As I pull up to the base of the Mt. Washington Auto Road, it’s hard to believe that less than a month ago, this road was covered in 10 feet of snow. The vegetation all around me is illuminated in a lush emerald green, with the upper peaks shrouded in a fog bank. I’m here to scout for good spots for photographing the upcoming Subaru Climb to the Clouds Mt. Washington Hillclimb. It has been a few years since I have visited the mountain but this only reminds me of how quick the weather changes here.
Mt. Washington is home to some of the worst and most unpredictable weather in the world. It held an astounding 231 mph wind record for 76 years. The fastest surface wind ever recorded up until 1996, where it was beat out by a typhoon in Australia at 253 mph. The weather is also known to change from nice and sunny to cloudy, full of rain and vast temperature changes. Some of which I found out about later in the day.
As I made my way up the winding, narrow road, the biggest change I’m noticing is the temperature dropping. The fog is becoming quite a bit thicker and visibility is dropping to a mere 10-15 feet. When you get to about the 4,000 foot mark, it becomes evident that winter is still lingering in spots on the mountain. Almost as if the mountain is oblivious to the fact that it’s almost June with snow banks taller than my car in spots.
This makes me respect some of the people that made this summit in far less desirable vehicles and conditions around the turn of the century. The auto road to the summit was completed in 1861 but it wasn’t until 1902 before the first gasoline powered vehicles made the summit. Twelve years later the first Climb to the Clouds hillclimb took place, one of America’s oldest motorsports events. The winning car back then was a 2,200 pound, 40 horsepower Mercedes putting down a time of 24 minutes and 37 seconds.
Since that day, this event has attracted many drivers from around the world. Famous and common alike. People like Carroll Shelby back in 1956 in a specially prepared Ferrari Roadster to local legends like Tim O’Neil from Franconia, NH with his 300+ horsepower, all-wheel drive Volkswagen Rally Golf.
The record currently stands at 6 minutes and 11.54 seconds by the Isle of Man’s own David Higgins, driving a Vermont SportsCar-prepped Subaru WRX STI back in 2011. Back after a short hiatus, this year’s hill climb should prove to be very exciting. With the list of entries, Higgins will have his work cut out for him in holding on to his title as the fastest man up the mountain.
After reaching the summit I think to myself, Climb to the Clouds is aptly named. As I am truly in the clouds and I can’t see a damned thing! But hey, maybe race day will bring better luck in visibility. On my way back down the mountain, the race gods must have heard my plea, because the clouds broke and I could see the majestic landscape around me. It is truly beautiful and put a smile on my face as I finished my decent to the valley below.
I hope to see you all there. The race takes place June 26th-29th. I urge you to check out their site for more info. http://climbtotheclouds.com. If you can’t make it, NBC Sports will be airing this event on August 2nd at 12:30pm ET.
Video Courtesy of BFGoodrich