Posted by: fiddlehead | August 28, 2007

Mooning the Cog and other “traditional” hiking story

 

Hiking in the “wilderness” Maine AT 2001In the white mountains of New Hampshire, they not only boast the worst weather in the world, but traditions are important to the New Englanders living there.

On top of Mt. Washington (the highest point in northeastern US) there is a weather station that is manned year round to monitor and show the world the bad weather they get up there.

The Appalachian trail which totals 2,147 miles, also runs up to the top of Mt. Washington and it is the longest above tree line stretch on the whole trail.

One of the traditions that is hard to get rid of, is for a miniature gauge railroad called the “Cog Railway” that runs up to the top from the western side. It is a ‘Cog’ railway because it is so steep in places, a gear or cog must help keep the train from sliding back down the mtn.

Well, another tradition that began perhaps 20-30 years ago involving these AT “Thru-hikers” is for the hikers to “moon” the cog if they are in the area when the “cog “ goes by.

Since I have hiked the AT a few times and the northern, most beautiful parts even more, I have caught the cog on the mtn as I was going by more than once.

When I hiked that piece in 1991, was one of those times and I was with a few other hikers who weren’t aware of the tradition.

After I enlightened them to this feat, we got in place and were about 30’ west of the tracks when the train, billowing its traditional black smoke, went by. It’s amazing that the people ride this thing as they get all black themselves from the smoke as the cog burns coke and is very dirty. But it is tradition so………..on with the story……….

As the train went by and was closest to us, we turned around and bent over and pulled our pants down. Well, I was in such an emotional state, I forgot how heavy the pack was and it’s momentum pulled me right over into a forward roll.

Needless to say, I was pretty embarrassed. I got up, (after pulling up my pants) and looked back at the cog to see all passengers giving me a standing ovation!

CDT in ColoradoA few years later, move ahead to 1998 and my thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail which runs from Mexico to Canada along the Rocky mtns that divide the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

I was hiking with 5 friends and we had been out already for about 1 ½ months and ready to enter the Colorado rockies, arguably the most scenic part of the journey. So, we were 5 guys and one, beautiful blonde woman from San Diego. (yes one of those southern California girls you know what I mean?)

So, we were in Chama, NM which is at the bottom of the mountain below the border and Cumbres pass where we had left off to go to town and get re-supplied.

In town, we noticed a few times a day this small train with a lot of black smoke blowing it’s whistle and heading out of town. After talking to the locals, we found out that it is the most scenic and “traditional” way to get back up to the top.

For the sum of $10 each, we could ride it too. Since we had to either hitchhike (not easy with 6 people) or walk (about 10 miles on a highway) We decided to take the miniature train up to the pass.

There were lots of tourists on the train and they were wondering why we had these backpacks and looked more like mountain men (and woman) than tourists, we proceeded to tell them that we were out on a long hike to traverse the rocky mountains.

Also, somewhere along the line, someone told me to relate the “cog” story to them. Which of course I was glad to do. So, we made a few friends in that short time and then, about 2/3 of the way up, the steam locomotive broke down.

Now, we didn’t know, and never did find out, if this was a rehearsed, daily “tradition” to scare the tourists or if it was real. But we decided (we wanted to get some miles in before dark) to jump off the train, and climb a steep bank to the road instead.

We got lucky and a pickup truck took the whole bunch of us to the top. We then started our hike and about 1 or 2 miles into it, we heard the whistle and lo and behold, the train was coming our way.

We saw a spot just ahead that would go right near the tracks and we decided to “moon” the train! (maybe start a new tradition?) We even practiced and counted it off.

So, the train comes around the turn and we are only about 20 feet away when we counted it off and proceeded to “shoot the moon” All of us at the same time! This time there were no surprises with packs pulling us over and we had time to look back to see that many had their cameras out and were laughing hysterically and having a great time.

It turns out that 2 days later, we hit so much snow up on the divide that we couldn’t get through without snowshoes and only 2 of us had them. So, we decided to bail out and find a way around this problem or wait it out, but we knew we couldn’t go on.

We ended up finding a chute down a cliff that seemed to be full of snow down to a beautiful field with a stream running thru it at the bottom. It was a little scary and another story but………that’s what we did, and then hiked out for another day to return to the only town around. Yes we had to go back to Chama.

When we got back to town, we saw a few people pointing at us and although we didn’t recognize them, we figured they had heard about us. Sure enough, when having dinner in our favorite restaurant, some people asked if we were the hikers who had mooned the train a few days before.

We sheepishly said yeah, and then asked them how they knew. They replied that it was all over town by now. We didn’t know if that was good or bad as some people in New England certainly don’t approve of the tradition. So we asked.

They said that a lot of people were really mad. Oh oh, we were a little ashamed to perhaps face some of these folks again until they replied. Yeah, they were really mad because they didn’t have their cameras ready. But the ones that did said they’d send them pictures!

I don’t know if it’s a tradition by now to moon the Cumbres to Chama train. There are only a handful of people that hike the CDT every year compared to thousands on the AT. But, I know we enjoyed our hike and that Chama was a place we will always remember.

 

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