When my glasses froze over, I wasn’t sure whether I’d make it up the last 50 yards to the summit of Moosilauke. I could barely make out SG’s blue snowshoes in front of me and the wind was blowing so fiercely that I dared not take off my facemask or ski goggles due to frostbite danger. That’s when the wind started really howling and we could feel it “trying” to knock us down. I yelled at SG to go to the sign and I followed her blue snowshoes up to the summit.
After tagging the summit, we immediately turned around and followed the cairns toward the bushes that shield the peak from the wind. The wind speed was probably 40-50 mph and we could both feel piercing needles of cold blowing through the holes in our facemasks.
The White Mountains had received close to two feet of snow the previous week, and the majority of trails were not broken out going into the weekend. In the absence of trail condition reports, I’d bet that the Glencliff Trail up Moosilauke would be broken out because the peak is popular with skiers and hikers. When we arrived we discovered that the trail had indeed been broken out, with only a light covering of fresh snow.
I’ve climbed and summitted Moosilauke before in winter, so it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if we hadn’t climbed that final stretch to the sign. But it was my last climb of the winter season in the White Mountains and a part of me wanted something to remember it by. Moosilauke is the first White Mountain 4000 footer I ever climbed so it seemed like a fitting hike to end the winter. I doubt I’ll forget this experience to soon!
The previous day, I’d led an Appalachian Mountain Club trip up to Wildcat A, B, C, and D. This was the second time I’d climbed the same peaks in three weeks, but I didn’t mind going back and hiking them again. This time I was accompanied by eight other hikers, who were all prepared to break out the Wildcat Ridge Trail after the big snow.
The views that morning of Mt Washington were exceptionally fine and we could clearly see both Tuckerman and Huntington Ravine in the distance. Despite the nice weather, I doubt that anyone was up there: the snow rangers had forecast high avalanche danger and a high probability of naturally occurring avalanches, which is the most dangerous level possible.
Due to the snow conditions and high avalanche danger I made a last-minute change in our Wildcat route to avoid the climb across the avalanche slide on Wildcat Mountain (the ‘A’ peak) that you have to cross if climbing up from Carter Notch and the Nineteen Mile Brook trail. Instead, we climbed up the Polecat Ski Trail to Wildcat ‘D’, hiked down Wildcat Ridge over the C, B, and A peaks and out again the way we’d come, turning a traverse into an out and back hike.
When we got to Wildcat D, we found that the Wildcat Ridge Trail had already been broken out, in part by my friend Alex who had skinned up ahead of us and continued on by snowshoe. We ran into him and another group heading back to the D peak later in the day.
Despite the easier than expected trail conditions, this was a strenuous hike, 8.2 miles in length with over 4,000 feet of elevation gain. Still we made excellent time climbing D, C, B, A, and B, C, and D again with plenty of time to get to the Moat before the skiing crowd swamped the bar.
The weather this winter was extremely challenging with cold temperatures, high wind, and frequent snow and ice storms which caused me to cancel several day hikes (3) and all of my winter backpacking trips (3). Despite this, I had a great winter hiking season, finishing my Winter White Mountain 4000 footer list and my Trailwright 72 list in any season list. In total, I climbed 19 mountains that were four thousand feet or taller and led three Appalachian Mountain Club trips.
And so begins spring hiking in the White Mountains, which is really not to different from winter hiking because the snow and cold linger well into May. Still, I am ready for some warmer weather and look forward to being able to see the ground again at lower elevations in just a few weeks.
Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:
- Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide
- AMC White Mountain National Forest Map Set
- Exploring New Hampshire Map from the Wilderness Map Company
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