What actually is a ‘go-to’ hike? Do you have a ‘go-to’ mountain?
Is it a hike in the forest that reminds you of being a wee tiny explorer, in years past? Or perhaps nothing extraordinary, just a familiar bouldery friend down the road to whisp your day away amongst the trees, birds and rocky crags? Maybe your ‘go-to’ has a catchy name, or even no name at all – simply a hill that only you know about!
Whatever you call your ‘go-to’ hike, this has become my familiar friend to spend mornings with, one whose slopes I love to explore in any season.. this is Mount Moosilauke.
Many moons ago, while driving back from our debut excursion to Acadia National Park (I know.. no where near the White Mountains.. but bear with me!), neither Ciara nor myself could yet claim to be New Hampshirians – we were fresh off our 3 month cross country road trip and ready for more action!
I perused lists of hiking trails near us as we continued to drive west, away from Maine. Neither of us really knew anything about the mountains of New Hampshire at this time, plugging one mountain into our GPS took us to a trail head about 87 miles from where we actually intended to park.
Trying to not give into frustration (I was not so skilled at this back then.. I have since tried to instill a ‘calmer’ mentality and demeanor), we accepted the fact that we were clearly not going to find ourselves on the trail we had our hearts set on.. time for a back up plan!
This time the expert trail finder, Ciara hopped on alltrails.com and within what seemed like a blink of an eye, had come up with a jaunt for the following morning – and boy, oh boy did this mountain have a wacky name.. the locals referred to it as some sort of “Moosilauke“.
Unaware of how to actually say the name of this summit, we developed our own language and continued to tack on the long ‘e‘, to form a type of ‘moos-ill-auk-ee‘. All we knew was that it sounded playful to our naive ears and brought a smile to our faces, a pronunciation which continued for the coming year or so.
Our intro hikes to the White Mountains proved to be one of the most magical peaks that Ciara and I had ever stepped foot on, in fact, I am certain that our pups Boone and Crockett would whole-heartedly agree (or perhaps it was the copious amounts of treats they received during the trip!).
As I recall.. Mount Moosilauke was the deciding factor to want to relocate from New York to New Hampshire – we simply fell madly in love with the surrounding mountain villages and these mountains, the terrain was rugged and seemingly not aimed at tourists, the alpine heights were of another planet, the lazily swaying grasses atop Moosilauke had our jaws dangling open.
We did relocate to New Hampshire shortly after this first trek along the Appalachian Trail to the upper reaches of Mt Moosilauke – this clearly would not be the last day spent climbing here.
I continued on, adventuring and exploring Moosilauke in every season – though blowing white-out snow, beautifully clear blue sky days, even during autumn as the vibrant leaves drifted underfoot as we squished through the meandering muddy trails.
Along our journey, branching out to some of the lesser travelled trails I visited several adjacent peaks (there are numerous 4,000 foot peaks technically with no real trails, but faint herd paths have developed as a result of frequent foot travel) such as Mount Jim, Mount Blue, the East Peak and finally several glorious ascents of Moosilauke’s South Peak.
This past weekend, after hours of tumultuous debate back and forth (..with myself, of course!), showing the inability to decide exactly which mountain that I wanted to play on, with so many recent weekends spent in Maine hiking the NE115 over there, I strongly wanted to commute as few miles as possible!
Continuing to weigh my options with the recent snow, I pondered.. would the trails be broken out? would I be stuck moving slowly in sub-zero temps? would I have the trails to myself or have to actually fight for a parking spot? I was primarily not ready to deal with hoards – I simply wanted time spent in nature, with myself (Ciara was working this weekend, otherwise she would have helped make this ‘where-to-go’ predicament much easier!).
“Where are you going?“, she finally asked as nighttime approached.
“Down the road, I guess“, was my response.
I exhaled a sigh of relief when I finally convinced my subconciousness that this weekend I would not be sitting alone in my Subaru for hours, clicking off the dark miles of a super-chilled 3am Sunday morning.
