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Winter’s End: Mount Moosilauke and the Wildcats

Mount Moosilauke
Mount Moosilauke

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!

Mt Washington and the Ravines
Mt Washington and the Ravines

The Wildcats

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.

Snowshoeing up the Polecat Trail
Snowshoeing up the Polecat Trail

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.

Season Wrap-Up

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.

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  1. Dang, Philip. You had a heck of a winter for hitting the mountains. It was pretty much bust for me, with the flu and subsequent sinus infection knocking me out of commission for most of last month and part of this month, so I’ve been enjoying your reports even more than usual. Maybe I’ll see you out there one of these days…

    • It seemed like a harder winter than most with all of the trip cancellations. Sorry to hear you haven’t been well. You must be looking forward to heading south to meet Joe and Wired.

      • So excited I can barely contain myself! I’ll try to make up for the missed month with some late winter hikes this month, though. The sinus infection is finally gone, and there is some fine weather in the forecast…

        • I’ve posted two AMC bushwhacks for end of April on Clough and Wolfcub if you want to “take a walk on the wild side”. Whitney LaRuffa is also due for a visit and hike in May if you want to join us.

  2. Your story telling through these trip reports has really improved over the years.

    I’m not ready to say winter is over yet. This weekend I’m doing an overnight on the Long Trail and packing my full winter kit, including Snowshoes and micros.

    Following that I hope to get in 2 or 3 day hikes in the Whites to tune up for backpacking season.

    • Yeah – I learned not to bury the lead this winter. Start out with an action packed first sentence and break up the action sequence. Reads much better. :-)

    • Peakbagging (calendar) winter is technically over on March 22nd, but I am afraid we will not see bare ground until late April after this last major snowfall. I have wicked cabin fever and want to do a lowland backpack from Hannover to Glencliff on the AT, but I’m afraid that will be snowcovered for a few more weeks at best.

  3. I finished the Dallas county 800 footer this past weekend while walking the dog. I’ll knock off the Denton county winter 800 footer tomorrow. I may need to wear a flannel shirt.

  4. What a great story – felt like I was there. And beautiful photos.

  5. Hi Philip,
    Pretty sure I passed you on the Glencliff trail as you were heading down and we were heading up. The conditions on the summit were pretty intense, and I was glad for those enormous cairns and an easy trail to follow. All in all it was an amazing day to be on the mountain. Thanks for the winter hiking inspiration throughout the season!

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