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Hiking Mt Moriah in April

Hiking Mt Moriah in April

Mt Moriah isn’t the highest White Mountain 4000-footer, but it requires 3200′ of elevation gain to climb which makes it one of the more strenuous peaks to ascend. There are a number of different trails you can use to climb it, but I picked the Carter Moriah Trail which leaves from Gorham, NH, because I figured it would be the best in terms of trail conditions. This being April, there is still a lot of snow on the high peaks, water crossings are higher due to snowmelt, and since I was hiking by myself, I wanted to hike on a trail that already been “broken out” by snowshoers to make it easier to climb.

The current snowline in the Whites is 2700′ meaning that everything below that has melted (although not always true if it’s in the woods and not on a trail) and everything above that is ice or rotten, wet snow. I expected to hike the bottom half of this hike on soil and bare-boot it without any traction, but I knew I’d probably need trail crampons or snowshoes above the snowline to reach the summit at 4049′. I carried both because you never know when you’re going to need them and the last thing I wanted to do was to climb 2000′ and discover that snowshoes were required to reach the summit.

Winter has departed on the lower part of the Carter Moriah Trail
Winter has departed on the lower part of the Carter Moriah Trail

I’d been looking forward to this hike all month because it was the last peak I needed to finish my 10th complete round of White Mountain 4000 footers, which is a nice little milestone to celebrate. I love hiking in the Whites, but I’ll admit that I get a little thrill when I fill in my Grid spreadsheet after each hike and see the totals tick up. Every list hiker I know feels the same way.

I’d picked a cold morning to climb Moriah because I knew the cold temperatures would stabilize the snowpack and make it easier to climb. From past experience, I know that the lower part of this trail has open ledges which would probably be ice covered at higher elevations. “Open ledge” in White Mountain parlance means open rocky areas that aren’t covered with trees or shrubs. While open ledge generally provides good traction, it can get slippery when it’s wet or icy.

The lower ledges were wet with some icy spots
The lower ledges were wet with some icy spots

The ledges start at 2300′ on the Carter Moriah Trail and they were indeed wet. I proceeded cautiously using rough spots and cracks in the surface of the rock to give me the purchase I needed to climb through this area. I was wearing 400g Oboz Bridger insulated winter boots which do have soft sticky soles, although one of these days I will switch to waterproof mids to ride out mud season and warmer temperatures.

I soon encountered thin glaze ice and put on my Hillsound trail crampons for surer footing. The view from the ledges on Moriah is pretty special and they’re a good place to sit and hang out in summer weather. You can see Pine Mountain, which is a delightful smaller peak to climb, as well as Mts Washington, Adams, and Madison, just across the street (Rt 16).

Pine Mountain is a great little peak with great views of Mt Madison.
Pine Mountain is a great little peak with great views of Mt Madison.

There was intermittent ice and snow between 2300′ and 2700′, but it was solid or easy to bypass. But sure enough, there was a distinct monorail layer that started at 2700′ and ran all the way to the summit. Monorail is so named because the trail is covered with what looks like a balance beam that is about 1-2 boot widths wide. If you step off the monorail, you’ll usually posthole up to your knees or waist in the softer snow on either side of it. The monorail itself is formed when hundred of hikers hike up a trail and compress the snow underneath, which forms a dense ice layer that is the last thing to melt out when temperatures rise in the spring.

The monorail started at 2700'
The monorail started at 2700′

When the monorail gets soft, which happens when temperatures rise during the day, you often need to wear snowshoes to avoid sinking into it. I’d started early in the day however and managed to stay on it wearing my Hillsound trail crampons which are lighter weight and easier to hike in. The climb from 2700′ to the summit was very straightforward and I ran into a few people coming down as I was going up, including one fellow named Reed, who recognized me and insisted I take a selfie with him. We had a nice conversation about backpacks (naturally) and he told me that he’s working on his first round of 4000 footers.

The snow was still pretty deep near the summit
The snow was still pretty deep near the summit

Being a Friday morning, I really hadn’t expected to see anyone on the peak. Still, the summit was empty when I arrived, so I sat down for a while on the warm rock and admired the view while tucking into an orange and a sandwich. The summit of Moriah is a bald rock with great views of the Presidential and an adjacent open peak named Shelburne Moriah, which is also quite delightful to climb if you ever have the time. Seeing as I have to climb Moriah again in May for the Grid, I think I’ll pop over to it when trail conditions improve and the snow is replaced by mud.

Spring is here - so it’s time for my floppy hat again.
Spring is here – so it’s time for my floppy hat again.

The downclimb was uneventful until I realized that the ice had sucked the right-hand trail crampon off my foot. That happens occasionally, but I figured I could get down on one trail crampon. Only a bit later, I realized the other one had been sucked off too and I would have to rely on my footwork to get down some icy ledges. That worked out but I had to be very careful going down.

Shelburne Moriah Mountain is located quite close by.
Shelburne Moriah Mountain is located quite close by.

If you take the Carter Moriah Trail, there is a trailhead parking area at the end of a dead-end street just outside of Gorham. I’ve heard that the people who live at the end of the street have been telling hikers that it’s illegal to park there, although I didn’t have any problems this time. But if you want to avoid getting hassled, there is a small parking area on the left before you get to the end of the street, where hikers have started parking instead. It’s located at the intersection of a snowmobile trail and the road leading to the trailhead, on the left as you drive in from Gorham but is unsigned.

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2 comments

  1. Love reading about your hikes. Pictures are fabulous, but you are a bit stingy on your captions.

  2. Thank you Philip for a spectacular preview of Mt Moriah. Actually we (Jeff, Ken, Lisa) bumped into you in the parking lot on Wednesday, 8/6 then again in the trail as you were descending and we were ascending; we thoroughly enjoyed talking with you for what seemed like a good half-hour about hiking and mountain/gravel biking in VT/NH.

    I have to agree with your assessment of the difficulty of this trail and climb. It seemed to take forever to get to the top, and somewhat more strenuous than I had anticipated. I was absolutely thoroughly smoked when we completed the hike at 3:30 pm, some 6-1/2 hours after setting off in the morning. We enjoyed a couple of stops along the was and spent at least 30-45 minutes eating lunch and taking in the spectacular views from the summit.

    We hope to bump into you again in the future on our quest to complete the 484K!

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