For several years now I have had a dream of driving up the Mount Washington auto road in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The peak is 6,288 feet up in the clouds and the road up to it offers no creature comforts such as guardrails or wide lanes; the top portion above the tree line is considered an alpine zone with flora unique to the area, and is paved only with gravel.
Scaling Mount Washington, whether driving, hiking, or riding a bike, is a bucket list item for many. The view from on high is epic, with towns laid out below like holiday dioramas, and nearby mountains beckoning across the valley.
My dream also featured snow in summer. The temperature at the summit is often twenty to thirty degrees cooler than at the base. How delighted would my pack of snow dogs be, with snow to frolic in, on a beautiful summer’s day?! I imagined the joy of lobbing snow balls at them under a sunny summer sky.
Due to heavy snow the previous winter, the road opened later than usual this May. We checked the weather at the summit one evening a few days before we drove up, and the temperature was a brisk two degrees with the wind chill, and there were winds in excess of sixty miles per hour. Would our drive actually happen? When the weather is bad the road simply does not open due to safety concerns. Mount Washington is known around the world for record breaking extremes of wind and low temperatures.
We arrived at the base of the mountain on May 25th, the first day the auto road was open for the 2019 season. The weather was on our side: the sun shone brightly and the temperature was in the low seventies, with a mild breeze. The pack were loaded into the back of our Jeep Liberty. We were given some guidelines for the drive and an informational cd to listen to en route. We were told that if our car overheated, there were several spots to pull over.
The beginning of the drive was easy. The pleasant tree-lined road wound up and up and up. As we rose higher, the trees fell away from the edge of the road and we looked out on sheer drops. I have never been afraid of heights but this was unnerving!
At about 4,000 feet a light popped up on our car’s dash board that we had never seen before. It seems that the transmission oil was too hot. Hearts pounding, we pulled over to let it cool off. After 180,000 miles and ten years in, our Jeep was putting in a heroic effort. This was not the place to break down! The view from our stopping point was stunning – trees spread out below in vast numbers, towns far away, clouds perched in the sky almost close enough to touch.
After a brief rest for the car, we drove on in a lower gear, the road becoming increasingly more narrow and the drops more and more terrifying. It was difficult for two cars to pass each other and it was done in a slow and careful dance, especially at any of the turns.
When we arrived at the actual summit and parked our car, you truly felt on top of the world. The view from every angle was jaw dropping. As I stepped out of the car I realized my hands were trembling with an unfamiliar combination of excitement and fear.
As we unloaded Fiona, Lobo and Secret from the car, we felt a chilly breeze across our faces. The temperature had dropped to the mid forties. I gripped the leashes tightly. The dogs were exhilarated, galvanized by the cooler weather that huskies crave. It didn’t take them long to find every patch of snow on the summit. Lobo rolled on his back in the snow in sheer, unbridled joy.
We love to travel with our dogs and go out of our way to find dog friendly attractions for our fuzzy family. Mount Washington stands out as the most memorable so far. We weren’t alone – we met lots of dogs on the top of the mountain along with their people, including another husky or two. A dog’s innate sense of adventure welcomes novel events such as this.
We can’t wait to go back again in the fall, with all the varied colors of an autumnal forest laid out below. There may be a bit more snow at the summit!