I had been itching to do some hiking since my last hike up Monadnock a few weeks ago. So, on a Tuesday at work, I started getting the idea to take the next day off & run up to New Hampshire to hike Mount Moosilauke.
And that is exactly what I did. Up at 5:30 & on the road from Waltham at 6. It was a beautiful crisp 60 degree morning. Perfect weather. However, I realized as I was driving that while I was packing the night before, I had forgotten to pack a long sleeve shirt, a jacket, a sweatshirt, anythingfor warmth at the top of the mountain. Given that it was going to be in the 70’s for a high at the base, I figured the top was going to be chilly, especially if there was wind. So, I knew I had to stop somewhere in Lincoln, NH to grab something. I had a feeling that when I got up there at 8, I was going to be looking at Rite Aid as the only open place to grab some cheap tourist gear. And, I was right. I had also grabbed my camera without a camera card, so I figured I could kill two birds with one stone. Unfortunately, they were sold out of camera cards. But, I was able to get a cheap sweatshirt for $14.00. For insurance, I’ll take it.
I had selected to hike Moosilauke on this day for several reasons. First off, it is one of the southern most peaks in NH on my lists to do that is not in/around Waterville Valley (where I am hoping to do some camping/hiking with Drea soon). Secondly, I know New Hampshire better than I do Vermont. So thus far, I’ve done more reading of the summits I need to tackle there than I have Vermont’s. I’ve been wanting to test my legs on a longer hike than I have done so far (5.6 & 4.4). And lastly, I had read the section of “Best Loop Hikes: New Hampshire’s White Mountains to the Maine Coast,” which highlighted an 11 mile loop over several peaks that sounded perfect for a day trip.
Moosilauke is an interesting mountain in that much of it is owned by Dartmouth College & maintained by the Dartmouth Outdoors Club. They even run the Ravine Lodge at the base of the mountain. Their work is felt as soon as you arrive at the “parking area.” You are basically parking on the side of a dirt road that dead ends at a turn around. There are several clever signs hanging, including one that says “Warm up for your hike. Park far away & walk!” I found the trail head, signed the register & began my hike.
I have to admit, the club is doing an outstanding job at trail maintenance. For as soon as I began my trek up the Ridge Trail, I could see how much maintenance they were conducting. There is a stretch just after you cross the first foot bridge that is just remarkable. I’m not sure what kind of storm ripped through there (relatively recently). But, there were many downed trees. Their roots structure are still clutching to the earth that they peeled away, as they fell. One of the pine trees that had fallen, still had an abundance of small pine cones developing on the tree top, which was no abutting the trail. There were so many down trees, that that section of trail could have been rendered almost impassible. However, not one tree was obstructing the trail as the club had already removed them. The Ravine Trail, in particular, was just a gorgeously maintained trail.
I had hoped that with a name like Mount Moosilauke, that perhaps my chances of seeing my first ever moose would be higher. It was wishful thinking, I know. (And the name doesn’t actually have anything to do with moose. From Wiki, “Its name is thought to be derived from a contraction of the Native American words moosi (Bald), and auke (Place).”) However, I had taken note of the many cars parked along the road. And, on the moist trail, I had certainly seen evidence that there were hikers ahead of me. Not surprising given my 9 am start time. I did pass a group of about 6 men & women in their 60’s early on. And, I’m sure partially for that reason, I never did see any moose or significant wildlife.
For the first couple of miles of the Ravine Trail, the slope is very easy going. It is not until you are about 3 miles in when the trail starts its first serious climb as it nears Mount Jim. I was feeling very strong at that point & did not want to slow down when I came upon a gentleman who stepped out of the way for me. As I passed he said, “Show off!” It is within these switch backs on this climb that you get your first views. You definitely feel like you are stealing them, as there are no real outcroppings, and even the summit of Jim is covered in trees. Your only views therefor are in breaks between the trees. But, one summit down.