There are several trail heads at the base of the mountain; really which ever direction you find yourself driving to – there is a trail head for you: east from Rt 112 – ascending the Beaver Brook Trail; from the south, hikers can park and depart from the Ravine Lodge and ascend via the Gorge Brook Trail or slightly more west still via the gradually climbing Carriage Road; from the north by crossing Tunnel Brook and meeting up with the Beaver Brook trail; or – similarly to my climb this past weekend, I decided to come at the mountain from the west and hike along the Glencliff Trail.
This would become my third ascent via the Glencliff Trail – oddly enough, each trek has been in snow on moderately chilly mornings – today would prove to be as snowy and chilly as ever!
While not a long drive, it is along backroads for me which can stack on extra minutes of drive time, but I was still able to reach the trail head at an early enough 7am. With no real need for my headlamp, I shoved it into the depths of my running pack – and with temperatures dipping down to 4 degrees over the previous evening, I was filled with hope that my roughly seventy ounces of water would not freeze (spoiler alert.. while the caps frosted over, my water stayed liquid and I stayed hydrated!).
After a quick and enthusiastic “good morning!” to some sleepy eyed friends who stayed in the nearby cabins over night, I hit the trails at 7:17am – the days first tracks into the fluffy white trail were all mine!
I had been on this trail several times so I knew what to expect, but for those who have not yet had the pleasure – this trail climbs a bit over one thousand feet over each of the initial three miles, and continues gradually up the final and fourth mile to the summit rocks and old foundation stones atop Moosilauke.
Unsure of what to wear on my feet, I knew from friends on the interweb that snowshoes were still not needed this early into the winter season, my water-proof Asolo boots were still up in my attic, despite craving the relaxed comfort of my wider Altra’s but not wanting their breathability in four degree mountain air – my old pals – the carbide steel spiked Salomon SpeedSpikes were to the rescue!
I prefer any day that I don’t have to lug around heavy solid boots, and this was a great choice indeed! Quick work was being made of the snowy ascent, spikes digging into the packed surface just fine! I was off spinning in the deepest crags of my mind, trying to solve the never-ending math equations that frequently bombard my thoughts.. when I heard a loud CRACK! up ahead..
As if my eyes knew exactly where to look – there was a baby bear slumbering its way down a birch tree about 15 feet in front. The tree that this 160lb black fuzzball decided to climb just happened to be standing directly on the Glencliff Trail. I heard another crack several more feet away, this time off to the west and in the thick of the forest cover – I could not see who broke the second branch (..or was it a tree..?), my thoughts raced towards perhaps.. mother bear?
Ironically enough though, today I forgot to pack my bear bell, which typically is in my packs side pocket just jingling and clanging around – working constantly to inform wildlife of my approach, so I wouldn’t have to! I immediately broke out my ‘adult voice’ and bellowed out “GO BEAR!” and “COMING THROUGH!” into the chilly mountain air for perhaps the proceeding mile, my last ditch effort to ward off any more bears!
Luckilly, I did not have any subsequent bear (or any wildlife for that matter!) encounters. I recalled the final push up to the Carriage Road (the path I constantly refer to as a ‘ridge walk’) as being the steepest of the bunch, climbing nearly 800 feet in just that half mile!
The blue sky vistas began to peek through the evergreens behind my shoulder as I continued to climb, the morning sunrays now cast over the mountain peaks and down through the branches, illuminating the forest in a warm glow – truly a lucky and remarkable morning to be alive in the woods!
In the back of my mind, I remembered an even steeper section still, just prior to topping out on the nearly flat ridge line. Perhaps it was the early snow masking my route, or maybe there was a chance I was in better shape today than my prior accounts of the Glencliff Trail, could I have passed right over that final stretch without knowing? As I looked up searching around for my beast of a climb, all I saw were the bright orange USFS (United States Forest Service) and DOC (Dartmouth Outting Club) signs!
Once up on the ridge trail (Carriage Road), the going was much easier, the final couple hundred feet of ascent coming after leaving the comfort of all encompassing treeline.
Today’s summit forecast: Perfection.
