Mt Moriah is a 4000 footer overlooking the town of Gorham, NH, at the north end of the Carter Mountain Range in the White Mountains. There are a number of different trails that climb to the summit, but the most direct is the Carter Moriah Trail continues past the summit over North, Middle, South Carter, and Carter Dome before ending at Carter Notch. Climbing 3400′ of elevation in 4.5 miles, it’s a fun trail to hike with lots of west-facing ledges and views of Mt Washington and Mt Madison.
Those ledges are fairly benign when they’re dry but when they’re wet or covered with ice, things can get tricky. It’s less of a problem in calendar winter (starts Dec 22 or 23) when there’s snow on the ground and the trail has broken out and been packed down by hikers, but trail conditions are much more variable and unpredictable in November.
Sandy and I had met at 7:00 AM to climb Moriah, not knowing exactly what the trail conditions would be like on the Carter Moriah Trail. The Whites really empty out in November and early December, so there’s a lot less sharing of trail conditions beta than when the trails are busier in the warmer months. The forecast predicted 18 degrees F at the summit with winds gusting to 35 mph, but we didn’t know if there’d be a lot of snow on the trails, ice, or whether they’d be dry. With the exception of the higher summits in Presidential Range (literally across the street), there hasn’t been much persistent snow yet in the Whites, so we figured that microspikes would be sufficient.
I’ve hiked this trail several times previously so I was expecting fairly good wind protection lower down where the trail runs through forest. But the trail system is constantly evolving and the forest abutting the trail had been harvested (cut down) leaving a huge amount of slash in its wake. Therefore we were assailed by the cold wind from the start and kept our wind layers on throughout the hike.
Sandy is a very experienced hiker, so I was confident in her preparation for this hike. She’s 87% of the way through her second White Mountain 4000 Footer Grid, she’s hiked all the Trails in the White Mountain Guide (formerly called redlining) and has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail once, so far, although she’s thinking about doing it again. I’ve known her for a few years but never hiked with her, which is probably my fault since I do a lot of solo hiking by myself. Still, we have so many friends in common and so many shared experiences in the Whites, that hiking with her was like hiking with an old friend.
The Carter Moriah Trail starts off with a climb and keeps on going all the way to the summit. Lower down, the trail was covered with leaves or forest duff where they’d been blown off by the wind. As you ascend, you encounter open rock ledge, some of it quite steep, as the trail winds itself up the face of the mountain. Going up is much easier than going down the steeps, particularly when the rock is covered or partially covered with ice.
We encountered ice early on in our hike but we were able to walk around it until 3460′ of elevation. I try to avoid putting on microspikes as long as possible because it’s easier to walk without them, especially when you can avoid the ice with careful footwork. You can often find footholds along the side of a trail between rocks and tree roots.
But above 3460′, the ice became increasingly thick and unavoidable so put on our spikes, not that they did much good. The ice was so thick and hard that the spikes didn’t penetrate very well. Sandy may have fared better because she sharpens her microspikes, but I never bother. Maybe, I should reconsider that. I’ve tried sharpening real crampons in the past, but find they don’t hold their edge very long, so I just buy new ones once in a while. The same holds for microspikes, although I usually lose them and have to buy new ones before they wear out.
We continued climbing carefully and eventually made it to the summit, which was sunny and ice-free. Sandy’s water bottle had ice in it so I gave her some of my hot tea flavored with Bengal Spice herb tea, which she enjoyed with gusto! The higher presidential, on the other side of Rt 16 in Pinkham Notch, including Mt Washington were smothered in cloud but we could make out the Howker Ridge Trail on Mt Madison and had a clear view of Shelburne Moriah, a subpeak to the north.
It was blustery at the summit, so we ate lunch quickly and started down, bushwhacking around the thickest and most treacherous ice near the summit. The descent got a lot less exciting after we passed 3200′ and we could take off our microspikes again. It took some concentration to avoid the icy patches on the descent and I’d liken it to a game of Twister with the contortions required to avoid patches of ice and find the best islands of traction.
This was a very enjoyable hike with Sandy, despite the ice, cold, and wind. I’m feeling pretty strong again after wrestling with foot and ankle issues for most of the year, the fallout of a badly sprained ankle in 2020. While calendar winter is still a month away, I’m increasingly optimistic about what the winter hiking season will bring. Onwards and my all means!
Mt Moriah – Carter Moriah Trail
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