Friday, November 30, 2012

Hiking Mt Moriah via Carter-Moriah Trail: New England 4,000 Footers

Mt Moriah is a 4,000 footer with a full, 360-degree view from its summit. The trail from Gorham, New Hampshire also has a surprisingly large number of views on the way up too. This is a great 9-mile day hike.
Carter-Moriah Trail
Its that awkward time of year again when the cold weather is here but there is no snow. All of us snowshoers, cross-country skiers, snowboarders, mountaineers and ice climbers are on the edge of our seats waiting for some glorious precipitation. But no snow is not a reason to not go out for a hike, especially when its on Thanksgiving! 

I'm at the point in my pursuit to climb all of the White Mountain 4,000-Footers that I have several "odds and ends" to tie up and a few of the bigger single day ascents like Owl's Head and Isolation. I didn't bag Moriah when I did the Carter Ridge and Wildcat so today would be a great day for it! After all, the trail would be clear and quiet and I've heard the views are fantastic.

I came up over Pinkam Notch and down over to Gorham, New Hampshire to do this hike. There was still now snow up in the Great Gulf, Huntington Ravine or Pinnacle Gully yet so I was glad I wasn't missing out. The hike actually begins at the end of a residential road and the parking situation was confusing- there's really no parking lot and its not really a cul-de-sac either... so I just pulled slightly off the road and the trailhead was at the end of the road.

The trail meanders along a ridgeline that eventually leads to Mt Moriah. What made this trail special was that there were multiple lookouts on the way up. Most hikes I've done in New Hampshire stay in the dense boreal forests and with only fleeting views. I was delighted to see that there was plenty to take my mind off the steep hike.

At about halfway up, I stopped for lunch and noticed something very unique; there was complete and utter silence on the trail. There was no wind, no birds, no bugs, no other hikers and no noise. Usually hiking here is such a social affair; today there was nobody! I enjoyed the quietude. 
Its quite icy this time of year
Summit views from the top of Mt Moriah
If you are one who hates "false summits", then this mountain is probably not for you! The ridgeline hike plays all kinds of tricks with you and there were probably some 15 false summits along the way. Also, it was very, very icy in most parts of the trail. I mean, this was expected when hiking in late November, but there wasn't enough ice to don the crampons or micro-spikes, yet. 

When the real summit finally came in to view, it was certainly worth the trip. There was a full panorama of views! The best was probably the view into the Dry River Wilderness and Valley, just to the East. You could also see most of the Carter Ridge and well into the Presidentials and Northern White Mountains. Way off in the distance I spied a pyramid-like mountain that was barely visible. It could have been Sugarloaf in Maine, almost 60 miles away! Regardless, it was a million-dollar view.
The Presidential Range from Carter-Moriah Trail
Well, I hope there's some real snow soon and that my next post is about some ice climbing or mountaineering!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hiking Big Moose Mountain, Maine

Big Moose Mountain, previously known as Big Squaw Mountain, is the highest point along the shores of Moosehead Lake in North Central Maine. The view from the top is certainly one of the best in the state.
Sunset on Moosehead Lake from the summit of Big Moose Mountain
Climbing Big Moose Mountain was actually my first adventure in the Moosehead area even though this is my last post about my adventures. At 3,196ft, this relatively shorter mountain rises abruptly from the shores of the massive alpine lake. Its absolutely one of my favorite mountains in the state to climb for this reason!

There's a few options for climbing Big Moose Mountain and, unfortunately for me, they kind of depend on what kind of car you have. The south side of the mountain has a legitimate trail while the north side can be ascended using the old ski trails. Either way is a short but grueling hike to the summit.

The Big Moose Mountain trail is marked on the Maine Gazetteer, page 41, D1. 

Inevitably I had to start from the end of the paved road. I don't like to take any chances with my car on dirt roads, especially in rural Maine! However starting at the old ski area is just as good and you get the benefit of a view all the way up. So it wasn't so bad, even if it didn't feel very wilderness-y.

