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.
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.
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.
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.
PDF Mapshelburne-moriah PDF Map
Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:
- Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide, 30th ed.
- AMC White Mountain National Forest Map Set
- White Mountains Map: New Hampshire and Maine
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