Moriah - The Joy and Pain of False Summits

Submitted by Pat

Mountain: Mt. Moriah (4,059)
Date: January 27, 2007
Time: 8 hours and 45 minutes
Weather: High overcast, some flurries, 10 degrees, no wind
Miles: 10
Elevation Gain: 3,078
Steps: 29,068
Trails: Stony Brook Trail to Carter-Moriah Trail and back
Holy Shit Factor: Medium

Picture Gallery

I am up at 3:45 a.m. and on the road to pick up Nancy by 4:30 a.m. It is dark, dark, dark at 4:30 and it stays that way for a while. Nancy and I spend the first hour in the car nestled in our private worlds, easing into the day and wondering what kind of adventure the hike will hold for us. All our hikes are adventures. Not one of them has passed by without something to learn or see or feel. We stop in Tilton for breakfast and Meredith for coffee and onward and upward. I miss the turn for Route 16 south in Gorham so we are trailhead chasing on Route 2 for 20 minutes before being directed to the right place. We are the only car at the Stony Brook trailhead. After changing and warming up we hit the trail at 9 a.m. The temperature is -2.

The first two miles of the trail are very gentle, covered with a crusty snow that has been broken out by many sets of boots. We follow the gentle slope of an old woods road until it starts to climb. We see moose tracks and as the trail becomes steeper we see fewer and fewer human footprints until ours are the only ones there. A couple of inches of fresh powder on top of a crust makes it easy to bare boot it up the mountain. We reach the Carter-Moriah trail junction at noon. Nancy is moving slower than normal - she says her legs feel like jelly. I offer to turn around but she says a most adamant NO.

Despite the cold, Nancy works up a nice sweat. Her fleece hat is white from evaporated sweat turned to ice and a three-inch long icicle hangs from the ends of her hair. It really is a sweatcicle. I don't know how she does it - sweats like that and still keeps on all her layers. I am down to long underwear and a Techwick shirt - bare hands and no hat - to keep my body cool and prevent myself from sweating. I always find it amazing that my body can generate enough heat that I can be outside in cold like this and not have to wear gloves. Nancy knows her body and what it can and can't do in the cold. The only limitation of her method is that when she stops she gets cold really, really fast while I can stand around for a minute or two and be okay.

The walk up to the first ledge is beautiful. I love walking on ridges. There hasn't been a ridge trail yet that hasn't fascinated me, even those with no views except what is provided by dense evergreen forest. The views north toward Canada and south toward the Carters are beautiful. The snow depth has increased on the way up and we are walking in powder ranging from 2 inches to a foot in places. All on top of a crust, although there are naked ice-free spots on some of the ledge rocks. Nancy is still dragging but unwilling to give up. I feel pretty good, despite the fact that my winter boots are igniting the bruises that haven't completely healed from last Sunday's hike. It is discouraging to hurt with every step but I don't let it bother me and offer to break trail.

When we come to the next open ledges, we look southeast and see Madison and Adams hovering in a cloud. My legs feel like this ledge must be the summit, but after looking around me I point out a peak to the northeast that looks higher than where we are so off we go in search of the summit. I am starting to get hungry so I eat a power bar but I am feeling like I am ready to hit the summit and start back. I don't dare look at my watch but it feels like we ahave been up there drifting from ledge to ledge thinking each one is the summit for hours. Nancy, trooper that she is, keeps on moving. We finally reach the trail intersection and see a sign to the Moriah summit (.1 mile). Unfortunately the trail includes a twenty foot rock crevice that is full of ice covered by snow. I gamely start up and just before reaching the top find that I have no purchase at all and nothing to hold onto. I start slipping backwards towards Nancy who also has precarious footing. I suggest we go back and put on our STABILicers, but Nancy just urges me on. I suggest getting off the ice and trying to pull ourselves up using the trees on the side of the trail but she responds by pushing me up the ice until I can get a handhold. Once I am secure, she uses my legs to pull herself up. Later she tells me that the idea of going back to put on STABILicers or using the side of the trail was not something she had the energy to do. It was either do it now and at that moment or not at all.

We reach the summit at 1:55 p.m. Sliding back down the ice flow is a quick way down. Nancy changes clothes at the trail intersection and we start back down around 2:15 p.m. Shortly after we start down I feel the bruising from the fronts of my boots really kicking in and I know this is going to be a long walk back. I try to put moleskin on the bruise - cut out a hole for the bruised area so the boot won't push the sock onto the sore spots, but it doesn't work. I don't know what to do about these boots - I guess I'll have to buy another pair, but that's an expense. I just wish I could figure out how to pad the boot in such a way that it won't bruise me.

The walk down is long and I move slowly. Sometimes the pain is tolerable, sometimes it's not. We bring out the headlamps around 5 p.m. and walk out to the parking lot at 5:45 p.m. I am wicked happy to a) take off my boots, b) sit down, and c) get something to eat. We spend the drive reminiscing about the many hikes we have experienced in the last nine months. All the adventures and misadventures. Why we do this. How other people think we're crazy, especially hiking in the winter. How much beauty we have seen, how few people have seen the beauty we have seen, what a rare and special thing we have.

2 out of the Winter 48
44 out of NE 67
46 out of the NE 100 Highest
38 out of the NH 48