Using the ski trails made the trip pretty simple and steep. Afterall, I was hiking black diamonds in some sections! Eventually I made it to the top of the ski area and there was a tiny trail which ascended to the true summit from the final lift. Its not marked but it is a real trail and its possible to come up one direction and go down on the other side if you do a car shuttle.
Sunset on the summit of Big Moose Mountain
The summit of Big Moose Mountain was glorious, I think I could see 2/3rds of the state of Maine on a clear day. To the North I could see the volcanic domes of Big and Little Spencer Mountain. Just East of the summit was Baker Mountain and the 100-mile wilderness of the Appalachian Trail. I'm quite sure I could just make out the summits of Katahdin and Baxter State Park in the Northeast. To the Southwest I could see to the wild Bigalow Range and a bunch of other nameless summits. It was a hell of a view! Definitely worth the comparatively short hike.

So there you have it! A 5 or 6 mile round trip hike brings you to one of the best summits in the state. That's a bargain!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hiking Moxie Falls, Maine

Moxie Falls is a 90-ft waterfall located in central Maine along the Kennebec River. Its a short hike near the tows of The Forks and is something not to be missed on the drive to Jackman and Quebec. It is the second highest waterfall in Maine after Katahdin Falls.
Moxie Falls, Maine
After finishing the kayaking trip of Moosehead Lake, I decided to take the roundabout way back home to Southern Maine. So instead of heading south from Greenville, I headed west along the shore of Moosehead and on to Jackman. I was basically making a list of things to come back to  when that inevitable restlessness hits me again and I have to head off to some wild place. It was such a scenic drive and I shared it with no other cars save for a few logging trucks. 

View Moxie Falls Trailhead, Maine in a larger map
Once I pulled into Jackman, I spent a little time walking around the town and enjoying the view of  Wood Pond. Then I turned South for the glorious drive from here to Skowhegan. Highway 201 stays relatively high by East Coast standards and winds through the Appalachian Mountains before dropping down along the Kennebec River Valley. I pulled into the famous whitewater town of The Forks, Maine and went down the paved Lake Moxie Road to the Moxie Falls Trailhead. It was surprisingly accessible!
The cascades of the Moxie River before the falls
Moxie Falls was the last stop on this Moosehead Lake trip and it was a great way to end! Its a very gentle, one mile round trip hike with several overlooks. After leaving the parking lot, the trail winds through the woods a bit and then comes to a four-way trail intersection. Just keep heading straight to get to the falls. Before I knew it, I was there! You get a lot of bang for your buck on this hike!
There's also a pretty large gorge after the falls.
You just gotta love the Maine Gazetteer, always pointing out places like this that would otherwise go unnoticed on a road trip. It would be a long drive from Portland or Boston to get here, but there's a thousand other sights to see so I don't see why it wouldn't be worth the trip. 

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Kayaking Moosehead Lake and Maine Public Reserve Land

Moosehead Lake is one of Maine's greatest natural wonders. Located on the southern edge of the expansive North Woods, it is the largest alpine lake in the East. Moosehead is still one of the most wild and untouched wildernesses of the Northeast.
Moosehead Lake and the Great North Woods of Maine
Before traveling out to Moosehead Lake for the long weekend, I had gone an unbelievable four weeks without tramping into the woods. That must be a record for me. After all, when you're an outdoorsman living in Maine, you're about as happy and active as a surfer living in Hawaii. But these last for weeks of wilderness-less-ness have been a testament to how stressful they have been. Personally, I don't think its very healthy for me to go that long without something- even a day hike will help me feel recharged. So when the Veteran's Day weekend hit and I thankfully had no work nor major tests to prepare for, I went to one of the greatest wilds I haven't been to yet- the North Woods.

I've been meaning to get up to Moosehead since about the time I moved to Maine. A large, majestic lake surrounded by Appalachian Mountains and the endless northeastern forests sounded better than a tropical beach to me. My plan was to spend two days hiking and two days kayaking.

Greenville Maine, the last stop before the North Woods!
I think they thought I was a bit of a nut when I walked into Northwoods Outfitters and asked if they still rented touring kayaks in November. After all, the lake temperature and air temperature were probably in the 30s and the winter wind wasn't helping either, so I don't blame them! But I was serious and experienced. I also rented a tracking GPS just in case I got into real trouble. Shortly thereafter, I was casting off of the Greenville docks and headed North!

