mount washington

Railway to the Moon!

mount washington cog railway

“Let him build a railroad to the moon!” a member of the New Hampshire Legislature suggested sarcastically, and everyone burst into hysterical laughter.

The demonstration was about a wind-up model of Sylvester Marsh’s invention—a locomotive powered by a central cogwheel gripping a center notched rail.  Four outer wheels have neither power or braking ability, but only support and guide the engine.  The light engine is geared down to attain the power needed.  And for safety, multiple braking systems are included.

Although this episode heralded several years of public disbelief and ridicule for Sylvester Marsh, the state eventually gave him a five-year Charter to build railways on Mount Washington and Mount Lafayette to “fool away his own money.” The year was 1858.

How the Idea Came About:

railway marshfield station

Two years earlier, in 1856, Sylvester Marsh, a very successful businessman from Boston, and a friend hiked up Crawford Path.  Above the tree line they were suddenly overtaken by storm-hurricane winds, freezing rain and premature darkness.  Staggering, sometimes crawling, they lost their way until they finally stumbled to the top, exhausted.   Marsh had found his mission: to provide “easier and safer method of ascension.”

We were there!

marshfield station

157 years later, people are still hiking up Mount Washington. But not us! Why should one not make use of Mr. Marsh’s handwork and ingenuity? It was on a cold September morning that Masood and I drove up to Marshfield Station at the base of Mount Washington in New Hampshire.

It had rained the previous night. By the time we reached Marshfield Station the sun shone timidly behind the clouds, but the air was very cold. Masood was all wrapped-up in a jacket we borrowed from a friend, because it did not make sense to buy a new one that will never be used in the U.A.E.

mount washington train ride

I, on the other hand, had layers of clothes on, plus the hijab and all the excitement, so that I did not feel too cold. But I had to stuff my hands into the pockets of my pretty, light-weight, white jacket (that I did not get the chance to wear again, sigh) every now and then to keep them warm enough to not shake when taking photographs.

We missed the 10:30 am train, having arrived just a few minutes before its scheduled departure.

How Much Does it Cost?

tickets cog railway

Those tickets cost $64 each per adult ($35 in November and December) for a round-trip plus entrance to the museum at the top of the mountain. The round trip takes approximately three hours, generally including a one hour stop at the summit.

Now, some people think spending that much money on a brief train ride is crazy, finding the journey too slow and boring. When we bought those tickets, however, we were looking forward to experience Mr. Marsh’s genius invention, a part of America’s history.

About the Coaches:

cog railway

I’m assuming each car can easily accommodate 40 passengers, but I observed a few trains and noticed that they were never really filled up to maximum capacity. Most of the passengers were families, with small children. One of the women had a small infant in her arms. Next to us sat a beautiful French couple.

Currently, the Cog has six coaches in its fleet of cars, most of them running on biodiesel than steam. The Cog workers built the brightly-painted, wood, Victorian-styled coaches. The front and back have walls of glass, and the side windows open for air and photography when the weather permits.

The Mount Washington Cog Railway is the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway (rack-and-pinion railway). It is the second steepest rack railway in the world.

The windows do not open, much to my dismay. But, the good thing is that you can walk around the coach at any point during the journey and take pictures!

Now that is a dilemma: I seem uncertain whether to look out the window at the magnificent view of the mountainside or wonder at the Victorian-era technology that’s propelling us into the thick clouds above.

The 100-year-old Waumbek Tank:

railway mount washington
Lovely, clear weather when we started our journey up Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeastern United States.

Now, besides taking this train or hiking, there’s another way to get to the summit of Mount Washington—in your own car! They say the drive up is fun and spectacular and all, but the drive down is pretty nasty on the poor brakes.

But if you are a first-timer like us, I believe taking the cog railway is the best option, considering the history that comes with it.

The brakemen, who are well-trained on the mechanics of the train’s braking system, are all very knowledgeable and funny. They will tell you the history all the way up, then fun facts all the way down. Some will even tell you a little bit about themselves and their family.

While taking a picture of Masood next to a train, a brakeman gave his black hat to Masood to put on.

Waumbek Tank mount washington
Waumbek Tank
Elevation: 3,800 feet

This is the 100+ year-old water tank that is used by multiple engines several times every single day. It’s pretty impressive, actually.

But more astonishing than that is the change in flora and topography from the base to the summit.

Old Man of the Mountain:

Old Man of the Mountain
Old Man of the Mountain, formed by a retreating glacier during the last ice age.

I totally missed seeing the Old Man on the way up. The brakeman was pointing at it, but I just couldn’t see the outline of a face. On the way down, it was pretty clear so I was able to not only see the face but also take a blurry photograph of it through the coach’s window for you.

The Old Man actually was made of five slabs of Conway granite balanced atop one another. More details on this face here.

mount washington
It started to get windy and foggy.

When we told our colleagues that we were planning on going to Mount Washington’s summit, they all suggested the same thing—bring warm clothes. The weather up there is crazy and unpredictable.

The lowest recorded temperature at the summit was -49 degrees Fahrenheit; the highest was +74 degrees. The temperature on the summit falls below zero more than 65 days a year.

Jacob’s Ladder, a Fascinating Experience:

jacob's ladder

Jacob’s Ladder is a pretty cool point on the journey up or down Mount Washington!

Jacob’s Ladder is listed in Guinness Book of World Records as the most treacherous section of train track in the world. As the train climbs a 37.4 degree slope it also makes a 30 degree left-hand turn while 30 feet in the air. As it climbs the ladder, the front of the passenger coach is 14 feet higher than the rear of the coach!

