It had been over a month since my last hike. This was mostly due to weekend weather forecasts being in the form of either wet, white or dangerously cold with double-digit below zero wind chills. Finally though, this past weekend appeared to be as I referred to it 'a good enough' forecast.
The day was not off to a good start. I opened my eyes, and looked at the time... 3:51am. Which, would seem about right for a 3-1/2 hour one-way ride to the trailhead, unless your friends were scheduled to pick you up at 4:00am!! Thankfully, everything was packed and ready to go the night before. I got up, showered, got dressed, loaded my gear in their vehicle and we were on our way by about 4:10am.
The forecast called for some clouds most of the day, with about a two hour window of "clear" in the middle, then clouding up for good in the afternoon ahead of the small storm coming though. However, the ride up gave us clear skies, lots of stars, a huge setting moon, and a completely clear view of all the visible peaks on Franconia Ridge and the Presidential Range.
While cold to start, it wasn't cold by winter, White Mountain standards. Eight degrees at the trailhead, but more importantly, zero wind. The day would be defined by perfect light, zero wind, deep fall-like, blue skies and tons of fresh, powdery sparkling snow. Lots and lots of unblemished snow.
This next photo was taken shortly after leaving the Carter-Moriah trailhead, but it could have been captured anywhere along the trail for the first few hours. At every turn, the low angle of the morning sun cast long shadows and spots of brightness onto the white blanket of fresh powder.
At roughly the two mile mark, you come to outstanding views of the northern Presidential Range, just below the actual (wooded) summit of Mt. Surprise. Mt. Surprise is not a 4000-footer, but at only about 2200 feet, the views are great! Your first real sneak of a view looks like this.
Just a short distance past that spot, you arrive at a vista with unobstructed clear views of the entire northern range.
After leaving Mt. Surprise, we had about 2-1/2 more miles to reach the summit of Mt. Moriah. In keeping with the theme of the day, the scenery, and sunlight, and skies were simply stunning. And still not a hint of wind. This is either a tiny tree, or, due to the depth of the snowpack, I suspect it's just the top of a bigger tree, but it contrasted so well against the sky and the slope of pristine powder.
More views from the trail as we made our way towards the summit. As is usually the case, as we neared the summit, the amount of snow increased. Snow was caked on every twig, branch, tree and stump in even the thickest of forests. The images can't do it justice for how beautiful it really is.
Roughly a 1/4 mile from that last photo, and about 4-1/2 miles from the trailhead, we reached the summit of Mt. Moriah. The summit marker sits embedded in a rounded rocky knob at the high point of the peak where 360 degree views provide incredible scenery in every direction. Looking to the southwest, you have some of the greatest views of the Northern Presidential Range I've seen on any peak so far.
Close up of Mt. Adams and Mt. Madison Looking straight south, you see miles and miles of the snow-covered trees below
The weather on the summit was perfect. Calm and almost non-existent winds, temps in the mid 20's, and lots of sunshine. After staying on the summit for at least 30 minutes to rest, take lots of photos and eat some lunch, we started our descent back to the vehicle. By this time, the forecasted late afternoon clouds were thickening, and we caught this much different looking view back at the Mt. Surprise outlook.
On the way back, the late afternoon sun was now mimicking that of the morning light casting long shadows on the still unblemished blanket of snow.
This would be peaks #7 and #10 for my hiking friends and #41 for me. Four more hikes to reach my remaining seven peaks. And, for the first time in my last three hikes, we actually made it back to the vehicle before dark!
I will remember this hike as easily being one of my favorite, and definitely my favorite winter hike to date. A great, well-marked trail, with plenty of diversity and lots of viewpoints. We had absolutely perfect weather and conditions the entire 9 miles. We ran into very few other hikers on this day, but all very friendly and enjoying the same perfection of conditions we had. This is one peak that I will definitely be returning to!