Bald Top Mountain

Breaking trail in fresh powder can be delightful.

A grand snowstorm ended late last night, dumping 12″ of fresh powder snow on us here at home in the valley. The snow was preceded by a day of rain, so I expect there was vastly more snow at higher altitudes – where the rain would have turned to snow much sooner … or perhaps had been snow from the start. So I was eager to get out hiking today, to enjoy the new snow. There truly is nothing so exhilarating as to snowshoeing through fluffy fresh powder. (It can also be exhausting, if you are breaking trail!) But Mount Moosilauke and other high places were forecasting single-digit temperatures for the morning, dropping into the negative single-digits by afternoon. Add some wind, and those summits were not so appealing. We went out anyway… read on!

I recruited an old friend and we headed for somewhere closer to home, at lower altitude: Bald Top Mountain, better classified as A Really Big Hill in nearby Fairlee Vermont, looming above Lake Morey. It boasts a wide and distant view into New Hampshire – of Mount Moosilauke, in fact, as well as other peaks in the White Mountains (the Kinsmans). We arrived at the lakeside trailhead around noon, lashed on our snowshoes, and headed up the trail. The sun was shining, the temperature was about 15ºF, and the snow was powder.

The winter sun glints off fresh powder snow, along the trail to Bald Top Mountain.

A few others had preceded us, but their tracks soon disappeared on side trails toward Echo Mountain. After about 0.7 mile we faced virgin snow ahead, and started to break trail. Progress slowed as we alternated the hard work, plowing ahead through deep snow and pausing to scan the sparse hardwood forest ahead for blue-painted blazes that would keep us on the trail. The snow glinted in the bright sunlight, but the soft and smooth snowpack showed no sign of prior foot traffic by human or wildlife.

The trail to Bald Top Mountain is unbroken.

Conversation ebbed and flowed as we wound our way up the hillside, the forest shifting from maple and beech toward fir and hemlock. The wind picked up, blowing sparkly flakes from the branches above into the air around us. As we crested the ridge and cruised along it for the final mile approach to the summit, we encountered the first other hikers – a pair who had started on the other side of the mountain, following the Cross Rivendell Trail in the opposite direction. It felt a bit like the transcontinental railroad, two parties meeting in the middle and now able to take advantage of the tracks left by the other.

Lelia breaks trail up to Bald Top Mountain.

We followed their tracks up-and-down the rolling ridgeline until we broke out into the eponymous Bald Top, a hilltop meadow with views to the north and east and southeast. Although most of the smaller mountains were fully visible, a stubborn cloud clung to the summits of Mount Moosilauke. We were glad we did not attempt that peak today, as we sat in the cold sunshine with a blustery wind blowing across the snow of this meadow. Moosilauke’s summit was clouded in, no doubt with fierce winds and temperatures below zero.

Mount Moosilauke from Bald Top Mountain, Vermont.

We quickly took in the view and a protein bar, then turned and headed back the way we came. With the trail now well broken, and the downward slopes, we glided our way quickly 3.3 miles back toward the lake. The sinking sun left us more in shadow, and with less exertion the chill snuck into our fingers and toes. We arrived at the lakeside around sunset, where we could see Moosilauke again – brilliantly pink in alpenglow.

Mount Moosilauke after sunset, from Lake Morey, Vermont.

We drove back to Thetford where my car was parked – and found this sentry posted near the parking lot. 🙂

An owl perches on a telephone line near the interstate in Thetford, VT.

The gallery includes full-res photos and more.

Hike stats are a bit difficult because I started the tracker about 1km after the trailhead.
Distance: 9.64km (plus ~1km)
Time: 4h38 (plus ~20min)
Elevation gain: 400m

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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