The lake was especially windy and choppy but that did not deter the adventure and scenery. Off to my left was Big Moose Mountain which towered 2,000ft above the lake. To the right were the seaplane docks and hunting camps along the shores of the lake. In front of me were the hundreds of islands which dot the lake, some as large as a town and others supporting just a tree or two. It actually felt like I was kayaking across the Maine Island Trail but without the lobster boats and currents!

View Winter Kayaking on Moosehead Lake in a larger map

Although there were no currents, it was cold... very cold. I was glad I brought a wetsuit and dry clothes. I had to land on a couple of islands just to warm myself up and take a break from kayaking into the wind. So in some ways it was more difficult than kayaking on the ocean but at least I did not have to deal with tides.

One of the more delightful aspects of the trip was kayaking through the several archipelagos on the lake. From a general map of the area, only the large islands are marked but I discovered that there are hundreds of smaller islands that are spread across the lake. They offered a nice respite from the wind and it was fun to poke around their shores. I would have been content with a day trip of just island hopping.

Small islands everywhere!
Crossing Sandy Bay was difficult and coming between Moose Island and Burnt Jacket Point, about halfway through the trip, were very windy and exposed. Massive cliffs on the shore took my mind off the rough paddle but it was slow going nonetheless. After rounding Burnt Jacket Point, I made a second difficult crossing of Beaver Cove. I found out from one of the locals that this is a particularly difficult section as the surrounding topography tends to funnel the wind though the cove. I got a little soaked coming through there! But once I was on the other side I had a fantastic view of the sun setting over the tops of Katahdin and Baxter State Park. 

At about that time, it was 3:30 and the sun was already low in the sky so I looked for a suitable campsite. Lily Bay State Parks was not far off and I found a great landing with a gorgeous view of the lake and Big Moose Mountain. Perfect spot for a camp! I pulled the boat out and quickly set up a tent to warm up.

Wonderful spot for a camp! The far mountain is Big Moose Mountain
That evening I popped my head outside of the tent and was rewarded with one of the greatest sights I've ever seen- a completely uninhibited night sky. It was a new moon over northern Maine in November and there was not even the distant lights of a logging truck or hunter's camp to interrupt the brilliance of the stars. I've only seen this clear of a sky in parts of Utah, the Sierra Nevada of California and northern Minnesota. The Milky Way stretched across the sky like a silver rainbow and the evening star was reflecting perfectly off of the calm water. What an incredible and rare sight! I took off along the shore and took in the frigid view!
Kayaking Moosehead in the early winter!
The next day held completely different weather. Not only was the wind blowing at the same speed in the opposite direction, there was also some freezing rain. Good thing I brought the wetsuit. When I was paddling hard into the wind, I was able to stay warm but it was still difficult. The same crossings and same channels were just as hard with the wind and chop. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the trip- its not often I'm able to get this much quietude and solitude. 

I think that's one of the things I love the most about Maine- if you drive into Portland or two hours South to Boston, you can enjoy some of the finer things about East Coast cities- all the good food, art, history, nightlife, culture, people ect. But if you get tired of that, you can just drive two or three hours North and be completely alone save for the wildlife. I'm no recluse and I'm not a hermit but I love spending time alone in the wild. The abundant solitude is delightful. Its nice to know that in a state like Maine, there will always be a half million acres of land for anyone, be it a Mainer or someone "from away" to get out and enjoy some fresh air and time in the wild. Thank God for that!
Kayaking along Sugar Island, Moosehead Lake
So I pulled into Greenville in the afternoon and promptly warmed myself up with some coffee and dry clothes. Despite the cold and constant struggle against the wind, the trip was serene and rejuvenating. It reminded me that I can't stay away from these places for too long- its just plain unhealthy! But it wasn't the end to my Moosehead Travels- I was able to climb Big Moose Mountain and drive all along the shore up to Rockwood. I think I might have found my favorite place in Maine

Looking at the maps, I suppose I was technically just skirting around Maine's Public Reserve Lands but it all felt the same to me. There are some excellent resources if you would like to travel through the North Woods. The website and map for Maine's Public Reserve Lands is very useful. Simply by chance, I picked up a copy of Tom Hanrahan's guide to the public lands, Your Maine Lands: Reflections of a Maine Guide, which was filled with practical advice and plenty of good reasons to head up here. 
Sunset on Moosehead Lake from the summit of Big Moose Mountain
Read. Plan. Get Out There!