Mt. Moosilauke to Zealand Trail Junction
A sea of mountains rise and fall in all directions. To the south, I can look back upon the curves of Vermont, but it’s the mountains to the northeast, the snow- speckled peaks of the Presidential Range, that have captured my attention. I breath deep, because in all honesty, I’m both excited and intimidated.
I had just climbed to the summit of Mt. Moosilauke, elevation 4,802, which entailed a long, steep ascent, the last half mile growing ever-steeper, and coated in thick ice. Donning climbing crampons, I made steady, confident steps foward.
Like I mentioned, Apple Pie, an ol’ friend I met on the PCT in 2007, had met me at the base of Mount Ice Cube. She spoiled me rotten with calories, like apple turnovers, jelly donuts, pizza, mimosas and fresh fruit. She also brought me a pair of climbing crampons that would inevitably save my ass, and she offered to spend a couple nights meeting me at the day’s end, at which point we’d car-camp and eat even more calories. This enabled me to slackpack, which enabled me to enjoy the terrain that much more.
So I beheld with my eyes, a vast vista of unlimited beauty. There, ahead of me, sat a dozen summits, and a dozen hidden notches. I looked past the sign board of Mt. Moosilauke, where rime ice stuck to its wooden boards, and mentally prepared myself for whatever was to come. Take it slow if you need, I told myself.
As I began the descent, my nerves vanished after I met a man who had miraculously hiked to the summit barefoot. In jeans, a light flannel, and a small day bag, he had somehow made it up the steep, icy mile long ascent. I was so baffled, that I began to laugh and actually asked the man if he was real. I spend alot of time by myself, and I feared I might have been hallucinating. But fear not, I snapped a few photos of him, and later of his footprint. Unreal. The people of New Hampshire, I’m coming to realize, are an interesting bunch of brave, burly souls.
You see, the northern side of Mt. Moosilauke along Beaver Brook, is one of the steepest, burliest climbs along the Appalachian Trail, and particularly challenging in the rain, but OH MY GOODNESS, it’s exponentially challenging when it’s entirely coated in ice. It’s like descending a frozen waterfall, where thick, bulbous mounds of ice obscure any sign of the steps and rebar that trail maintainers have drilled into the surface. And although I had a blast, as I channeled my inner cat, or inner monkey, or inner spider while climbing down, the experience for most would be described as absolutely horrifying. Locals would later tell me that this would be one of the worst trails at this time of the year. April is apparently ice season in the Whites.
Inching my way down, I followed the falls of Beaver Brook, keeping three points always connected. I thought of my climbing friends as I reached, with utmost precision, for a root, or a tiny piece of bare rock. I walked like a runway model, I told myself, with my crampons spiked in, like bizarre looking high heels.
! I’d tell myself, as gravity yearned to pull me downward. Stand up straight, strut like you mean it, grad hold of that root, and phew! I made it. Apple Pie was at the base of the falls, and I knew the ascent was over. It was now time to relax, drink a beer and consume endless amounts of calories.
That night Apple Pie’s husband, Greenleaf, joined us for dinner in North Woodstock. He’d accompany me the next day 17 miles up and over the Kinsman Mountains, where more maddening ice waited. Greenleaf is a charger, passionate for miles, and a local to the area. We looked over the map, and I trusted his advice and encouragement for potential blue-blaze routes for the days to come.
By morning, we climbed from 1,870 feet to 4,358 feet. The crampons dug in deep, and I made slow, but confident progress to the summit, where another sweeping vista blew my mind. I was reeling in the Presidential Range still, and could now see the potential of a blue-blaze route that Greenleaf suggested.
The route would eliminate a horseshoe bend of the Appalachian Trail, and an tiresome dance on the ice no doubt, and would descend and ascend in virtually a straight line, reconnecting with the Appalachian Trail by climbing the Old Bridle Trail past Greenleaf Hut to Mount Lafayette. The hut, this early in the season, would be closed like so many others. I’ll point out here that the ice is below treeline, fortunately, and unfortunately. The trail above treeline has had enough time to bake in the sun, therefore making the experience much more enjoyable. Well, only because the weather was amazing!
I chose to blue-blaze and felt my mood soar. Shaving miles makes smiles, I said. Greenleaf laughed, as he carries two stuffed monkeys, their names Smiles and Miles. And we continued to laugh as we descended a mile of ice, where the trail seemed to only get more gruesome by the minute. It looked like frozen lava, a flow so unseemly in nature. Greenleaf was like his monkeys, swinging from trees, while I kept my mantra handy, “Like a model, posture! Like a model, posture!” I thought of all my Shasta friends. You’d be so proud how confident I was.
We then dropped to Lonesome lake Hut, joking that you’d need a flame thrower, dynamite or even a Creature Craft to get up and down that mountain. With the ice behind us, we’d then witness a rather amazing phenomenon in which fragments of ice fluttered across the frozen surface. It brought a whole new definition to the saying “flying fish”.
At Franconia Notch, we headed into another town for dinner. More calories! Greenleaf pulled out the map again, suggesting two more alternate routes. I borrowed the map, eager for the eye candy, and embraced the likelihood of shaving a few more miles off my days.
The next day, I headed back to the mountains solo. Just a girl trying to find her way north along the Appalachian Trail in winter.