Friday, March 12, 2010
MT. MOOSILAUKE: 3/11/10
The forecast seemed promising for an ascent of "the Moose," the gentle giant that is a favorite peak for this writer and many another hiker. I hadn't been up Glencliff Trail for a while, so I drove over the steep, winding and horribly frost-heaved Rt. 118 and on to Rt. 25 and the Glencliff trailhead off High St.
This trail has a lovely pastoral start, following an old farm road up along two open fields. The first offers a glimpse of Moosilauke's South Peak through the trees.
The second field had a decidedly spring-like look. These fields are actually part of the Benton State Forest.
The trail ducks into the woods and immediately passes the junction with the little-used Hurricane Trail.
The Glencliff Trail rises steadily through a typical variety of mountain forests. There is a discussion of this and many other interesting features of the trail in a piece entitled "Glencliff Trail Notes," written in 1937 by William W. Ballard and reprinted in The Moosilaukee Reader: Voulme II, edited by Robert W. Averill. A synopsis of the forest types can be found here: http://mtmoosilauke.com/glennotes.html#glennotes. The first section of the trail leads through mixed woods of birch and conifer.
Farther up you climb through fine northern hardwood forest, featuring some mature trees
such as this trailside sugar maple.
At about 2700 feet the woods transition to conifers. The trail had a well-packed snowshoe track. It was frozen hard in the morning; I used Microspikes up to 3000 feet, then switched to MSR snowshoes for the rest of the day as the snow began to soften. The trail was in excellent shape, and is well-cared for by two friends who have been its adopters for a number of years: Thom Davis and Steve Martin.
Around 3200 feet there is some nice open fir forest.
At 2.5 miles/3600 feet the trail begins a long, steep grind dubbed "The Agony" by Dartmouth hutboys packing loads up to the old Summit House. Near the top of this pitch an open talus slope up on the right side of the trail provides a great view and a welcome excuse to take a break.
Though it had been sunny thus far this late morning, from the talus I could see dark clouds advancing from the south.
But the views were still good, including this interesting look down at slide-streaked Mt. Clough and the beaver ponds in Tunnel Brook Notch.
From the talus it was just a short jaunt up to the Carriage Road. There was alot of snow up here, 4 to 5 feet, and I soon caught my first view of the whitened summit ahead from windpacked drifts beside the trail.
Looking down at the Blue Ridge of Moosilauke, which encloses the upper Baker River valley, a stripe of hardwoods was evident amidst the darker forest. Was this an old Dartmouth ski slope from the 1930s and 1940s? Sandwich Dome dominates on the horizon.
A look back at the South Peak, looking unusually snowy.
Farther along, as it passes over the bump known as "Middle Peak," the Carriage Road became an open snow ridge, with views on all sides over the buried scrub.
There were several outlooks down into the Gorge Brook ravine, with the Dartmouth Ravine Lodge nestled at its base.
The Ravine Lodge was built in 1937-38, using large virgin spruce cut nearby. It's open summer and fall and is an interesting place to stop if you're hiking Moosilauke from the Gorge Brook trailhead.
As I approached the summit cone I could see two hikers who had started ahead of me now making their way down the upper Carriage Road.
We chatted for a while, then they continued on their way down. They were the last hikers I saw for the day.
The final approach up the broad, snow-caked summit dome, under somber grey skies.
Along this stretch the view west includes Long Pond and ledgy Black Mountain.
The summit sign in the trademark orange of the Dartmouth Outing Club. The shoulder known as "East Peak" is in the background. A broad definition of "peak."
The white-robed Franconias and Presidentials were still gleaming in the sun.
The town of Lincoln and Loon Mountain Ski Area are seen beyond Mt. Jim.
I headed north along the broad open ridge, following cairns marking the combined Beaver Brook/Benton Trails.
Taking advantage of the unusually good snow cover on the summit, which protected the alpine vegetation from damage, I dropped down the west side of the crest to an impressive snowfield above the rim of the NW-facing glacial cirque known as Benton Ravine or Tunnel Ravine. The MSRs were perfect for travel on this styrofoam snow. (Wandering off the trail like this is strongly discouraged at other seasons, as it would trample the fragile vegetation.)
Dropping down a bit, I was able to peer into this impressive and little-known ravine. In 2007, an avid backcountry skier became obsessed with this ravine and made several explorations into it from below. This culminated with a solo climb of the mountain and ski descent through the ravine in April 2007 (after a great northeaster dumped tons of snow that month). His fascinating photo journal of that trip, "Hidden Gully, Attempt Five 4/20/07" can be found on www.telemarktalk.com, page 64 of the thread "East Coast Stoke 06-07: Turns are Where You Find 'em."
Here's a look into Benton Ravine taken during a summer bushwhack up the ridge west of the Benton Trail. Photo taken from a blowdown patch, which in the picture above can be seen as one of the white patches on the crest of the ridge, right of center.
Looking back up the snowfield.
Returning to the trail, I sat behind a cairn and out of the light wind for a late lunch. A snow flurry whipped by shortly after I took this photo looking north to the Kinsmans seen beyond the bumps on the north ridge of Mt. Blue.
A cairn was starting to emerge from its rime ice cocoon.
I headed back to the summit and then across the East Snowfield, a favorite of Moosilauke ski enthusiasts. There is a picture of a skier on this snowfield (taken, I believe, by frequent Moosilauke skier Dave Metsky) on page 61 in David Goodman's guidebook, Backcountry Skiing Adventures: Maine and New Hampshire (AMC Books). Mt. Blue is in the background, with the Franconias and Presidentials beyond.
Looking across the snowfield to East Peak. Mt. Kineo (L) and Carr Mtn. (R) beyond.
From the north end of the snowfield I got this look at the rugged headwall of Jobildunc Ravine.
From the East Snowfield I headed over deep drifts to the Gorge Brook Trail, and
from more drifts along the shoulder of East Peak I found this interesting look at Mt. Blue (L) and Mt. Jim (R), joined by a long ridge.
I climbed back to the summit via yet another snowfield on the SE side. A good view here of Middle and South Peaks.
On my downbound trip, I made the short side trip up to South Peak. The side trail started out through dense conifers where crouch-walking was necessary to pass under the branches.
The upper part of the spur was an open snow climb.
The bare top of South Peak is one of the best spots on the mountain. It has a wide view west and a great look down at Mt. Clough and Tunnel Brook Notch.
The largest of the beaver ponds in the notch is Mud Pond, seen in the left half of the photo.
Nearby to the north are the great slides in Moosilauke's Slide Brook ravine.
And there's a neat perspective on Moosilauke itself, with a gentle ridge extending to East Peak.
The sun made a brief reappearance on the upper part of the Glencliff Trail, where an Appalachian Trail blaze testifies to the depth of the snow.
The track of a moose who had postholed partway down the trail was teeming with springtails, the little snow fleas that speckle the surface like spilled pepper on warm late winter days. Spring can't be far behind; indeed, the snow on the lowest part of the trail had melted considerably by the time I descended.