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Climbing Mount Moosilauke and Mount Blue

Mount Moosilauke Cairns, Mount Blue, and The Kinsmans
Mount Moosilauke Cairns, Mount Blue, and The Kinsmans

Mount Moosilauke (4802) is one of the great peaks of the White Mountains with a substantial amount of picturesque above treeline hiking. I’ve hiked it a few times this year with the intent of hiking up the different trails to the summit and bagging more of this big mountain’s sub-peaks along the way. These have all been great hikes and I recommend that you explore Moosilauke in this fashion.

My destination last Friday was the sub-peak named Mount Blue (4529) which is one of the dwindling number of peaks I have left on my Trailwrights 72 peak list. Unlike Moosilauke’s other subsidiary-peaks, South Peak and Mt Jim, Mount Blue is a bushwhack, or at least I thought so until I found an obvious herd path to the summit canister.  This didn’t diminish the amount of preparation I did for the hike or the need to take bearings along my approach to check my location. Still a part of me wishes that Blue’s highpoint would have been a bit more of a struggle to locate.

Tunnel Brook Road is still closed due to Hurricane Irene Damage
Tunnel Brook Road is still closed due to Hurricane Irene Damage

On this latest hike, I climbed up to Mount Blue and Moosilauke via the Benton Trail, which like the Jewel Trail on Mt Washington, is a steep westerly facing ridge ascent to the summit. If you love Mount Moosilauke and many new Hampshire hikers do, I encourage you to experience this route. Sadly, I’m afraid that this magnificent trail is going to die off due to neglect because the road to the trail head is unlikely to be repaired, ever.

I didn’t know about the road closure until I arrived at the closed gate, but I figured ‘what the hey’ and decided to hike up the trail anyway, although it meant an adding 4 miles to an already long hike. I wasn’t that worried because I carried a full pack up with me – part of my seasonal winter training – and was ready to hike in the dark or even hunker down and camp if I got caught out later than expected. The blue line on the topo below shows the added road walk section of this hike. The extra mileage added about 1:15 to this hike, which was 8 hours in total with 13 miles of hiking and 4,000 feet of elevation gain.

Benton Trail to Mount Moosilauke and Mount Blue
Benton Trail to Mount Moosilauke and Mount Blue

After a quick hike up the road, there is a proper USFS sign for the Benton Trail head, but the trail seemed to vanish before me under a deep clutter of deciduous autumn leaves. I could barely make out a treadway beneath the leaf litter and followed my instincts along what I though was the most likely route. I found the initial stream crossing mentioned in the White Mountain Guide and starting uphill for the long ascent along what looked like an old jeep road, occasionally stubbing my toes on rocks hidden beneath the leaves.

When planning this hike, I’d noticed that the Benton Trail climbs beside a very deep ravine on the western face of Moosilauke which drains Little Tunnel Brook. The presence of the ravine was apparent as I climbed the trail but there were no clear views until close to 2,500 feet where an open ledge provides an excellent place to sit and view it, along with Moosilauke’s northern neighbor’s, North and South Kinsman Mountains.

Little Tunnel Brook Ravine, Mount Moosilauke
Little Tunnel Brook Ravine, Mount Moosilauke

From the overlook, I marveled at the towering overlook above the ravine which I would pass by later on my climb and and listened to loud roar of the brook crashing down the mountainside. I imagine there’s a waterfall somewhere amongst the trees below, surrounded by avalanche debris from the visibly scarred mountain sides. It’s humbling in a way, knowing that I was probably the only person who stopped to take in the view of this isolated hidden place that day. There’s powerful joy that wells up in me, a feeling of elation when I can connect to the landscape in such an individual way.

Continuing my climb, I passed a small stream at 3560 feet where it is possible to resupply drinking water if you have a filter or purifier. This is not marked on the map, but is a handy fact to file away for future hikes up this trail in order to avoid carrying a full supply of the days water up to the mountain summit. I sat for a spell here, rehydrated and ate a few cookies, when some other day hikers passed me by on their own ascent to the summit.

