Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Overnight to Moriah and my NH 48 4k Finish

For whatever reason, hikers in New England seem to love to hike lists of peaks that make some criteria.  I just finished the first list most people do, the 48  4,000 foot mountains in New Hampshire but there are so many more - the 67 New England 4,000 footers, the 100 highest peaks in New England, the 3,000 footers of NH, the "52 with a view" etc. The defacto king of the lists is "The Grid" where hikers attempt to hike each of the 48 at least once per calender month for a total of 12 x 48 = 576 peaks.  Based on my conversations with other hikers, this obsession with lists is not the case for any other places around the country and don't know why.  I think it's a combination of the typical driven career type and our own need for classification and accomplishment.  It could also be a far more accessible miming of mountaineers obsessed with climbing the world's 8,000 meter peaks. It could also just be the result of a group of people with limited options who have been hiking the same areas for years trying to seek out new experiences; the lists offer an easy resource for people looking for new places to hike or a reason to hike the same peaks over and over again instead of the ambiguous "hike it because it's there".

I started hiking in the Whites when I first moved to New Hampshire in 2010, just the occasional summer day hike when I wasn't mountain biking.  Over the next few years I started doing more hikes, including a winter skills weekend at Cardigan with the NH AMC chapter.  Eventually I heard about the NH 48 and started a mental tally of what I'd done but still returned to the same mountains that I liked to hike over and over again or that friends suggested.  Moving to Boston lead me to becoming an AMC co-leader and doing more hikes up north than I had been with the lack of good local mountain biking and my sudden hiking fitness from the PCT.  I realized I only had something like 15 or 20 mountains left and figured why not just do them all.

I still feel weird about the accountant-like nature of keeping lists but it makes sense if your main activity is hiking, you are geographically limited and like to hike with fellow peak baggers.  I'm not knocking the practice, I just find it odd.  There are parallels between through hiking and peak bagging, mainly the common experience between people who have hiked the same trails or bagged the same peaks and the connection that offers.  Maybe it's that common connection that we seek out with other people that drives the peak baggers?

Anyway, that was a long rant for the start of a trip report.  This was my Facebook event description:

People keep telling me this is a big deal so now it's got a facebook event! Saturday we will hike up the Stony Brook trail, give Moriah the middle finger and camp about 500' lower on the Moriah Brook trail. There, fires and improvised shelters will be made or you could bring a tent. Sunday, we'll hike back up the ridge and meet Pam Wilmot and anyone who doesn't want to set things on fire/sleep outside and hike up to the Summit. Then out the Carter Moriah trail to a car spot (possibly).

Philip Werner and Guthook came along for the overnight - their trip reports are here and here and I stuck my photos on dropbox here.  Philip had been wanting to try winter fire building in earnest which means dedicating most of a day to collecting and processing wood.  It was definitely a learning experience.  We got started around 9 am after I dropped Pam off for an AMC hike on the Carters (just down the street) and took our time getting to camp, about 200 yards down the Moriah Brook Trail and a little ways before we lost the trail entirely in deep snow and bent over trees.  The campsite we settled on seemed ideal - largely level with big open areas surrounded by trees with plenty of down wood to choose from.

Philip set to work gathering wood as Guthook and I dug the fire pit down to bare ground.  We hit a thick layer of ice from a rain storm last fall about 2 or 3 feet into the fluffy powder which almost destroyed Guthooks Costco metal "avalanche" shovel and stopped my plastic avalanche shovel entirely.  This layer stopped me from digging a real snow cave so I just set my tarp over a shallow depression in the snow under the cover of a tree.  We got through that and hit bare ground another 2 feet down.   The ground was covered in moss - our first red flag for our fire plans.  Around this time Siren stopped by on a test hike of an HMG pack.  It must have been funny for her to suddenly find three grown men cutting wood and playing with knives in the middle of the white mountains.

Philip came back with some wood and we all took turns gathering, cutting and splitting with the Mora knives Philip lent us with long stretches spent melting snow for water (mostly by Guthook).  You can use a sturdy knife like a wedge by setting the blade on the top of a cut log and wacking it with another log - a process called batoning. We made some larger kindling this way and stacked the biggest logs on the ground.  Philip and I were both keen to try an upside down fire where you build a fire on top of the larger pieces and the coals burn down to start them on fire.

