[ May 27, 2022 – Pinkham Notch, N.H.]
For the first time in its 161 year history, the Mt. Washington Auto Road is a solid ribbon of pavement from the base to the 6,288’ summit.
Opened on August 8, 1861, the Mt. Washington Auto Road is the oldest man-made and continuously operating tourist attraction in North America. Built by hand using shovels and black powder to clear rocks, the Auto Road ascends over 4,000’ of elevation in 7.6 miles from scenic Pinkham Notch to the summit of Mt. Washington.
For the majority of its history, the road was a rough surface of dirt and then gravel, first traveled by horse and mountain wagon, and then by car at the turn of the century. It has always been a rite of passage for automobiles and drivers, giving credence to the famous bumper sticker: “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington.”
The Auto Road saw its first sections of pavement in the early 1970s and sections have been added in subsequent years.
Until today, only the section of gravel known as the “5-mile” remained as it was the most challenging to pave. Over the past several years, the Road Crew made many improvements to this section, including widening the surface, and increasing the number and size of culverts for water drainage.
Full pavement top-to-bottom intrinsically makes the drive on the Auto Road much more smooth and diminishes the likelihood of a road closure, and has been a goal for the family-owned and operated business.
The gravel section was prone to “peeling” in rainy conditions, whereby the dirt would come off the road surface and onto the tires of the vehicle, eliminating traction. The Auto Road would close to all traffic when this occurred.
Maintenance of the gravel section was labor and fuel intensive. Every day Road Crew staff would water the road surface using several dump-trucks full of water. Tons of gravel would be used each year to repair erosion. The pavement will prevent that material from draining onto the sub-alpine terrain.
Nat Putnam, who is celebrating his 40th season working on the Mt. Washington Auto Road this summer remarked about the paving, “it’s the end of an era.”
Car-race enthusiasts already have nostalgia for the iconic spray of dirt at the transition from gravel to pavement in the Subaru Mt. Washington Hillclimb. That event, which will likely return to the Auto Road in 2024, may see even faster times from base to summit. Travis Pastrana broke his own record in 2021 with a blazing time of 5 minutes and 28 seconds.
But for guests of the mountain maintaining safe traveling speed at no more than 25 mph, the ride to the summit will remain an exhilarating experience and drivers and their automobiles still earn the bumper sticker with each ride given out at the Toll House.
The Mt. Washington Auto Road opens for 7-day a week operations, weather permitting, on Saturday, May 28th. Visit mt-washington.com for the road status and hours of operation.