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Moat Mountain Traverse

Descending North Moat Mountain - Undercast in the Saco River Valley.
Descending North Moat Mountain – Undercast in the Saco River Valley.

The forecast was grim. Rain showers were expected all day for our traverse of the Moat Mountain Range, a series of three ledgy peaks near Mount Washington. The Moat Mountain Traverse is a classic New England hike, much of it above treeline, with great views of Mount Chocorua, the Green Hills, and the Mountains in southwest Maine.

We lucked out though. While we encountered some slush, it didn’t rain and we had views for most of our hike. In fact, we got to see a cloud inversion in the valley, what people here call an undercast, where clouds fill the valley and the hilltops poke above the cloud layer like islands in a fluffy white sea.

Valley Undercast from South Moat Mountain
Valley Undercast from South Moat Mountain

While I’ve hiked all of the Moats – South, Middle, and North – previously, this was the first time I was able to complete a full traverse, without having to hike out someone who couldn’t finish the route. We had a strong group on this trip though, led by my friends Sonya, Darren, Casey, Bryan, and Yvette. I knew we’d make it all the way across.

Climbing the Moats requires some serious scrambling over rocky ledges, which can make this hike a lot of fun. There are three separate peaks with forested cols between them requiring 3200 feet of total elevation gain over 9.3 miles, end-to-end.

Climbing open ledge on the South Moat approach
Climbing open ledge on the South Moat approach.

We started our hike at the south end of the trail and hiked north, walking through forest until we climbed up the ledges on South Moat. Despite the snow and ice on the ground, it was quite warm out and I had to strip down to my baselayer for the climb, sweat pouring off my forehead.

The wind was mild when we reached the summit of South Moat, but cool enough to warrant layering up. My friend Darren, however, seemed unperturbed by the chill. He was hiking in a kilt and managed to remain warm for the entire hike.

Evette crosses Middle Moat Mountain
Yvette crosses Middle Moat Mountain

While we had to hike into the cols between the South and Middle Peaks and Middle and North, the incremental elevation gain was inconsequential after the climb up to South Moat and the miles flew by quickly.

While we all carried additional traction in the form of Microspikes, we were able to avoid using it for most of the hike with very careful footwork. I did cave on the descent of North Moat and put my spikes on since there was a lot of very slippery ice covered by slushy snow; a nasty combination that made momentum especially dangerous.

The summit of North Moat Mountain
The summit of North Moat Mountain

It felt a little strange to be hiking with so many other people on this trip. I’ve hiked close to 200 trails this year in the White Mountains, approximately 600 miles, trying to finish a list of 608 trails; and it’s been easier to hike by myself rather than trying to coordinate hikes with other people.

Winter in the Whites is another story though. Even though it’s still only early December, winter has arrived and the consequence level of hiking more challenging routes alone is too risky. It’s time to become a social hiker again. Not that I mind. I aways look forward to meeting and getting to know new people, especially other hikers.

After our hike, we all met at the aptly named Moat Mountain House, a local brew pub. God I love their Stout.

Moats Traverse Map

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  1. Great winter training hike for the 4000 footers. Almost a pity you didn’t have crappy above treeline conditions. Would have been good practice. What are your hiking goals for this winter?

    • Nothing that concrete yet. I will probably finish the 52 with a view peak list…4 more peaks left. And I’ll continue redlining in Waterville at a less vigorous rate. A lot depends on snowfall. I’m hoping to do a lot of backcountry skiing but if we don’t get much snow I’ll probably do more bushwhacks. Whatever, it will be more social.

  2. I need to get up the inspiration for some winter hiking in the Whites. I do some in the Finger Lakes in NY, but it’s pretty flat, though beautiful. I get envious when I see the trip reports here and there. I think I need to take one of the beginner winter hiking skills weekend courses.

  3. Philip,

    It was great hiking with you. Hope we get to hike together again in the future.


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