Sunday, October 14, 2012

10-13-12 Mt. Moosilauke via Gorge Brook Trail

This couple's clothing to the cool temperatures in the mountains on Saturday morning. The photo was taken just behind the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge in Benton, NH, below Mt. Moosilauke which was my destination. Of course, I was in my new lime green Patagonia shorts. The temperature at the Ravine Lodge at 8 am was 25 degrees (F). On Mt. Washington it was 9 degrees (F) with a windchill of -19 degrees (F). The wind at the Mt.Washington Observatory was around 50 mph and they measured 2.4 inches of new snow. Moosilauke summit conditions would be less severe but still pretty cold and windy with a morning windchill around 0 degrees (F).
The old foot bridge over Gorge Brook at the bottom of the trail. There's a relatively new, sturdy foot bridge that crosses Baker River (first crossing) below the Ravine Lodge and it takes the stress out of crossing the river in high water. I'd been thinking of a completely different adventure on Saturday. I was going to bushwhack up Coolidge Mountain which is at the southern end of the Franconia Ridge just above the town of Lincoln in order to scout a line for my Pemi Traverse. When I saw the snow on the high peaks from the interstate I decided to go for Moosilauke. It was close by and  it won't be long before the gate is closed and the mountain less accessible. And it was a gorgeous mountain day, perfect for getting up high. Moosilauke is just under 5,000 feet at 4,802 feet. Another reason to climb Moosilauke was that I haven't climbed it for several years. The last time was with Liz, my daughter, so hiking it today would be like spending time with her, in a way, even though she's in Tahoe, California.
The first kiss of morning sunlight on the balsams next to the trail. I went up Gorge Brook. It used to be a gutsy trail that went pretty much in a bee-line from the Lodge to the summit. They rerouted it  a few years ago and added a mile of switchbacks to soften the steepness of the ascent.
Baker River comes down out of Jobildunc Ravine on Mt. Moosilauke and Gorge Brook dumps into it just downstream from Ravine Lodge. On special occasions as a kid I got to fly fish Baker River, and nearby Lost River, which also starts high up on Moosilauke, for brook trout (we referred to them as "brookies".) that both rivers were famous for.
Two hikers on Gorge Brook heading for the summit. They're amused by my clothing, or the lack of it.  Often during my hike I was asked if I was crazy to be wearing shorts which, for those who know me know that shorts are my standard hiking garb except above timberline when there's a deep chill and/or windchill below 10 degrees (F).

There had been a light dusting of snow in higher elevations on Friday that turned the lower portions of the trail into a kind of Hansel and Gretel motif and was probably making folks think about Christmas. It was pretty and nice to see. Hopefully we will have real snow this winter.
The portions of the trail that were re-routed several years ago to fix problems with the old Gorge Brook Trail are well cared for. Erosion is minor.  The goal was to make a safe trail for an ever growing population of hikers, a veritable flood, that grows annually. The 4000 Footer Club program, alone, incrementally, year by year, increases hiker numbers. With lighter gear, etc. the 4000 Footer approach is compelling and has added incentives including those who use the 4000 Footers as a means of getting and staying in shape and staying healthy, incentive that are incredibly in vogue right now and a phenomenon we should applaud. By themselves, not specifically because they are in the 4000 foot category, Mts. Moosilauke, Washington, Adams, the Lafayette-Little Haystack loop, and Carrigain are already established, attractive, and accessible destinations for most hikers. The have panache as being some of the more alpine, rugged, highest, etc. My point is only that that higher numbers of hikers means much higher densities of hikers on some hiking trails and those trails will require more intense scrutiny and upkeep as well as philosophical considerations because it all leads to greater expenses.
The forest on the mid-section of the Gorge Brook Trail looks young as if the area was cut over 20-30 years ago.There are some good articles on the logging history of Moosilauke in Appalachia the AMC's excellent journal.

This is added 10-28: Anyone interested in the Forest History of Mount Moosilauke can find an article by that title, written by J. Willcox Brown, in the June (Part I) and December (Part II), 1958, Appalachia. The articles are incredibly well written. Part II starts on pg. 221 of the December issue. Photo copies are available through the AMC Library, 5 Joy Street, Boston, MA 02108, or 617-523-0636.

