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Winter Hiking and Skiing

Winter travel on Moosilauke or anywhere is a very different ball-game from summer hiking, but with the right gear and a little training it can be safe and entirely enjoyable. The advantages are that when the weather is clear, it is usually very clear indeed, almost always without the summer haze. There tend to be fewer people on the mountain in the winter and, with snow on the ground, the place can be just plain gorgeous. There are several things to consider, however:

The general factors to be prepared for are cold, high winds, the inability to move rapidly (especially with a pack, in deep snow), and the shortness of daylight. Difficult conditions can last quite late in the year; it is not at all unusual for there to have been no snow in Hanover for weeks and yet still be hip-deep on the mountain in shaded spots, with bad mud in others. The AMC at Pinkham Notch, (603) 466-2721, is likely to have the best handle on snow depths and other conditions in the mountains.

Ease of routefinding and travel in winter can vary dramatically from day to day and place to place. In late February, even in years of deep snow, if it has not snowed in several weeks and the weather has been good, the Glencliff and Gorge Brook Trails can be well-packed highways where even snowshoes would not be needed. At the same time, the Ridge Trail, by far the most difficult winter route, could be a major quagmire of seven foot drifts and spruce traps, with the blazes buried and the route virtually impossible to follow. In fact, these conditions could apply anywhere on the mountain after a big storm. These are some rules of thumb: (1) Always, unless you are certain of the conditions, bring snowshoes or skis, and make sure they work before you leave town. (2) Don’t attempt a trail you are not thoroughly familiar with if there has been recent snow or you suspect there might be more than three feet of snow on the ground. Moosilauke trails, including the Appalachian Trail portions, are poorly blazed for winter use and can be very difficult to trace if you are breaking the way. (3) Always bring gear sufficient to make a rough bivouac (sleeping bag, matches, tarp, extra food). The trips described are dayhikes, but a broken snowshoe can force an overnight any time. Always bring a good flashlight, preferably a headlamp, with new batteries (batteries don’t last in the cold).

Crampons generally will not be required to get to treeline on any trail except possibly Beaver Brook, though the last half-mile of Glencliff before Carriage Road can be pretty nasty. If you plan to go above treeline, it is wisest to bring both crampons and an ice axe which you are comfortable using. They are not always necessary, but if you need them, you will really need them.

Always file your trip with some reliable party before you leave. Stick to your planned route so that you can be found if you do get into trouble.

Before heading out in the winter time, it is strongly recommended that you take the time to educate yourself as to safety precautions and winter preparation through courses offered by the Outdoor Programs Office or the DOC.

Trips from the Lodge or John Rand Cabin

How to Get There: Take the standard route to get to the Lodge. From Hanover, drive north on Route 10 to Orford and turn right on Route 25A (alternatively, take I-91 North to Exit 15, then cross back into New Hampshire to pick up 25A). When 25A ends in Wentworth, turn left on Route 25/Route 118. Drive through Warren, then turn right onto Route 118 when it splits from Route 25. Drive up Route 118 5.8 miles then turn left on Ravine Road. During winter the Ravine Road is gated about fifty yards up.

Lodge via Ravine Road

EASY 1.7 mile (one-way) winter hike or ski (1 to 2 hours)

This is the way to get to John Rand during snow season, or up the Ridge Trail as time permits. Park at Route 118 and follow the access road.

Gorge Brook Trail to the First Views

DIFFICULT 5 mile winter ski (3 hours)

This trip requires at least two feet of snow and no crust! The part above Last Water will almost certainly require skins. The cruise back down from Last Water is delightful for an upper-intermediate backcountry skier if there is six inches or more of powder.

Summit via Gorge Brook Trail

MODERATE 7.6 mile winter hike (6 hours) or VERY DIFFICULT 7.6 mile winter ski (5 hours minimum)

Standard route from John Rand Cabin. From Route 118 add 3.4 miles to the round-trip mileage and another hour or two. Great playing on the summit snow fields in good snow years.

Al Merrill Ski Loop

MODERATE 5 mile winter ski (2-6+ hours, depending on conditions)

This is the classic winter ski from John Rand Cabin, and is good in either direction if there is more than two feet of snow on the ground (between eight inches hard-packed and two feet, try the loop counter-clockwise as far as Mount Braley, and be prepared for stream crossings low down). See map, and Easy Hike above; from Mount Braley the trail descends steadily to the Ridge trail, then more gradually to the Baker River. Follow the Baker back and cross on the bridge leading to the parking lot; go all the way back to the fork and re-climb to return to the cabin.

Hurricane Trail–Gorge Brook Loop

MODERATE 5 mile winter ski (2-6+ hours, depending on conditions)

This route requires at least a foot of base snow, and allows one to get fairly high on the mountain and enjoy the switchback descent of the Snapper Trail. From the Ravine Lodge, cross the river and follow signs for Hurricane Trail, with its exciting bridge crossing. The trail soon becomes the old tote road which is followed to Carriage, 1.3 miles from the Lodge. Turn right onto Carriage. Climb gradually at first, then somewhat more steeply on a series of switchbacks. Be wary of snowmobiles. Snapper Trail is reached at 3.2 miles from the Lodge. In very good conditions, if you are doing well thus far, you might go for the summit, 1.7 miles farther; but the trail gets quite narrow and scary about 0.2 miles beyond Snapper. Otherwise, turn right and enjoy the descent — moderate at first and then gradual. Cross and follow a tributary of Gorge Brook. Be alert for the final steep drop to Gorge Brook Trail (4.4 miles). Continue out along Gorge Brook Trail, with its steep final descent to Hurricane Trail.

