Moosilauke under a brilliant blue sky

When I was climbing Moosilauke on a steamy summer day last year, I tried to estimate how many times I’ve been up this mountain since my first climb in September 1982. I’m sure I’ve climbed it more than 50 times.  Certainly once a year and usually twice a year, once in winter and once in summer or fall. It never gets boring or old, because I see something new on every trip, enjoy conversation with friends old and new, and enjoy seeing how the mountain and the view will appear in today’s weather. Winter weather is often most exciting; I’ve been on the summit in 50mph horizontal snowstorms with rime ice building up on my balaclava and in which I wasn’t sure whether I could find my way back to the trail.  Today was not one of those days.

Approaching the main summit, from the ridge.

Indeed, I think today was the most brilliant weather I have ever seen on Mount Moosilauke. Deep blue skies.  Not a cloud anywhere in sight, not even on Mount Washington. A streak of bright white peaks across the Franconia and Presidential ranges. Glistening snowy lakes. And, amazingly, the white peaks of New York’s Adirondack Mountains clear on the other side of Vermont – I’ve never had a day so clear.

My classmate Jen and I set out early, at the Glencliff trailhead on the west side. I was here just last month for a cabin weekend with the kids, and it was fun to be back. A pair of hikers from Boston waved as they set out before us; clearly, they had not been here before because they walked down the road to where the AT crosses the road, instead of heading directly up the shortcut from the parking lot to the trail. [More on them later.]

The sky was blue, the temperature moderate (around 20), and the snow was in fantastic shape: dry and fluffy yet well-packed on the trail. We climbed on and on, but never saw another hiker. As the first views appeared, high on the west slopes of South Peak, I could tell we were in for a treat. As we crossed the ridge from the South Peak toward the main summit, I paused frequently in a vain attempt to capture photographs of this majestic day. We could see hikers on the South Peak behind us – ahah, perhaps those Boston hikers had taken that side trail – and a few on the main summit ahead of us.

We made first tracks of the day on this trail, which was hard to find among the drifts and rime-covered rocks! This view shows the trail leading from the ridge up to the main summit, a trail that is usually swept nearly free of snow.

The wind picked up as we left the trees and climbed the main summit.  The snow was surprisingly deep, here where it is often windswept to bare rocks.  With dry powdery drifts interspersed with rime-covered boulders and cairns, at one point we actually lost the trail. We reached the summit at about 11:30, where there were only two other hikers. For such a beautiful weekend day, I expected a lot more!

The view was absolutely stunning. The neat thing about this approach is that you don’t glimpse the high peaks of the Franconia and Presidential Ranges until you reach the summit. Today, we were presented with those gorgeous glistening white peaks, laid out in front of us. Winter is most definitely still here. There was a stiff breeze, so it was hard to tell the temperature; I suppose it was in the high 20s.  I hadn’t even worn my hat. We ate lunch, flew my kite, took a lot of photos, and greeted several other groups coming up the other trails. Rarely have I been on a winter peak in conditions that encourage you to actually hang out for a while. We reluctantly headed back down the trail, sad to leave such a glorious spot.

Jen and Dave on the summit, with Franconia and Presidential Range visible at left.

As we crossed the ridge heading south, we bumped into the Boston pair. Sure enough, as Jen and I had feared, they walked down the road to the A.T. crossing and went the wrong way — downhill, away from the mountain, instead of uphill. They walked a mile before figuring it out, then of course a mile back, before beginning the 8-mile round-trip climb of Moosilauke. Still, standing as we were at the foot of the beautiful white summit of Moosilauke, they were all smiles and having a great time.

The sun starts to melt snow off the fir trees.

While we had been on the summit the snow had begun to soften. As a kid, I’d call it “snowman snow”, for its good sticky packing consistency. In places sheltered from the wind but exposed to the sun, the trees were dripping. Although there is a good three or four feet of snowpack here on the ridge, it is clear spring is coming soon!

We hopped up to the South Peak — why not, the weather is beautiful and it’s only noon!. From here there is a grand view of the main summit and Mount Washington visible beyond the east peak ridge. Much less windy here, and we saw more people here on the south peak than we had first seen on the summit; I’ve never seen it so busy. Only 12:30 now, and once again it was hard to leave behind this beautiful view.

View from South Peak toward the main peak. Mount Washington is visible at right.

Now comes the fun part! I had brought some L.L. Bean butt sleds – these are basically butt-shaped pieces of plastic with a handle. We sat down on these and pushed off, zipping down the trail at 10mph or more. Ricocheting off a few trees, we were glad for the deep snowpack covering all the rocks and stumps.  [It turns out we are not the first to try these sleds in the White Mountains!] I think we gave a pretty good fright to one hiker and her two dogs, as we came zipping past! Alternately walking and sledding, we reached the car an hour after we left the trail junction at the ridge.  The whole trip was just under six hours.  What a glorious day!  What a brilliant sky! What a beautiful place to live! Thanks for sharing it, Jen. What a wonderful friend!

More photos at SmugMug.

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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