Sunday, March 3, 2013

#44 - Moriah - February 24, 2013

For me, this was a contemplative hike. It was a solo hike, with it lightly snowing throughout, in snowy woods, and I didn't see a single person the entire trip, or even a sign of anyone having been through since the day before. The combination of solitude, no views, and beautiful, snowy woods left me with a lot of time to ponder what I was nearing the completion of: the New Hampshire 4000-Footers in winter. After this trip to Moriah, I would be 4 peaks away from completion, all of which are planned to be hiked in one long day hike some time in March (Bonds&Zealand North-to-South traverse). I'll save the thoughts that struck me on this hike for the trip report for the finishing hike, however.

For this hike, I was going to take a new route to Moriah. I would take the Stoney Brook Trail up to the Carter-Moriah Trail a little over a mile South of Moriah, take that trail to the summit, and return the same way. Stoney Brook is a popular approach in winter (though Carter-Moriah from the North is too), and I had seen a few cars in the lot on my way South the day before. Thus I knew it had been broken out since the last storm, though there was 3" of new snow on the ground in Pinkham Notch in the morning of this hike. But just up the notch where the trailhead is, there was less than 1" of new snow.

Crossing the bridge just past the trailhead with snowshoes in hand, I was surprised to find not only the mere 1/2-1" of new snow, but there was also a very hard-packed trail underneath. Shrugging to myself, I put the snowshoes on the pack for the moment, figuring I'd be putting them on soon enough anyway.

The early part of Stoney Brook Trail has a couple of footbridges over stream crossings, and an overall gentle grade on old road grades to the main unbridged crossing at 1 mile in. This one had a solid snow bridge across it. Just past this, another road comes in from the right, and the trail hooks a left onto this road and follows it for a while longer (until it basically ceases to look like a road). Here I put on the snowshoes as there was now over 2" of new snow, and I expected it to get a little deeper yet.

Old woods road down low on Stoney Brook Trail
I was not disappointed. It is 3.5 miles from the trailhead to the junction with the Carter-Moriah Trail on the ridge, and in the last 1.5 miles or so, the grade picks up significantly. And in this stretch, the broken trail all but disappeared due to drifted snow. In fact, I essentially had to re-break out the trail through upwards of 12" of powder in this stretch. My first real trail-breaking experience this year, and the first where I was solo. Luckily, the trail corridor is very easy to follow on this trail, and while slow, I made it up to the junction on the ridge without any trouble. It was actually kind of fun, but I was definitely happy to see a broken trail with only a couple fresh inches on it heading to Moriah!

Fresh tracks in a couple inches of snow

Not much left to the snowshoe track here!

Breaking trail in several inches of snow

Beautiful woods in here though, have to love that snow on the trees

Sign at the Stoney Brook/Carter-Moriah Trail junction

Looks like some traffic to/from the South on Carter-Moriah Trail yesterday
From the junction, it is a fairly moderate overall climb to the summit of Moriah, crossing over several open ledges that in clear weather have terrific views into the valley (I've been on this stretch before in 2003 on a backpacking trip). But there was nothing to see today, I guess I'll have to come back again! The climb has a few short steep stretches, mainly to get up on some of the ledges, but overall it isn't bad, and with the trail not being drifted in in too many places, I made my way to the steep rock ledge just below the summit in good order. The only confusing spot was at one of the flat open ledges shortly before the summit where and extra carin to mark a turn would have been useful (I initially went straight ahead for several yards until I figured it out).

A large trail-side boulder coated in a thin coating of snow

Wintry wonderland on the Carter-Moriah Trail

Not much visibility on these ledges

Trail junction just below the summit of Moriah - the Appalachian Trail bypasses the summit via the Kenduskeag Trail
The steep final rock climb to the summit had quite a bit of snow on it, and the snowshoes gripped just fine going up it. Just a few yards past this, the short spur to the mostly-open summit of Moriah led to views of, well, a cloud, as expected.

View from Moriah...
In clear weather, you have great views from Moriah, including the Northern Presidentials (picture from Nov. 10, 2012).
With a little bit of a breeze and no views, I retreated to the trees by the summit spur for a break before heading down. I figured there was a good chance I'd see some people coming up from the Northern end of the Carter-Moriah Trail while I was here, but no one ever did, and I never saw anyone during my descent either, interestingly.

The descent, as is often the case in winter, was fast, even in the drifted section of Stoney Brook Trail. A few spots on the ridge had drifted back in again since I headed up earlier, but only a minor amount. I did my best throughout my descent to break out the other half of the trail (the spaces between footprints) for those coming later, but with a couple more inches of snow likely falling in the late afternoon and evening, who knows how much re-breaking was needed come Monday morning. With the lightly falling snow and soft trailbed, it was definitely a nice descent, and in what seemed like no time at all I was back at my car with only one hike left to finish the Winter 4000-Footers!

Rimed + Snowed-on trees near the Moriah summit spur

Lots of snow up near the summit here
Peaks: Moriah (4049', NH4K)
Trails: Stoney Brook Trail, Carter-Moriah Trail
Mileage: 10 miles
Elevation Gain: 3400 feet
Book Time: 6hr 40min

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