Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Taste of Winter on Mount Moriah - November 10, 2012

Finally, I had a weekend free and the weather forecast was decent. Time to head to the Whites! This weekend I was aiming to get the last 3 peaks needed for a single-year (2012 of course) loop through the New Hampshire 4000-footers. For this day, it was to be Mount Moriah, one of the farthest-North peaks on that list.

Situated North East of Pinkham Notch, Mount Moriah, while not much over 4000 feet, has an open summit, and many ledges on all 3 directions of ascent. But for this trip I was dong the shortest and simplest, an out-and-back up the Carter-Moriah Trail from Bangor Street in Gorham, NH.

There had been snow lately (less than a week ago in fact, we even got snow where I live down in Massachusetts! Long gone down there of course), and temperatures were such that at elevation the snow was still around. In fact, higher summit temperatures for this day were forecast to be only in the low 20s, so it was time to load up the winter gear! In fact, the only thing I did not carry that I normally carry in winter was snowshoes, as accumulations were not sufficient just yet. I did bring microspikes, as this is the time of year they start becoming useful.

The trailhead in Gorham is below 1000 feet in elevation, so Moriah actually has one of the higher total elevation ascents of the 4000-footers, but it is spread out over 4.5 miles, and is not steep aside from some ledges. The trailhead incidentally had no snow at it. I set off right around 8AM, and made quick time of the lower stretches, which I was pleased with since I hadn't hiked a 4000-footer in over a month at this point. Soon enough I hit some snow accumulation on the trail.

Snow starting to show up not far from the trailhead

Interesting tree, note the solid snow cover now too.

Snow-covered trees, always beautiful to hike through

Snow is getting deeper!
Roughly 2 miles in, the trail starts to climb over some ledges, some in the woods, and soon some in the relative open. These were tricky, as at this point there was about 2" of snow on top of the ledges, but at least no real ice underneath them. Unfortunately, the footing was treacherous on these ledges, and it took some careful foot placement (as well as a few re-attempts after sliding back down mid-ascent) to get up some of these ledges. The upper ledges in this section (in the vicinity of a minor bumb called Mount Surprise) have some nice views, mainly to the West and to the Presidential Range.

Clouds hanging out on the summits of the Northern Presidentials

Ridge which the AT takes over into Maine

Crescents, and the Kilkenny Range (snow-capped) behind

Northward from Mount Surprise
As can be seen, the skies were quite clear this day, and while the temperatures were cold and the winds were present (though not terrible, probably never over 20mph), it was nice to hang out for a few minutes on these ledges and look around. After this, the Carter-Moriah Trail ducks back into the trees and climbs steadily over numerous false summits (PUDs) until it finally reaches the summit. In this stretch there were numerous large and small blowdowns, likely from Hurricane Sandy which blew through about 1.5 weeks earlier, luckily not doing much damage in New Hampshire and Vermont (unlike what happened further South, and unlike what Hurricane Irene a year before did to the Whites). One blowdown in particular was troublesome, as it uprooted the trail with it, but a bypass was already somewhat established, and will likely remain in place until at least the spring, since some major equipment will be needed to clean it up.

All the way up the trail the snow depth steadily increased, to 5-6" at the summit area. Also, there are some ledges in the woods near the summit of Moriah that had some patchy ice underneath them. While microspikes would have helped, I made my way carefully up with just bare boots, not wanting to dull out the spikes unless necessary. If there was more exposure, I would have used them, but the distances one would fall here were pretty short.

The summit of Moriah is reached via a short spur path, where it jumps onto some open ledges with great 360 views.

Northern Presidentials now clear of all clouds

Wildcats and Carters

Evans Notch region

Shelburne Moriah - said to be a great summit, one I intend to visit someday

You can't really tell, but behind these trees is the snow-capped Kilkenny Range, including Mount Waumbek, Cabot, The Bulge, and The Horn.

Snow-capped Old Speck, across the border into Maine

Survey marker on the summit of Moriah

I huffed and puffed a lot getting up, but I still managed a good 3.5 hour ascent, under the book time of almost 4 hours. It was a bit windy up top, but I hung for a little while, snacking and enjoying the views. Around noon I started to head down. To this point I had seen no one on the trail. I had made first tracks up the trail in the snow, and there was no sign of tracks coming up the other end of the Carter-Moriah Trail. On the way down, this changed. I ran into roughly 18 total people during my descent, most solo or pairs, though a group of 4 with 2 dogs as well. Most everyone was on day hikes, though that one group of 4, and a separate solo hiker were heading to Imp Shelter for the night.

The descent was mostly easier, as is often the case with decent snow on the ground, and all the tricky ledges from before I merely slid down carefully (much fun!) away from the paths people were using to get up them. At roughly 2:30 I reached my car, 6.5 hours after starting. Accounting for a 20 minute stop at the summit, and taking some time on the way down to remove/clean up some blowdowns to make travel on the trail easier, I was happy with the time in my first major hike in a month (aside from Monadnock several weeks before, which was done in a short fashion).

Just 2 left for a single-year finish!

No GPS overlays on this one, it was conveniently left at big deal.

Peaks: Mount Surprise (2194'), Mount Moriah (4049', NH4K).
Mileage: 9 miles
Elevation Gain: 3550 feet
Book Time: 6hr 15min

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