Only a trace breeze could be found as I stood atop the summit rocks, peering around for that pesky USGS survey marker – probably covered with snow by now. All I could do was stop for the moment, inhale intentionally and slowly, exhaling just the same, absorbing the stellar views that engulf, today’s sunrise never seemed to cease this morning as I stood quietly, breathing in rejuvenation from 4,802 feet.
I ran further down the trail in hopes of getting a better sight further east to Cannon, the Kinsmans and even further to the Franconia Ridge summits – the jagged peaks appeared freshly frosted and oh so scrumptious!
The summit was all mine as I turned to head back, I was suddenly struck with the urge to just observe. The trails beyond the treeline are dotted with ginormous rock cairns – and the one that lay at my feet just then had whisps of frozen precip and hoarfrost, such delicate growths – it is not often that I can just be in the moment and stare intently at and speculate how they formed, questioning from which direction the blinding winds blew to form such magnificent natural wonders!
The frosty mountain air began creeping into my sweaty gloves and that persuaded me, it was now time to go.
Back at the junction to blast back down the Glencliff Trail, I stopped one final time.. “ahh what the heck, it’s early enough!” and just like that I found myself jogging comfortably through the narrow trees that lead to the South Peak.
I have visited this southern pinnacle of Moosilauke three times now, once even traipsing slowly past a young man performing yoga (..or meditation), complete with closed eyes right on the mountainside, a much needed escape any time of the year!
The summit has been clear cut (not sure when, but likely as a result of the DOC?), from which there are several side spur trails leading in various directions, but if you continue just a few paces to the east from the open summit, a black plaque can be found at shin height – denoting the gift of land from glorious land owners to the local college.
The spur trail that climbs the short distance to the South Peak (signage claims 0.1mile) is truly so short that it can be traversed in five to ten minutes perhaps, in most conditions – and in my humble opinion, is definitely worth the extra couple of steps, the vantage point looking out to the summit cone of Moosilauke is one of exquisiteness – certainly should not be missed.. if one has the time!
Back on the main trail and descending back down the Glencliff Trail from whence my day began, I tried to hold back.. but simply let gravity take hold of my legs and with short, quick steps I found myself damn near sprinting down the mountain!
As I flew down the soft packed snowy trail, several others were making their way up the slope – nearly everyone volunteering themselves to step off trail and let me cruise on by. “Thanks! Have an awesome hike up there!“, is all I had time to muster up before I was around the next bend.
No bears or wild creatures were encountered for the remainder of my trek, only about a dozen weekenders strolling along, meandering their way through the dense forest just as I had several hours prior.
Before long the path began to flatten back out; to my surprise the Hurricane Mountain Trail, which I currently have never taken, had just as many foot prints as the (as I assumed) more popular Glencliff Trail!
Another epic journey to my favorite ‘go-to’ mountain in New Hampshire in the history books, I think it would prove difficult to day-dream up a more perfect day in these high peaks: alone on the summit for as long as I needed, I got to experience wildlife up close and more real than any National Geographic could allow, complete with epic snow-running through the Benton State Forest.
The days similar to this help make me feel truly content in life and appreciative of being able to go out of my front door for several hours, running trails in the forests and taking in sights of serenity that a person simply cannot find in video games and smoke-filled bars.
I hope this helps you want to get up, get out and go explore new trails!
If you have a ‘go-to’ hike, get out and go see it today – I can assure you, when tomorrow comes it will not be the same as it is today! If you don’t have a place to call a familiar friend, hop on over to a site like alltrails.com and find what trails may be laying in your backyard just waiting for you to discover!
Overall stats for the day:
Recorded with COROS Pace
- 8.35 miles
- 2hr 42minutes
- 3,734′ elevation gain
- Mount Moosilauke – 4,802′
- South Peak – 4,523′
Favorite Gear of the Day!
Bear bells let not only slumbering wildlife know I am cruising down the trail in their backyards, but also keeps other hikers or.. hunters alert to my presence. I keep one in the side pocket of my pack, or attach one to my puppies when we go out for a run or walk. One of the cheapest ways to make noise in the woods and help keep everyone safe – a bear bell will keep on working in the back woods, even when you don’t want to!