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23 February 2011

Nameless Destinations near Mt. Moriah in the Carter Range

When going on a hike, it's a common practice to head off toward a destination (mountain, pond, waterfall, etc) that has been given a name and appears on map. However, one of the most liberating things I've learned is that a destination doesn't necessarily need to be a named feature on a map. For example, there is no rule that obliges one to hike a trail all the way to the top of a mountain. There is complete freedom to choose a particularly nice spot that is located anywhere along a trail and let that be your final destination. And, for hikers who enjoy off-trail travel, a final destination might involve bushwhacking to a nameless peak or pond.

Several nameless destinations near Mt. Moriah were the focus of a recent adventure undertaken by Steve and me on a sunny February day when the air temperature never rose above freezing! However, there was a time back around 1895 when the temperature in this area was sizzling as a raging forest fire consumed over 4,000 acres in the Moriah Brook Valley and along the southeastern ridge of Mt. Moriah. Fires such as this cause tragic losses to flora and fauna, and then erosion washes away much of the soil that might have supported reforestation. Every responsible person abhors the devastation caused by massive forest fires. However, it is somewhat ironic that the destructive fires of the past served to create the views that are now so enjoyed at popular destinations such as Mt. Chocorua, Mt. Crawford, the Moats, the Baldfaces, and many others (including the nameless spots that Steve and I visited). 
[NOTE: If you're interested in additional historical information about forest fires in the White Mountain National Forest, there is an excellent paper written by Christine Goodale that is available by clicking on this LINK.]

We began our adventure on the Stony Brook Trail which is located on Rt. 16 just outside of Gorham.  This 3.6 mile trail begins at an attractive footbridge over Stony Brook, and then terminates high up on a ridge at which there is a junction with two other trails, i.e. the Carter-Moriah Trail and Moriah Brook Trail. 

All the trails we travelled had excellent footing.  On the days preceding our trek, many other hikers had tramped out these trails wearing snowshoes, and some had even pulled a flat-bottomed sled laden with supplies for overnight camping. However, the snow on either side of the well-packed trail was very deep. This was particularly evident when we encountered a trail signpost.  The snowpack elevated us such that we were looking DOWN at the signs, whereas normally they are at eye-level or higher.

Once we reached the junction, we made a left turn onto the Carter-Moriah Trail and headed in the direction of Mt. Moriah, although that was NOT our destination. Our target for this particular day was a tier of bare ledges located about 0.4 mile from the Stony Brook Trail junction. These open ledges were also a result of the forest fire of 1895. For a modest amount of effort you are rewarded with impressive views of the Northern Presidentials, as well as a unique view of ridges and peaks in the Carter Range.


Looking eastward from these ledges, there is a magnificent vista of the vast uninhabited area known as the Wild River Wilderness. The ever-impressive Baldface Mountains are also a prominent feature as you look eastward.
[NOTE: If you want to read more about hiking to these nameless ledges along the Carter-Moriah Trail, there is a terrific description with loads of details in the book entitled "Snowshoe Hikes in the White Mountains" by Steven D. Smith.]

While visiting these nameless ledges, we studied the massive display of bare rock and ledges located on the north side of the Moriah Brook Valley. This area would be our next and final "nameless destination" on this fabulous winter day.
We began this next phase of our trek by returning to the trail junction along the ridge.  Here we picked up the Moriah Brook Trail which we hiked for a few tenths of a mile, and then departed the trail for a bushwhack. However, before leaving the trail, we passed through an area of low-growing scrubby vegetation. From here we got an awesome view of the gigantic south cliffs of Mt. Moriah. It sort of resembled a scene you'd expect to see in certain areas of the Western U.S. rather than in the White Mountains of NH!

Once we left the trail we were soon bushwhacking our way through an attractive forest of young birch.

The birch forest eventually gave way to areas of mixed conifers as we approached the first of several ledges that we visited along the way. Since the bushwhacking proved easier than anticipated, we continued upward for a few tenths of a mile to the crest of the ridge where there is an enormous field of bare rock with only a few widely scattered clusters of conifers here and there (see photo below). This huge area was also a result of the 1895 fire mentioned earlier. It covers several acres and is basically a wide-open space that provides sweeping vistas which are simply stunning!

The ledges we had visited earlier in the day along the Carter-Moriah Trail provided a great view into the Wild River Wilderness. However, this open field of rock provided a view of the Wilderness that had an additional grandeur since it was more close-up and intimate, as was also true for the gorgeous view of the Baldfaces and surrounding mountains. We also enjoyed looking back at the cliffs and ledges adjacent to the Carter-Moriah Trail where we had been earlier in the day.

With so few trees to block the numbing Arctic-like wind, we were quickly dissuaded from lingering for very long at this fascinating spot. In a way, this was a good thing. It was late in the day, and we didn't have a lot of time to spare if we wanted to arrive back at the trailhead at a reasonable hour. It was a reluctant departure, but we knew it was time to go. And so, we returned to the Moriah Brook Trail by following the snowshoe tracks we had created during our bushwhack up to the ridge crest. Then, it was a simple matter of linking up with the Stony Brook Trail for the return leg of our journey.

We arrived at the trailhead just shortly after the sun had set. It had been a full day and an enjoyable day. Although the destinations we visited were lacking a name, they certainly were not lacking in beauty!


Steve Smith said...

Great report and photos, John! And a fine commentary on the virtues of "nameless destination" hiking. It was a memorable day, and I suspect there may be some future excursions into that area.


1HappyHiker said...

Thanks for the kind words Steve!

At the risk of sounding like we have a "mutual admiration society" going on here, I'll simply say that you did a superb job with your report of our adventure on your Mountain Wandering blog! You have a talent for providing details that add so much interest.