- Historic Sites
Two Roads To The Top Of The World
Up fierce Mount Washington by rail and auto routes from the 1860s
July/August 1997 | Volume 48, Issue 4
For all that activity, and the civilizations that have come and gone at the top—there are today not only a cafeteria, post office, gift shop, restaurant, and museum but also the weather observatory, radio and television transmission buildings and towers, and an auto-road office—the mountain stays untamed. I was reminded of that as I walked up through the dense, cold fog from the parking lot to the Sherman Adams Building. I hadn’t more than twenty yards to go when a pair of young women looking very cold and wet emerged from the mist and asked me if they were near the summit. They had set out hours earlier on a nice morning hike up Tuckerman Ravine. They straightened and smiled with relief when 1 told them that their goal lay just a few steps on.
The sight of them put me in mind of my own conquest by foot of Mount Washington. As a teenager I climbed it with my father and sister over two days. First we went up Mount Madison to the north and spent the night at the AMC hut on the high ridge between the summits of Madison and Adams. The next day we climbed Adams and made our way around the top of the Great Gulf to Washington before descending via Tuckerman Ravine. We were never in the least actual danger, but we had some genuine thrills. One was when we were making our final ascent from the ridgeline up Washington. Moving from cairn to cairn in thick fog on lichen-covered rocks on what felt to he the remotest place on earth, we detected the distinct aroma of coal smoke. Another few steps through the cloud and we heard a sharp steam whistle. Then we made out the tracks, and toward us moved a little locomotive from another century.