Moosilauke

A delightful ascent of Moosilauke in unseasonable conditions.

On this day, very nearly the last day of November, the forecast was for a purely sunny day with temperatures well above freezing – weather decidedly un-November-like – so I decided it was high time I went back to Moosilauke. Yesterday it rained much of the day, even at altitude, so I was concerned the Moosilauke summit may have been glazed with ice today. But I was pleasantly surprised, as I climbed the familiar Glencliff trail, to find the muddy conditions of the lower sections giving way to a dusting of snow and, higher up, nearly an inch of fresh snow on the ground and trees decorated with fresh powder and rime ice, backed by a deep blue sky. Read on, and check out the photo gallery.

The summit sign beckons in the distance while rock cairns hold rime-ice feathers.

I got a late start – purposely aiming for the warmer, clearer weather forecast for afternoon. I hit the trail at noon, decidedly late for this season (the sun sets at 4:13pm and it’s pretty darn dark by 5pm). My body quickly reminded me that I’ve been far too idle for the past month, and I was moving more slowly up the trail than I expected. The trail was muddy for the first mile; some corn-like snow appeared early, and transitioned into shallow powder at 3800′. Several other groups passed me on their way down; counting them (and recalling the cars in the parking lot), I realized I would be the last one down this trail today: not a status I normally seek as a solo hiker. Still, I made it to the South Peak junction in 1h44, giving me 15m for a quick lunch and layer break before crossing the ridge to the main summit. I set a turn-around time at 2h30 (or 2h45 at the outside), and needed to move along.

Mount Moosilauke from the ridgeline; my long shadow highlights the low sun, even in early afternoon.

The ridge traverse was beautiful, windless and sunny, but with little snow cover to give me a boost, the views were obscured by the tunnel of trees. [One of the perks of winter-hiking on Moosilauke is that a deep snowpack raises the trailbed several feet and gives hikers broad views over the stunted trees.] So I was glad to emerge on the summit cone, strolling uphill through clear skies and a light breeze. I had the summit to myself, with grand views of the spectacularly white summits of the Presidential and Franconia Ranges, and distant (though hazy) views across Vermont.

The summit sign on Moosilauke, with distant views of Franconia and Presidential Ranges beyond.

I turned around at 2h36 and made a quick descent, enjoying the back-lit trees on the upper section.

The late-afternoon sun peeks through the snow-covered trees high on the Glencliff Trail, Mount Moosilauke.

I took care with the slippery rocks and a few icy patches, arriving at the now-empty parking lot 4h16 after my start time: exactly 4:13pm, the nominal sunset time; the sun was now only an orange glow hiding behind the hill to the west. Good timing!

It was startling to see so little snow – none at the base, and not quite an inch at the top – on a date when there should be a growing base of snow. Let’s hope for colder temps and better snowfall ahead!

See the photo gallery.

Hike stats:
Distance: 11.9km
Time: 4h17m
Gain: 980m

Today’s route is in purple, out and back; my route from July is in red.

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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