disused refuge

 

We visit Tip Top House, a mountain refuge disused a long time ago. It was built in 1853, 15 years before the railway, to house the first visitors. The dormitory is furnished with very basic bed-closets. Privacy is not taken for granted.

 

Tip Top House is the oldest building on Mount Washington. Of course, nowadays, more recent refuges have replaced this one, which became an historical landmark.

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Tip Top House, the common room

Tip Top House, the common room

 

The common room was also used as a dining room. It was heated by this simple coal stove. We can imagine how rudimentary the comfort of this refuge used to be 150 years ago, especially in winter.

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The Presidential Range, seen from the summit of Mount Washington

The Presidential Range, seen from the summit of Mount Washington

 

We walk around the summit. Once again, we are facing the Presidential Range. The railway lies right under our eyes.

 

We walk some distance on the trail that climbs up from the valley. It is dotted with sharp stones that roll under our feet. We realize that we have been well inspired not to climb all the way up on foot.

 

The last third of this trail is absolutely beautiful. But we shall reserve it to trekkers more experienced than we are.

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Summit of Mount Washington, northward view, Quebec in the background

Northward view. At the very background is Québec

 

After our stroll, we are back on the summit. The North view is as beautiful and as clear as the South one. The last ranges, in the background, are in Québec territory.

 

I have read that, exceptionally, visibility would extend to Montreal. I have a hard time to believe this, which nothing ever confirmed.

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Mount Washington, snow patch

Snow patch seen on our way down Mount Washington

 

To justify the anecdotes about the legendary meteorological excesses of Mount Washington, a patch of snow awaits us on our way down. Later, we will cross surfers who walked all the way up and down with their boards ... for less than 50 feet of snow !

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Mount Washington, Vintage water tower, still in use

Vintage water tower, still in use

 

About half-way on our way down, this authentic water tower, still in use, serves the no less authentic steam engine, which does not have enough water capacity for the round trip. At this place, the line is split, and trains can cross.

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Cog railway museum, portrait of Sylvester Marsh, the founder

Cog railway museum, portrait of the founder

 

Back at Marshfield Station, our starting point, we visit the museum dedicated to the railway. We are here in the office of the founder, Sylvester Marsh, whose portait we can see on the wall.

 

We then snap a few pictures of licence plates and take the road again. Our goal is to drive all the way around Mount Washington, with a few stops at scenic places.

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Pinkham Notch, local flower

Pinkham Notch, local flower

 

Our next stop is at Pinkham Notch, a state park on the East side of Mount Washington. We chose this park because it is the starting point of plenty of trails in the White Mountains forest, including a few leading up to the summit of Mount Washington.

 

This park is famous for its flora, an example of which is shown on the picture.

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Frog at Pinkham Notch, New Hampshire

Pinkham Notch frog

 

Pinkham Notch is also famous for its highly protected animal life. We see neither wolf nor bear. But we take a picture of this small frog, whose colors make it almost invisible against a background of branches and trees.

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Pinkham Notch, Brad's Bluff, view of the valley

Brad's Bluff, at the top of Liebeskind Loop, beautiful view of the valley

 

We have chosen the Liebeskind Loop, a circular trail of about 3 miles on the side of Mount Washington. It is listed as 'easy' in our guidebook, but we soon have a doubt. This trail is reasonably short, but at times it is very steep, cut by holes, roots, and so forth.

 

To access the Liebeskind Loop, we have to walk part of the Old Jackson Road, which actually belongs to the Appalachian Trail, a trail that stretches along the Appalachians, roughly on the crestline, from the Canadian border at the Northeast of Maine down to Georgia, 2,160 miles in length.

 

Nevertheless, the view at Brad's Bluff, shown on the picture, is absolutely gorgeous. It dominates all the Pinkham Notch valley and the White Mountains forest, more green than white at this time of the year.

 

The stunning sight makes the effort worthwhile.

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Liebeskind Loop, Pinkham Notch

Liebeskind Loop. Our path goes thru this chaos !

 

The way down the Liebeskind Loop is similarly underated by our guidebook, probably because of its moderate length, and Marie begins to feel exhaustion, knee pain and frustration, though the trail under the trees is still as beautiful.

 

On a trunk bridge, we cross a small stream that we had already seen on our way up.

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Crystal Cascade, Pinkham Notch

Crystal Cascade, Pinkham Notch

 

Back at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center,we choose another trail, leading to Crystal Cascade. The sky has filled with dark clouds and we reach the cascade under a pouring rain. Of course, this picture looks greyish and dull.

 

It is a rather short storm, as often in moutain areas. It is still raining a little when we leave Pinkham Notch at the end of the afternoon.

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Swift River, Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire

Swift River, Kancamagus Highway

 

Our drive around Mount Washington is now complete. We drive back to Plymouth on Kancamagus Highway, a road that opened in 1959 to link Conway, to the East, and Lincoln, to the West. We cross beautiful landscapes. We stop twice, first at these rapids on the Swift River.

 

We drive this road rather slowly, to better enjoy the landscapes and the beautiful forest.

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Kancamagus Pass, New Hampshire

Kancamagus Pass, view of the valley

 

Our second stop on Kancamagus Highway is at Kancamagus Pass, a beautiful point of view on the Swift River valley up to Conway, in the midst of the hills in the background.

 

Fortunately, since the storm earlier in the afternoon, the weather has cleared up !

 

After the pass, the forest road is a bit less scenic, and we no longer stop until we reach Plymouth.

 

By chance, we have dinner in the same pizzeria as the day before, like this town had only one restaurant ! Marie would find solace for her effort during the afternoon in eating the lasagna on the menu, but there is no way to order them. This "lasagna curse" will be with us until the penultimate day of this trip !

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