Icy Day On Mt Moosilauke!

March 26th:

With the milder spring weather rolling in it was time for my dog Conan to join me on the trails. I decided we’d go for Mt Moosilauke today. Mt Moosilauke… or Moose as it’s nicknamed by hikers, skiers and climbers, is the western most 4000 footer. Standing at 4,803′ feet tall it is known as the “other above treeline peak” in the White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire.  It’s bald exposed summit is commonly shrouded in clouds and beaten by whipping wind gusts. The last time I was up here I experienced the highest winds I’d ever personally hiked through with gusts topping 70MPH.

Today’s weather was perfect. Highs in the 30’s with 0% chance of precipitation and extremely low winds… That last part was a big deciding factor. While there are numerous routes to the top, I decided that we’d take the Glenncliff trail up the western side of the mountain. This trail offers a variety of terrain from gradual inclines to steep scrambley sections near the top.

Getting the pack ready. Boots and Crampons tagging along in the backup pile.

Getting the pack ready. Boots and Crampons tagging along in the backup pile.

I re-organized my pack to reflect the changing seasons. Put my hydration bladder back in, left some insulation layers and extra layers behind. It was nice to lighten the load after the colder winter hikes. I brought my insulated boots and crampons with the intention of leaving them in the trunk as backup gear.

Hitting The Trail

Conan viewing the target from a far.

We got to the small parking area on High Street by 7:30 AM and hit the Glenncliff Trail soon after. The trail starts out as a gated forest road that wanders through some grassy fields. It was about 20 degrees out, sunny, and perfect hiking weather. The ground was dry and offered good footing as the trail steepened. We were moving at a solid pace due to Conan’s eagerness to move after a long car ride.

The Glencliff Trail

Grassy approach to the Glencliff trail

At around 2200′ elevation and 1.5 miles in the first signs of ice appeared. The treetops were frosty and ice covered. Patches of snow were sporadic.

Conan is pumped up!

Small sections of trail began to ice up. These weren’t terribly hard to avoid or walk over given the somewhat easy grades.

Frosty pine.

This far in Conan and I were having a good time and continued to move at a brisk pace. The Glencliff trail is a beautiful walk in the woods. We saw a large male deer ahead on the trail that scampered off into the woods.

Ice! Lots of Ice!

Bro... what's this white slippery stuff?

At around 3200 feet in elevation and almost 2.5 miles in the ice became incredibly thick. The entire trail became engulfed in a gigantic ice flow. At most parts, there was no avoiding the ice even in the trees. My microspikes were barely able to gain traction due to the incredibly solid hard nature of the flow. Conan was slipping and sliding all over the place. He was able to maneuver around most of the flows using the forest floor but I did need to boost him up a few of the tougher spots.

pictures are deceiving. This stuff was solid and slippery.

I was stomping my feet as hard as I could in an attempt to penetrate the ice with my microspikes. I wasn’t really expecting these conditions so I left my full crampons and boots in the car… I regretted that decision! I would have to make my trail runners and Microspikes work!

Our pace slowed to a crawl as we continued to climb up the steep sections of the icy trail. Two groups passed us heading downhill here. They had turned around after getting too frustrated with the icy conditions and decided to bail. I was pretty set on getting to the top, so we continued our slow ascent taking on each section one at a time.

extremely thick, steep flow

More ice! Shocker!

After hitting 4000′ in elevation patches of packed snow started to appear. This was a welcome sight and made gaining traction easier. I found myself hopping between the snow patches as my microspikes had a much easier time biting into them. Conan followed suit

Nearing treeline. Snow patches are nice.

Above Treeline

We approached the junction of Carriage Road which is a common spot for hikers to take a break and eat lunch. This is the last “safe place” to gear up for above treeline travel that lies shortly ahead. I expected today to be calmer than usual so I didn’t bother stopping to add layers. We trucked passed the carriage road junction and continued on towards the sun gleaming through the trees.

