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Lenticular Clouds on Shelburne Moriah Mountain

Lenticular Clouds over Shelburne Moriah Mountain
Lenticular Clouds over Shelburne Moriah Mountain

Lenticular clouds are saucer shaped clouds that often precede rain. It’s not uncommon to see them over Mt Washington, known for its wild weather and high wind speeds, although you can never predict when they’ll form.

I’d woken early and climbed Shelburne Moriah Mountain, a 3700′ peak on the northern end of the Carter-Wildcat Mountain Range. It has a great view of Washington and the Northern Presidential peaks, Madison, Adams, and Jefferson from the other side of Pinkham Notch. I lucked out on this hike because there were a dozen or more lenticular clouds in the skies above Washington when I summitted.

In addition to saucer-shaped lenticular clouds, I also got to see stacked saucers and saucers with waves in them, not unlike surf waves. The wave effect is caused by the air hitting Mount Washington and being angled up into the cloud. It was quite a show.

The Shelburne Trail leaves from Forest Service Road #95, about 10 miles east of Gorham, NH
The Shelburne Trail leaves from Forest Service Road #95, about 10 miles east of Gorham, NH

I’d climbed Shelburne Moriah from the northeast, up the Shelburne and Kenduskeag Trails, just under 11 miles round trip with close to 3,000 feet of elevation gain. These are pretty trails, although most people approach this peak from the south, hiking up the Rattle River Trail or up the Carter Moriah Trails.

The northern Shelburne Trailhead leaves from Forest Service road #95, just off Route 2, very close to the New Hampshire/Maine state line, about 10 miles east of Gorham, NH. It’s not hard to find using the directions in the White Mountain Guide. (There’s also a southern Shelburne Trailhead that starts from Wild River Road and is a slightly shorter route up the the Kenduskeag Trail. It requires a river ford at the beginning, though, one you can’t rock hop.)

The first two miles from the northern Shelburne Trailhead are an easy ramble over old logging roads that parallel Conner Brook, a larger mountain stream that has definite Tenkara fishing potential. While it was running quite low, I made a note to myself to check it out next year, when water levels will be higher, I hope.

At 2.1 miles, the trail leaves the logging roads and starts climbing steeply through forest. While autumn is in the air and the leaves are starting to turn color, the temperature and humidity were still summer-like and I perspired heavily on the approach. While there are numerous streams and creeks that cross the Shelburne Trail, most were bone dry because of this year’s drought. I played it safe and filtered extra water during my hike so I wouldn’t run dry.

Treeline starts at 3100 feet which is comparatively low compared to other peaks in the White Mountains.
Treeline starts at 3100 feet which is comparatively low compared to other peaks in the White Mountains.

The Shelburne Trail meets the Kenduskeag Trail at mile 4, where the hiking gets more technical. The Kenduskeag is a ledgy, boulder-choked trail that follows the ridgeline to the summit.

The fun starts at 3100 feet when you break above treeline and experience the alpine landscape. Treeline usually starts at about 4500 feet on the higher peaks in the White Mountains, making the experience here more accessible for people who don’t want to climb the taller 4000 footers.

The above treeline trail is marked with rock cairns that are easy to follow and boardwalks to protect the fragile alpine vegetation. These trails would normally be very wet and muddy, but were dry because of the drought.

Boardwalks protect the fragile alpine vegetation on the Kenduskeag Trail.
Boardwalks protect the fragile alpine vegetation on the Kenduskeag Trail.

Shelburne Moriah is well worth climbing even without a lenticular cloud show, with 360 degree views of dozens of mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. It’s on the 52-with-a-View peakbaging list, with good reason.

After the boardwalks, the trail passes through a narrow ravine before climbing steeply to the summit. From there, it’s a short walk through dwarf trees, called Krummholz, to a big rock cairn at the mountains highpoint.

Definitely a classic hike and a good way to stretch your legs. This is an excellent autumn hike to observe the color, but will be unreachable when the snow arrives.

Map of route to Shelburne Moriah Mountain (Click for downloadable PDF version)
Map of route to Shelburne Moriah Mountain (Click for downloadable PDF version)

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4 comments

  1. I have always felt the view south in the Wild River drainage rivals Zeacliff

  2. I witnessed the same Ventricular clouds in South Lake Tahoe two weeks ago. They call these clouds Sierra Wave

  3. I did a portion of the Highwater trail yesterday. The Wild River is so low this year that I was able to rock hop easily about 50′ up steam from where the Shelburn Moriah trail comes down to the river. Up river 1.4 miles the suspension bridge was just taken down not yet hauled away.

    “Sleeveless”

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