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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Winter Summit of Mount Moosilauke via Beaver Brook - New Hampshire (guest post)

I am almost done posting about Banff.  I have a few posts left including an ice walk through Johnston Canyon and my birthday dog sledding.  While I finish off those post, I have a special winter treat for all you lovely readers.  We are in the middle of March and the snow keeps coming.  So today's post is a guest post, inspiring you all to get out there to those snowy summits.  Today's guest post is someone who is out there tackling real winter hikes in New Hampshire's 4,000 footers.  Let's let Chris take it from here.  

My alarm went off at 3am. If this January morning were a Tuesday, and work was on the other end of getting out of bed and into the car, then the scenario would have been about 5-6 hits of the snooze button. But today was a Saturday, and an unchecked summit on my list of New Hampshire’s 4,000ft peaks was calling my name (eleven down). After a final gear check, reheat of the breakfast I pre-made the night before, and a pot of coffee brewed for the road, I was in the car by 3:45am and off. Four hours of driving later and I was at Beaver Brook Trailhead where I had chosen to start my hike up Mount Moosilauke. There was no overwhelming reason I landed on Moosilauke for that day other than it’s a single peak with no others around I would feel guilty not bagging, it’s not a technical peak to bag in winter, and on this day with wind predicted to be 55mph at elevation, it had less time exposed above treeline than others.

Photo Credit:

There are many trail options for summiting Moosilauke, and many start at the Ravine Lodge trailhead found at the end of the all dirt Ravine Road, 1.3 miles after turning off Rte 118. This may be a preferred option other times of the year, since no parking pass/fee is required here, but during winter a gate is closed preventing use of Ravine Road and requiring parking close to Rte 118. Not only do you have to pay to park there, but you’ve also just added 2.6 miles round-trip to your hike. For this reason, I chose the Beaver Brook trail (which is also the Appalachian Trail) starting at the Beaver Brook trailhead. This is a great trailhead with a VERY large parking lot (well plowed in winter) that has a roomy men’s and women’s latrine, trash cans, and a $5 White Mountain National Forest parking fee. 

This is hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in winter. It can be REALLY dangerous, so make sure to do your homework ahead of time. Some links have been supplied at the end of this to use for trail conditions and weather. I knew it had not snowed significantly for a while, so snowshoes wouldn’t be needed and my MicroSpikes would be enough. However, this day’s winds were supposed to top 50mph with a windchill of 9F, so I packed layers. Slap on your MicroSpikes and get ready…

When you depart the trailhead, the first 0.1 miles is a casual walk through a thinly packed forest. Bridges help you cross the brook as it flow out of Beaver Pond to your north and the waterfalls you’ll find in a moment. Enjoy this tenth of a mile, this incredibly brief warm up… I mean really soak it all in because the next part is going to be rough. You’ll quickly arrive at some gorgeous waterfalls, possibly frozen as I found them, or flowing during any other season. Once you take the obligatory picture of the falls it’s time to downshift… put her in first gear and begin your gradual uphill slog for the 1.8 miles. This first half of the hike will be the worst, it’s trial by fire without much of a chance to get warm. The beauty is you will have the hardest part of your day out of the way first. During this steep first 1.9 miles of the hike, you’ll gain ~2200ft. in elevation. In contrast, during the last 1.9 miles you’ll only gain ~800ft. The first mile of trail mirrors Beaver Brook on your right the whole time, with other sets of waterfalls to stop at and take more pictures (really to catch your breath, but don’t tell everyone). Be careful as you climb, in some areas there is very little room for missteps, with step cliffs on your right falling straight down into rocks and river.

