My winter hiking partner and I drove back up to Mt Moosilauke this weekend for a go at the South Peak (4,523 ft), which is also on the Trailwright’s 72 peakbagging list. The weather was a lot more winter-like on this hike with a dusting of snow at the base of the mountain and about 2 inches on the summit. After bagging the South Peak, we continued to the main summit of Mt Moosilauke at (4,802 ft), braving fierce 40 mile an hour winds on the summit cone.
To reach the South Peak, you need to take a short spur trail that forks off from the junction of the Appalachian Trail (Glencliff Trail and the Carriageway Trail. It’s mostly protected from the wind and snow by krumholz except for the final 100 yards or so to the summit cairn. We followed recent moose tracks along this final scramble, only to arrive at a windy, exposed and socked it summit. We quickly turned around and hiked back to the trail junction.We took a fairly direct route to the South Peak, hiking up the Gorge Brook Trail to the Snapper Trail, and then following the Carriageway Trail up to the South Peak Spur. The Snapper Trail is protected by woods and follows a westerly contour at about 950 meters. The real climbing starts after the intersection with the Carriageway Trail up to treeline at about 1350 meters. This trail is more exposed than the Snapper Trail because the woods canopy has been cut back. Although steep, the treadway provides easy hiking, making this trail an excellent way to access the main summit quickly in winter.
From there, we decided to hike up the the main Moosilauke summit. Despite a fierce wind, the air temperature on top of the summit ridge was relatively warm, probably in the mid thirties, reducing the risk of frostnip. Regardless, we bundled up in an additional hard shell layer, donning balaclavas and heavy winter mittens.
We had the wind to our back on the final climb up to the summit where the ruins of an old lodge provide a windbreak. There we discussed whether to continue over the summit and down the Gorge Brook Trail, which can be quite icy, or to seek the shelter of the trees, the way we’d come.
By then the cloud cover on the summit has started to break up and we were treated to a view of the South Peak that we’d climbed earlier. It’s impressive how deceiving distances are in winter: The South Peak looked very far away, but we walked right under it again on our way down the mountain, the way we’d come.The wind won and we turned around the way we’d come. As it was, Naturegirl. who’s a wee thing, was being levitated and I was afraid she’d pull a flying nun imitation on me and get blown off the summit. On the way down, we passed a group from the AMC winter hiking program staging a mock injury scenario for a group of students. We didn’t know that when we’d arrived, and only continued after it was clear that our assistance was not needed. (Naturegirl is a WFR and I have a Wilderness First Aid Certificate.)
Total distance for this hike from 7.5 miles in 5 hours with about 2300 feet of elevation gain.