Monday, January 31, 2011

Mount Moosilauke

We left home before dark yesterday morning, with Venus shining brightly above a waning crescent moon in the southeast sky. Two and a half hours later at 8:30 am under mostly cloudy skies, six of us (three men, two women, and one dog) set out on snowshoes on the Glencliff Trail toward the summit of 4,802' Mount Moosilauke.

We reached this trailhead, which is part of the Appalachian Trail, by traveling west on Rte 25 from its start off I-93 in Plymouth. Route 25, also known as the Mt. Moosilauke Highway, meanders northeast along the Baker River, through the rural towns of Rumney, Wentworth, and Warren. The headwaters of the Baker River get their start on the eastern slopes of Mt. Moosilauke. In Glencliff Village we turned right onto a road that AMC calls Sanatorium Road, that leads to the Glencliff Home for the Elderly. At 1.2 miles, a parking lot on the right is the start of the Glencliff Trail.

The first 0.4 miles of trail follows an old farm road and passes along the edge of several fields, now part of the Benton State Forest. The trail then enters the woods and begins a long, steady climb up the west side of the mountain.

The Glencliff Trail passes through mixed woods of birch, maple, beech, spruce, and fir, then into open hardwoods with many huge yellow birch, including one next to the trail that was more than three feet in diameter. As the trail climbs higher it enters the spruce-fir zone. Every patch of dense softwoods along the way revealed many snowshoe hare tracks. Farther up, in the spruce and fir, we saw one moose track and one marten track.

As we climbed higher and higher the pitch got steeper and the snows deeper. The softwoods, laden with snow, closed in the trail. The temperature hovered in the low teens or colder. Surprisingly there was little wind on this leg of the hike. The 2.6 mile Glencliff Trail is mostly protected from the wind, except for the final pitch to the intersection with the Carriage Road that leads to the summit. 

We paused at the intersection of Glencliff Trail with the Carriage Road for water and snacks and to don some extra gear for the 0.9 mile hike to the summit. Mount Moosilauke is the farthest west of the White Mountain peaks over 4,000 feet. On a clear day the summit offers far reaching views in all directions. Steven Smith and Mike Dickerman, in their book, The 4,000-footers of the White Mountains, note that you can see 34 other 4,000-footers from the summit. As such, the summit of Mt. Moosilauke is very exposed to the weather. Today we had weather and no views, but the experience was exhilarating.

It was cold at our lunch spot, the junction of Glencliff Trail and the Carriage Road

We reached the trail junction at 11:30; after the snack break we made for the summit, spent a few minutes there taking photos of the summit sign; there were no other views as a west wind whipped up the snow and low clouds blocked any views. The trail to the summit is not steep but it is exposed. The wind quickly drifted over the snowshoe tracks of others in front of us. Tall rock cairns thankfully marked the way. We passed a few others coming and going quickly from the top. Kodi was unfazed by the wind and the cold. He loved every minute.

Here are photos along the 0.9 mile trail to the summit. After reaching the summit we retreated to the wind-protected trail junction for lunch then headed back down at 1:30 pm, reaching the car at 3:15. A 7.8-mile round trip trek, gaining 3,300 feet in elevation from our car to the summit.

You can just see some people in the distance on the trail to the summit

Another 4,000-footer for Kodi

Our hiking companion Sue, Kodi, and I pose in the bracing wind

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