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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:
- Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide
- AMC White Mountain National Forest Map Set
- Exploring New Hampshire Map from the Wilderness Map Company
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