Basch: Ski trails make for fine hikes near Moosilauke

  • The new Moosilauke Ravine Lodge in Warren recently opened. The lodge is close to the start of the Al Merrill Loop, a 5-mile circuit. MARTY BASCH photo / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Sunday, October 22, 2017

On the east side of Mount Moosilauke, there is a spot where a hiker can look up above the growing pines and see the main ridge of the 4,802-foot mountain.

The ridge extends from South Peak to the main summit on the horizon, showcasing the Moose and Jobildunc Ravine.

The cleared viewpoint with restricted vistas near the height of land on the trail is called the 10th Mountain Division Outlook, an appreciation recognizing the Dartmouth men who served with the skiing troops in World War II. The wooden placard reads: “And the granite of New Hampshire keeps of record of their fame.”

Fittingly it is on a trail named after the Dartmouth Outing Club’s longtime director of outdoor affairs Al Merrill, who also was the Big Green’s head ski coach from 1957 to 1972.

Known as the “Silver Fox,” during his coaching tenure at the college the ski teams never finished lower than fifth at NCAA Championships. A National Ski Hall of Fame member, his bio says he coached the U.S. FIS Nordic combined team in 1954 and its Olympic team in 1956. He was the head coach for Nordic skiing for the U.S. Ski Team from 1962 to 1968 and the Nordic program director for 1968 to 1970. During those years he instituted many ideas that increased U.S. competitiveness in Nordic sports as evidenced by John Bower’s Nordic combined victory for the King’s Cup at the Holmenkollen in 1968.

Merrill died at age 69 in 1990.

The trail, the Al Merrill Loop, is known as a cross-country ski trail. But in conjunction with the Asquam-Ridge Trail it makes a fine 5-mile hiking circuit with beginnings in a cul-de-sac just steps from the newly renovated Moosilauke Ravine Lodge on Ravine Lodge Road in Warren. The circuit is a nice woods romp within the sights and sounds of the Baker River at times while serving up remembrances to those with a passion for the outdoors.

On a warm fall afternoon, my wife Jan and I hit the wide trail as finishing touches were being applied to the timber lodge. The trail, with its multiple short palette-like bridge crossings, followed the softwood, hardwood canopied mix upwards with a series of well-appreciated switchbacks.

The way passed by a spur path leading to the one-room DOC John Rand Cabin built in 1983. A visit to its porch found a serene look at Moosilauke, the Algonquin word for “bald place,” referring to the mountain’s bare summit. The view extended across the Baker River valley and into Gorge Brook Ravine. A plaque on the cabin commemorated Dartmouth alum John Rand for his 41 years of service to the DOC.

The easy-to-follow trail led to the Moose viewpoint and then reached height of land before getting narrower and descended – hiking with poles, I tried a tuck but went no faster – eventually crossing the Baker River and back to the trailhead.

Afterwards we visited the lodge, a White Mountain timber Taj Mahal. Originally constructed as a ski resort in 1938, the rebuilt 11,000 square foot lodge contains glorious local timber, a large stone fireplace, solar panels, kitchen, overnight rooms, meeting room, library and more.

The remarkable lodge is part of a compound that includes other guest cabins like the Class of ‘74 Bunkhouse, Class of 1966 Bunkhouse and Ross McKenney Bunkhouse under the guise of stunning Mount Moosilauke views. The lodge sits at 2,417 in elevation, with coordinates 43.9 North and 71.8 West, according to a stone marker outside its doors.

Plus, you have to love the DOC’S sense of humor. Descending to the lodge from the dirt road by an impressive white pine entryway on the walkway and stairs, there are a number of whimsical trail signs. One points to the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, some 8,412 miles away. Another points to the North Pole with an inscription of 3,754,656 sled dogs. Maine, another says, is some 2,724,480 inches down the road. And apparently the remains of Elvis have been relocated to the Whites as one marker with a downward arrow and emblazoned with the name Elvis suggests the famous singer is six feet under.

Whether hiking or skiing – there’s foot travel only on the Al Merrill Loop – in the shadows of Moosilauke it’s good to know the King may be nearby. If you listen closely, I bet you can hear him singing “That’s All Right” to that impressive mountain mama.