As I hike through a lacy hemlock forest, I wonder why I have waited so long to hike 4,049-foot Mount Moriah. The Carter-Moriah Trail climbs 3,400 feet from its base in Gorham, N.H., but the trail doesn’t feel as steep as that number suggests, maybe because the elevation gain is spread over 4.5 miles. The footing is sweet, at least in this first stretch, free of the usual tangle of roots and rocks.
About two miles in, I am happily surprised by Presidential Range views from Mount Surprise. I can understand why this smaller peak was a popular destination for 19th century visitors to the White Mountains. For the more hard-core, Gorham’s Alpine House rented ponies to guests who wanted to spend the night in a cabin on Moriah’s summit. From there, they could watch the sunset over Mount Washington and then wake up to see the sunrise over the smaller peaks of Evans Notch.
This June Monday is a great day for hiking, with overhead clouds keeping the temperature pleasant. Birdsong fills the forest. All around me, I hear the calls of white-throated sparrows and maybe hermit thrushes. (I wish I knew my birds better).
I encounter another hiker descending from Moriah. He spent the night camped on Mount Hight and by 5:30 a.m. was on the trail, where he almost collided with a moose and her two calves. Except for the birds, wildlife stays hidden on these mountain trails, but I have heard of similar encounters (including meet-ups with black bear) from other hikers out at dawn. I wonder what animals are watching from the forest.
The trail continues uphill over granite slabs with good views and lots of blueberry bushes before returning to a tunnel of spruce and fir. As always, the last mile is the toughest, with many ups and downs. My trial guide warns me to expect several false summits, so the small white sign directing me to Mount Moriah takes me by surprise.
A short path leads to a flat granite knob, a perfect spot for stretching out, with no major edges or bumps. I take advantage of this hard bed to rest up and enjoy the 360-degree views. Some of the mountains are obvious, like Mount Washington and its fellow Presidentials across the way, but I’m not sure about many others. I swear the Y-shaped slide to the south is the backside of Wildcat that I picked my way across a couple of years back. But three other hikers who have gathered on the summit think it is probably Carter Mountain. To the east, the flat top of Bridgton’s Pleasant Mountain stands out, but it’s hard to make out the individual peaks in the jumble of Evans Notch.
A couple of bent rusted spikes are nailed into the summit knob. Could they be the remnants of the cabin—perhaps part of an anchoring system? Probably not—the cabin’s 13X16 footprint was larger than this knob, so it must have been located on a flat spot now covered with spruce trees. Still, I’m sure those 19th century visitors enjoyed stepping onto this rock to take in the sunset.
As a mother, Jerusalem’s Mount Moriah always struck me as a terrifying place. According to the Bible’s Old Testament (Genesis), Mount Moriah is where Abraham prepared to burn his only son Isaac alive because God had demanded the sacrifice. At the last minute, a ram magically appeared as a substitute, Isaac was spared, and Abraham passed this horrific test of obedience.
A thousand years later, King Solomon built the first temple — a “house of God” — on Mount Moriah. The temple was destroyed and rebuilt a couple of times before Roman invaders sacked it. Today, the “Wailing Wall” (or “Western Wall”) is what remains of the “Temple Mount,” a holy site both revered and contested.
Back in the 1800s, people knew their Bible inside-out. Did the namers of Mount Moriah remember the story of Abraham? Or were they thinking more along the lines of “House of God?” The grandeur of the views certainly merits that name.
Now, when I think of Mount Moriah, instead of recalling Isaac, or the 3,400-foot elevation gain, I’ll remember the 360-degree views, birdsong, and a most comfortable summit for napping.
Moriah, my Moriah, I may yet climb thee again.
Sources and resources:
The 4000-Footers of the White Mountains: A Guide and History, by Steven D. Smith and Mike Dickerman. Littleton, NH: Bondcliff Books, 2001. Their “view guides” for each peak are an especially great resource to have tucked into your pocket.
The White Hills: Their Legends, Landscape, and Poetry, by Thomas Starr King. With Sixty Illustrations engraved by Andrew, From Drawings by Wheelock. Boston: Crosby, Nichols, and Company, 1860.
If you enjoy this 4,000-footer trip report, check out some of my other posts: