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Return to Big Attitash Mountain

The Big Attitash Canister was full of water when I found it
The Big Attitash Canister was full of water when I found it

“You must be redlining”, said Steve Moore, when I ran into him and his friend Mike, just below the summit of Big Attitash Mountain. “No one else would come up here unless they were redlining.”

The truth is that I am redlining, which is hiking all 1400+ miles listed in the White Mountain Guide, (kind of like Section Hiking the Appalachian Trail), although I’m not in any rush to finish them. Quite the opposite, since I have no idea what I’ll hike when I finish them.

I like hiking on new trails and to new destinations, and I use the White Mountain Guide as a way to learn about the routes I’ll be hiking, their unique geographic features, and history. There’s a lot more to a hike for me than the hike alone. The preparation and story-telling afterwards are just as satisfying as doing the real thing, but in different ways (see also: The Hike Starts Well Before the Hike and Never Ends…)

On this hike, I was interested in hiking the Attitash Trail and following Lucy Brook to its headwaters. Situated in the Moat Range, close to North Moat Mountain, Big Attitash was once known as West Moat, and the Attitash Trail which climbs it runs along Lucy Brook. Lucy Brook feeds the Saco River at the beginning of a well-known trout section outside of Conway, NH.

Unlike the trail to North Moat Mountain, few people hike up the Attitash Trail, which can be difficult to follow in places and includes parts that are very steep. How steep? It gains 1000 feet of elevation in the last half mile, along a vegetation-choked trail skirting landslides, waterfalls, and cascades up a narrow, blow-down filled ravine.

Attitash Trail to Big Attitash Mountain
Attitash Trail to Big Attitash Mountain (Click for interactive map on Caltopo.com)

Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:

But the real reason people don’t climb Big Attitash much is that it’s not on any major peakbagging lists like the White Mountain 4000 footers or the 52 With a View, like it’s neighbor North Moat. That doesn’t bother me a bit because it guarantees me a bit of solitude and a unique adventure, usually to a wilder part of the national forest.

This is a frequent topic of conversations I’ve had with Tom Ryan, of Following Atticus fame. I ran into Tom and Atticus that same morning as they were out for a walk near Diana’s Bath, a pretty waterfall where people frolic in warmer weather. Once you’ve gotten the high peaks out of your system (by finishing those lists), many people keep hiking them over and over, even though there’s so much more to see in the national forest. So much more.

Tom has a new book coming out soon, which I’m eager to read. He writes in the same voice that he speaks, with a clear and uncluttered style of narration that I appreciate. Atticus is Atticus, an unflappable Buddha dog if there ever was one. He’s getting on in years but still looks as robust and dignified as ever.

Moat Mountain & Attitash Trail Junction
Moat Mountain & Attitash Trail Junction

The beginning of this hike followed the Moat Mountain Trail from the trail head on Westside Road just outside of Conway, NH until the Attitash Trail branches off, running along Lucy Brook, while the Moat Mountain Trail starts climbing up to North Moat. Lucy Brook is a pretty stream with some marvelous swimming holes and pools. It’s also fairly open overhead and I stopped to fly fish a few spots with my Tenkara rod, wading into the cold stream water in my trail runners.

I fished this lovely pool, which is much deeper than it looks, for a while and got a bite, but no fish.
I fished this lovely pool, which is much deeper than it looks, for a while and got a bite, but no fish.

That pretty much set the tone of this hike, as I hiked upstream looking for good trout pools to fish in the brook, while climbing toward the Big Attitash summit. I’m not sure how long I’ll remain a fly fishing enthusiast, with my pathetic success rate at catching fish, but fly fishing has added an extra element of pleasure to this summer’s hikes, slowing them down so I can savor even more beauty in the forest, with a level of intimacy that hiking alone cannot capture.

Upstream section of Lucy Brook
Upstream section of Lucy Brook

Lucy Brook is a rather impressive stream which gets wilder and wilder the farther upstream you hike, filled with massive boulders, which have obviously been terraformed by Irene, Sandy, spring flooding, and other big rain events that the White Mountains region has experienced in recent years. It’s a sublime feeling when you realize how powerful the forces of nature are when unleashed in their full fury, and far more powerful than any work of man.

As I headed up trail, Lucy Brook splits into a southern and northern branch, with most of the flow coming from the north. The Attitash Trail climbs up and away from the southern branch at this point, although you can hear the roar of the river in the gorge below. Gaining elevation rapidly, the trail skirts around a landslide and runs through dense hobble bush, but remains fairly easy to follow as it climbs up the narrow gorge carved by the stream.

At 1900' of elevation the southern branch of Lucy Brook runs dry, until the cascades resume slightly below the Big Attitash summit.
At 1900′ of elevation the southern branch of Lucy Brook runs dry, until the cascades resume slightly below the Big Attitash summit.

Curiously, the southern branch dries up completely at 1900′ of elevation, although there is clear evidence that it used to be a huge rushing stream as some stage, judging by the boulders, drops, log jams, and erosion along the steep banks. Even more curious, the flow resumes at 2900′ with a few small cascades, but I assume the flow continues underground after that point.

The headwaters of the southern branch of Lucy Brook, near the summit of Big Attitash Mountain
The headwaters of the southern branch of Lucy Brook, near the summit of Big Attitash Mountain

Nearer to the summit, the trail becomes hard to discern as it passes through a wet and muddy patch. Just think up and follow the easiest route through the forest and you’ll find your way. You have to have a little faith and tolerance for ambiguity when hiking this trail to reach the summit, just like you would if you approach the peak from the opposite direction, coming over from Table Mountain.

Reaching the summit, I hiked over to the high point and spied a new canister handing from a tree, a new addition after my last visit to this peak last year. While it contains a pencil and a few loose leaf pages, the bottle was full of water when I opened it and the log pages, inside a plastic bag, were damp enough that I didn’t try to open it or leave a message.

Instead I sat and had a snack, putting on a head net, as a flock of mosquitos descended on me and tried to feed. I quickly departed, hiking back down the way I’d come, sampling a few more pools with my rod, before heading back home. I’d had a very pleasant hike and managed to visit with a few friends, en route. Such are the pleasures of off-grid hiking in the Whites.

Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:

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2 comments

  1. Damn Sam, you should have caught several small trout on that creek. Those ledge pools are great fishing usually. Acid Rain has been much reduced over the past 20 years or so. The fish should be rebounding pretty well. Especially over the rocks and near any limestone/granite ledges. Ahh well… Maybe you should try a worm, hellgrammite, or centipede. These are sure-fire bait. A little pen rod with some two pound test line and a size 6-8 3x long-shanked hook.

  2. It was a pleasure running into you, Philip. Nice write up on a great day to be out and about.

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