Nothing Changes New Year’s Day: Moosilauke Ascent A Holiday Tradition
Bradford, Vt., resident Gary Moore, in red jacket, joins other hikers for the final stretch to the summit of Mount Moosilauke on Jan. 1. The hike as been a New Year’s Day tradition for Moore for nearly two decades.(Courtesy photograph)
Hiking colleagues Gary Moore, of Bradford, Vt., and Don Kollisch, of Hanover, usually offer a toast to the new year as part of their annual New Year’s Day ascents of Mount Moosilauke.(Courtesy photograph)
Bradford, Vt. — An avid outdoorsman, Gary Moore typically prefers an appropriate level of solitude when he sets out on one of his frequent hiking adventures.
The exception comes annually on New Year’s Day, when Moore joins dozens of other climbers for a festive ascent of Mount Moosilauke.
With an elevation of 4,820 feet, Moosilauke is normally covered in snow and ice and no easy stroll on Jan. 1. Yet many climbers mark the first day on the new calendar as a perfect time to spend summiting its iconic mass.
Moore, 66, has done so during 16 of the last 18 years, beginning in 1995.
“Any other time of year, I usually avoid hiking on weekends because I don’t enjoy the crowds,” said Moore, a Bradford, Vt., resident who was introduced to hiking as a Boy Scout. “For New Year’s, though, there’s great tradition and camaraderie while you’re on the way up. The standard greeting is ‘Happy New Year,’ and you see some of the same people every year, folks that you’ve made friends with over the years.”
The allure of Moosilauke — popular for its array of accessible trails and unique views into the heart of the White Mountains to the east and westerly vistas to the expansive rolling hills of Vermont — attracts visitors from around Northern New England and beyond for New Year’s Day.
“You meet people from southern New Hampshire, northern Vermont, Massachusetts, all over,” Moore said. “I met someone this year from Pembroke, N.H. and someone from Troy, Vt. A lot of people pass a lot of other mountains (while driving to Moosilauke). There’s something about it that just brings people together.”
Since 2001, Moore has been joined for the holiday trek by Don Kollisch, a Hanover resident who also partners with him during many hikes in milder months.
While Kollisch also enjoys the relative solitude of more secluded excursions, he said the festive atmosphere on Moosilauke is tough to beat.
“You see people you expect to see every year, but there are also always some surprises,” Kollisch said. “This year, we bumped into Doug Teschner, who is the Peace Corps’ country director in Ukraine. He spends most of his time out of the country, so he was the last person we expected to see.
“I also bumped into someone who I used to be on the board of a nursing school with in Woodsville who I hadn’t seen in 20 years. That was quite a hoot, and that’s one of the elements you get when you climb Moosilauke.”
Always using the gradual Glencliff Trail, Moore and Kollisch typically depart late enough in the morning that others have already packed in the snow along the route.
Once reaching an open area known as the saddle, where the Glencliff and Carriage Road trails meet and where many change into heavier clothing for the final ascent above treeline, Moore and Kollisch may break out small bottles of champagne to toast the new year.
“We do it as a way of remembering previous hiking partners we’ve had who have passed on,” Moore said. “It’s a great place to honor them.”
Last year, Moore and Kollisch were accompanied by a television crew, including host Willem Lange of the New Hampshire Public Television show Windows to the Wild. Like much of the winter of 2011-12, New Year’s Day featured unusually warm temperatures.
“We were actually kind of embarrassed because the conditions were so mild,” Kollisch said.
Added Moore: “The warm weather did present some extra challenges, because an open-faced area known as The Cone had melting snow flowing down it all day and was quite slippery.”
Most years, conditions lend themselves to what one would envision at high altitude in the midst of a North Country winter. Sturdy winter boots are often enough for the first two-thirds of the climb, but once above treeline, icy conditions require better footing.
“Most years, you’ve to have something that gives you extra tracking on your feet,” said Kollisch. “I use little micro spikes. A lot of people wear traditional metal crampons.”
While summertime day hikes call for a relaxing half-hour or so at the summit, usually while enjoying a well-earned lunch, New Year’s Day weather conditions atop Moosilauke typically don’t allow for it.
“It feels good to get to the top, but you usually don’t have too much of a chance to celebrate,” Moore said. “You want to take a picture, but if feels like your fingers are going to freeze off just in the time it takes to get your camera out and push the button.”
Conditions this year were extremely unfavorable, so much so that Moore and Kollisch failed to summit for the first time. Sweeping wind gusts and bitter cold made the final nine-10ths of a mile virtually untenable, and the pair decided to turn around just a couple hundred yards from the top.
“People were literally getting blown off of their feet; we met someone who was over 200 pounds and had gotten blown over,” Moore said. “Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older, but at some point you look at the dangers of a situation and say, ‘It’s just not worth it.’ ”
Even so, the New Year’s Day Moosilauke tradition isn’t something Moore and Kollisch plan on relinquishing any time soon.
“There’s someone I see every year who’s from the Dartmouth (College) class of 1953,” Moore noted. “He’s got to be in his 80s now, so he’s my inspiration to keep going. Besides, it’s just a great way to spend New Year’s Day.”
Jared Pendak can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3306.