Blown away by Mt Washington . . .

Or, rather, blown away on top of Mt Washington.

Compared to the mountain ranges in the west of the USA, Mt Washington (at 6288 ft – 1917 m) and nearby peaks in the Presidential Range of New Hampshire’s White Mountains are mere foothills. From their base, however, they still look pretty impressive. Mt Washington is the highest mountain in the northeastern USA and experiences some pretty spectacular weather.

Steph and I got our first glimpse of Mt Washington as we crossed New Hampshire recently on the first part of our road trip that also took us through Massachusetts and Vermont on our way to Maine to spend a week there with our elder daughter Hannah and her family, who had flown in from Minnesota.

I’d chosen a route from Burlington, VT taking us north towards the Canadian border, then dipping down to the southeast through the White Mountains close to Bretton Woods, site of the momentous 1944 conference that aimed at regulat[ing] the international monetary and financial order after the conclusion of World War II. The conference led to the founding of the World Bank (or International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) and the International Monetary Fund.

Having worked for many years for two of the centers funded through the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), that had been established in 1971 under the auspices of the World Bank, I was interested to see the location where it had all started, so to speak.

And as we skirted a bend on US302, heading southeast, there was the famous hotel off to the left, nestling under the Presidential Range. In the middle was Mt Washington (just left of center in the photo below), clearly higher than surrounding peaks, and on which we could just make out some infrastructure we later discovered to be part of an observation station.

During our week in Maine we made several excursions, and one of those was the seven mile drive on the Mt Washington Auto Road that takes you to just below the summit, from 1500 ft the park entrance west off NH16 (White Mountain Road).

Amazingly, construction of the Auto Road (originally the Carriage Road) commenced in 1854, and was completed in 1861, opening to the public on 8 August that year. Over the past 157 years, more than 4 million tourists have reached the summit.

The fastest ascent on foot (in 2004) took just a few seconds short of 57 minutes (and only seven minutes quicker by bike). By car, Mt Washington has been climbed in just 6 minutes 9 seconds (in 2014). We took rather longer, at least 30 minutes, as we stopped whenever possible to enjoy the spectacular views, as well as negotiating some of the curves rather gingerly.

The road is paved most of the way, although near the summit there is a short gravel section.

The summit can also be reached by a cog railway! The train ascends on the western flank of the mountain; the station is situated a short distance beyond the hotel at Bretton Woods.

The cog railway, heading ‘vertically’ up the mountain can be seen just right of center.

Apparently the summit is hidden in clouds for about 60% of the year. Not so on the day of our visit. We couldn’t have asked for better weather, and the views, in all directions, were just awesome.

That’s Bretton Woods in the distance . . .

It wasn’t too windy either, blowing between 40-60 mph. Even so, we struggled to keep upright at the summit signpost.

60 mph is nothing on Mt Washington. On 12 April 1934 the world record wind speed (observed by humans) was recorded at 231 mph! Can you imagine that? Besides a small cafeteria, there is a small but interesting exhibition at the summit, with some of the instruments used and observations recorded on that momentous day 84 years ago.

I guess we spent a little under two hours at the summit, enjoying the panoramas in all directions. We couldn’t have hoped for a better day. Once we were down, there was time to relax in the sun, enjoy a picnic, and even take forty winks. We were even given a certificate for ascending the mountain.

So, if you are ever in the vicinity, and the weather looks half decent, I’d recommend the drive up the Auto Road. We weren’t disappointed.

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Here is a link to a bigger album of photos taken at Mt Washington.

Massachusetts to Minnesota (1): the first three days in MA, VT and NH

It’s that time of the year, and here we are, on the road again in the USA. Another potentially daunting road trip that will take us from Boston, Massachusetts (MA) to St Paul, Minnesota (MN) via Vermont (VT), New Hampshire (NH), Maine (ME), New York (NY), Pennsylvania (PA), Ohio (OH), Kentucky (KY), Indiana (IN), Michigan (MI), and Wisconsin (WI), including a ferry crossing of Lake Michigan from MI to WI. This year I’m using my new Garmin DriveSmart 51 sat-nav, for which I purchased the USA-Canada maps. It saves Steph having to navigate, state by state, map by map, as in previous years, so she can enjoy looking at the passing scenery.

