Last weekend wasn’t the best weekend for getting distant views from mountaintops in New England, but I found some hikes in the White Mountains that proved that even in the dense “green tunnel” you can find a totally satisfying wilderness trip. I had climbed a few mountains on Friday and Saturday, with few views up top and plenty of views down low, but I’ll leave those stories for another day. Here’s how it went down on Sunday.
My high-school classmate, Cass, and her fiance, Mark, had just finished a through-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail a few weeks earlier (they have a wonderful trail journal). We had reconnected when Cass found out about my Pacific Crest Trail apps before their hike, which I thought was a pretty cool coincidence. My high school has less than 300 students, so chance meetings between students aren’t very common, let alone chance meetings by Pacific Crest Trail hikers. Cass and Mark had returned to Maine only a few days earlier, so we all got together for some classic foliage hiking near the Wild River.
The forecast called for almost certain rain, and chilly autumn temperatures. We figured any mountaintop views would be blocked by clouds, and it would be cold enough that we wouldn’t want to hang around in exposed areas, anyway. With that in mind, we started up the Stony Brook Trail near Gorham, NH, walking along the brook through deep woods for several miles. The leaves of the forest canopy were just at the right level of color to make the overcast sky seem as bright as a sunny day. What leaves had already fallen added extra color to the brook beside us, and kept our footsteps nice and loud, shuffling and crunching over the trail.
We did have one open view at the crest of the Carter-Moriah range, where the Stony Brook Trail crosses the Carter-Moriah Trail (the Appalachian Trail, also) and the Moriah Brook Trail continues down the other side. We could only stay on the ledge for a minute, since the wind was biting cold, but we did get a nice look at the overcast sky, with Caribou Mountain and the Moriah Brook valley below us.
From there, we dropped down into the Wild River Wilderness on the Moriah Brook Trail, which bore some similarities to the Black Angel Trail I’d been on in the same wilderness area only a few weeks earlier. Maybe it was the foliage, but I have to say the Moriah Brook Trail was one of the most beautiful trails I’ve walked along all year.
Heading down the trail, we immediately began to follow Moriah Brook, which started out in a pleasantly moss-covered spruce forest with giant boulders choking the waterway. The trail had some tricky footing, due to hidden mud under the leaves, but considering the condition of many Wilderness trails in the Whites, we did pretty well. Just as many wet feet came about as a result of gawking at the foliage as came from well-hidden mud puddles.
As we wound our way down along Moriah Brook, it went from a tight, jumbled mountain brook to a wide, rocky river. We passed too many fine swimming holes to count (not in this weather, though. We’ll have to come back in the summer), cascading waterfalls, and river-smoothed boulders that would make for dozens of amazing picnic spots.
After many miles of steady descent along the brook, the trail joined with the Highwater Trail, which runs along the west banks of the Wild River all the way from Evan’s Notch into the heart of the Wild River Wilderness. Where we joined the trail, the Wild River was many times larger than Moriah Brook, and it still showed signs of wear from the flooding in 2011. In a few places, the Highwater Trail disappeared over the banks of the river, forcing us on short (and pretty easy) bushwhacking adventures. No complaints here, though. The giant, rocky river is a beauty.
We decided to cut the hike short by a few miles, as it was getting pretty late in the day, so we forded the river at the Shelburne Trail and walked along the Wild River Road back to the second car. Our timing was impeccable– a bitter cold rain started to fall just as we climbed into the car, and didn’t let up much until Monday night. It’s hard to imagine a better autumn foliage hike than this one, and we timed everything just right.