While the passengers were busy either marveling  at the beauty surrounding us or taking pictures, the brakeman suddenly puts down his microphone, stands up, opens up the front door, and begins to fall backwards, as if trying to drop himself on an imaginary bed with fluffy cushions. All of us gasped at practically the same time! One little mistake and he’s out there on the tracks.

Turned out, he’s never going to fall on his back. Not at Jacob’s Ladder. “Try it and see for yourself,” he cheerfully suggested, our jaws still hanging open from his stunt.

Masood was the first to try. It was pretty amazing how he could balance himself and not fall. I joined him a couple of minutes later. Then the French couple joined us. It was so much fun! It was something like this.

Deeper into the Clouds:

cog railway

The winds blew stronger, felt colder. It started to get dark and it wasn’t even noon yet. I looked out the glass window and saw the leaves and tall grasses sway brutally with the wind. I also wondered about how the hikers were doing out there.

Occasionally, we saw rocks that are marked. It’s for the hikers, the brakeman told us. It keeps them from getting lost.

We’re told the view from here is spectacular on a clear day. There’s a deep cliff to your left, he told us. We looked out and saw nothing but thick clouds.

At the Top!

summit mount washington
This was how blurry, foggy, misty, and obscure it was at the summit.

And I’ll tell you all about that in the next post!

In the meantime, we will continue to enjoy some nice, sunny weather…

mount washington

cog railway mount washington

What’s your memorable train experience like?


  1. OH MY GOD!
    Reading about your train ride made my stomach somersault.
    “Jacob’s Ladder is listed in Guinness Book of World Records as the most treacherous section of train track in the world.” Malum hone ke bawajood you took the ride? -_- If I were at your place I wouldn’t go even if someone paid me to go. Nai bhai nai exhibition n amusement parks are enough treacherous for me. Utna adventure n thrill kaafi hai.

    1. Continued(my phone has brain of its own kabhi kabhi chaljaata aur kya kya ki karta :P):
      “While the passengers were busy either marveling at the beauty surrounding us or taking pictures, the brakeman suddenly puts down his microphone, stands up, opens up the front door, and begins to fall backwards, as if trying to drop himself on an imaginary bed with fluffy cushions. All of us gasped at practically the same time! One little mistake and he’s out there on the tracks. ” *gulps*
      Nadia bajii bus hai enough of adventures you had bus ab. I wouldn’t do that at any cost… Applauds you for your courage and guts masha’Allah. Pehle if i get on that train i would be praying for my life like theres no breath left.
      Khairr the pictures are beautiful and Enjoyed readibg the post. I am sure the view from the top’s breathtaking.I wonder why yash chopra didnt film a song there 😛
      Back to the pavillion or still partying in the USA?:P

      My train experience?! Ummm ab if you have asked so I shall tell u my memorable experience. I have travelled alot in train but I don’t remember my earlier train rides cz that was when i was a lil kid. Lekin recent memory’s from 2011 in May when sun rules here like no where else n electricity does nakhrey like no where else. So I join my aunt and cousins to embark on this fun and joyful train ride. We leave our place at 1 pm in kadakti dhoop coz train departs at 2:30 pm. We reach there and I am happy that the station is so well maintained which makes me more enthusiastic that I don’t climbing the stairs n walking n pushing through the crowd for 25 mins with the luggage. So we find a place to lounge at. Its already 2:30 and I am almost jumping up n down in excitement but train doesnt arrive yet. I am like thats fine hote rehta itta toh. Another hour passes n one more after that. Now i realise those huge fans arent working and its getting hotter by each passing second. This tested my patience like kuch na poocho. I tried to ignore all of this n started reading with frequent glance at the clock, hours pass one after the other and its 8 PM and the maharani train arrived. Wo din tha aur aajka I didn’t travel in train again. I am sure I would have loved the ride agar din hota and bp na bada hua hota.
      Omg… Too long reply. Sorry bhaii.
      Take care 🙂
      P.S: waiting for the promised recipe abhii tak. Main shapat leli ke jab tak nadia baji recipe nahi batayengi i am not gonna step into kitchen. (Exaggeration much? Ofcourse hyderabadi aakhir :P)

        1. My lovely Miss Maqsood! Though the Jacob’s Ladder made it to the Guinness World Record, let me assure you that it wasn’t a scary ride AT ALL. The train takes its sweet time climbing up that mountain. Plus, it’s foggy all around you, so it’s not like you can see cliff.

          We are back home now and enjoying UAE’s lovely wintertime 😀

          Sorry to hear about your frustrating train experience. I’ve traveled on India’s trains 5-6 times already and they were right on time. Perhaps you should give them another chance 🙂

          OK, so I have forgotten the promised recipe. My apologies. How can I make up for that? 🙁

  2. Love the pics with the fog, look really beautiful, like stepping back into a story in time.

    Reminds me of when we went to see the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco… only saw the clouds, it was like walking in the clouds, so much so that we couldn’t even get cool pics like yours where there’s just a little fog. In the gift store they even had “fog in a can” to buy as a souvenir, but Vick the ever-responsible money-saving man he is, said “no.” 😀

    1. Thank you, ‘liya!

      Fog in a can? That sounds interesting. I haven’t seen one before. Perhaps it wasn’t worth it, that’s why Vick said no 🙂

      Oh, and I’d love to see the Golden Gate Bridge – with and without the fog!

  3. Hehe, this looks like such an amazing adventure to add to your memories! 🙂 I really enjoyed your photographs, especially of the railway. It’s so nice that you’re adding reviews of places to visit outside the UAE! =)

    1. Thank you, Londoneya! I haven’t been anywhere in the UAE since I returned from the US trip. Both Masood and I have work on all weekends, and with the upcoming task of moving to a new flat and family obligations, it’s tremendously crazy around here!

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