Ever since I learned about the NH48, Mt. Moosilauke became one of the 48 I was excited to hike. So many people mention it as a favorite. Much of the summit is above treeline and has amazing views. It can also be shrouded in cloud cover, have brutal winds, and be difficult to find your way in snowy conditions. It’s the 10th highest of the NH48, at 4,802 feet.
(You can skip the story if you want, and just scroll down to some amazing photos, but it was sort of a funny/weird day, so hey maybe skim it).
When a group I’m in said they were hiking Moosilauke, I was both excited and terrified. Excited, if it was going to be a “bluebird” day with amazing views and not too much wind. Terrified of the distance, elevation gain, and potential for terrible weather.
The forecast was for a cold-ish morning (8-11F depending on which forecast you read), increasing in temperature to 29F, but also increasing cloud cover. The forecast was for 30-40 MPH winds. We planned to meet early at the trailhead in order to get the best chance at good weather. This also alleviated some of fears about being too slow and not getting to the trailhead before dark. We got started around 8AM.
This hike had everything: the good, the bad, the ugly.
First, the ugly (also hilarious, also comic relief).
Ugly #1. I had inexpensive snowshoes, meant for snowshoeing on flat ground. So I bit the bullet and bought expensive snowshoes meant for hiking up inclines. They were really great for hiking, except for ONE THING. The bindings. They kept coming undone. The straps would just unhook while I was hiking. At one point, I stepped forward and the shoe stayed on the trail. I stepped right out of the snowshoe.
Ugly #2. My trekking poles are just the poles that came with my old inexpensive snowshoes. Once I started hiking, I borrowed the poles and used them ever since. I told myself I could buy new poles once these break. Well, guess what? They broke. Each pole is three collapsible segments using “twist and lock”. Well the lock part decided not to lock. So the middle section kept collapsing into the top section. I had a repeat of the snowshoe incident, but with my poles, as I reached forward and the bottom section just slid out and laid on the trail, while I moved forward. I extended the bottom section as far as possible and used some duct tape to get it to stay. While it didn’t fall out, it was several inches shorter than the other pole, which…isn’t optimal.
Ugly #3. For unknown reasons, my butt and thighs get cold when I hike (everything else gets hot and I sweat even when it’s 8 degrees out). I wear lined leggings, which are perfect, except for my butt. You can buy down skirts for $100 and up. OR if you’re crafty, you can make your own skirt out of a clearance jacket you found at Marshalls and wear that over the leggings. Which I did. HOWEVER, it was too big and I didn’t put any sort of elastic on it, so it kept sliding down around my ankles. Usually as we were chatting with people coming down the trail.
Now the bad. I am out of shape. Woefully out of shape. So I had to stop a lot. Like A LOT. I had many moments where I wondered if I would make it. And even if I made it to the summit, would I have enough energy to get back down. Was I making a terrible mistake and putting myself and others hiking with me at risk? It was so bad that when we got to “the junction” (where several trails come together near the summit, which also marks the end of the “really hard parts”), I sobbed. Just openly sobbed. And took quite a few moments to get myself under control.
Now, to be fair, this hike was 7.9 miles with 3,220 feet ascended. We essentially climbed 2 1/2 Empire State Buildings over an 8-mile stretch. The entire hike took us 9 hours. NINE HOURS. In thinking about it, this may be the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done. Sure, I ran a marathon, but that wasn’t anywhere near 9 hours. And sure didn’t climb 2 1/2 Empire State Buildings.
As I often wonder on the ascent, WHY DO I DO THIS?
For the good. And today’s good, was so. freaking. good.
First and foremost, the views. As you leave “the junction”, you get above treeline, you’re suddenly in this wide open area, 3,000 feet above everything else. Because this was winter, snow and ice covered everything. Because of the winds near the summit, the ice forms sideways. Some places were nearly bare rock because the snow gets blown off. Since there are no trees, the trail is marked with large cairns. However, in the snow and ice, they look almost exactly like the low-growing alpine scrub that grows at the summit. It is otherworldly. Then, you approach the summit. My friends yelled “wait til you see the view of Mount Washington”. I took the last step up to the top. “HOLY F#CK”. Truly, truly amazing views that make all the pain and tears worth while.
But there was also bonus good! BUTT SLEDDING. Since the trail is covered in snow, and snowshoes tend to tramp down a trough (aka there are sort of sides, so you don’t just slide off into the woods). You can SLED. On your BUTT. And you don’t have to hike the entire way down, you can just slide. Like a 5-year-old at the park. It was SO much fun, and frankly, just a relief to sit down. But also less hiking. And FUN. Did I mention fun?