Heavy lifting getting Mount Washington Auto Road ready for season

By JOHN KOZIOL
Union Leader Correspondent
April 17. 2017 8:29PM
Nate Reid operates a Bombardier snowcat Monday afternoon on the Mount Washington Auto Road in the Cragway Drift area. Snow-clearing operations on the 7.6-mile Auto Road began April 3 and as of Monday had pushed beyond the 5-mile point. (JOHN KOZIOL/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

GREEN’S GRANT — With a little help from Mother Nature, the Mount Washington Auto Road is getting ready to open for its 156th season.

As of Monday afternoon, maintenance crews were pushing beyond the 5-mile point on the 7.6-mile Auto Road, with the goal of it being open for self-guided, private vehicle tours to the 6,288-foot summit as soon as possible while guided tours — the Auto Road operates a fleet of vans — would start on Memorial Day weekend, said longtime Auto Road employee Regina Ferreira.

On Monday, Ferreira drove a van full of reporters on an occasionally white-knuckle ride that was punctuated by some significant ruts and an occasional fish tail on the greasy-gravel portions of the road.

Ferreira stopped the van on the maintenance front lines, within the shadow of the notorious Cragway Drift, whose 20-foot tall snow bank on the southern side of the Auto Road has been laboriously cut, in multiple passes, by a snowcat.

The Bombardier snowcat was operated by Nate Reid and its road-clearing work was augmented by colleagues who used a road grader and a backhoe. Separately, but just as importantly, a two-person team “drilled” holes in frozen culverts with a pressurized hot-water sprayer.

The culverts need to be cleared, Ferreira explained, because if not directed down the side of the mountain, melting water could run across the Auto Road, creating tough going and erosion.

Clearing operations this year began on April 3 and they reached the Cragway Drift on April 14. The effort on Monday was helped by two days of warm weather that at lower elevations saw temperatures in the 80s.

In the days before snowcats and other heavy equipment, much of the Auto Road was cleared by teams with shovels and if the Auto Road opened by the Fourth of July, it was considered a success.

Originally known as the Mount Washington Carriage Road, the Auto Road opened on Aug. 8, 1861. It begins on the west side of New Hampshire Route 16 in Green’s Grant at an elevation of 1,527 feet and climbs — at an average grade of 11.6 percent — westward through the unincorporated, unpopulated Coos County townships of Pinkham’s Grant and Thompson and Meserve’s Purchase.

At the summit, the Auto Road has a turn-around that is described as a 12-horse team wide, said Crispin Battles, the Auto Road’s marketing director, who conceded that no one has ever actually measured the turn-around.

In 2017, the Auto Road will host a variety of events, including Alton Weagle Day on May 27, which celebrates Weagle and his several creative “first ascents,” including by car, on foot, walking backwards, blindfolded and pushing a wheelbarrow full of sugar.

As part of the 94th running of Laconia Motorcycle Week, which bills itself as “The World’s Oldest Motorcycle Rally,” the Auto Road will be open on June 12 and 15 only to two (and the occasional three-wheeled) vehicles.

In 2017, the Auto Road will see the return of the Subaru Mount Washington Hillclimb when, from July 7-9, some of the best rally drivers in the world will vie for the title of “King of the Hill.

jkoziol@newstote.com


TourismOutdoorsMt. Washington

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