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A Short Backpack to West Moat Mountain

Storm Clouds massing over the Swift River Valley, seen from the ledges of Table Mountain
Storm Clouds massing over the Swift River Valley, seen from the ledges of Table Mountain. Bear Mountain is in the middle, on the right.

When the stream in the col between Table Mountain and Big Attitash turned out to be dry, I was flustered. The next water source on my map was on the other side of Big Attitash but there was no way I’d make it there before nightfall. Backtracking wasn’t a good option either. I decided to stay put and carefully manage my remaining water, just under 2 liters, through dinner and breakfast the next day. Normally, I like to camp with at least three liters, so I was guardedly concerned about being short. It was hot and I was thirsty after bushwhacking Bear Mountain that morning, a nearby trailless peak.

The weather was also deteriorating. I couldn’t get cell phone service, but I knew that heavy thunderstorms were forecast for the following afternoon. But you can never quite trust White Mountain weather reports 24 hours in advance, so I figured I’d hike to water the next morning and then make a decision about the rest of my route plan based on observable weather conditions. My objective on this backpacking trip was to climb North Moat Mountain which has a rocky open summit, but I wasn’t going attempt it if thunderstorms and lightning were likely.

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Those decisions could wait until late the next morning though. I pushed the future out of my mind and set about making camp. I’d had a successful bushwhack earlier in the day and this short backpacking trip was icing on the cake, an in-and-out overnight, hiking on new trails I’d never hiked on before.

Dry streambed where I'd hope to resupply my water between Table Mountain and Big Attitash
Dry stream bed between Table Mountain and Big Attitash

I followed a herd path at the base of Big Attitash and pitched camp for the night at a pre-existing campsite, using half of my remaining water to cook dinner in the Jetboil and wash down a bag of peanut M&M’s for desert.

The sugar rush from the M&M’s made me feel more alert, but I experienced painful cramps in my legs later that evening as I lay in my sleeping bag.  I don’t know what the cramps were from, possibly dehydration from my sweaty climb up Bear Mountain. But the skin on the back of my hands was still elastic and snapped back quickly after being pinched, a test a nurse had shown me to verify that my mother was properly hydrated after recovering from surgery the previous summer. When the moon came out, I stopped wondering about it and fell into a fitful sleep.

Big Attitash Mountain
Big Attitash Mountain

I still had one liter of water left when I woke up the next morning. I’d pee’d several times during the night, which I reckoned was a good sign that I wasn’t too dehydrated. I had a cold breakfast and drank all of my remaining water. Then I packed up and headed back to the trail to climb Big Attitash and down to Lucy Brook.

It soon became apparent that this section of the Attitash Trail is lightly used and lightly maintained. Big Attitash also proved damn steep for such a little hill, with two false summits and a long ridge walk along a flat summit plateau. The trail from the col where I’d camped to the third summit was heavily grown-in although there is evidence of some recent axe work clearing blow downs. Still I was thankful I hadn’t pushed ahead the previous evening because route finding through the spruce in the dark would have been problematic.

The Big Attitash Trail could use a good brushing
The Big Attitash Trail could use a good brushing

Big Attitash is an interesting peak. Sometimes called West Moat Mountain, the area surrounding Big Attitash is surprisingly remote given the mountain’s proximity to Bartlett and Conway, New Hampshire. Though squat, its footprint is huge, with subsidiary ridges that flow into the surrounding landscape like giant tentacles. Bounded to the west by Bear Mountain and to the east by North Moat Mountain, the base of Big Attitash is over 4 miles wide, ranging from Rt 302 all the way south to the Swift River. That’s big by local standards where the mountains and hills spring up like weeds.

Big Attitash (left) and North Moat Mountain (right)
Big Attitash (left) and North Moat Mountain (right)

Most people who climb North Moat, climb the peak via the Moat Mountain Trail outside of North Conway. I’d hoped to do something very different, or at least scope it out, which was to bushwhack North Moat from Big Attitash. There’s actually a saddle connecting the two peaks and the route between them is only about 8/10 of a mile with 700 feet of elevation gain. I’d found one trip report that describes a winter bushwhack using this route between the two peaks, but that’s it.

Possible route from Big Attitash to North Moat
Possible bushwhack route from Big Attitash to North Moat

I made it over Big Attitash and down to Lucy Brook in about two hours, spending the next 45 minutes filtering 5 liters water by hand and drinking two liters on the spot. The easternmost summit I’d passed on the way to Lucy Brook had been quite pleasant, so when I was done filtering water, I climbed back of to the top of Big Attitash and made myself a pot of tea in the Jetboil to think about the rest of the day.

Making a pot of tea on Big Attitash
Making a pot of tea on Big Attitash

It started raining as I sat there, the wind got up, and the air had a sudden chill to it the way it does before a storm system blows in. I tried my cell phone again but still couldn’t get a signal. So I checked out the clouds through the trees and they were stacking up into thunderheads, a very bad sign so early in the day.