As I mentioned before, I did this climb in the heart of a New Hampshire January, so on top of being steep, this section was coated not just with snow, but tons of ice from melts and refreezes. If it had not been for my Kahtoola MicroSpikes, none of this would have been possible. What I was not aware of until I read more about this hike afterwards, was until the ice and snow, were steep rock faces I was climbing up with steps of wood bolted into them in many places. I think I’ll have to give this trail a good once-over in summer as well to see the steps in action. After a mile and half you’ll reach the sign for the right turn to the Beaver Brook Shelter (#1), which is set back off the trail out of sight. This shelter is operated by the Dartmouth Outing Clubs and is a typical Appalachian Trail style hut, with a gorgeous view to the east of Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette along Franconia Ridge. It’s first come first served with no cost to stay, has one of the nicest composting privies you’ll find on the AT, and a water source is just a short walk away. A final push of about 300ft over the next 0.4 miles will get you to your halfway point of the hike at the intersection with the Asquam Ridge trail (#2), just above 4,000ft elevation.

The second half of your ascent will be cake compared to the first, and also has landmarks that will break it into identical portions. With less climbing, it is a great opportunity to up your pace and keep it brisk without needing to take breaks to catch your breath. This is what I did, as it’s always better to make your summit earlier in the day if possible in the Whites, especially when high winds are forecasted (It was a good thing I did too, because little did I know, I was about to lose an hour as I got lost and buried myself in snow.). For a time during this mile and a half section, you’ll find yourself on a single contour line that runs under Mt. Blue, to the south, along a fairly daunting ridge below you. Luckily it is well vegetated, so any slip would almost certainly result in your getting caught in a tree.

As you trek along, you will find yourself at a single switchback to continue to climb (I’ve marked it with a star on my maps). It is nothing of note for all of you mindful hikers paying attention to where you are going. However on this day, this inconspicuous location was the site of my downfall. You see, during the ridge portion that I just described the snow on the trail had started to soften, and I had been post-holing, typically to my knees, every third step or so which had me short for breath. After, I was trudging along with my head down, huffing and puffing, and following wherever there was what appeared to be a snow trail in front of me. And since I was the first on the trail for the day, there were no footprints in the snow in front of me to follow. So when the trail hair-pinned to the right, I didn’t see it and followed what was also a trail in front of me.

As I was walking along what I was unaware was my misadventure, the snow continued to soften (because as I now know, nobody had been walking here to pack it down). My post-holing steps now became every other or sometimes every step, and instead of sinking in snow to my knees, it was often my waist. I am somewhat glad I took this wrong way, because it resulted in my favorite view of Mt. Moosilauke and my favorite picture from the whole day. However, as I became to climb the wrong side of the mountain, the trail narrowed, the snow deepened, and pretty soon I was commando crawling where the snow would support be, to get below tree limbs, which I was now walking among. And instead of sinking in snow to my knees or waist, it became my waist or armpits. All of a sudden, standing waist deep in snow, I looked around and realized at this point that there was no trail left, the woods had completely closed out around me. I decided, being alone, instead of forge on and maybe get lost on the side of a mountain, that it had beat me, and I turned around. On my way backwards I encountered another hiker who insisted “I’ve summited four or five times, this is the trail.” Since I now had a second, I decided to give it a go again. Well more snow in the boots and pants resulted in the same conclusion, we lost the trail, we’d been defeated, it was time to go home. It wasn’t until backtracking that we arrived at the hairpin and our wrong turn was event. It was only 11 o’clock at this point, so I decided to forge on.

A little more than half a mile from my wrong turn is where you’ll meet the Benton Trail (#3), which is 0.4 miles from the summit and just below treeline. When you reach treeline, take stock of the conditions. My Saturday, it was blowing over 50mph, so I paused to put on my balaclava and the extra layers I’d taken off from the uphill battle, and stepped into the alpine meadow. It’s about 0.2 miles from this point to summit, and the trail is marked with cairns and lined on both sides with a short wall. The 360 panorama at 4,802ft is great and provides a view the Presidentials and stately Mount Washington to the northeast. Drink it up, because this is what the last 3.8 miles and 3,000ft. were for… this is why we punish ourselves.

Trail/Route: Beaver Brook Trail (a section of the Appalachian Trail).  This is a popular summit but not a popular trail.  The most common trail up is the Carriage Road to Glencliff

Trailhead: Found at Beaver Brook parking lot aka Kinsman Notch parking lot. Ample parking, well-plowed in winter, with restrooms and garbage cans. $5 White Mountain National Forest parking fee.  

