We were blessed with Goldilocks weather: not too hot, not too cold; not too sunny, not too cloudy. I was supremely grateful. The last three hikes I’ve co-led were like climbing through hot soup. My clothes were soaked within the first half hour.
Not only the weather made the day special. My friend Nancy flew in from CA to join me. Moosilauke was the first hike we ever did together, back in 2002. Unfortunately, she got bumped from her original flight and neither of us slept the night before the hike until she walked through my door at 2:00 a.m. But who needs sleep when you’ve got good company?
Which we had in spades. We had a group of 13 fine souls signed up. But when it came time to head out, we were missing Randy. I was surprised because Randy had hikedwith me the weekend before and I knew he was excited to do his first 4000 Footer. We waited a while, but then had to press on.
Gorge Brook Trail Up
Very soon we crossed a bridge.
The trail had delightful footing, lots of pine needles, much like trails in the west. The brook gurgled chattily by our side, Gorge Brook, of course, the namesake for our eponymous trail, and we enjoyed sweet glimpses of coursing water and rock through the trees.
Leslie, our fearless leader, had us hike for half an hour, then take a five-minute break for water, snack or other necessities, a schedule calculated to give us a generous 45 minutes or so for lunch and exploring at the top and still keep us to book time overall.
We marched on as the trail steepened, getting to know one another.
You could say that Moosilauke is a hike connected by lodges. At the base of many of the trails stands Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, a wooden ski lodge constructed in the 1930s from nearby spruce, full of character, now owned by Dartmouth College. Ravine Lodge serves breakfast and dinners to guests, much like the AMC huts in the Whites, staffed, in this case by Dartmouth students and alums. Overnight rates are unbelievably reasonable and the lodge is open to the public.
Best of all, you can start and end the hike using indoor plumbing!
We continued on through the woods, with surprisingly few bugs. I switched with Leslie and took the sweep position. We kept to a moderate pace, working up a light sweat, just enough to enjoy the break when it came.
Four thousand footers tend to be all up, then all down. You spend the morning going steadily, sometimes steeply, up hill; eat lunch; then spend the afternoon coming steadily, sometimes steeply, down. Occasionally, there’s a bit of level trail, rare enough to be noticed. Speaking for myself, I rejoice to see dirt on the trail as opposed to rock and root. Dirt feels like sofa cushions for the feet.
As we finished up our second break, Leslie and I did the usual head count. “All here,” I said.
“No,” she said. “We’re supposed to be 13.” Kristen reminded her we had to leave somebody behind and we were just about to start off again, when I recognized a guy speeding up the trail towards us wearing a cowboy hat. I swear, just at the moment Leslie had counted him back into the group, a breathless, drenched Randy arrived, having caught up to us from over half an hour behind. We all applauded and gave him a few minutes before moving out.
Getting to Views
Not long afterward, as we gained more elevation to arrive at 3850 feet, we came to our first cleared outlook, in this case, to the South. From here we could see Mt. Kineo and Carr Mountain, according to The 4000-Footers of the White Mountains by Steve Smith and Mike Dickerman, inveterate hikers of the Whites. All I know is, it was one fine view and we all stood there, oohing and aahing.
From there we ascended steadily enough that conversation slowed as we needed more breath. We went back into woods for a while, passing a couple more outlooks as we hiked. Being sweep, I could cheat and stop to admire the views even though it wasn’t yet break-time.
It’s little wonder that Moosilauke is such a popular hike.
For a 4000-Footer, it’s pretty easy, not too long, and chock-full of vistas.
At last we came to the last rocky slog to the summit, which promised not only lunch, but 360° views that show huge swathes of NH, parts of Vermont, and, off to the Northeast, wave upon wave of mountains, Franconia Ridge backed by the Presidentials, among others.
By the time I arrived, the group had donned more clothing to avoid getting over-heated bodies chilled by the wind and settled down in two groups to partake of their repast. At various points, someone would wander off to all points of the compass to take in the sweeping panorama.
I had kept a wary eye on Nancy, waiting for her jet lag and lack of sleep to kick in, but she hiked with ease all the way up. In fact, everybody seemed in great shape. All enjoyed the rest, though, and the summit treats we leaders brought: chocolate covered peanuts and dark chocolate almond bark.
A Bit of History
The first trail up to the summit was cleared in 1840 and that year Mrs. Daniel Patch, again according to Smith and Dickerman, became the first woman to climb the mountain. At the top, apparently, she fixed a cup of tea! Imagine carrying a tea cup in your pack, along with tea, fire starter and a tea pot. Did she take lemon or milk, I wonder.
Back to lodges for a moment. The top of Moosilauke used to have one right on the very summit on which we sat. The first hotel, sporting six rooms, opened in 1860 and was built of stone,. They note that it was expanded several times and had several names: Prospect House, Summit House, Tip-Top House. A bridle path was built up to it, for obvious purposes, part of which was expanded into a carriage road that actually charged tolls until 1919.
I could still see the stony remains of part of a room, or foundation, of the last summit retreat. I’d have taken a picture but a group of kids was sheltered from the wind in the vee where two low walls stood and I didn’t want to bother them. You’ll just have to use your imagination to picture it.
Coming Down the Carriage Road
I was reluctant to leave, but time waits for no woman, not for Mrs. Patch and not for me. We looped onto the Carriage Road to descend, which was a lovely trail with open views and some of the best-looking cairns I’ve seen. I suppose their height (over six feet) attests to the amount of snow that falls on the summit and the popularity of Moosilauke as a winter hiking destination.
Beyond the cairns, you can see the bump of South Peak, our next goal, with the trail etched into its wooded sides.
Descending strains the knees and quads already tired from the 3.7 mile climb up, which bothered a few folks, whereas ascending had strained the heart and lungs, which tended to tax other folks. Each to her or his own. I played sweep again and enjoyed some quiet moments enjoying the scenery as I waited for a couple of unscheduled “separation” (pee) breaks.
Hanging Out with Wildflowers
I enjoyed some time with wild flowers. Approaching the summit, on the grassy part called “the balcony,” I’d seen Diapensia, a hardy little white flower
that braves the toughest alpine conditions and was still blooming on the last day of July.
There also was a nice patch of Indian Pipe on the way down, so-called, because of its obvious resemblance to the long clay pipes Native Americans used in ceremonies.
On the way up as well as on the way down, Turtleheads bloomed, a flower I loved in part because it took so long before I saw my first one. I’ve never seen a mountain strewn with so many stands of them. As we hiked down, I noticed Brenda poised over a particular Turtlehead. When I approached, she showed me the colorful beetle lurking on one of the leaves.
All in all, it was a hike to make Goldilocks happy. Not too hard, not too easy. Not too high, nor too long. Not too slow, not too fast. This AMC trip to Mt. Moosilauke was most definitely Just Right.