Fortified, I continued the relentless climb up the Benton, through krumholz, and the intersection with the Beaver Brook Trail, which is located at 4600 feet of elevation. I’ve started carrying my old Geko 301 GPS to use as an altimeter on bushwhacks in order avoid buying a special purpose altimeter watch – it works great.

Mt Blue
Mt Blue

At the trail junction, I decided to bag Mt Blue which was my primary objective instead of heading straight for the Moosilauke summit because I couldn’t predict how much time it would take me to bushwhack to Blue’s summit canister. It turned out to be a bit confusing matching the terrain to the map because visibility on the Beaver Brook trail, which runs through Krumholz (short trees), is so limited. I couldn’t really tell where I was in relation to Blue until I found an opening in the trees and could shoot a compass bearing off the summit of Mt Moosilauke.

At the Mt Blue Canister (4529)
At the Mt Blue Canister (4529)

Once I knew which peak to go after, I continued to follow the Beaver Brook Trail looking for the 4400 foot contour where I planned to start my bushwhack. That’s when I spotted the herd path, which took me most of the way to the summit canister. When I was close I headed to the highest ground I could see and saw the canister hanging from a tree. I’d made it!

From here, I retrace my steps back to the Beaver Brook Trail and quickly climbed to the open summit of the main Moosilauke peak, where I hung out for a while and enjoyed the sun. There was virtually no wind that Friday, which is a rare occurrence at the Moosilauke summit sign.

Cairns marking The Appalachian Trail on Mount Moosilauke
Cairns marking The Appalachian Trail on Mount Moosilauke

From the summit, I studied the peaks, eyeing another bushwhack that I want to do one of these days, named Mt Clough. a bowling ball shaped peak, on the New Hampshire Hundred Highest peak list. It looks like it’d be a tough winter bushwhack  do to the exposure, but it’s an interesting and remote peak nonetheless.

With daylight dwindling, I made my way back down the Benton Trail reaching my car just as the sun went set. What a fabulous hike this had been on a clear day in the sun. I’d reached my objectives and had a great warm-up hike before backpacking The Kinsmans and The Cannon Balls later that weekend.

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7 comments

  1. Nice seeing a different perspective of Moosilauke. I remember being so scared of this mountain because I’d read a harrowing tale of a thru-hikers descent in ’09 and eventually I remembered it was this mountain. Obviously it turned out not to be so scary as I imagined and I wished I’d spent more time hanging around the mountain.

    It was very windy when we were there.

  2. It’s sad that they probably won’t be repairing Tunnel Brook Rd. any time soon or ever.
    Make for a different angle to hike on Moosilauke. The “Moose” is a fav of mine,I think mainly because it’s so close to home and because I get to look at it every day coming and going to work. Only have one more approach to do and will have climbed it from all the trails leading to the top. Thanks for the report Phillip.

    • I think I just have to climb it from the carriageway and then I can do them all again. It’s been 5 years since I climbed beaver brook. As for Tunnel Rd – maybe its better that it is closed, as heretical as that may sound. It’s a gorgeous section of road – maybe we should leave it for walkers.

  3. It make for a longer hike but a good walk along the road. Went up Beaver Brook trail two years ago and back down Benton Trail,knew my knees wouldn’t take it. Made for a 15 mile day.

  4. I had a similar experience in very early Spring a couple years ago. I was too early and the gate was still closed, though this was pre-Irene and the road was fine. I had the same experience looking for the beginning of the trail up to that first stream crossing….really hard to tell where the path led. Unfortunately I ran into far too much snow to deal with that day, and as I had no snow shoes and had gotten wet from breaking through the snow crust into the stream running underneath in the trail bed, wisely turned back about .5mi from the summit. As has been said before, the mountain will still be there for another day. With all that, it was a good day in the woods, summit or no summit with some spectacular views higher up on the Benton trail. .

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