Mosquito Mountain has a very unappealing name. I don’t like mosquitoes or black flies and do my best to avoid them when outdoors. After decades of scrupulous plotting and scheming, I’ve become quite adept at eluding the nasty bloodsuckers. And I can say with great certainty that mosquitoes will not be encountered on Mosquito Mountain, near West Forks, in January.
My son, Adam, is living in the West Forks area this winter, so we decided to use the opportunity to complete some winter mountain hikes in the vicinity. Two mountains have particular appeal for us: Moxie Bald and Mosquito Mountain. Both are located near Moxie Pond. We’ve ascended them several times, but never in the winter.
Access to both peaks is via rough dirt roads and the trailheads are often difficult to reach in winter. Adam confirmed that Troutdale Road, which travels along the west shore of Moxie Pond, was plowed to Mosquito Mountain Trailhead and there was space to park at least two vehicles. Recent snowstorms and other complications had rendered Moxie Bald a mountain too far.
Ron Chase and his son Adam encountered difficult snowshoeing during their recent excursion up Mosquito Mountain. Credit: Courtesy of Ron Chase
The skies were gray, temperatures cold and winds breezy when we met at Mosquito Mountain Trailhead. Varied weather consisting of gusty winds and partly sunny skies, with the chance of snow showers, was the forecast for higher elevations. Although a relatively short outing, the trail had not been broken so we anticipated a serious workout.
Sources differ on the actual length, but we estimated our round-trip trek to be in the range of 3.5 miles, perhaps a little longer. Snowshoes were definitely required, and we decided to carry microspikes in case the summit ledges were ice-covered.
We found the trailbreaking strenuous. A thick layer of crust covered about a foot of powdery snow with hard-packed snow and ice under. Each step required breaking through the crust, sinking deep into the snow, gaining traction, and then taking the next step. There are lots of benefits to being a dad. One of the best is winter hiking with a much younger son who insists on doing most of the trailbreaking. Adam did the lion’s share on our excursion up Mosquito Mountain.
Initially, we hiked through a sparse mixed hardwood and softwood forest. Glimpses of blue sky were encouraging. We hoped for exceptional views near the summit of Mosquito Mountain. The trail steepened as we entered a dense conifer forest under a spectacular canopy of snow-covered spruce trees. Although trail finding was difficult, welcome red blazes reassured us that we were on track.
A huge overhanging boulder alerted us that we were nearing the impressive Mosquito Mountain ledges. The gradient increased to precipitous. Progress slowed as gaining traction with our snowshoe claws was very difficult on an icy under-surface. Our exertions were rewarded with some relief as we proceeded to a boulder-strewn area where the trail leveled off.
As we approached an east-facing overlook, the trail again rose abruptly. Fortuitously, the clouds diminished and partly sunny skies greeted us on arrival. The barren, expansive escarpment atop Mosquito Mountain offered phenomenal views of Moxie Pond and the mountains beyond. Our next mountain objective, prominent Moxie Bald, dominated the landscape on the opposite side of the pond.
Renewing the quest, deep crusted snow, icy sections, blowdowns and a short, near vertical, ascent hindered our advancement. We considered switching from snowshoes to microspikes, but the conditions were so varied that neither alternative was consistently a good choice.
We lost the trail in a baffling array of blowdowns. Bushwhacking through a thick stand of stunted spruce trees seemed the best strategy. Our perseverance finally paid dividends when we emerged onto a succession of open ledges. A hard-packed snow surface was ideal for snowshoeing to the summit where outstanding panoramic vistas were gratifying compensation for our efforts.
Donning parkas was necessary to protect from frosty winds while taking a break for photos and snacks. Ominously, dark clouds approached from the west. By the time we gathered packs and began our descent, falling snow enveloped us. Despite worsening visibility, we found an improved route around the blowdowns. Our trailbreaking during the climb facilitated an easy return.
Moxie Bald is next on our winter bucket list. Mosquito Mountain deserves a better name.