We are also spending a week near Waterford in western Maine, with our daughter Hannah and family (Michael, Callum, and Zoë) at a cabin on the shore of McWain Pond, one of the many small lakes that dot the landscape.

Anyway, it all started last Wednesday morning, very early, when a taxi picked us up from home at 04:00 to take us to Birmingham Airport (BHX) for our 06:00 KLM flight to Amsterdam Schipol (AMS), connecting with Delta 259 at 11:15 to Boston Logan International Airport (BOS).

Apart from a rather rude Delta ground agent at Schipol, our connection was uneventful, as was boarding (Sky Priority), and I was soon enjoying my first G&T on the 6 hour 55 minute flight, on a comfortable Airbus A330-300. When we landed in BOS there was a delay of more than 20 minutes while the ground crew figured out how to connect the air-bridge to the aircraft. But soon enough, we were checked through immigration on one of the newfangled automated passport control (APC) machines. I still had to pass through regular immigration (and facing another rude official who even queried me about any visits I’d made to the Middle East). Before long, luggage in hand, we were at the car rental center and picking up our SUV from Budget. The Mitsubishi we had been assigned had a flat battery, so Budget upgraded us to a full-size SUV, a Dodge Journey V6—rather larger than we needed, but extremely comfortable nevertheless, if a little heavy on fuel (about 25 mpg). But at USD3 a gallon, that’s not really an issue. It would be in the UK, however, where gasoline is more than twice the price!

We successfully navigated our way out of the airport and through the tunnels under Boston city center on I-90, after finally getting the sat-nav to behave itself. Our Wednesday night stop was in Hadley, in central MA, just over 100 miles west of Boston, and southwest by a handful of miles of Amherst.

Over the next two days we took in northwest MA, the Green Mountains of VT as far north as Burlington, and then over the White Mountains of NH, to arrive at our cabin destination in Waterford, ME.

Heading northwest from Hadley on Thursday, it was slow-going for the first 20 miles or so as we encountered school traffic and people heading to work. But soon we were in open country, on scenic byway 112 and often had the road to ourselves for long stretches (as we have enjoyed in past road trips). After about an hour we joined MA2, the Mohawk Trail, and followed that until North Adams where we turned north and crossed over into VT.

There was a glorious view south from Whitcomb Summit, and some miles further on, just short of North Adams, there is a spectacular view north into southern Vermont, reminding us of the views we saw when exploring the Appalachians in 2017.

Vermont is a beautiful state, with forested hills and mountains as far as the eye can see.

North of Wilmington, VT we stopped at a general store and deli to buy sandwiches and were intrigued with the Mini Cooper parked outside with an interesting registration plate BONKS. There was also a Golden Retriever with a Union Jack collar. We discovered that the proprietor was British, from Guildford in Surrey (near London)!

We spent Thursday night on the east side of Burlington, conveniently located for the next day’s travel northeast into New Hampshire and Maine, beginning around 08:00.

Most of the small communities we passed through have a general store or two, offering a whole range of produce, and many selling fresh sandwiches from a deli counter. We enjoyed a coffee in the sun at Westfield in the far north of the state, just south of the border with Canada.

Crossing into New Hampshire, we headed towards the White Mountains and were not disappointed with the fantastic view of the Presidential Range and the Mt Washington Hotel Resort at Bretton Woods. That’s Mt Washington just left of center, at 6288 ft the highest mountain in the northeast USA.

But Bretton Woods also has special significance for me. Why? Well, I worked for 27 years at two international agricultural centers, CIP and IRRI,  sponsored by the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research). The CGIAR was founded in 1971 under the auspices of the World Bank. In July 1944, an international conference was held at the hotel to plan for a post-war world, following which the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were created.

Stopping at Conway to pick up a supply of groceries, we finally reached the cabin around 17:00. A long enough day, followed by a couple of cold beers, an early night, but still far short of some of the travel we have yet to make.

Watch this space!

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See the other posts in this series:

Massachusetts to Minnesota (2): a week in Maine

Massachusetts to Minnesota (3): onwards to Niagara Falls

Massachusetts to Minnesota (4): heading west through NY, PA, OH, KY and IN, then on to MN