Sunshine coming from treeline.

Cairns and Conan

Shortly after we emerged from the trees to an incredible view.

Undercast and South peak

The temperature had risen and was now in the high 30’s low 40’s. The rising temperatures from the frigid night before left the ground thawing which lead to an INCREDIBLE under cast.

Conan surveying the land

Clouds were forming in the valleys all around Moosilauke. It was incredibly beautiful. Now completely out of the trees I was expecting to get hit with some sort of wind… I was wrong. There was almost no wind, maybe a 5 mph gust and a slight breeze, unusual for this place!

Alpine Conan

The Summit

The hike up to the summit of Moosilauke is amazing. Ridge walking a easy grade all the way to the top with 360 degree views surrounding us. This place is so beautiful and never gets old.

I couldn’t put my camera away for more than 10 seconds. The undercast made the scenery incredibly dramatic and constantly changing.

Conan approched the summit first and assumed his typical majestic pose next to the summit sign. This would make #25 in Conan’s quest to the 48 4000 footers! Past the halfway mark! This would be my 3rd time on Mt. Moosilauke and #17 for my second round of the 48 4000 footers.

The Summit!

Summit Selfie

Amazing views

We decided to hang out at the summit and eat some lunch before leaving since it was so calm.

Looking East

South Moosilauke Peak

After a snack, we moved on. Back towards treeline taking in the constant incredible views.

As we approached the Junction of carriage road again I noticed we were significantly ahead of “Book Time”. So I decided to head up to the South Peak of Moosilauke. This trail is a short 1/4 mile round trip spur that leads to an equally impressive outlook ontop of the South Peak. The South peak trail was mainly snow due to it’s lower traffic and offered easy traction all the way to the top.

Rime covered cairn

South Moosilauke summit

A small rocky exposed slab on top of the South Peak offers incredible views back towards the main North Peak. Along with equally impressive views of the surrounding area and undercast.

Looking towards North Moosilauke Main Peak from South Peak

We took it in for a moment and obviously took some summit selfies. Then headed back down the spur trail we came from.

Summit Selfie

The undercast never gets old. I love being above the clouds!

Looking west from South Moosilauke. Zoomed in on some peaks in the distance. I think these are Mt. Ellen and it's ridge (left) and Mt. Mansfield (right) in Vermont's Green Mountains.

Back Down The Glencliff

Now back at the trail junction the thought of heading down the much easier Carriage Road trail crossed my mind. This would avoid all of the difficult ice we had dealt with coming up but would also leave us with hitch hiking or hiring a ride back to the car on the other side of the mountain. I decided we’d do the Glencliff trail again but take it as slow as possible to avoid and potentially dangerous falls.

Here we go again

I pulled out my trekking poles and started down the trail. Jabbing them into the ice ahead and stomping my feet inch by inch. It was slow going, usually I move faster going down… not today!

Uhm... what now?

Conan took a spill, slid about 15 feet down an ice luge and bumped a tree pretty hard. Luckily he shook it off and wasn’t hurt. After that I made sure to put myself ahead of him on the steep sections so I could catch him if I needed to.

Eventually the ice thinned and disappeared as we descended. Rocks and dirt filled the trail and our pace picked up for the final push. We passed a large group that was heading up and questioned us about the conditions ahead. I couldn’t help but notice one guy in the group wearing jeans with no traction devices… he was in for a long day!

Thinning out.

Back to spring

We emerged back onto the grassy fields we came in on and arrived back at the car by 11:45 AM.

Summary

In total we covered almost exactly 8 miles and 3600 feet in elevation gain. The entire trip took 4 Hours and 20 Minutes including our casual breaks at both North and South summits. Well below book time. I’m pretty happy with this pace considering the crazy ice conditions! Moosilauke will never get old and is one of my favorite peaks in the whites. I’ll be back again! (hopefully with less ice next time)

GPS track and Elevation plot from the trip.

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