Mount Jim via Ridge Trail

DIFFICULT 7 mile winter ski (3 hours)

Skins required for the final climb to Jim. Good views through the trees from Jim if you explore a bit. Nice route down on switchbacks. From Route 118 add 3.4 miles to the round-trip mileage and another hour or two.

Summit via Ridge Trail

DIFFICULT 9.6 mile winter hike (6 hours minimum) or VERY DIFFICULT 9.6 mile winter ski (6 hours minimum)

From Route 118 add 3.4 miles to the round-trip mileage and another hour or two. Bring your compass.

Other Winter Trips

Tunnel Brook Trail

EASY 5.1 mile (one-way) winter hike or ski (3 hours)

This can be done out and back or by hitching a ride at either end. The road section at the north end is a fine introductory ski tour and the trail itself would be no problem for an intermediate skier, given good ski conditions, except that there can be some tricky stream crossings, particularly at the south end.

How to Get There: From Hanover, take I-91 North to Exit 17 (Route 302, Wells River). Follow Route 302 through Wells River and Woodsville (follow signs carefully as it zigs and zags), turn left at the Route 10 junction, and continue east toward Littleton. About two miles from the Route 10 junction, just after Route 302 goes over a big hill, turn right on Route 112 and follow it up the Wild Ammonoosuc River, past a junction where Route 116 comes in from the right, and, in about another mile, departs to the left. From the second 116 junction, continue 0.5 miles on 112 to the well-signed Tunnel Brook Road on the right. In winter this road is often unplowed after the first 0.7 mile, but not gated. Follow the main stem of this road, avoiding several minor forks. About 1.5 miles from Route 112, cross Tunnel Brook and bear left. In winter the road is generally gated at this point, so park here to avoid getting locked in, even if the road is open. Continue along this road to about 3.0 miles from Route 112 to a wide parking area on the left with a signboard for the Benton Trail. The road continues another 0.7 miles to a turnaround and the north end of the Tunnel Brook Trail.

You are now about 0.7 miles from your car, so ascend the Tunnel Brook Trail through the hardwoods. The trail then starts crossing and re-crossing Tunnel Brook and passes numerous beaver ponds before reaching Mud Pond at 2.7 miles with some fine views of Slide Ravine and the west slope of Moosilauke. The trail passes over a height of land then descends gradually, passing a reservoir at 4.1 miles. The trail then follows Slide Brook, crosses several smaller brooks, then breaks out onto the North & South Road at 5.1 miles. If you’ve left a second car at the Glencliff Trail parking or you plan to hitch back, continue 0.2 miles out to Sanitarium Road, otherwise return via the same route.

Summit via Glencliff Trail

MODERATE 7 mile winter hike (7 hours)

Easiest winter route to the summit.

How to Get There: From Hanover, drive north on Route 10 to Orford and turn right on Route 25A (alternatively, take I-91 North to Exit 15, then cross back into New Hampshire to pick up 25A). When 25A ends in Wentworth, turn left on Route 25/Route 118. Drive through Warren, then continue straight when Route 118 splits off to the right. In Glencliff, turn right onto Sanitarium Road (look for a sign for the New Hampshire Home for the Elderly). Pass the left turn for the North & South Road, then park on the right in the parking area (WMNF parking fee required).

Lodge via Hurricane Trail from Great Bear

DIFFICULT 9 mile winter ski (5 hours minimum)

How to Get There: From Hanover, drive north on Route 10 to Orford and turn right on Route 25A (alternatively, take I-91 North to Exit 15, then cross back into New Hampshire to pick up 25A). When 25A ends in Wentworth, turn left on Route 25/Route 118. Drive through Warren, then continue straight when Route 118 splits off to the right. In Glencliff, turn right onto Sanitarium Road (look for a sign for the New Hampshire Home for the Elderly). Pass the left turn for the North & South Road, then park on the right in the parking area (WMNF parking fee required).

Based at Great Bear, follow Hurricane Trail. It is 2.9 miles to the Carriage Road, 4.5 miles to the Ravine Lodge. Skins required for a brief section west of the height of land (1.5 miles from Great Bear) — otherwise upper intermediate backcountry.

Summit via Beaver Brook Trail

VERY DIFFICULT 7.8 mile winter hike (6 hours minimum)

This route will generally require crampons or snowshoes with instep crampons, owing to ice in the cascades which is almost impossible to avoid in some sections. Snowshoes are mandatory for the upper portions, which, in winter, are the most difficult routes to follow.

How to Get There: From Hanover, take I-91 North to Exit 17 (Route 302, Wells River). Follow Route 302 through Wells River and Woodsville (follow signs carefully as it zigs and zags), turn left at the Route 10 junction, and continue east toward Littleton. About two miles from the Route 10 junction, just after Route 302 goes over a big hill, turn right on Route 112 and follow it up the Wild Ammonoosuc River, past a junction where Route 116 comes in from the right, and, in about another mile, departs to the left. From the second Route 116 junction, continue on Route 112 up the winding, scenic climb into Kinsman Notch. Just before the height of land, pass a pond on the right — just past the pond, you will see signs for the Appalachian Trail. Park here (WMNF parking fee required). Follow signs for Beaver Brook Trail.

Alternatively, take Route 10 to Orford, Route 25A to Wentworth, Route 118 past the Lodge, then turn left on Route 112 and look for the Beaver Brook Trail parking area on the left — takes a little longer, but it’s easier to follow.

Last Updated: 4/16/13