Mt. Moriah: Hike No. 3 – Guiding a New Winter Hiker

I haven’t hiked in three weeks. I skied and got my mountain time in with a wonderful day on the slopes. I also fell madly in love with the Adirondacks throughout this experience. Believe me, I won’t stop at just the 4,000 footers in New Hampshire. There are 46 – 4,000 footers in upstate New York calling my name! I have a feeling I am in the process of becoming a serious backpacker. While skiing last week I also pulled a muscle in my knee, very much fully healed at this point but I packed a knee brace as a precautionary measure.

I was going through some serious hiking withdrawal symptoms. For three weeks I have been pumping myself up for my next hike and here it is! Mt. Moriah! My hiking buddy was Paul. He has never winter hiked before and has lived in a city all his life. He runs and is in very decent shape though so I had no doubt of physical ability to accomplish such a climb. And lucky for me he has a passion for photography so the majority of these lovely photos are ones he took! I try hard to take nice photos, but I don’t have as much of an eye for it as many of my friends do. This is definitely something I work hard to improve on. I hope that by the time the year is up I will have developed more of an eye for it!

The trailhead of the Carter-Moriah trail is in Gorham, three hours from my home. I got up at 4:15am out of a dead sleep. Paul was kind enough to pick me up and drive us. I am quite grateful for this, you’ll find out later why… This time I am so prepared. A mason jar (wrapped up in my shell) full of a nice lunch of quinoa and stir fry, bottle of tea, bottle of water, new awesome backpack, resprayed waterproofing on my boots, ate a great breakfast, first aid kit, headlamp, new map of the whites, my good trekking poles, lots of research on the trail, and Paul brought beer… yay! There is nothing I crave more during and after a hike than a good craft brew. It’s so very refreshing even if it is dehydrating!

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Foggy day in the White Mountains!

We listened to Red Hot Chili Peppers on the way up, I loved this band in high school. All of the nostalgic moments from teenage years spent skiing/hiking the whites came to mind as we drove up 93 through the Franconia Range. The fog was so heavy we couldn’t see 50 feet ahead of us. This disappointed me greatly, Paul is a scientist from the DC area/New York and recently moved to Boston last fall for work. I wanted him to have full appreciation of the mountains I love most. Regardless of the fog he seemed rather taken by the little scenery we had. I must admit there was a rather mystical quality about it. A different view of the White Mountains I haven’t seen in over a decade. My childhood memories came flooding back.

Upon our arrival at the trail head on Bangor Rd in Gorham there wasn’t really much of an option for parking, you are in a residential neighborhood and park on the side of the road. We parked in the only vacant spot, ate a snack (we both love to eat), and started getting our gear on. While this was going on Paul came to the realization that he forgot his jacket at my house. Here’s what you do in this situation: 1) Assess conditions: 40 degrees with 20 mph winds on top. A windchill of probably 20 degrees at the summit. The mountain is not very exposed, I only knew that from prior research. It pays to research. 2) Assess gear: I had so many layers, and Paul had a reasonable amount of layers as well. I also had my shell which surprisingly fit him like a glove if he needed it. My clothes are tiny so this was dumb luck. I knew that I would be okay so long as we didn’t linger in any part of the exposed mountain for long. 3) Assess risks and options: The weather appeared as though it was going to hold out, no rain or high winds. We would be fine. I felt confident of that. Our other options were to buy him a new jacket down the street at a local shop or go home. It made sense to go for it since the risk wasn’t too high today. He had my magenta shell if needed and many of his own layers. 4) Give Paul crap all day for making the biggest rookie mistake ever. I will never stop giving him crap for this. This blog post is devoted to it.

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After hanging out at the trail head waiting for Paul to get ready (and I thought I was slow) we finally started ascending at 9:15am – here she goes, giving poor Paul more crap. The first couple miles up to Mt. Surprise were easy-peasy. A slight elevation gain, but nothing crazy. Would be a very nice little hike for those of you with young children! On a clear day the view is supposedly gorgeous.

