June 23, 2012

Mount Moosilauke

All week long, Katy and I had been planning to take today to continue our assault on the Presidential peaks with a loop hike over Madison and Adams, two of the five highest peaks of the NH 4000 footers. For this hike, my brother Brian and my sister Mo were interested in coming along as well, so we coordinated to meet at a Park-And-Ride lot in Nashua at 6:00AM this morning and continue up in one car. Unfortunately, Mo wasn't feeling well and she decided to bow out at the last minute, but Brian was still in and we were still in, so the plan was on. We woke up at 4:45AM and began to organize our gear. We had been tracking the forecast all week and while it looked like there might be a chance of a shower or storm in the afternoon, it didn't look like a washout of any sort. I glanced at weather.com this morning and the forecast was similar, but I also decided to peak at the "Higher Summits Forecast" from the Mount Washington Observatory. That forecast was slightly more alarming.

The Higher Summits Forecast was detailed and specific and called for mostly cloudy skies in the morning, with "a high potential for severe activity by the afternoon" including "torrential downpours, gusty winds, strong hail, and frequent lightning." Hmmm. I called Brian and he had just left for the Park-And-Ride. We still wanted to hike and the weather looked fine at the time, so we decided since we were packed and ready to go anyways we would continue with the plan and meet him as scheduled, and think of possible alternative options on the way. Katy and I talked it over, and decided that the best alternative of our remaining hikes would be to go up Mount Moosilauke. We had been planning on saving that mountain for last, but given the situation, it was our best choice. It was a closer drive so we could be on the mountain earlier, it was not a very high mileage hike, and we would limit our above treeline exposure to any potentially severe weather. We arrived at the Park-And-Ride and told Brian our plan, and he was on board so we headed off.

As we approached the Kancamagus Highway, the skies began to clear, and we saw fair weather clouds and blue skies all around. I began to doubt if aborting the Madison and Adams hike was necessary and was tempted to go for it anyways. We were still 50 miles away from the Presidentials though, and the conditions could not only be different there, but change in the time it takes to get there. Ultimately, we decided to trust the forecast and got off 93 at the Kancamagus Highway and made our way over to the trailhead for Mount Moosilauke. Mount Moosilauke is a unique mountain. Not only does it sit all on its own in the southwest corner of the White Mountains, but it is also near Dartmouth College and the trail network is maintained by the Dartmouth Outing Club. Right away you could get the college-y feel with the snarky parking and trail signs and the mazy trail network near the Ravine Lodge at the base of the peak. We finally found the beginning of the Gorge Brook Trail and began our ascent.

The Gorge Brook Trail was wide, well maintained, and had consistently steady grades all the way to the summit. The peak is lofty, just over 4800 feet with a large open area above treeline near the top. We made it to the top at around 10:00AM and were treated with mostly clear skies with some wispy clouds above. We could see the Presidentials in the distance under cloudier and hazier conditions, but still relatively in the clear! "Should we have gone there instead?" "We wouldn't have reached the summits until a couple hours from now so it's hard to say." "True." In any case, we enjoyed the warm, calm, and clear conditions on the Moosilauke summit for a while, and then continued down the backside to make it a 9.5 mile loop hike over Mount Jim as well (not an official 4000 footer). Again, the trail was well maintained and easy to navigate, and we reached the bottom by about 1:30PM. It really was a simple, pleasant, and enjoyable hike all around with good conditions and great views. We still wondered if we missed out on a top day in the Presidentials.

When we stopped back in Lincoln for pizza we got our answer. While we were still enjoying clear, blue skies above, we could see darker conditions in the distance. I checked my phone for the current weather conditions on Mount Washington, and found that there were severe weather alerts up with flash flooding warnings. A large line of thunderstorms had appeared on radar seemingly out of nowhere, and was hammering the area. In fact, it seemed that we had gotten down off of Moosilauke just in time, as storms had appeared in that area as well, just after we left. Overall, it appears that on this day, we found the perfect window of time, in the perfect location, to enjoy clear, calm, warm, and dry conditions for the entirety of the hike. While we missed out on Madison and Adams this week, they'll be there next time, hopefully under less threatening skies. That's now 37 out of 48 done!

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