Moosilauke

Spring conditions!

Although I’d already been up Moosilauke twice this winter, in late November and early January, I could not wait to get up there again before the season ends. I always enjoy visiting in late winter when the snowpack is incredibly deep, yet the valleys are starting to experience spring. So I’ve been watching the weather for the past two weeks and, finally, today offered me fantastic weather and an open calendar. I jumped at the chance. Read on, and check out the gallery.

David on the summit by 9:20am, in conditions warm enough for short sleeves.

The forecast was for warm temps, no clouds, no wind, no rain, no snow. Wow! I got an early start, to beat the Sunday crowds I knew would also be attracted by such conditions, and was on the summit before 9:30am, alone, and likely the first person there today. (Certainly the first one up the Glencliff Trail.) Sure enough, there was bright warm sunshine, no wind, and clear views across New Hampshire and Vermont and even into the Adirondacks of New York. As I had hoped, the trail was in good shape; though barely an inch of icy crust at the base, it quickly deepened. The overnight cold made the well-packed trail firm and crunchy, an easy walk in micro-spikes. Suddenly, as the trail passed through 1135m (3,700′) , though, the surface turned to powder; the hard crust was gone. It appears I passed above the snowline from a recent storm, likely Thursday – when we in the valley received rain all day, but apparently the high reaches of Moosilauke picked up new snow. With four warm days to settle, it was no longer fluffy, but much more pleasant for walking.

When I reached the junction with the Carriage Road, at about 4400′, it became immediately clear just how deep was the snow: the bottom sign, below, is more than four feet off the ground.

Glencliff/Carriage junction, where the snow is still deep.

This is why I love to climb this trail… in the right conditions. A week ago today, just like today, I rose early and had the notion to climb Moosilauke, via the Glencliff Trail. A quick check of the forecast convinced me otherwise: summit temps would never top 2ºF, winds were forecast to be 45mph and gusting higher, cloud cover was near total, and there was even a chance of rain, sleet, or snow. Not a good day to be in the high peaks; indeed, nearly the numeric opposite of today’s forecast high of 45ºF with 2mph winds and zero clouds or precipitation.

It turned out to be a good decision. That same day, a 66-year-old man from Massachussetts climbed the Glencliff Trail, but never returned home. They found his body the next day, after extensive searching, down the Gorge Brook Trail. Most likely, he summitted in terrible conditions, and either became disoriented or decided it was too dangerous to retrace his steps back down, facing into gale-force headwinds. Sad. Today, his car was the only one in the lot when I arrived at the trailhead, covered in overnight frost.

Anyway, after pausing at the summit to reflect on this poor fellow, I retraced my steps back across the ridge. Although the summit cone was nearly free of snow, swept by wind and baked in the sun, the trail across the ridge is protected by small trees and still carries about four feet of snowpack. The trailbed itself was crunchy in the morning chill, well-packed by the many boots and skis that traveled this route through the winter. I was soon back at the junction with the Carriage Road, where the skiers descend to the left and where I would descend to the right. First, though, I took a few moments to visit the nearby South Peak, for a photo looking back at the main summit.

Moosilauke seen from the South Peak.

From there, the descent was fast, butt-sledding the steep sections, and boot-skiing the final stretch where the morning sun had started to soften the snow. I passed a dozen other hikers coming up, and the lot was overflowing when I reached it at 11am. Glad I made an early start!

Don’t miss the photo gallery.

Hike stats:
Time: 3h51m
Distance: 12.4 km (7.7 mi)
Gain: 998m (3,274′)

Hiking route up and down Glencliff Trail on Mount Moosilauke.
The pin marks a point where snow conditions changed dramatically.

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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