Sunday, February 27, 2011
MORIAH LEDGES: 2/23/11
The south side of Mt. Moriah (seen below from Middle Carter) is one of the ledgiest areas in the White Mountains. In its first half-mile climbing north from the Moriah-Imp col, the Carter-Moriah Trail crosses a succession of clifftop vantage points with great distant views west, south and southeast, plus intimate looks down into the upper valley of Moriah Brook. The trailless ridges that descend into the Moriah Brook valley offer many more open ledges with views in various directions. Perhaps the most open of these ridges is a massive southwestern spur off the mountain's great SE ridge (seen in the top center of the photo below); this spur is prominent from the outlooks along the Carter-Moriah Trail.
With a sunny, breezy and very clear day predicted, John "1HappyHiker" Compton and I planned a snowshoe trek to visit ledges both on and off the trail on Moriah's southern slopes. Our approach was the pleasant and pretty Stony Brook Trail, starting from well-plowed trailhead parking off Route 16.
The snowshoe track was hard-packed, a veritiable sidewalk. Even for two diehard snowshoers, it made sense to bare-boot the easy-graded first 2.3 miles of the trail. A mellow hemlock ramble led us to the first crossing of Stony Brook at 0.8 mi.
This crossing, like so many in the Whites this month, had a solid snow bridge.
As the trail climbed gradually towards the second brook crossing, we had occasional peeks at Moriah's rock-knob summit through the trees.
The climb stiffens considerably after the second crossing, leading through open hardwoods up a spur between two branches of Stony Brook.
Along this section there were some entertaining views through the trees. Especially noticeable was this ledgy spur that one bushwhacking enthusiast dubbed "Celebration Ridge."
After one final steady climb, we reached the Moriah-Imp col and the Carter-Moriah Trail, 3.6 mi. from the trailhead. Here we turned L and quickly passed the junction with the Moriah Brook Trail. On a Views from the Top trail conditions report on Moriah for 2/21, "una_dogger" had noted that a group from Gould Academy (Bethel, ME) was ascending Stony Brook Trail with sleds and planned to descend the Moriah Brook Trail after a night at Imp Shelter. (Thanks for the tip, Sabrina!) Having the Moriah Brook Trail broken out would make the approach to the bushwhacking portion of our trek much easier. And yes, at the junction we saw that there was a well-broken track heading down Moriah Brook.
A short distance past the junction, we popped out into bright sunshine on the first outlook ledge.
That massive, ledgy southwestern spur was in full view across the valley.
The snow-cone of North Baldface could be seen on the far side of the Wild River Wilderness.
To the L we could look at the upper south cliffs of Moriah, our first major destination for the day.
A second outlook, just above the first, featured this unusual rock.
The Carter-Moriah Trail ducked back into old, gnarled firs and climbed steadily up the ridge.
Higher up there were long views out to the Pliny and Pilot Ranges on the NW skyline.
North Weeks, Terrace, Cabot, The Bulge and The Horn (L to R).
On the higher open ledges we were greeted by a biting wind, but the views of the Presidentials were crystal-clear.
Looking south to the high, wooded ramparts of the Carters.
Looking out over the southwestern Moriah spur to the Meader-Baldface range.
A down-look into the wild, twisting upper valley of Moriah Brook.
We took a long lunch break on the highest clifftop perch (3500+ ft.), where shelter from the wind was provided by some scrub. This is one of my favorite spots in all the White Mountains.
After lunch, we descended the Carter-Moriah Trail back to the Moriah Brook Trail junction. We turned L here and followed the Gould Academy group's tracks down an intial short, steep drop.
We soon enter the newest Wilderness area in the Whites.
Tracks diverged and rejoined a couple of times - this trail can be hard to follow in winter. Soon we emerged into an open, brushy, well-frozen swamp where there was a terrific view up to Moriah's south cliffs.
We descended to the next plateau on the trail, then struck off for the ledgy southwestern spur through a pleasantly open forest of small birches. The preponderance of birch forest and open ledge in the upper Moriah Brook basin can be traced to a big 1895 forest fire that resulted from indiscriminate logging by the Wild River Lumber Company, which ran a railroad spur partway up the valley from the Wild River. According to Christine Goodale's article, "Fire in the White Mountains: An Historical Perspective," in the Winter/Spring 2004 issue of Appalachia, the Moriah Brook fire scorched over 4,000 acres in this valley and the Bull Brook valley to the N.
After climbing fairly steeply through more birches, and then scrubby firs, with a few thick spots, we chanced upon an open outcrop with an unusual view back to the Moriah-Imp col at the head of the Moriah Brook valley.
These are the first two outlooks on the Carter-Moriah Trail just above the col.
Two off-trail ledges on the Imp side of the col.
Long ridges flowing east off the Carters.
We continued up the side of the ridge, soon crossing this snowy open slab.
As we neared the crest of the southwestern spur, we broke into the open and spotted this ledge and boulder above.
John makes the final approach to the ridgecrest.
Looking up the ridge, we could see a long expanse of ledge and scrub.
The Moriah-Imp col from a higher perspective. Part of the Pliny Range just peeks over the low point.
We angled up and across the expansive open ledges, heading to the eastern side of the ridge.
Over here there was a beautiful vista towards the Wild River Valley, with a wind-packed snowfield and wiry birches descending from our vantage point.
The Meader to Baldface ridgecrest.
Up to the L was a rocky knob on Moriah's SE ridge.
Looking south towards Mt. Hight and its long E ridge.
John takes in the scenery from this wild, windy spot. It was tempting to linger longer and explore further, but it was already 3:30 pm and we had a 4 1/2 mi. return trip.
Acres of open rock!
Taking photos into the wind, on the way back down the ridge.
John heads down past the neat ledge-and-boulder where we'd first emerged on the ridgecrest.
A typical winding bushwhack snowshoe track.
A windpacked natural corridor through the scrubby birches.
Who shut the lights off?
Late-day sun illuminates the south cliffs of Moriah.
After climbing several hundred feet back to the Carter-Moriah Trail, we scooted up to the first outlook to see where we'd been. We visited the outcrop in the lower center of the picture, and if you look closely you may be able to see our tracks on the snowy slab in the middle.
A last look at the ghostly form of North Baldface, and it was time to head for home. We made it back to the car at about the time it got fully dark, but didn't have to pull out the headlamps. John and I agreed that it was a memorable day, featuring beautiful woods, abundant sunshine, vast ledges, and a phenomenal range of vistas.