GREEN’S GRANT — On Wednesday, the annual clearing of the Mount Washington Auto Road entered its second week, with a team working in the “S Curves” more than half-way up, and poised to take on the more than 20-feet-deep drift in the Cragway.
Nearly eight miles long, the Auto Road first opened in 1861. From a toll house at its base, the Auto Road brings visitors — who can drive their own vehicles or take a guided tour in an Auto Road van — to the summit of the tallest mountain in the Northeast.
For that to happen, however, the Auto Road has to be free of ice and snow. That task falls on Nate Reid, a seven-year veteran of the Auto Road. He is in his first year as road foreman.
Also the grader operator, Reid coordinates with Nat Putnam on the backhoe, Tobey Reichert on the Snowcat plow, and Chad Losier and Gene Gagne on the “ice drill.” The drill is an in-house designed, truck-mounted piece of equipment that uses recycled hot water to open up all 108 of the Auto Road’s culverts.
So far, the ice drill hasn’t been used, said Reid, explaining that it was too cold for it to operate and that, in an irony of a heavy-snow winter, it’s not been needed as the plentiful snow has acted as an insulator that protected the culverts.
“We’re making great progress,” said Reid.
The hope is the Auto Road will be open sometime in mid-May.
Regina Ferreira, the Auto Road’s operations manager, agreed that Reid and his team are advancing rapidly, but cautioned that the weather — and the safety of the public and employees — will dictate when the Auto Road opens for its 158th season.
“We battle Mother Nature every spring,” Ferreira said, and some years, she is less combative than others.
As just about every ski area in the state can attest, the winter of 2018-2019 was a very good one for snowfall, something that allowed the Auto Road’s Great Glen Trails system to be open a little longer than usual. That extended opening delayed the clearing of the Auto Road by a week-and-a-half, said Reid.
Now it’s in full swing and headed to the Cragway. Located in what Reid described as “a huge, right-hand sweeping corner,” the area is famous in winter for the Cragway Drift.
As westerly winds whip across Mount Washington, they push snow eastward on the Auto Road, Ferreira said, causing it to accumulate in the Cragway.
“We have 22-foot poles in the Cragway and they’re covered or else they’re missing,” joked Reid.
Ferreira, who has more years of experience on the Auto Road, said she is certain the poles are there and just waiting to be rediscovered.