 A corridor of balsam firs (Abies balsamea) leads to the summit slopes of Mt. Moosilauke that unlike most of the summits in the White Mountains resembles a broad pasture and, seen from a distance, looks nearly flat, just slightly domed shaped. Speculations over the decades by geologists have it that Moosilauke was once as high, or higher than Mt. Blanc, or the highest peaks in the Rocky Mountains, or between 14,000 and (one speculation) 18,000 feet above sea level. The summit's broad, low angled dome is not the basis for this speculation. The Wisconsinan glacial ice sheet is primarily responsible for the present shape of the White Mountains generally in addition to post-glacial weathering and erosion during the past 10,000 to 11,000 years. As to the balsams they are twice the height they were 40 years ago, in the early 1970s, so they are growing at a relatively slow pace for balsams.
At the end of the corridor is this which shows the dome.
This is what you reasonably call a "bank" of balsams. These were organized into this phalanx by a number of factors wind and available water being the predominant ones. I have slides from 1970 of this particular group of balsams and some closer to the summit that I have to process in Photoshop and will add them to the article later. The comparison is interesting.
Looking pretty much due south towards Lake Winnipesauki (or Winnipesaukee. It depends on which side of the lake your were born.) You can see Mt. Gunstock in the distance on the right of the lake and the Ossipee Mountains on the left side.
The summit in sight.
The summit: 4,802 asl. There was a steady, cold wind, around 30 mph, with clouds scudding right over my head.
Looking northeast at the Franconia Ridge with Mt. Lafayette the higher peak to the left. I sat and waited for the clouds to lift to get a better photo of the entire ridge but the clouds were consistently low for the better part of an hour. They were waiting for the sun to heat up the air in the valley. Here the clouds were right over my head.
A telephoto of the north half of the Franconia Ridge with Lafayette and Lincoln plainly visible.
This is a telephoto of the lower, southern end of Franconia Ridge with the iconic Mt. Osseo, or Whaleback, right in the center of the photo and down one ridge. It looks like a porpoise, or whale fin with the animal swimming towards the left.  This is one route I'd planned to bushwhack up today but changed my plans. I'm glad I had the chance to reconnoiter from Moosilauke because the maps aren't as good as looking at it. Mt. Coolidge in low in the center of the photo. It looks like a long haul across Coolidge's west ridge and up to the summit of Mt. Flume, on the left side of the photo (with the slides). From Flume I planned to descend rapidly into a hardwood filled ravine that runs down to Lincoln Brook. It's getting pretty late in the season to consider the traverse at any rate. Unless I did it with a full moon next month and had decent weather for hiking at night I'll probably postpone it until next season. In the photo that's Carrigain on the right and Mt. Washington is a small white patch on the far left in the background.
A wider view towards the east with Mt. Carrigain, again, close to the center in the middle background. Mt. Kearsarge, my old friend, is just to the right of Carrigain in the background, then Osceola, Tripyramid, Tecumseh, and Sandwich Dome. You can just make out the summit of Passaconway next to Osceola on the left.
The ridge to the north towards the Beaver Brook Trail and Kinsman Notch. I could reach up and touch the cloud as it passed overhead!

Looking back at the summit from the north end of the summit plateau so you can see it in profile from the north with the gentle curve of the dome. It's almost flat.
Heading back to the 45 minutes later and the summit is getting populated with the first day hikers.
  A crowd was beginning to form, an indication that there were lots of people on the trail heading up.
The couple I photographed at the Ravine Lodge, plus a bevy of other hikers trying to stay warm in the harsh wind.

It was dog heaven. In all, I saw 11 dogs on or near the summit. Most were golden retrievers.

A couple from Bartlett, NH. who are doing the 4,000 footers. I descended against a staunch tide of upwardly mobile hikers, nearly a continuous line. I lost count. The diversity was wonderful in every way you can make note of it. There were quite a few folks my age, but a lot of college-age hikers, too. There were people from France, England, Germany, Calabria in Italy, Canada, Finland, and New Hampshire. It was a lovely day. Everyone had questions. On the summit I was called on often to name all the mountains in a 360 degree circle starting with Camels Hump in Vermont and ending with Sugarbush just to the left of it. I named the peaks clockwise.

Back near the bottom it a warm, lovely fall day.

The Venerable Ravine Lodge which has been owned and operated by Dartmouth College for years.
The view of Moosilauke from the Ravine Lodge. It's calling out to you.

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