Saturday, February 1, 2014


On another glorious sunny winter day, with temperatures predicted to climb into the twenties (!), I decided to tackle the steep Beaver Brook Trail up Mount Moosilauke, a route I'd never done previously in winter. A great blog post from Chris Dailey reported that much of the ice on this route had been covered up by some recent snow, so the time seemed right. At 9:30 the temperature at the trailhead in Kinsman Notch was up to ten above - a welcome change from the near-zero trailhead readings in recent weeks.

I was happy to see a great snowshoe track at the start, and I headed out in my MSRs. Knowing that conditions could vary greatly, I was carrying Microspikes and full 10-point crampons. The snowshoe track ended at the start of the climb just 0.2 mi. in. Beyond here there was just a single set of boot tracks (from a hiker who'd started up earlier) in about four inches of powdery snow. With the steep terrain ahead, including a number of tricky spots, I knew this would be a challenging climb. I was able to snowshoe up past the first couple of frozen cascades.

When I came to perhaps the diciest spot on the trail, a right-and-then-left icy scramble with a "rebar" handhold and a dropoff on the R, I could see it was not doable with snowshoes. There was a steep, unbroken bypass through the woods to the L, but that was icy at the top as well. I was determined to snowshoe as far as I could, and made a strenuous bypass of the bypass up through fairly deep powder. Above here I snowshoed out onto a shelf between cascades for a look up Beaver Brook...

...and a view out to the Dilly Cliffs.

Farther up I came to another tricky spot, where you must use a small icy foothold and then make a big step up; here there's a dropoff to the brook and no rebar or tree to hang onto. First I tried it with the snowshoes, no go. I backed down to a flat spot and put on the 'spikes. But I immediately saw that they were useless for gripping the ice beneath the loose powder. So on went the crampons, and I used them the rest of the way up along the cascades. There were numerous icy ledge steps and chutes where the snow had been scraped off. I wouldn't have made it without the crampons.

One of the little ice bulges.

This view from the trail was a welcome excuse for a short break. The steep, relentless climb - 1900 ft. in 1.5 Beaver Brook Shelter - was kicking my butt.

Dual blazing: white for the Appalachian Trail and orange-black-orange for the Dartmouth Outing Club, who maintain nearly all the trails on Moosilauke.

Above the cascades I switched back to snowshoes. It's still a steep pull from there up to the shelter spur. I was mighty happy to see the sign at the junction. Along the spur trail I saw that it was "out with the old, and in with the new" for the privy.

Don't drink the water below the old privy!

The new location, opened in 2010.

Beaver Brook Shelter, built in 1993 to replace an older lean-to down near the road.

Room with a view!

The grade is much easier above the shelter, but it was still a slog with the slightly-broken new snow. I was surprised and delighted to see a snowshoe track joining in from the lightly-used Asquam-Ridge Trail. This would make for a much easier trip the rest of the way up.

After hours in the shade, it was great to break out into the sun as the trail headed across the headwall of Jobildunk Ravine, with a partial vista out over that wild valley.

A neat ice bulge along the headwall section.

Views opened up as I climbed up the side of Mt. Blue. Here the north end of the main summit is in sight ahead. Near here I met the only other hiker I saw all day, descending in snowshoes to make an even better track.

Woods along the trail on Mt. Blue. The snow was surprisingly deep above 4000 ft. here, considering the Randolph Mountain Club report at Gray Knob Cabin (4400 ft.) on Mt. Adams showed a depth of only nine inches. I considered making the 0.2 mi. round trip bushwhack to the summit of Blue (a Trailwrights 4000-foot peak), but I was running late, the snow was deep, and there was another short whack I wanted to do. Maybe next time.

Nice open fir woods on the Mt. Blue section.

View ahead at one of the outlooks between Blue and the main summit.

A couple of Boreal Chickadees stopped by for a brief visit.

In the broad, flat col between Blue and Moosilauke I whacked down to the edge of Deer Lake Bog, the ultimate source of the Baker River. In the late 1800s this was apparently a tiny swampy pond, "a little sheet of water about as large as your hand," according to Warren historian William Little. In more recent times, cores taken from the sediments of this bog have been used in studies of ecological change at higher elevations after the retreat of the last continental glacier.

A view back from the Beaver Brook Trail shortly before the junction with the Benton Trail.

I had thought about going down the Benton Trail - I wanted no part of a slow, tedious descent along the cascade section of Beaver Brook Trail -  but Benton was, as might be expected, completely unbroken. So I opted to go up over the summit and down Gorge Brook Trail, hoping I could get a phone signal to notify Carol, my chauffeur! The photo below shows the trail approaching treeline.

It was a spectacular afternoon above treeline, with the Moose decked out in its winter finery. The wind was lighter than predicted, and the sun was pouring down. There was enough crusty snow and rime for snowshoeing all the way to the summit, being careful to stay on the defined trail and off the frozen, fragile alpine vegetation.

Beautifully crafted cairns show the way.

Looking back to the north. Woo-hoo! What a day!

The unique snowy alpine expanse of Moosilauke.

Franconia Ridge and more.

Approaching the summit, no one else around.

Looking SE.

Rime-frosted foundation of the old Summit House. Quite a difference from the spring-like day when I was up here 2 1/2 weeks earlier.

The summit sign. Fortunately I was able to get a phone signal here - not a sure thing - to leave a message about my descent route.

Looking towards South Peak.

A simple but important message.

Looking down the Gorge Brook Trail.

The Presidentials from the Gorge Brook Trail on the SE shoulder.

Looking back at the summit before heading into the trees.

Trail corridor along the East Peak.

View of Sandwich Range from open spot on East Peak.

Views from "The Balcony" section of the trail were improved by the lift of the snowpack. I always enjoy this view down into the Baker River and Gorge Brook valleys, with the Blue Ridge beyond.

A zoom on the DOC Ravine Lodge.

More views from The Balcony.

The snowshoeing was sweet on the upper Gorge Brook Trail. A prefect softly-packed track!

Open fir forest at 3900 ft.

A hazy view of Carr Mountain at the south outlook.

Gorge Brook, running free and open earlier in the month, was now frozen and buried after many sub-zero nights. I reached Ravine Lodge at dusk and strolled out the unplowed road by the light of a thousand stars. Upon arriving at the Rt. 118 trailhead, I heard a wild scream off in the woods, answered by a series of deep-throated hoots. Barred Owls! A neat way to cap off a memorable traverse of Moosilauke.

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