Date Traveled, July 2009
The White Mountains 4000 footers is a sort of exclusive club. Becoming a member comes with an award ceremony, dinner and lifelong bragging rights but you will need to bag a few peaks before you qualify, 48 to be exact. You probably guessed correctly, to qualify one needs to have hiked up all 48 4000 footers in the White Mountains in their lifetime and who wouldn't want to do that ;-)? Well I plan to someday and my start on this journey was Mount Moosilauke.
Moosilauke stands 4802 feet tall, the tenth tallest in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It was my first serious sustained hike with any peak this tall, my first hike in beautiful New Hampshire, my first hike going above the treeline and my first 4000 footer...lot of firsts for me and quite an initiation by fire personally. Even though I had been hiking hard in the Hudson highlands around New York, there were moments up Moosilauke where I found it really hard. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the hike and the summit especially was beautiful. If you like hard hiking and mountains, the hike up Mount Moosilauke is something you will certainly enjoy and also have a good chance of remembering it as one your more memorable ones. It also turned out to be a good training run for our hike the next day, the biggest prize in the Whites, Mount Washington.
At the trailhead
Streams like this are typical at the base
Nearing the summit
We started the hike after driving for about 3 hours from near Boston where my friend and guide for the weekend stays. It had been raining the previous evening and he recommended Mount Moosilauke as a good option in case the weather turned bad and we needed to scramble out without too many steep rocks on the trail. The trail we picked was the Gorge Brook trail and we looped back down the carriage road and snapper trails. The weather at the start of the hike was hot and muggy given the recent rains. We were also under a thick canopy which protected against wind and the trail was quite dark. However, there were breaks here and there and interesting streams to cross. Shortly into the hike, the trail starts to slope upwards pretty steeply. This was as I mentioned my first experience hiking up with such a sustained elevation gain and there were parts of the trail which was quite hard for me but my hard weekend practice in the hills of the Hudson highlands were not without benefits as I was able to complete the worst stretches of the elevation gain in decent time. By the time we had climbed high enough to reach the Alpine zone we were in thick fog. A complete White Mountains white out with maybe a dozen feet of visibility. My friend was apologetic, saying that we were missing out on some great views but I did not mind. I have always loved misty foggy weather and found those conditions to be quite beautiful and mystical especially out in nature. Approaching the summit of Moosilauke was no different for me and I was already feeling the high of having gained 3000 or so feet of elevation, I loved walking through those mists.
Moosilauke has supposedly got its name from two words in a native American language, "Musi" and "Auke" meaning "bald place". As we got above the treeline of the mountain, I could sort of see why it was named so. There was an open expanse of rock and a vegetation of grass and moss and lichen, typical above the treeline. The steep climbs were done and the trail was now very gentle, almost flat. Through the fog we could see a gentle rise leading to a larger slightly higher outcrop of rocks which we guessed correctly was the summit. It was maybe a couple of hundred feet away and there were cairns every few feet marking the trail to it, which was good because at this point it was hard to distinguish the trail from the rest of the landscape. As we made our way through the mountain's gentle baldpate, we got lucky, the fog actually started to clear! Not so much that we could see any of the other ranges of the Whites that are supposed to be visible from atop Moosilauke but enough to see the clear expanse around the summit and a little bit beyond. For just a few moments the mists had parted to give us a nice view while we were relaxing at the summit but that was it, a few moments and we could see the mists coming back at us and very soon we were enveloped in it again. No disappointment at all and I personally was happy with state of things as they were.
The trail to the summit
The expanse around the summit
The obligatory pose at the summit
At the summit
We stayed at the summit for a bit with a bunch of other hikers, there were not many as Moosilauke is a little ways off the really popular trails like those in the Presidentials. The signpost marking the summit seems to double as a clothesline as well but we did not take advantage of it that day to dry our socks or something, perhaps next time :-). After a while we followed the cairns till we left Moosilauke's bald head and started to go back downhill. The fog cleared after we descended a bit and we got our first good views of the surroundings from the heights but we were ready to end the day and sped downwards back to the trail head.
Cairns marking the trail
The view as the mists started to clear
And so I bagged my first White Mountains 4K. Still plenty left to go and will focus on that first before I even start of think of the truly elite members of the 4000 footer club, the inner circle and toughest of the tough of that group, the 4K winter hikers. Yes there is a special award for those who have completed all the 48 peaks in winter. But first things first...one can only take this journey one peak at a time.