About one third of a mile past Mount Jim’s inauspicious summit, you come upon a junction with the Beaver Brook Trail. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Just the next trail that I need to hop onto to progress to the summit. However, I went total geek time. You see the Beaver Brook Trail is a part of the Appalachian Trail. And, as far as I can remember, this was my first experience stepping foot on any section of the AT. (I have a vague memory that I climbed one of the Presidents back in the day & could have crossed onto the AT then… but I truly don’t remember.) As a result, I stopped to take a couple of ridiculous pictures. Like I told you, total geek time.
There are a couple of other significances to this trail. The first, is that it follows along the Beaver Brook cascades. Which appear to be very nice in the pictures that I linked to. Unfortunately, I would have had to turn the wrong direction to go see them. Secondly, it heads towards the summit of Mount Blue. However, the trail skirts around the summit about 250 feet below it. In order to actually get to the summit, it would have required some bushwhacking. Therefor, I have a hard time claiming that as a summit for peak bagging purposes. So, I am not going to. However, I might be inclined to do that in the future. I could come up the Beaver Brook Trail from Kinsman Notch, see the cascades, and leave myself plenty of time to bushwhack to the Mount Blue summit. However, despite it’s summit being at 4529′, it is not a summit of prominence. So, that idea is very low on my priority list. (Although it might be a good place to get some bushwhacking experience, which I will require down the road.)
As you enter the Alpine Zone, and emerge from the tree line, you begin to realize whey the mountain earned it’s name. As opposed to Mondadnock’s “bald” which was pure granite, here fragile grasses and plants that hug tightly to the soil cover the top of the mountain area. In order to protect the plant life, the various trails that approach the summit are rock lined, & bordered. And, if that wasn’t enough of an indicator as to where to go, there are 6 foot tall cairns marking your way.
The summit itself is a series of boulders in which you can either use to sit and savor the views, or use to shield yourself from the elements. On this particular day, it was an incredibly comfortable day at the summit. The temperature was in the low 50’s & the wind was virtually still. Because of my sweat-soaked t-shirt, the lower temp was definitely borderline chilly for me. The $14.00 insurance policy was put to use, and I was glad to have it. It allowed me to savor the 360˚ views for much longer than I would have been able to otherwise. At 4802 feet, we were above the clouds looking over towards Benton, and underneath a cloud that was over us and stretching towards Lincoln. The clouds & a bit of haze blocked some of the view of the various mountain tops, but it was still a beautiful view.
I wasn’t sure how my out of shape ass was going to feel once I got to the top. I knew if I was feeling beat, there were a couple of other trails that I could have hopped on to make the treck back to the car much shorter. But, I was feeling great & really strong. So, on to South Peak I went. The peak had a bunch of people on it once I got there. And, I knew there was another group of about 10 that departed the summit in the same direction as I did just a few minutes after me. So, in an effort to get away from the crowd, I just continued on.
The Carriage Road afforded some nice views on a relatively easy down slope. After passing the Snapper Trail junction, I was surprised at how almost overgrown some of the vegetation on the trail was. Clearly, this trail was not getting as much use as the others as it is not the most direct route to or from the summit. The other evidence that I was probably the first person on this portion of the trail, was the plethora of spider webs I was walking through. I did not clear a single one, on the approach. Well, believe me, I certainly made up for it on the way down!
After turning onto Hurricane Trail, you could start to hear the faint sounds of Baker River. (Is there any sound more soothing after a long hike?) I passed evidence of a couple of crews building bridges. Their equipment was there, but the people were not. Had it been a hot day, Baker River would have been tantalizing to soak your feet, or hop into. But, I pressed on, reaching the trail head again, signing out of the register, and getting back to the car.
The book had estimated that the hike should have taken 7 hours. I am not by any means trying to race but, I did it in 5. And that included a good half hour or so of rest at the summit. (Basically, I’m just trying to gauge the accuracy of the hike times that are published.)
- Date: 8/3/11
- Elevation: 4802
- Elev Gain: 2750
- Mileage: 11.0
- Trails: Ridge Tr -> Beaver Brook ->Glencliff -> Carriage Road -> Hurricane
- Time: 5 hours
- NH4000 #10
- NE100 #11