The Last of the 48 (Moosilauke)

As we pulled up to the gate on Ravine Lodge Rd, the bright sun shone through the empty trees around us. There were already a collection of cars parked at the gate, and people were gearing up to tackle Mt. Moosilauke. Jason and I stepped out of the car and as we did were greeted with moderately warm temperatures for the last day of the 2015-2016 winter. It would be a pleasant day for the final 4000 footer.

Shortly after, Becca and Fred pulled into the parking area, also ready to hit the trail. Porter hopped out of the back seat, sniffing around and rearing to go. We geared up and headed up the dirt road towards Ravine Lodge on the south side of the mountain. No snow was in sight as we ducked around the gate and started our hike.

The first two miles went relatively quickly as we walked along Ravine Lodge Rd. In the summer the road is open all the way to the lodge, but in the winter it’s unplowed. I had hoped that the road would be open due to the lack of snow, but it was easy to see why they had left the gate closed as we trudged along the muddy road.

We soon were passing Ravine Lodge, crossing the Baker River, and starting the ascent on the Gorge Brook trail. Unlike many of the winter ascents I had completed, there were fellow hikers on the trails! Porter was happily springing ahead whenever she had the opportunity, and greeting anyone we passed.

Becca and Fred stopped to make some adjustments and Jason and I pushed ahead as we started seeing more snow in the woods surrounding us. The two amigos, back at it again. This was home for us.

Inevitably, the discussion turned to the preceding 4 months at the superlatives.

“So what do you think was the worst experience in this whole 48in1winter thing?” Jason asked.

I thought about it for a couple seconds, then almost in sync, we both said “South Twin!”

Part of our 35-mile two-day Pemi Loop, the western ascent of South Twin was heavily snowed in and rose about 1,000 feet in a little more than half a mile. We had already started the day behind schedule, and I was already drained from the previous day by the time we reached the start of the climb. Being the crazy fit person he is, Jason naturally had powered ahead of me, leaving me alone with my thoughts and the upwards struggle. My energy was drained, I had slept terribly, and I kept sinking into the snow or slipping backwards on the rocks hidden underneath. I would climb for a few minutes, round a corner in the trail, and see another huge incline in front of me. After swearing loudly over the roaring wind, I would stop and have a snack and wonder why I was doing this stupid adventure. After another couple minutes I would slowly start again, and repeat the cycle. Jason and I eventually made it to the top, and had just enough energy to go stand atop the true summit of South Twin before we descended from that horrendous mountain and continued onwards with the remainder of the day.

“Yeah, I think we can both agree that was pretty rough,” Jason said. I nodded my head in agreement. There had been some rough moments during the course of the winter, from falling about 6 feet and almost breaking a leg during a night ascent of Mt. Carrigain to enduring immensely painful throbbing in my feet and toes during the final miles of a Presidential Traverse in 50mph winds and single digit temperatures. I don’t know if it was just timing or the weather, but nothing had quite matched the demoralizing climb on South Twin.

Continuing up the Gorge Brook Trail on Moosilauke, we soon stopped for a bit of food and waited for Becca, Fred, and Porter. They were only a few minutes back, so we all grabbed a quick snack before starting the steepest section of the hike. The trail turned to ice, the snow in the trees glistened with the strong sun shining through, and we continued climbing. We would be treated with occasional views to the southeast as we climbed, and before long we were hitting the switchbacks heading up the final steep section. The views opened up as we passed other groups heading to and from the summit of Moosilauke.

“Alright, we covered the worst day, but what was your favorite moment?” I asked Jason.

“West Bond summit, without a doubt,” he said. Also part of our second Pemi Loop day, as we approached the summit of West Bond after battling clouds and wind for many hours, the low-lying clouds parted and we were treated with an incredible view of the valleys surrounding us. As we stood there on the top of West Bond in the sunshine, we couldn’t help but feel like we were standing on the top of the world.

