Recently a caller asked us why is Mt Washington an ‘important mountain’? Good question and one with many answers. At 6,288′ it is the highest peak in New Hampshire and the highest point east of the Mississippi River and north of the Carolinas’. Along with its neighboring Presidential Range peaks it comprises 8.3 sq. miles of unique Alpine Zone, the largest single alpine area in Eastern United States.
The mountain stands out for many reasons in its natural as well as social history. It forms the backdrop of many of our northern NH communities and due to its massive bulk demands to be noticed.
The weather above the 4,000′ tree line rivals some of the severest weather experienced anywhere on the planet. Even on a ‘good day’ winds averaging 35mph can move snow,
with winds exceeding hurricane force 100 days a year.
Since the first recorded fatality of Fredrick Strickland, an English visitor who lost his way descending the mountain in a storm on October 19, 1849 and eventually found frozen to death in Ammonusuc Ravine, 146 people have lost their lives in the ‘Presidential Range’. For every fatality, hundreds of ‘close-calls’ are experienced each year, many resulting in search & rescue efforts to bring hikers down the mountain after thy have suffered an injury.
This is one of the darker sides of the mountain but still another aspect which makes news and makes the public take notice. While the 60-acre summit of Mt Washington is a New Hampshire State Park, the mountain is mostly within the White Mountain National Forest. Owned by all the citizens of the United States and one of the most highly visited National Forests in the country. With the private in-holdings of the Mt Washington Auto Road, the nations’ first tourist attraction completed in 1861 and the Mt Washington Cog RR, the world’s first and steepest mountain climbing railway in 1869, these conveyances to the summit are premiere attractions with each its own unique story. With dozens of hiking trails, including the Appalachian Trail, which traverse the summit on its way to its terminus Mt Katadin in Northern Maine, Mt Washington provides hikers with many challenging climbing opportunities from moderate to extremely difficult. Over 300,000 people from around the world visit the summit each year. The view is one of the principal attractions that draws people to the summit. Views of over 100 miles are enjoyed in clear weather.
Looking between the two twin peaks to the east, Doublehead and Gemini Twins Portland, ME is seen just to right of Sebago Lake.
In winter , when summit access is limited, some of the most spectacular views are enjoyed by summit staff lucky enough to be on shift; such as a late moonset behind Yankee Communication Building
or (despite minus zero degree temperatures) the warm colors of an earlier morning alpine glow greet an early riser.
These are just a few examples why I think iconic Mt Washington is an ‘important mountain’. There are many more!