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Mt. Surprise!

We kept moving and about a half mile later it started getting steep. We had our microspikes on from the very start even though there was no need for them in reality until this point. This backpack is a game changer, I love it. Paul absolutely delighted in how well the spikes worked and was so grateful for the spare trekking pole (one from Osceola that didn’t break) I lent to him. He even said, “Wow, I should listen to you about this stuff!” The biggest grin spread across my face. I’m far from an expert hiker, maybe intermediate at best, but in that moment I felt like a great guide. Another favorite quote of the day from Paul, “I feel safe with you.” Safety is my number one priority, I am so glad I could make a new winter hiker feel safe. I have done my job properly this means.

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This hike was my longest yet, and one of my hip flexer (Psoas?) muscles started really acting up. It is only aggravated when I hike up steep trails, otherwise I am fine. Definitely an athletic injury I need to fix. I had to keep stopping after steep portions to stretch it. At one point the pain was so severe I wanted to turn back, but I was motivated by the increasing wind speeds and smaller trees. Almost there, almost there, you can do it. This was my only thought, if my mind deviated from this in the very least the pain became unbearable. The mental struggle was never so strong. This trail just kept on going, it felt like it would never end. We were both exhausted. Finally we emerged into a clearing, the wind picked up around us and we saw a sign which read “Mt. Moriah Summit”. I jumped for joy and scurried the remaining 30 feet up the path to a boulder where the scenic outlook should have been. It was fog all around us with no view to speak of. We were overjoyed to be at the summit still. My endorphins ran wild with the thought of accomplishing this hike despite the pain I felt. Without my shell (SOMEONE was wearing it) I wasn’t able to stay on the summit for long. We ducked back into the trees for a quick lunch. We discussed splitting one of the enormous jars of food I made, it really was a lot of food. The moment I sat down in the snow to eat that flew out of the window, I didn’t want to share so Paul ate his own. I probably would have chopped his arm off had he dared touch my jar of food. The coffee porter was a fabulous idea, we split that because of course alcohol is dehydrating and contrary to popular belief cools your body temperature.

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Just about the happiest person on the planet! Moriah Summit!

From there down we went. Not much in the way of good butt sliding since the snow was so sticky, but I suppose I really should get used to walking down these trails. My hip didn’t really hurt unless we had uphill inclines (I am getting this looked at, I promise!) and at times we just ran down giggling like children. Our conversation ranged from deep and insightful to goofy and fun. About halfway down I noticed that my boots were soaked. Not safe, my boots have seen better days and must be replaced asap. Luckily my socks did a fairly good job of keeping my feet warm and dry. Good socks are gold. We made it down in just over two hours which was great timing. Not five minutes after we got in the car it down poured.

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Getting ready to take a summit video!

Taking the long way back through North Conway we stopped so I could show Paul around and we could get food. Both of us were totally ravenous. My legs felt so sore that even a small set of stairs was intimidating. Never ever taking three weeks off again. Even if I have to do a little local hike to keep myself conditioned that is better than nothing. It felt like aftermath of Mousilauke all over again. Through all of this I would like to hike Moriah again. It is part of the Carter-Moriah trail which means I can start at Wildcat and end at Moriah. This will give me the ability to see Moriah’s view on a clear day! I read it was a very dramatic view of the Presidential range!

Shout out to the trail-breakers out there! You did a fabulous job on Moriah, thank you!

Trail tips: Gortex winterized boots. So vital. I have learned my lesson finally. Wet boots are no fun and unsafe if temps are below freezing. I am quickly realizing that yes, I am in great shape, but no I don’t have the right muscle development for these types of climbs on a frequent basis. I need more protein and resistance training because boy am I in pain right now. This is why I was very grateful for Paul driving.

The beauty of any hike is that wealth is measured by happiness. Currency is the memories and laughter you bring home. Social barriers break down and complete strangers treat you as friends. No matter who you are, where you’re from, and how much you make we share this beautiful, unspoken connection on the trail.

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The world is so clean and simple this way.