Unfortunately all the big down pieces of wood were wet and frozen solid so they had to melt, then dry before burning.  I'm certain this is because we chose an open boggy area that is too wet to allow even dead wood to dry before freezing in Fall.  We were unable to get anything larger than thumb sized to light and even that was a struggle.  Towards dusk, we decided to give up on the upside down fire and switch to a log cabin formation on top of the bigger pieces of wood.  Even that didn't work!  The split pieces along the sides of the "cabin" just wouldn't light.  We gave up around 7 pm and just used the white gas and inverted canister stoves Guthook and Philip brought along for our dinners.  I managed to barely cook the Italian sausages I brought over the fire as well but had to boil one when it was under cooked.

As if on cue, Guthooks white gas stove broke after he mentioned how reliable it was and how many winter trips it had saved.  The siphon had popped out of the valve that screws into the fuel bottle and was floating around in the bottle, just out of reach.  We debated how to get it out and settled on dumping the fuel out into my pot to get the siphon.  Guthook repaired the stove and we were back in action but surprisingly low on fuel the next morning.  We easily used 20 ounces of white gas and an entire canister from Philip's stove.  For 3 people melting snow over 24 hours that's a huge amount!

Around 8 pm we called it a night and got into our respective shelters - Black Diamond First Light tents for Philip and Guthook and a 5x9' tarp for me. It had started snowing that afternoon but there was virtually no wind at camp.  However, the light fluffy snow will find its way under a flat tarp with the tiniest of breezes and I quickly felt snow flakes melting on my face.  It had been lightly snowing all day and was predicted to continue snowing into the next night.

Getting out of your sleeping bag in 3 season camping is annoying, but not a big deal.  In winter, it's a real pain in the ass.  You have boots that need to be kept dry even though it's easy to post hole wherever you walk, and you freeze your butt off in a hurry without putting all those layers back on.  Fortunately my -20 degree REI sleeping bag stays warm for quite a while with the help of a hot water bottle so I could dive back in and warm up quickly.  Still, I first got out and lowered the tarp pitch, then off with the boots and back into the sleeping bag.  No luck, still a few flakes were coming in from over my head.  In desperation to avoid getting up again I set up the 1.5'x4' sheet of Reflectix Guthook had given me to use as a fire reflector like a little wall behind my head and that blocked the snow until the sub 1 mph breeze switched directions and snow started coming in from the side.

I then managed a feat of contortion that only the most experienced and laziest of winter backpackers should attempt - flipping 180 degrees around under a tarp pitched less than 2 feet off the sloping ice covered ground.  At that point my face was protected by the closed end of the tarp, the sleeping bag was protected by my bivy and I slept comfortably and warm.  Until I had to pee about fifteen minutes later...

The next morning we fired up the stoves again and started heating water for the hike out.  Philip ran out of gas but we had just enough in Guthooks whisperlite to get us set up for the day with pine and smoke scented hot water.  We thought about the fire, but were out of easily accessible tinder and kindling so Guthook scattered the logs and I helped him fill in the pit with snow as the snow storm started to intensify.

A few minute before 10 am I hiked the 200 yards back up to the trail junction and our meeting spot and almost immediately saw Pam, Siren and Matt coming up the trail.  Perfect timing!  We said our hellos, assembled the group and headed up to Moriah.  The 1.6 miles went slow with all the breaks for layering and the drifted trail, but we finally made it to the base of the summit scramble. I thought we needed goggles at one point but only the first two of the five or six exposed ledges were windy, otherwise the hike up was calm until the summit. Everyone went ahead to make a little NH 48 ceremony for me in the windy exposed ridge, took some photos and butt slide back down to the trees.  We had champagne and some excellent brownies both brought by Pam (thanks Pam!) and headed back out to the car.

The hike out was more fun since the hard part was behind us and everyone got a chance to chat and joke.  It was a great group and I was amazed at how well everything fell into place, despite the lack of roaring fires on Saturday.  In the future I'll pick a campsite further from wet areas and stick to tepee fires to dry out the inevitably wet wood found in eastern forests.  I'll probably bring a shaped tarp too...


  1. Congrats! Sounds like a great way to finish.

    re: Lists in other parts of the country

    Here in Colorado, we have people who hike the 54 "official"14ers (14k+ ft mountains) and also do the centennial peaks (all the 14ers plus the highest 13ers for a total of 100). No surprise, we also have a large population of outdoors people who are also very career driven! (techies and engineering types). And, much like thru-hikers, they have their own arcane rules, traditions and debates that sounds silly outside of the community! :)

    1. Hey PMags! I know of the 14ers but hadn't heard of the "centennials" - I guess people are people despite the location!