December 15, 2012.
Time for a return to the Moose, Moosilauke, via a long and roundabout way. Knowing this was going to be a lot of miles for the day and length of day getting shorter then I would have on be on trail by 7. Leaving the house around 5:30 AM I do make it by the time I had set for myself and away I go on a quiet and crisp cool morning.
The trail is bare looking more like a late fall trail than a December trail. Leaves are still exposed on the ground and there are patches of "needle ice", one of mother natures cooler creations in my opinion, as I am walking.
Approaching the summit of Hurricane Mt and there is another cool feature of ice that has created it's own design and then the first signs of ice on the trail.
Up and over Hurricane, what's in a name, which appears more like a hump in comparison to Moosilauke. Down the trail until it merges with the Carriage Road and then diverts from it after a short distance heading towards the Ravine Lodge. Just before the lodge I see the first hiker of the day and then reach the junction with the Asquam Ridge Trail. A portion of this trail that follows the west side of Baker River is closed due to Irene, another casualty and reminder of the way she changed some trails. Over the bridge and the rerouted trail heads up the east side of the river. Here the conditions begin to change with a thin layer of crusty frozen snow ice. A left at the fork with Al Merrill Loop and I get the first look of Moosilauke for the day.
Back across the Baker River via a trail bridge to rejoin the original Asquam Ridge Trail and the it begins to get a little slicker as the elevation increases. Not to mention a few blowdowns here and there.
Part way up the trail as it parallels the Baker River I come upon the most curious of things on the trail, it looks like a hitching post for horses. What a strange place for this and why? Coming up to it and passing it I see now what it is supposed to be, it is DOC's (Dartmouth Outing Club) way of diverting hikers down another path. Makes sense now because the section of trail I just came up seemed quite rough with a lot of exposed rocks and boulders, another washout area of Irene. Funny thing is there wasn't one of these down lower where it should have diverted me to the left.
Making the left turn where the trail re-meets with Al Merrill Loop and the climb up continues first approaching Waternomee, which I keep telling myself if I see a path heading towards it I might try to go there. However as I approach the summit or where I think it should be I never see anything off to my right that resembles a path and continue on to Jim. The trail just passes over the top of Jim and there is nothing that marks its summit. Coming down I get a shot of Mt Blue, a peak that I have been by twice before, and it looks intimidating from this vantage point. Quickly down the trail and the next junction is with Beaver Brook Trail. Here the conditions really change to a mostly ice, thick and slippery, covering the trail. I tough it out for a while before breaking down to put on the microspikes.
This section of the trail skirts around the base of Mt Blue and I constantly remind myself that there is a way up this un-trailed peak and both times I have been up this trail I have in the back of my mind looked for evidence of it but never very seriously. I have read reports of people bushwhacking to it and when the time feels right I might also try to whack up to it. This time I am more vigilant about looking for it and where I think it might be I never see any great evidence, I have read reports but nothing definitive as to where it is. I also remind myself that the day is going to be tight as it is with the mileage and the time and finally making it to South Peak for the first time in three trips that it's probably a good thing I do not try it. So I resign myself to the fact that it will have to wait for another day and eventually stop looking for it as I pass the usual landmarks for views on this trail. Approaching a level area I catch something that I have never seen before as this is my fifth time passing through this area, twice up and twice coming down and now this time. I'll be damned it looks like a path!
I can't believe I never saw this before, maybe it's the snow that makes it stand out, but there it is I hope, the path to Mt Blue. So I turn right onto it and follow it like a trail of Hansel and Gretel's bread crumbs. Losing it at one point, stopping and looking around for evidence of it again, pushing through a slight opening in some brush and it continues on. Turning left then right and repeating this procedure until I see it no more. I stop and look around again turning 360° until wait, what's that, holy crap a jar!
For me it's like finding the Holy Grail, I know my brother has been here before me, and I open the jar leafing through it's pages searching for his entry, hoping the memo book has not been replaced since he has been here, and then towards the beginning not too many pages in I see the note left behind by him. Over three years ago he was here and there is proof, quite a cool feeling as I leave my own entry and replace everything as I found it. Back down the herd path and I have just completed my first "bushwhack" of a non-trailed peak and seen my first jar/canister on trailless peaks. Bushwhack in quotations because it was a very obvious path to the summit, not a true bushwhack.
On with the mission at hand and just before breaking out of the cover of trees I stop and remove my microspikes. This section of trail is one of the most breathtaking I have been on. All three times now I have been blessed with great view days while others have been here and been socked in. As I break out of the trees the views are spectacular all the way to Washington.
The winds are not as strong today as they have been in the past and the trek up to the summit in the exposed elements is easy. With the summit sign in view it takes but a few minutes to reach a spot next to the old carriage house foundation and sit down for an afternoon break.
This is an odd day as there are only three people on the summit on a beautiful day and only 1:30 in the afternoon. Usually it is a crowd and finding a sheltered seat next to the foundations is difficult. But I'll take this semi-solitude and enjoy the views and the peacefulness. Less than fifteen minutes go by and it is time to head down and over to South Peak which I can see from my vantage point. The trail is also very evident as to the direction it goes to the summit.
About thirty minutes after leaving Moosilauke and I am on South Peak looking back at the "Moose".
Time to start the descent down to the parking area. A left turn where the spur trail meets Glencliff Trail and down the Appalachian Trail I go. This side of the mountain is reminiscent of this morning with little ice up top and getting less and less as I go down in elevation. Just as the trail breaks out into the field at the bottom I get a great shot of the sun setting over the horizon.
Ten minutes later and two hours from leaving South Peak I am back at the car and another day of hiking is done. There will be at least three more trips to Moosilauke over the course of my red-lining and I hope each one is as memorable and loaded with views like the three before.
Final numbers: 15.4 miles, 9 hours and 20 minutes.
Redline Miles: 12.3, Total to Date: 267.8