Riding the Rail to the Top, and Not Amused

Mount Washington — November 24, 2007 — The Mount Washington Cog Railway, which chugs up the side of New England’s tallest peak, has been called the Railway to the Moon. Some people have been taking that title a bit too literally, however, and the White Mountain National Forest, most of which is in New Hampshire, has acted against hikers who drop their pants and moon the cog railway.

Eight people were cited by undercover officers for public nudity or disorderly conduct during a sting operation in August and September after some passengers complained that they had seen more on the mountain than they had bargained for. Since most of the mountain is in the national forest, the citation is a federal charge. A spokeswoman for the United States attorney in Concord did not return phone calls.

“Apparently, there were some complaints in the recent past to the owner of the cog railway, who asked for some assistance in getting it stopped,” said Alexis Jackson, a spokeswoman for the White Mountain National Forest. “Some people were amused by it, and there were others who were offended.”

The steam-powered railway goes to the peak of Mount Washington, 6,228 feet above sea level. It started running in 1869.

“Mooning the cog” is something of a tradition, especially for people hiking the Appalachian Trail. Its origins are unclear. Some theorize it started as a way for hikers to protest the noise and smoke coming from the train, while others say it started as, and continues to be, nothing but a joke.

“Apparently, it’s been going on for a long, long time,” Ms. Jackson said. “It’s some kind of tradition.”

She said she did not know if the increased enforcement would continue, but the national forest’s staff members will be on the lookout if passengers complain.

“It’s not something that happens every day,” Ms. Jackson said.

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