The footpath was obliterated by downed trees, spread asunder by powerful winter storms that swept through Tunnel Brook Ravine, which is nestled between Mt. Clough and Mt. Moosilauke. Spruce, fir, maple and birch lay like match sticks spilled from a matchbox. The Tunnel Brook Trail that Dave and I were following suddenly disappeared under this mass of timber. We were having a pleasant amble, wending our way along the trail when we reached the blockade. We had to continue following the footpath, obliterated by winter storms, if we were going to continue our trek to the Benton Trail and on to the summit of Mt. Moosilauke.
We stated our 14-mile circuitous trek from High Street in Glencliff, following Long Pond Road a short distance before beginning our trek on the Tunnel Brook Trail. The trail follows Slide Brook where Reuben found several swimming holes to bathe in the crystalline waters. It was a pleasant walk on an old logging road, climbing gradually to mud pond and the headwaters of Slide Brook. The trail slabbed along the side of the pond, where beavers had taken up residence. The slides on Mt. Clough stood above and presented an interesting test for climbers in their quest to summit the mountain via this challenging route. The hike to Mud Pond was, in itself, a rewarding ramble. The views of the cliffs, the ponds, the beaver dams, and the active bird life offered us a chance to experience the wilderness that awaits those who are fortunate enough to live so close to the wonders of the natural world.
However, this wasn’t our goal. Climbing to the summit of Mt. Moosilauke was, and as we approached a campsite at the northern end of the ponds we encountered the barricade. The trail was recently blazed, but finding openings through the downed trees was nearly impossible. Fortunately for Reuben, he was able to creep under many of the fallen trees, but not me. Dave and I continually lost the trail in the tangle of tree trunks, limbs, branches, hobblebush and wild raspberries. Up until this point we were making good time, but now our trek came to a crawl. To our advantage we had the walls of the ravine to keep us on track and after several misguided attempts to stay on the trail we reached the upper reaches of the pond and found ourselves free from the maze of fallen trees.
Proceeding along the Tunnel Brook Trail, free from blowdowns, we were now confronted with work of beavers. In building their dams they had flooded the trail under several feet of water. Dave and I looked for passages around the flooded trail, but to no avail. However, Reuben, by instinct, seemed to know the best way forward, so it was a matter of following Reuben until we were again on a dry trail. Leaving the beavers behind, we marched to the terminus of the Tunnel Brook Trail. We then continued along Tunnel Brook Road until we reached the trailhead for the Benton Trail, where we began the long gradual climb of 3.6 miles to the summit of Moosilauke (4802 ft.).
The trail follows the route of an old bridle path. The path was built during the great mountain hotel era, when tourists rode horseback or in a carriage to the summit of the mountain and stayed at the Prospect House. Built in 1860, known later as the Tip Top House of Mt. Moosilauke (not to be confused with the Tip Top House on the summit of Mt. Washington), it was destroyed by fire in the early 1900s. The foundation walls of the inn are still evident today and used as shelter by hikers during windy or inclement weather.
Moosilauke Mountain is a massive, meaning it is a large mountain mass with several dominant peaks that form an independent range. Over the years it has had other names including Moosehillock, Mooshelock, and Mooselock. The Abenaki name means “bald place”, derived from the fact that much of the upper reaches of the mountain are above tree line. It was not named for the many moose that live on and near the mountain. Other summits on the massif are Mt. Blue, Mount Jim, and South Peak. All of these are connected by a system of trails that cover much of the mountain. These trails offer a variety of options not only for hiking, but cross country skiing, snow shoeing, rock and ice climbing in the remote Jobidunk Ravine, the head waters of the Baker River. One can even sled or toboggan on the Carriage Road Trail. The recreational opportunities on the mountain are limitless.
Much of the mountain is owned by Dartmouth College and the trails, not only on the mountain but throughout the area, are maintained by the Dartmouth Outing Club. The college also owns and maintains the Ravine Lodge and cabins. The lodge, which was recently renovated, sits on the southeast side of the mountain off Rt. 118. It was built in the 1930’s and once served as the base lodge for some of the earliest competitive skiing in the country. In the summer it is open to the general public for meals, overnight accommodations and special events. From the lodge there are numerous trails perfect for cross country skiing and snowshoeing for a wide variety of ages and ability levels. For more information on Ravine Lodge check out Dartmouth Outdoors on the web.
The Benton Trail was a moderate climb along the north ridge of Little Tunnel Ravine, with good footing along the way. At 1.3 miles a spur trail led us out to an overlook to a magnificent view of Little Tunnel Ravine. I rested herewhile Dave and Reuben trudged on, waiting for me periodically to catch up. Occasionally Reuben would jog back looking for me, just to satisfy his curiosity. We continued climbing the ridge through beautiful stands of spruce and fir, the trees getting smaller as we climbed. Reaching the trail junction with the Beaver Brook Trail we soon entered the alpine zone. The bare summit lay ahead. When we emerged from treeline we were hit with blasts of wind. It was time to put on an extra layer of clothing. This .4 mile section of trail to the summit is exposed to the elements and can be extremely dangerous in deteriorating. This wasn’t the case today and we scurried along the trail, anxious to reach the walls of the old hotel foundation so we could hunker down and eat our lunch without being blown over.
Rounding the stone wall we found two AT thru hikers eating their lunch. Moosilauke is the first mountain northbound AT thru hikers climb that’s totally above treeline. We learned their trail names were Caboose and Thrill Seeker. Both women were northbound, planning to reach Katahdin by October. Having hiked the trail myself in 2007 and 2011, we exchanged AT trail stories while drinking a cold brew offered by Thrill Seeker. It was a great way to celebrate the summit finish, before we headed back to our car via the Glencliff Trail. Dave, Reuben and I bid farewell to our lunch mates and began the last leg of our hike on the Glencliff Trail.
The decent of Moosiluake on the Glencliff Trail had its challenges with the wet rocks and steep declines impinging on a quick hike out. We again met several AT thru hikers making their way both up and down the mountain. Finally reaching the parking lot, legs feeling heavy and worn out, we checked the total mileage for the day: 13.8 miles with a total elevation gain of 4,050 ft. No wonder I felt spent when I returned home. I have hiked every trail on the Moosiluake Massive and I’m never disappointed. It’s a great climb to the summit whichever trail you choose to take. Just be sure you’re prepared for a slugfest if you chose the Tunnel Brook Trail.