In a typical week, I start planning and watching the weather early. I had intended on either backpacking for the entire weekend or doing an over night at Isolation. Neither one of those panned out. The backpack because of the weather that was initially rain that almost threatened to scrap the whole weekend entirely. The over night of Isolation for 2 reasons: One, the cold weather tonight and Two, my 20* sleeping bag is not Ultra Light and would not fit in my pack. My winter camping gear is just not up to it. So, rather than chance it with my 40* bag and fleece liner (sure to freeze), or chancing it and trying to break in my new hammock with my 20* bag, I decided on Moosilauke. Knowing for me, any day away from home and in the mountains is a good day. I'll wait it out and see if we get one more warm weekend as I really would like some tent time before the season ends.
This morning, the weather was cold. I was dressing in my long pants, heavy boots, base and mid layer. I would also add my top layer wind jacket and a hat and gloves eventually too (at the summit). I got a later start than usual which didn't phase me. We arrived at the Ravine Lodge Rd around 8:30am. As a side note, 118 has been partially repaved! It was smooth sailing to the ravine lodge road and then a careful trip up the dirt road to park by the lodge. People were parking every which way so, I opted to park away from everyone to not get blocked in by a crowd. I got myself and Lil' Nugget ready considering this was the first time I had to put my boots on over just wearing my trail shoes. Once we got moving, the trail warmed up but I did start in 3 layers and went down to 2. We crossed the bridge and began heading up the Gorge Brook Trail, following it over a few bridges and eventually taking the newer section that reroutes around hurricane damage. I really enjoy this section of trail as it's mostly even and has a nice wandering feel to it. We come out and over a bridge and find ourselves at the Last Sure Water sign at 3300 ft. Lil' Nugget and I took a break here and had something to eat. It was not anywhere close to noon but lunch was on the menu with cheese and beef jerky. I would have had tuna but I didn't want to sit that long.
This next section has a lot of elevation but it's not all at once. It's pretty gradual and easy. Lil' Nugget has way better hearing than I do and she begins slowing down and stopping, looking back, and waiting. So, I pull her over and sit her at the side of the trail and we wait for a group to pass. They have a dog who's apparently just learning to use the trails. His owner picked him up to pass as Isis just sat and only barked a little. Then we waited to give space. As we continued our climb, I realized just how easy today is for me where my first hike made this peak seem like something so much bigger. It's amazing what hiking for 4 years will do for perspective. We arrived at the first outlook which is always special to me. Continuing on, we passed the second outlook and knew that it would not be long to tree line. Before we got above tree line though, an unexpected 3rd out look presented itself. I was a little sad about this. There is no need to clear an outlook so close to tree line. Especially on a peak that is prone to being in the clouds.... A lot.
Shortly after this, Lil' Nugget and I broke tree line and began our final push to the summit. The wind has picked up only slightly and the skies are partly to mostly clouds. The good thing is though, I have a view today. I didn't need to layer up just yet as we weaved in and out of scrub for a little while. Then the view opened up to reveal the summit sign in the distance. I always love this perspective. It's sort of like coming out of a tunnel and the world opens up again. Lil' Nugget and I begin the final steps to the summit and pass who I think was a father son team. They seem cold in shorts, jeans, and cotton T-shirts. I explained to them that I start carrying winter gear at this time of year and I have my winter coat with me as well as several other layers. It's just smart hiking when the forecast says temps will be in the 30's at the summit. Finally, we climb up and stand by the summit sign. Someone has been sitting in the rock shelter for a little while eating lunch and waves. We chat for a while before we are joined by a 3rd person who warns that a high school group of 30 are on his heals. The three of us scurry around like mice and do pictures as well as finish up any conversation. The 3rd guy leaves first and the one I initially talked to follows after a brief introduction as Glen from New Zealand. I take a little more time but quickly decide to go when I hear the cries of "Ooooo a puppy" as each kid climbs to the summit. This will not end well I decide and we take off down the Carriage Road. On a side note, when you see a dog at a summit, don't overwhelm it. Leave it alone and if you really must approach, first ask the owner as respect her decision. If you are allowed to approach, do so for a very short time and don't overwhelm the dog.
Lil' Nugget and I head down the Carriage Road and run into a few other hikers coming up. We detour up to South Peak and it's so quiet (yet I can hear the commotion from the summit as well as see everyone). I take a seat and enjoy my tomato soup in peace along with a few more pieces of cheese. I love this weather because hot soup on a summit tastes so good and the cheese doesn't have the consistency of warm something that has been in your pack for too long. It's actually still cheese. Lil' Nugget relaxes and settles next to me with her head on my thigh. I breath in and even though I do not want to go down yet, I know that I can't sit still in the cold for long. So, reluctantly, we scurry down the spur and back on the Carriage Road. We hook onto the Snapper Trail and before we know it, we are back at the junction for the new section of the Gorge Brook Trail. I talk with 2 nice older gentlemen who are looking for Hurricane damage from 1938 (?). Such nice conversations today!
Lil' Nugget and I begin to run into the students form the summit again. They seem to all be converging on the lawn of the Lodge but there are several stragglers that seem to be puzzled by the trail system. I'd hate for one of them to get lost because a trusted adult was not with them. I happen to mention this to one of the faculty that was by the field. She didn't seem too concerned. It was my hope that everyone made it back to the lodge or waited for a faculty member that was up the trail and coming down. Lil' Nugget and I didn't really wait around because everyone was overwhelming. Once back at the car, I changed and gave Lil' Nugget her treat for completing the hike. We were on our way back home in no time but not before thoughts of swinging over to Tecumseh again.
I passed on Tecumseh since I knew that it would be hard to get Lil' Nugget going again. Why ruin a good day and besides, I am in no hurry any more. Perhaps my new goal is just to maintain this good health that I have found. I can't help but reflect on a time when my health was not even close to what it is now and even though I still have issues with depression and anxiety, even that has been brought to a minimum level. I owe it to a lot of lifestyle changes and my continued love of hiking. It gives me good reason to get up and get up north to hike a mountain each week. But I am at a point where I don't have to hike in bad weather and I don't really want to hike with a super heavy pack... Yet. Give me time, that second leg of the Long Trail will be here before I know it. I'm prepping for that as a long range goal and I am looking for a few new challenges. Maybe some longer trips to get me in shape for winter. Speaking of Winter, I have 2 very big peaks left to what could be my final "List Goal". for the New Hampshire Winter 48's I need Mount Adams and West Bond... I'll get them but I am pretty sure that Lil' Nugget will be at home so I can move a little quicker. While I wait for all of this, I am looking for a loop hike that is not Pemi Loop, while I watch the weather for that one last warm(ish) weekend.
Happy Hiking to all!