Mount Moosilauke is the first big mountain that Appalachian Trail northbounders encounter when they climb through the White Mountains. The 10th highest four thousand footer in the White Mountain 48, it has a very different profile and personality than most of the other high peaks in the region, Known for being exceptionally windy, it can be a treacherous mountain to hike in winter when every part of exposed skin must be covered to prevent frostbite. But Moosilauke can also be a gentle giant when the air is still and the weather is clear.
Moosilauke was clearly in a good mood when I climbed it last Friday even though it’s still winter in the Whites above 3000 feet of elevation. I’d hiked up the Glencliff Trail on the AT which is kind of a benchmark hike for me and one I do periodically because I like to hike past Moosilauke’s cairns, huge piles of stone, that guide hikers to the summit above treeline. That’s a view I never get tired of, no matter how many times I climb this mountain.
It’s been over a month since I’ve been hiking in the Whites and it was good to kick off the first day of a long weekend with the Moose. I’ve been training hard the past month in preparation for my planned White Mountain Challenge backpacking trip (Direttissima), carrying a 45 pound pack (mostly food) around in the Middlesex Fells outside of Boston to get in shape. I really needed to add some elevation to my training regimen and hike up some big hills to assess my fitness level. It’s not bad at all, but I want to keep doing weekend trips for a while to build up more strength and check out a few sections of my Challenge route plan.
Unfortunately, there’s been recent talk of vandalism on Moosilauke with the disappearance of the summit sign which was not on the peak on Friday. Not only that, but two of the cairns north of the summit were knocked over and scattered. I can’t believe that this is the work of the Forest Service to make the peak more ‘wild’: those cairns serve a very important safety function and I hope the Dartmouth Outdoor Club (which maintains Moosilauke’s trails) rebuilds them.
Being a Friday, the only people I saw on Moosilauke were hikers working on their April grid-lists. Trail conditions weren’t too bad on the Glencliff Trail and there’s barely any monorail to speak of. I switched to microspikes at about 2800 feet, and encountered hard ice at 3000 feet and 3200 feet which required careful footing to get past. The ice turned to heavy wet snow as I passed the spur to the South Peak of Moosilauke and got softer and softer on the carriageway trail to the summit which is open to the suns rays. I put on my shell and gloves for that last open climb to the summit but it wasn’t really that cool or windy so I loafed around and hiked north to take a photo of Mt Wolf and Wolfcub. That’s when I saw the toppled cairns.
After a while farting around the summit ruins, I turned around and hiked back down to my car in the Glencliff trailhead lot. The hard ice going downhill had softened and I got better traction with my microspikes on the descent. The stream crossings low down were all runing normal and not high, but winter still has a few weeks left in the high peaks, something I was to experience on Saturday on another peak farther along the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail.
Total Distance: 7.8 miles
Hike Time: 6 hours
Elevation Gain: 3300 ft.