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Winter’s End: Isolation, Cabot, and Moriah

Stony Brook Trail, Enroute to Mount Moriah
Stony Brook Trail, Enroute to Mount Moriah

One of the sure signs of spring in the White Mountains is when the snow bridges over the streams collapse and stream crossings become ‘much’ more exciting.

But winter will linger on for another month or two in New Hampshire’s mountains despite the fact that calendar winter ends on Wednesday 3-20-2013 at 6:05 am. The only people who really care about that date are peakbaggers trying to complete their Winter 4,000 footers or Winter 48-in-1 (season) lists.

I must confess, I did do a bit more work on my Winter 4,000 footers, bagging three more peaks: Mount Isolation (4004′), Mount Cabot (4170′) , and Mount Moriah (4049′) over a blustery cold weekend that saw day-time temperatures in the single digits with subzero wind chills. Still, despite a productive winter peakbagging season, finishing my Winter 4’s will take another season, not that I’m in too much of a rush.

Despite the frigid temperatures, climbing these three peaks was a fitting way to end a marvelous winter, if only because:

  • Isolation is the most remote 4,000 footer in the White Mountains
  • Cabot is the northernmost 4,000 footer
  • Moriah is the first 4,000 footer I ever climbed in 2007 and my first Appalachian Trail section hike

Hiking with Friends

Peakbagging lists aside, the reason I like winter hiking in the White Mountain so much is because it’s so social. All of my winter hikes are with friends, some new and some old, and it’s a huge pleasure to get to know or catch up with people on the trail. That’s really what I’ll remember the most about this past winter.

Friend Jen
Friend Jen at Mt Isolation

Mt Isolation

I co-led the hike to Mt Isolation with Joe, another 4-season AMC leader who I’ve hiked with a lot this winter. We did the Engine Hill bushwhack to Isolation starting at the Rocky Branch Trailhead, a trail and route that I’d never hiked before. The bushwhack eliminates several stream crossings but doesn’t significantly shorten the 14 mile round-trip.

The scenery on the hike was beautiful with intermittent sunshine, but the temperature was very cold all day. I had the foresight to bring an extra mid-layer this weekend, a polarguard vest, but I was still cold. We snowshoed nearly the entire hike, completing it in 11 hours.

That night, I stayed at the Subsig Cabin in Crawford Notch, with still more friends, although they’re spreading a rumor that I snore. Really, it was the guy next to me! Lies all lies.

Friends Casey and Nadia on Bunnell Notch Trail
Friends Casey and Nadia on Bunnell Notch Trail

Mt Cabot

On Sunday, I lead a hike to Mt Cabot with Casey Ajalat. We had a small group, which often happens on Sunday hikes, especially since Mt Cabot is a distant 4 hour drive from Boston. We met at the York Pond Trail head within the Berlin Fish Hatchery, which is a weird place to drive into on a Sunday morning if you’ve never been there before. To get there, you need to drive through the town of Berlin, pronounced with the accent on the first syllable, which is pretty sketchy looking with a lot of ramshackle houses and boarded up light industry. Once north of Berlin, you’re in the great north woods which can be equally jolting because it’s so isolated.

Another frigid day, we climbed Mount Cabot entirely in microspikes, but still carried snowshoes because there was a lot of drifting wind-blown snow. Luckily, there is a cabin near the top of Mt Cabot where we dropped our packs before hiking on to the summit. Cabot is basically a viewless peak, but the weather was clear enough that we caught excellent views of two subsidiarty peaks, the Bulge and the Horn, which I climbed last autumn on a Kilkenny Ridge Traverse.

We came back and had lunch in the cabin and bundled up like Michelin men: I even wore my insulated pants, which I only pull out for extreme conditions like melting water on winter backpacking trips. Being out of the wind helped, but we didn’t linger and hiked out quickly completeing the 10 mile roundtrip in about 6 hours. Despite the cold, this was another beautiful hike, though the sunshine was intermittent during the day.

Friend David on Mount Moriah
Friend David on Mount Moriah

Mount Moriah

On Monday, I co-led a trip with my friend David up Mount Moriah, which I climbed last in 2007. Casey was supposed to be the co-leader, but wasn’t feeling well, so David filled in for him. No one else came, which sadly is not the unusual for a weekday winter hike. There are more mid-week AMC hikers the rest of the year though.

When we left the parking lot it was 2 degrees with 20 mile an hours winds – basically another really cold day. I’d planned to hike up Moriah via the Stony Brook Trail, another route I’d never hiked before and one that proved absolutely fantastic! Though quite steep, it has an extensive amount of above treeline exposure and provides fantastic 360 degree views of the Carter Range, the Northern Presidentials, the Mahoosucs, and the Baldface Range.

I hadn’t seen David since we’d hiked Mount Field and Willey earlier in the winter, so we had a lot of catch up on. David’s a backpacker at heart, like me, and we talked about all kinds of different trips we want to do the rest of the year.

I first met David in-person on the last day of winter in 2010, though we’d known of each other online before that via the Green Mountain Club and Long Trail. That day, we’d both been climbing Mount Monroe separately, in gorgeous weather, similar to the weather we had yesterday on Moriah. I can still picture meeting him outside of the Lake of the Clouds, exactly two years ago.

Funny how you can remember meetings with friends, more than the views. Until next winter, then.

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  1. Sounds like a great weekend! I finished up my “winter” season with Mt. Marshall (a 4000 footer in the Adirondacks). It was a great day, but starting off at 10 below zero was a cold beginning.

  2. Nicely done! Hope you enjoyed this winter. Three tough peaks that can really be awesome hikes when the weather cooperates, and it looks like you got to enjoy them all.

    • Dan – congrats on finishing your 48-in-1. That has to feel great and is really quite an accomplishment. I’ve been following your posts all winter.

      • Thanks Philip! It felt amazing to accomplish this. Never in a million years did I think I’d want to do what I’m doing, but its a lot of fun, and this was the perfect year to go for it. Will I do it again? Maybe someday…its incredible how much of your life it takes up!

  3. This past weekend, two grandkids and I climbed Baldy in the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge. It was a brutal winter day–80°F, 20 MPH breeze, butterflies flitting about, 200′ vertical ascent from the campground a half mile away… On the way back down, we had to struggle with the extra load of the empty water bottles and other trash we picked up that had been left behind by careless and clueless hikers.

  4. You paint an attractive picture of winter hiking…or, rather, snow hiking. We have plenty of opportunities for winter hiking here in the southern Appalachians – lots of sunny days and plenty of 4,000 footers. We just don’t get as much snow as you do up north. It has its advantages, I guess, but when I read things like this and see your snowy pics, it makes me wish we got more snow…at least once in awhile. It makes for beautiful walks in the woods.

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