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Trail Trials: Mount Moosilauke hike a real rock show

  • Connie Maltby, left, and her husband, David Maltby, of Rockledge, Fla., pose for a selfie by the sign at the summit of Mount Moosilauke in Benton, N.H., on July 3, 2020. Glad to be away from coronavirus quarantines back home, Connie Maltby said she and David planned on hiking as much as possible while in the White Mountains.

  • A wicking undershirt hangs from the branch of a tree along the Appalachian Trail south of Mount Moosilauke in Benton, N.H., on July 3, 2020. Hiking guides recommend dressing in layers when in alpine zones; it's assumed those layers will make it back down the mountain.

  • The Class of 1982 Memorial Bridge greets would-be hikers headed toward the summit of Mount Moosilauke in Benton, N.H., on July 3, 2020. The bridge is just yards away from Dartmouth College's Moosilauke Ravine Lodge and serves as the starting point for a hike to the top of the 4,802-foot mountain.

  • Rock staircases greet would-be hikers headed toward the Gorge Brook and Snapper trails, right, and an ascent of Mount Moosilauke in Benton, N.H., on July 3, 2020.

  • A plaque marks entry into the Ross McKenney Forest on the Gorge Brook Trail heading toward thwas e summit of Mount Moosilauke in Benton, N.H., on July 3, 2020. McKenney was the woodcraft advisor for the Dartmouth Outing Club and oversaw construction of the nearby Moosilauke Ravine Lodge in the late 1930s.

  • Gorge Brook meanders through a field of moss-covered boulders near the trailhead for the Gorge Brook Trail in Benton, N.H., on July 3, 2020. The brook audibly accompanies its eponymous trail for the first 1½ miles of the 3.7-mile route up to the summit of Mount Moosilauke.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/11/2020 9:35:22 PM
Modified: 7/11/2020 9:35:20 PM

I blame three people for motivating me to get out in the woods and climb the biggest hill in the neighborhood.

A former Valley News colleague, Jared Pendak, occasionally wrote these Trail Trials columns during summer down times, highlighting the wide array of hiking opportunities in the Upper Valley and the ease with which they could be conquered. Another contributor, Marty Basch, has regularly massaged my imagination with his dirt-path treks all over New Hampshire and Vermont.

But Putnam Blodgett really kicked me into gear.

I had the recent pleasure of writing about Blodgett, a Dartmouth College graduate, woodsman and steward of the trees for our A Life series. Growing up in Bradford, Vt., Blodgett had Mount Moosilauke as a backdrop through the length of his life. He became further enamored with it at Dartmouth, where he befriended Ross McKenney, the man who — among many other things — oversaw the construction of the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge in the late 1930s on the mountain’s southern slope.

The Dartmouth Outing Club’s website describes Moosilauke as “the spiritual home of Dartmouth’s out-of-doors for over 100 years.” The mountain and lodge factor significantly into college life; both are frequently employed for the DOC’s First-Year Trips program for freshmen. The college owns 4,600 acres on Moosilauke, including its 4,802-foot summit and the 4,560-foot South Peak a mile away.

Blodgett, who died on March 3, hiked Moosilauke for the first time when he was 14 years old. He told Dartmouth Alumni Magazine earlier this year that, at 45, he ran to the summit with the Dartmouth ski team in 45 minutes. His last ascent came on his 88th birthday in August, and it took 4½ hours.

If he could do it on his 88th, then I could accomplish it on my umpteenth birthday.

I did. And I’m here to tell you that if you try it, you’re in store for a righteous workout.

There are multiple ways to ascend Mount Moosilauke; the shortest is by accessing the trails adjacent to the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge. Unfortunately, with Dartmouth closing the building for the foreseeable future because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ll have to hoof it for three-quarters of a mile to reach the trailhead.

Once across the Class of 1982 Memorial Bridge spanning the rushing Baker River, the paths are well-signed. You can either head up the steep, rocky Gorge Brook Trail directly to the summit, or you can hike the slightly less-daunting but plenty-steep Snapper Trail and Carriage Road combination. I chose to take my medicine early, hitting the stony staircase of Gorge Brook first.

This is a trail built for people who enjoy three-hour Stairmaster workouts. You get precious few respites in the form of flat trail; for 3.7 miles, it’s either up, sharply up or very sharply up. Starting at 7 a.m., I was passed by a downhill runner within an hour and a pair of Dartmouth students shortly thereafter. The latter quickly masked up — as did most others I met on the way up to the summit — and gave an encouraging report.

Gorge Brook itself is an audible pleasure that carries you through the first half of the upslope trek. After about 1½ miles, it veers off as the trail enters the Ross McKenney Forest, honoring Blodgett’s mentor and friend of many years ago.

The first chance for a view came well into the third upslope hour, a small gap through the trees that showed only gray clouds with one hint of blue sky on this day. The path became narrow once into switchbacks bordered by shoulder-hugging scrub pine as the treeline approached; had anyone else passed me going downhill, social distancing would have been impossible.

Once clear of the trees, however, the summit is a quick trip away. Bright orange signs remind you to stay on the trail to avoid damaging delicate alpine flora. Boulders at the top give you plenty of places to sit and rest; even on a cloudy day lacking the 360-degree views of the Presidentials, Vermont, Maine, Quebec and even New York, five minutes alone atop Moosilauke made the three hours getting there worth every bit of work.

The return to the lodge began with a gentle descent along the Appalachian Trail. As with Gorge Brook, the path can become narrow once below the treeline. The notion of bringing an extra layer for an exposed summit took on new meaning when I passed someone’s long-sleeved hiking shirt hanging on a branch along the way.

The AT meets Carriage Road after just less than a mile. South Peak beckons; the route is only a tenth of a mile one-way, and you get a reminder of the workout you thought was over, but it’s worth the side trip for its western views even on a cloudy day.

Carriage Road once accessed a mountaintop house built in the 1860s and destroyed by fire in the 1940s. It’s hard to believe the rocky route I traveled could have been used for such a purpose. Still, the descent is steady, gradual and not nearly as tricky as my route to the summit.

A well-marked junction calls attention to the Snapper Trail, originally built for skiing and quite adequate for hiking. There still are plenty of stones to negotiate, but a gentler slope gives your legs, knees and hips a little break after so much rock-picking. Hiking boots are highly recommended.

A final reunion with the Gorge Brook Trail reminds of the staircase you ascended earlier in the morning. The welcome sound of the brook has returned by then, letting you know that your daylong trek is nearing its end.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.




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