Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Conquerors! Mount Moosilauke

Have you ever felt like you’ve conquered the world? What I mean by that is, have you ever overcome something that seemed pretty crazy? And did you get that sense of accomplishment and think to yourself, “I own this, I got this, this is MINE”? Did it make you feel like you wanted to plant a flag with your name on it, informing the world of what you had just done? I definitely felt that way last Friday when I conquered Mount Moosilauke.
I’ve had my eye on Mt. Moosilauke for a while and to be honest, I’m not really sure why. This particular mountain just appeals to me, I guess. It is a lonely peak all by itself, with respect to other four thousand footers. It stands alone, southwest of route 93 and the Kanc junction. Just about everyone I have talked to who has climbed this mountain has a story about it. My buddy Matt described the ascent as one that makes you feel like William Wallace charging the mountains of Scotland in Braveheart. A coworker told me that the westward winds blow extremely hard in the Alpine Region on Moosilauke and each of the many times he’s summitted, he could barely stand. Maybe these tales strike a chord of adventure in me, who knows. Regardless, I wanted to climb it.
Mt. Moosilauke from the Trailhead, Hiding in the Clouds

This hiking season, I decided to turn my desire into a reality. I chose a day and decided I was heading up north to plant my feet on the summit of this mountain. Lucky for me, one of my friends, Alex, was up for hiking it as well. When we started off at the trailhead, the summit was far up in the clouds. We left this intimidating sight behind and disappeared into the woods. The hike up the trail was similar to many I have been on before. As we climbed higher and higher, the spruce trees got smaller and smaller until we crossed into the Alpine Region. I don’t recall noticing much of a significant breeze until we hit this point. The wind slowly grew stronger and frost started appearing on the trees as we continued on.
It was not long before we left the barrier of trees behind us and an enormous gust of wind struck us from the west. This wind was worse than we had experienced earlier on the trail and was frigid cold. We could see the summit in the distance and it seemed so close. However, this task before us, to climb through stronger winds than we had ever experienced before, was not an easy one to overcome. While absorbing the beauty of an open landscape to the west and east, we fought off the cold and walked slowly north. With each step through the load-bearing wind, we felt as though our feet were weighted down by 25 pounds each. When we looked to the left (toward the west), we were not even able to breathe as the wind would pull the air from your mouth before you could inhale. Regardless, we trudged on!
The higher in elevation we got, the fiercer Mother Nature was on us. The tree trunks were pure white on their westward faces making them look like crystal ice structures on lonely rock. The summit sign in the distance slowly got larger as we got closer. When we tried to talk to each other, we found we could not hear without screaming as the wind filled our heads with an echoing roar. We found ourselves using our trekking poles, not to keep our balance on loose footing, but instead as kickstands to the east to keep us from blowing over when we took a step forward. Regardless, we trudged on!

Ice Rime on Summit Sign
With that last, heavy stride reaching the rocky summit, I truly felt like I had conquered that mountain. I felt like Neil Armstrong taking that one giant leap. The summit sign, covered in hard rime ice, indicated that we had just climbed to an elevation of 4,802 feet. However, that last half mile was truly like nothing I had experienced before. It was absolutely beautiful but extremely vicious and displayed awesome power. Even with these extreme conditions (the wind literally knocking us off our feet and roaring so loud we could barely hear each other speak), being up there was very calming. We were the only people there that morning and it felt great to be the first conquerors of the day. Alex and I stayed up there as long as we could. We took one last breath of White Mountain air before the cold finally forced us off. We descended to the east, leaving the summit and the westward winds behind. We definitely felt higher than the trail had brought us that day.

Franconia Ridge with Mt. Washington Behind



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