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Mt Washington State Park: April 30th, 2012

Posted on by Mike Pelchat, Manager of Mt. Washington State Park

The mountain has been going back and forth from record high temperatures in March to record cold temperatures in April.

Rime Ice and Tip Top House Historic Site

This past weekend weather observers noted a low temp of 4F which may have broken the record low April 28th temperature of 8F set back in the 1940’s.

During openings in the fog earlier this week, views from the summit down into the valley is showing spring is advancing up to Pinkham Notch despite this mountains’ reluctance to let winter slip away.

Rt 16 Near Pinkham Notch Showing signs of Spring Green

The “Seven” in King Ravine on Mt Adams is showing it’s outline very well. Once the “Seven” has melted away from view then local streams like the Peabody, Moose, Ammonoosuc and Israel Rivers are usually warm enough to swim by early July. Better brook trout fishing then swimming before then. We’ll see how fast the “Seven” breaks up this spring!

The ‘Seven’ on Mt Adams

The Mt Washington Cog Railroad announced this week that they are now open on weekends with trains leaving their base at 10:30am and 1:30pm. In anticipation of guests arriving, park staff has added de-icing guy cables to our daily chore list.

While the winds have been too high, gusting over 85mph at the summit, for trains to reach the top this weekend, they can safely run up to the Sky Line Switch on the upper north shoulder of the mountain

Mt Wash from West, April 29th 2012

with plenty of spectacular views along the way. We are all getting excited to greet visitors to the park for the 2012 summer season including “Marty” the Summit Cat!

On Friday our nice weather rapidly changed into a blizzard and now while clear, it has been a rather cold and windy weekend.

In some of the press releases announcing the Cog’s opening for its 143rd season it is interesting to note how Sylvester Marsh, an inventor and businessman who hailed from Campton, NH came around with the idea to build a railroad to the summit of Mt Washington. Story has it that the 46-year old Mr. Marsh along with two friends decided to climb Mt Washington in 1857 via the Fabyan Path to spend the night in the newly constructed Tip Top House.

Tip Top House circa 1854

The Fabyan Path was around 9 miles long and roughly followed the route of today’s Base Station Road from Route 302 and then up onto the ridge between Burt’s and Ammonoosuc Ravines, the route followed by the Cog today. After a lengthy hike just to gain the tree-line Marsh became disoriented in a storm and thick fog. Only in the last 100-years has the practice of piling stones, called cairns, used to mark the trails above treeline, been happening. The Marsh party just kept heading uphill and eventually made it up to the stone-walled Tip Top House, but only after Marsh feared for his life during the ascent. “Necessity is the Mother of Invention” (Plato). Marsh thought there must be an easier/safer way to climb this mountain. Marsh knew all about steam engines and understood that no train of that time would be able to climb the mountain due to the steepness of the grade, iron wheels would only slip on iron rails. Marsh was also familiar with Herrick Aiken’s, of Franklin NH, work with gears.  I imagine Marsh and party were warmly welcomed into the Tip Top House by an affable bartender who applied liberal draughts of O be Joyful to the exhausted men.  Even being dog tired Marsh couldn’t sleep well on Tip Top House’s hard bunk with only thin moss for a mattress. The wind howling a gale outdoors didn’t help either. The idea came to him that long, cold night. Combine a specially built steam engine with titled boiler to compensate for the 25-37% angle along with rack and pinion system, to provide for the trains traction and climbing ability. Back in those days much of the land in NH’s North Country was owned by timber-barons, in the case of Mt Washington it was the Pingree’s from Maine who owned the mountain. In many cases vast tract of NH’s wilderness was simply given or sold to friends of the King or Governor, like the Pingree’s, in hopes they would develop the wild country side with their businesses creating settlements. Or lands were “granted” to repay favors done such as when someone built a highway or found a short cut path thru a notch. Shortly after his return from Mt Washington, Marsh applied to the Legislature of NH for a Charter to build a steam propelled railroad to the top of the mountain. While the Legislature thought Marsh to be insane they did agree to grant him a Charter to attempt to build his railroad. This Charter was essentially an act of Eminent Domain, where a local government can take private land from one to give to another for the local common good and was the second time Eminent Domain was used in New Hampshire. Interestingly enough the first case of Eminent Domain was a Charter in 1861 granted to Landlord Thompson, proprietor of The Glen House on the east side of the mountain, to construct a carriage road to the summit. Thanks to Sylvester Marsh’s vision and determination, the Cog Railroad to the summit of Mt Washington was completed in 1869. The train became the world’s first and at the time the steepest mountain climbing railroad in the world and a world class engineering achievement to this day. And no more getting lost in the fog trying to climb the mountain on foot for Mr. Sylvester Marsh!

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About Mike Pelchat, Manager of Mt. Washington State Park

I've been working atop Mt Washington for past 30 years so you can guess I like it above the tree line! After all these years I still never tire of the beauty of our NH White Mtns and consider my employment an extreme honor and privilege to work for the State Of NH and serve its visitors. When not on the summit you can find me enjoying the rock & ice climbing one of the many beautiful granite cliffs we have in Franconia, Crawford or Echo Lake State Parks. I have taken these climbing skills learned at our NH State Parks to climb in Alaska, Andes, Canadian Arctic and Himalayas. I live in Gorham NH with my wife Diane Holmes. View all posts by Mike Pelchat, Manager of Mt. Washington State Park →
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