• Joe Pace

Granite State of Mind, #13: Mount Washington, Sargent's Purchase


It was all downhill from there.

When it's not raining out here on Puget Sound - which does happen every few weeks - the skyline is dominated by Mount Rainier. Over 14,000 feet tall, it's more than twice the height of New Hampshire's own prominent peak, the venerable Mount Washington. If you were looking to cast a mountain for a movie, there would be no contest - Rainier looks like a mountain the way Robert Downey, Jr. looks like Tony Stark. And it's not shy about it, so much higher than its neighbors that you'd think there wasn't an entire Cascade Range right there with it.

Mount Washington is humbler, less arrogant, more secure. While Pacific mountains like Rainier and Baker and Hood compete for attention with their rugged majesty, Washington nestles comfortably among its more seasoned Appalachian siblings. At a mere 6,288 feet, it's less then half the height of Rainier, and surrounds itself with a family of 4,000+ foot peaks that mitigate any showing off, even if it were so inclined. And yet, Mt. Washington has a resume to be proud of - the highest peak in the Northeastern United States, and possessor of the highest recorded wind speed in the Northern and Western hemispheres (it used to be a world record, until 1996). The Mount Washington Observatory likes to claim that the summit has the worst weather in the world.

And yet - and this is my favorite part - there's a road to the top. You can drive up the mountain, and get a goofy bumper sticker so your car can boast about it. For such an inhospitable peak, Mount Washington has long been the most accommodating of mountains, with a cog railway running to the summit since 1868, and hotels at the top throughout the late 19th century. It bears repeating - this is a mountain well over a mile high, and you can get to the top without ever leaving your car.

I'll admit that I've never hiked it - my only ascent has been via the Auto Road, as when Sarah and I visited the summit in 2003. Yes, it was all downhill from there. As penance, I'm actively considering not just climbing the mountain when we get back east but participating in the grueling Mount Washington Road Race, a torturous 7.6 miles at a constant 12% grade. Not a bad race, they say. Just one hill.

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