I decided to throw in the towel and go home a half day earlier than planned. North Moat Mountain would just have to wait for another day.

I headed back over Big Attitash, and back over the open ledges on Table Mountain to hike out and drive home. Not the most satisfying end to an overnight trip, but that’s the way things work out sometimes. Hiking out turned out to be a very prudent thing to do, when intense thunderstorms and a threat of a funnel cloud hit the Whites later that afternoon.

Open Ledges on Table Mountain
Open Ledges on Table Mountain (2675′)

One big find on this trip was climbing over the open ledges of Table Mountain (2675′) on the way to Big Attitash. The views of the Moats, Mt Passaconoway, and the Swift River Valley can’t be beat and it’s not a hard hike to access. The trail head leading to Table Mountain is right off the seasonal Bear Notch Road and it’s a moderate 1.9 mile hike to reach the open ledges, the area burned away by a small forest fire here in October 1984.

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  1. Philip, we’ve never gone beyond the top of Table Mountain from Bear Notch Road but the beginning of that trail is as pretty as it gets in the White Mountains. That clear water, the gentle cascades, the ferns, peaceful path, and feeling of quiet isolation is a gift on any day. Since it is close enough to our home we’ve done it often. This is a nice write up about what is beyond our regular stopping point.

    • I plan to take my wife back to see that pretty waterfall on the hike up to the ledges. Table Mountain is a gem (and not a crowded one) and I could have sat on the ledges there all day. There are lots of those places in the Whites and exploring them all is one of the biggest charms of the region (as you and Atticus well know).

  2. Thank you for the wonderful description. It is so nice to get up this morning and think and feel the forest. So near and so very far.I’m smelling balsam. Awesome,… Now off to work. Have a fantastic day.

  3. Fantastic trip report..Thank you… I know that feeling of finding a dry stream bed from many a hike along the edge of the Deserts to the point of I never relied on the Topo Maps to be real and true information. That is when I started hunting for older Maps that indicated “tanks” or Tinajas or small seeps which they have erased off of modern maps. I did find a number on my own hidden away under some huge Boulders. And in the Eastern Sierra I located a number of seeps that were not indicated on Modern Maps but were on the Maps from the 1950’s. Just an FYI Chocolate is a diuretic but the 30 grams of Sugar and 25 grams of Sodium in a small pack of M&M’s with Peanuts will greatly increase your thirst as you body tries to level out the Sugar and Salt to reach your bodies balance and force you to pee out the surplus. I stopped taking Kendals Mint Cake, Chocolate and only nibbled on an occasion M&M’s and Beef Jerky on my Desert trips and in the High Sierra’s which has very dry air, for that reason. I never found anything to replace them with either. But I did notice a substantial drop in the need for water..Skittles did make my mouth water but again the sugar problem arose with its 32 grams.

    • Thanks for the info about sugar. I did wonder about that at the time.

      • I was thinking about this today as I walked every aisle in our new huge Kroger store when I came across a new item in the “health food” area with all the Bars and chemical soups in small packets..It is called “Pure Protein” 20g of Protein, 2 grams of Sugar, 190 Calories..Fat 60 Total Fat 6 g Saturated Fat 4 g Trans Fat 0 g, Sodium 180 mg which is 8% of the RDA Potasssium 30 mg Carbs 17%, Fiber 1% Sugar Alcohol 7g. and lots of other stuff like Iodine Magniseum etc. etc. I bought 4 bars to give it a try.

        • Just came to me what the Protien Bar tastes like…The Original Powerbar when it came in an Orange colored wrapper…

  4. It looks like you got your hands on the seekoutside unaweep pack. What do you think so far? I used it for a 70 mile trip through Glacier National Park a couple weeks ago and I was blown away by the comfort of the hipbelt. It is the first pack I’ve used that didn’t cause some combination of low back pain, my hip flexor falling asleep, didn’t require a fair amount of retighening the hip belt during the day and allowed finished the trip actually feeling good around my hips. It was quite the reveleation and this pack is a definite keeper. I’m tempted to get rid of a couple packs because I can’t see taking them over the unaweep.

    • I was waiting for someone to notice that. :-) Excellent hip belt. I’m working on a review, but need to take it out on a few more trips. Has pluses and minunues. Tough as hell and heavy depending on the configuration. Kind of a revelation for an external frame backpack, but it is a bit of a paradox.

      • The way is see it is that about 3 pounds for a pack that essentially has no functional limitations on the amount of weight it can carry but at least to me is as comortable as any other pack I have used with 20 pounds (if not more) is a pretty good deal. It weighs the same as the ula catalyst I got rid of that I used for several hundred miles and in my mind there is no comparison in comfort. Heck, it is really not much more weight than the crown vc 60 I have either.

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