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My Porsche 911 Takes on Mount Washington

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author photo by Bill Leedy September 2017

The starting point: a family camp in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. The time: precisely uggh o'clock. The destination: Mount Washington, New Hampshire. The reason for the journey: to see the sunrise from the highest peak in the northeast.

For those who live for the details, Mount Washington's summit is 6,288.2 feet above sea level. In 1934, a weather station that sits at the summit recorded a 231-mph wind gust. The world's first cog railway was built here in 1868 and still exists to ferry tourists up and down the mountain for a nominal fee. On the other side is the Mount Washington Auto Road, a 7.6-mile toll road, built in 1861, which writhes its way up the mountain. Earlier in July, during the Climb to the Clouds, Travis Pastrana set a new record for the amount of time it takes to get from the bottom to the top at 5 minutes and 44 seconds, in a Subaru (it is New England, after all ... ).

While we would be doing this in a Porsche, it was going to take us a lot longer than that. Partially because it's not an insane rally-prepped Porsche with a turbo the size of a 5-gallon bucket, and partially because, unlike rally drivers, there's a part of my brain that considers the answer to questions that start with "What if."

It's 2:30 in the morning when my brother and I get into the Porsche and decide, since it's 46 degrees, to leave the top up for now. The roads are empty all the way to the entrance to the toll road. We arrive at 4:30A.M., just in time for the gates to open, and an hour before the sun was due to appear over the horizon. While it was going to take us more than Travis's five and a bit minutes to get to the top, it wouldn't take us nearly the hour we had. As it turns out, I was only partially right: The drive from the gate to the top took about 20 minutes. However, the drive from our place in line to the gate took about an hour and ten minutes. After all of that waking up at 2:00 in the morning and making good time along the way, it turns out that -- given they only allow sunrise visits a couple times a year -- this is a pretty popular event, and there were a lot of people there.

While sitting in line, we decided now was the time to don our hats, fire up the seat heaters and put the top down for an even more expansive view on the way up. It was about half an hour after the sun had started to come up when we paid the toll and were on our way.

The lower half is like a twisty drive on a very skinny road through the woods. There is less to see this low on the mountain, just lots of trees sitting very close to the road and the tire marks that show where mistakes were made during the hill climb. As you get higher and higher, the trees start to thin and everything opens up to give you fantastic views in every direction. There are a few small rocks that line the road, but for the most part you're driving along the edge with a view that looks as perilous as it gets. It's a constant battle of "room to get by the other guy" and "don't want to fall to my death."

Sunrise from Mt. Washington

Eventually, though, you do reach the top -- and even though we missed the sunrise, the sky was as clear as it gets on top of this mountain, and the distance you could see was incredible. Amazingly, we were even able to spot Mt. Mansfield, the highest peak in Vermont, which is just over 77 miles away.

View from Mt. Washington

We stuck around the top for about three hours, taking in the sights while simultaneously trying to get out of the 25-30-mph winds that created a "feels like" temperature of 31 degrees ... in July. Our descent consisted mostly of following a Nissan Titan which, based on the odor emanating from it, was definitely not, as the packet you recieve at the toll both suggests, using low gear to help control its speed.

The Porsche handled it all very well. Just like when I came up here in my Mazda3, first gear is really too short, but second gear is a little too tall. It's a constant battle between screaming your way up at 4000 rpm and trying not to stall it out on the steep bits. You'll also want to make sure you have your hill-stop practice in, because you'll be doing a lot of that. I was having a hard time getting going smoothly on the steepest sections, though I'm not sure if that's because the clutch is inherently difficult or I just couldn't figure it out. Having also spent some more time on dirt roads with the car, I can say it shakes a bit on the washboard stuff, like most convertibles, but it still never missed a beat.

I don't know what time we should have woken up to get there in time to see the sunrise, but, I'm certain that I don't want to know. Perhaps next time we need a closer starting point.

The pictures above were taken by a combination of myself and my brother, who joined me for this trip. His are the ones that came out far better, since he's more adept with a camera and knows the meaning of terms like aperture and f-stop. More of his work can be found here.

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My Porsche 911 Takes on Mount Washington - Autotrader