As we continued ascending Moosilauke, I kept thinking about my favorite moment. I couldn’t settle on anything specific. There were so many incredible experiences from the winter: skinning up cannon and skiing down, playing card games with old friends and new at the Carter Notch Hut, laughing maniacally as I sledded down Tecumseh, walking the Franconia Ridge with the snow and wind blowing, and finally stepping into the Highland Center after a successful single-day Presidential Traverse, amongst so many others. Settling on a single moment was impossible.

“Gorgeous day!” a guy exclaimed as he passed us coming down from Moosilauke, snapping me back to the present moment. He couldn’t be more right. I would have to add this day to the My Favorite 48in1winter Moments mental scrapbook.

The trail flattened out as we popped up to tree line, and after stopping to layer up, we made the final half-mile push over the exposed icy and snowy rock to the summit. As I walked, I could think of nothing but standing atop Moosilauke. My brain, previously recollecting all the experiences of the last 4 months, went quiet. I kept my eyes on the orange summit sign glowing against the bright blue sky. I could only hear my breathing over the gusting wind. Step after step, I drew closer until I was finally standing directly in front of it.

The summit marker for Mt. Moosilauke: 4,802 feet, in all its glory.

photo by Jason Leach

After sharing a cheer over the roaring wind, we ducked down into a protected rocky area just off the summit and broke out the celebratory beverages.

photo by Jason Leach

“I never thought a warm beer could be so amazing” Becca commented as we drank the White Peaks IPA that had been hugging my back in my bag all morning. As we sipped our 603 Brewery beer, we looked around at the unobstructed views from the top of the mountain. There was hardly a cloud in the sky and the sun shone down on us, but the freezing wind and the snow that blew around us was the reminder that it was still winter.

After we finished our beers and Porter had sufficiently greeted everyone on the summit, our chilly crew started down the mountain and I bid my farewell to the final summit.

Once we had descended past the rocky sections, we all broke into a jog to warm up. However, this proved to be so fun on the moderate downhill that we didn’t stop once we were warm. The 4 of us cruised downhill, hopping over obstructions and goofing around as we ran. Porter was just happy that we were finally able to keep up with her.

Everyone who was once a kid is familiar with the statement “it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.”

We had almost made it back to the Ravine Lodge when Jason rolled his ankle hard to the side and immediately yelled out in pain. We all immediately stopped.

“I think I heard a pop,” Jason said.

“Don’t make me carry you off this damn mountain,” I responded. He forced a laugh through his grimace.

He spent a couple minutes rotating his ankle and putting a bit of weight on it.

“I think it will be ok,” he said as we started to slowly walk downhill again.

After about 20 minutes of slow descent, we found ourselves back at the Lodge and back on flat ground. Jason’s ankle was starting to feel better as we stepped back onto the increasingly muddy Ravine Lodge Rd., and we were moving at our normal pace once again.

In a little more than 30 minutes we ducked under the gate and arrived back at our cars. We stripped off our boots and cold weather gear and threw everything in the back of the cars, and after hugs and high-fives all around, we got in our respective cars and hit the road. A low-key finish after a perfect day to finish off the list.

There were so many hard days. So many early morning, pre-dawn starts. So many icy trails and treacherous conditions. But I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. The 48in1winter was complete, and it felt amazing.

An enormous thank you to everyone who made the 48in1winter possible.

Brendan Leach, Leah Ross, Fred Meissner, Becca Cole, Porter, Spencer Nowak, Lexi Africano, Amanda Hansell, and Seamus Doyle, you all helped to keep me sane during those long walks in the woods.

David Savoie, I can’t believe you came up to New Hampshire for another shot at the presis. And I can’t believe we’re thinking about doing it again.

Mom and Dad, thank you for supporting me throughout the winter. I know that the long days and dangerous hikes caused you an immense amount of stress, but I’m so glad that I was able to share the stories and my love of this goal with you.

Everyone who took the time to read these posts, I can't thank you enough for your feedback. It was a great experience being able to share this adventure with the community.

And lastly, a special thank you goes out to Jason Leach, the best hiking partner I could have asked for. Hopefully you get to finish your 48 soon! We miss you in NH!