Directions: (from the south): Off 93 North take exit 32 for Lincoln/North Woodstock. At the end of the ramp, take a right onto NH Rte 112. Travel for 6.7 miles and the parking lot will be on your left.

Parking: This lot is huge. Parking costs $5 and is self-service on the honor system. Take an envelope from the kiosk, write your information down, add $5, remove your hang tag for your car, and drop it in the envelope bin. If you get hooked on the Whites, I’d recommend a year-long pass for $30. Visit here for a list of all parking lots that will require a fee. (Side note Parking Permits for a list of all parking lots that will require a fee. $30/year, $40/year for household, or one time $5/day) Parking passes are self-service and honor system, and involve taking an envelope, writing your information on it, putting $5, removing your hang tag for the car, and dropping the envelope in the bin. 

Dogs: While I did not bring my dog with me, everything I read said that dogs along the trail are welcome. If you do bring your dog, especially during winter, please be mindful of the conditions. Above treeline is incredibly exposed and conditions can change quickly. I could barely open my eyes above treeline because the wind was blowing bits of ice like shards of glass. Not only would a dog not be able to see well, but their paws would likely freeze to the perpetual ice of the alpine meadow if they didn’t have shoes.

Kids:  Experienced, older kids , and only in the summer time

Distance: 7.6 miles round-trip on the Beaver Brook trails. Lots of other trails not outlined here are possible with different (but similar) distances.

Elevation: Total elevation gained is ~3,000ft, with trailhead located at ~1,800ft. and summit at 4,802ft.

Terrain: Almost entire hike is wooded. First half is very steep and treacherous in spots with manmade steps on rock faces. Second half is much easier and more gradual with the final 0.2 miles of the hike in alpine meadow.  Importantly, if hiking in winter, do some research on how much snow is out there (and how recent) to see if you will need microspikes or snowshoes.

Notes: Conditions in the White Mountains (especially above treeline) can change at the drop of a hat. Do your research ahead of time and know what you’re getting into. Prepare for the worst; pack layers, extra food and water, have bailout plans, and emergency contacts in place.

Online resources
Weather: Mountain Forecast
Conditions/Trail Reports: Trails NH

About the Author 
Chris is a Connecticut native who indulges in almost everything that the outdoors has to offer, both land and sea. He’s happiest grabbing oysters on the beaches of Cape Cod, sailing in Long Island Sound, snowboarding in the mountains of Vermont, or discovering new trails for backpacking and hiking. His hiking has included sections of the AT, fifteen of Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks, and recently beginning to tackle New Hampshire’s 4,000 foot peaks.


  1. I'm glad you made it back safely. I have a bit of advice - never make summiting (or even continuing into dangerous territory) your goal. It can cause you to move from an already dangerous situation to one you may not return from. Instead, make your end goal a safe trip home. Always be ready to turn around. Don't let it matter to you that you didn't summit or reach any particular point. Turning around is not a bad thing. The view is very different traveling in the opposite direction, which makes it almost as good as taking a loop trail.

  2. These are great points Joe! This is a guest post from a friend ( I did not complete this hike ) but you made excellent points. Safety first!

    1. I could see right away that it was a guest post. I wasn't offering criticism of you or Chris's adventures. It was meant for some of your other readers, who may not be as fit as you and Chris are. Personally I would have trouble getting out of a posthole even waist deep. I once stepped a couple of feet off the side of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail and sank into the snow past my knees, sinking deeper as I moved trying to get out. Luckily I didn't have to try too hard, because a helpful person nearby helped me get out almost immediately. I stayed away from the side of the trail after that. It happened when I was around 25 years old. I know I'd have more trouble getting out now. Postholing in deep snow scares me. I personally would not do it without an easy way out and a warm shelter near by.

      I enjoyed reading Chris's post. He did a good job writing it.

    2. No apologies needed. You started a great discussion and that is something I hope these posts do. I am always interested in the perspective of my readers. Thank you again for your input.


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