It’s 3.6 miles long. It’s a hill climb, but one of the more benign trails in the region. The course record is 35:16—just under 10 minute miles.
Think you can beat that?
Well, you’d have to beat out every Dartmouth skier in the past 25-plus years and a bunch of others who show up to the twice-yearly jaunt. And you’d also have to beat the time of some guy named Kris Freeman. The runs are held in August (usually pretty warm) and October (quite often snowy).
Not many ski teams have longstanding, uphill trail runs with decades of results. Of course, not many schools own mountains. Dartmouth was granted ownership of most of Mount Moosilauke in 1920, and it’s veritable outing club soon built a ski trail to its summit, 50 miles from campus (it became part of the Appalachian Trail fifteen years later; the Outing Club still maintains 75 miles of the trail). Dartmouth also maintains a large lodge at the mountain’s base—the perfect place to start a race.
Mount Moosilauke is the southwestern-most of New Hampshires 4000 foot peaks, and at 4802 feet it rises far above the surrounding landscape. The top 300 feet or so are devoid of trees (treeline in the northeast comes low) and only sedges and a few gnarled balsam fir grow amongst the rocks. It also marks the first time in 1000 miles northbound Appalachian Trail thru-hikers break above 4000 feet, and the first time in their trek from Georgia such hikers rise above the treeline. Dartmouth maintains a network of trails up the mountain, which used to have a carriage road to the top and a tip-top hotel which was run by the college in its later years (it burned in the ’40s). The views from the top are tremendous—ranging from the Adirondacks to Mount Washington—especially if it’s sunny and you’re not dry-heaving.
I first ran Moosilauke in 2010, after spending five months working in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s backcountry huts in the White Mountains. Carrying heavy loads (50-80 pounds) up 2500 to 3500 feet twice a week had me in pretty good shape (I’d run a hut traverse—50 miles and 17,000 feet of elevation in 24 hours—and though nothing of 8 miles of hiking and 65 miles on a mountain bike a few days afterwards) and thought I’d tackle Moosilauke. So I emailed the Dartmouth coaches, cajoled a photographer friend of mine to come and document, showed up, and ran.
The start was great—since they started most of the guest men right after the alpine men. Yes, you read that right. They make the alpine skiers run the race, too. They’re usually excited to break an hour (Statistical Skier has a nice breakdown). Which means that if you’re running a respectable race, you get to pass a bunch of guys in the first mile. The weather in 2010 was pretty good—it was pretty dry at low elevations and quickly transitioned up high to deep, packed snow, which is great for running. I ran the race in 46 minutes, a respectable, right-in-the-pack time. Two minutes after I’d finished, Kris Freeman motored up the trail; he’d started 12 minutes behind me. He raced to the top of the hill, thanked Dartmouth nordic coach Ruff Patterson, and ran down another trail.
Last year, I was ready to run, and a foot of snow canceled the race (and pretty much everything else in New England that weekend). This year the date was pushed two weeks earlier to October 14. And of course the weather conspired to give us typical Moosilauke conditions. It snowed a bit overnight so the trail was wet and slushy even at the bottom. This year I was slotted behind the Nordic women, lined up, gave Dartmouth coach Cami Thompson (she times the bottom; Ruff times the top) my name, and ran down and slid across the bridge.
The trail starts uphill quickly, and soon crosses Gorge Brook. It used to follow the brook closely but now climbs above it, as it was washed out in Hurricane Irene last year. The new trail was built just this summer and was inordinately muddy—after that section every skier who didn’t have dark colored spandex on (most chose to wear more than shorts) had mud splotched up to their knees. The half mile of mud finally ended at the old trail, but it was still wet.
Mud, slush and snow are par for the course for the October Moosilauke, but this year we got ice, fog and wind, too. The snow was never deep enough to cover the rocks, and near treeline rocks—chilled by record lows the day before—glistened with glare ice. I was probably not the only one to take a slip and decided to slow down so as to to fall and break and ankle or wrist (or iPhone). I pussyfooted to the summit and was met by 50 mph wind gusts. Everyone was giving their name to the timers (who were huddled behind rocks) and turning to run down the trail. I can imagine a race where everyone lingers on the summit, temperatures in the 40s and the sun shining down. But it was not to be, and I made it down a little muddy but no worse for wear, ready to come test my mettle again next year.