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The Moat Mountains, Central New Hampshire

I’m feeling great. I just got back from an awesome 10 mile hike in the White Mountains in New Hampshire over the South (2,749 ft) and Middle (2,805 ft) peaks on the Moat Mountains. The Moats are considered to be one of the premiere hikes in the Whites, not because of their elevation, but because they provide great 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains, including Mt. Washington in the distance.

Philip Werner on the Red Ridge Trail, The Moats
Philip Werner on the Red Ridge Trail, The Moats

When we set out yesterday, we had hoped to do full traverse of the south, middle, and northern summits, but trail conditions prevented this. While the southern facing slopes were generally free of snow, the traverse between the southern and middle peak was a bushwhacking, post holing slog in wet snow. It was good that we brought snowshoes along even, or especially, because we didn’t know how much snow we’d still find at this elevation. Hiking at this time of year in the Whites is still a tricky affair. There is still a lot of snow on mid-level peaks and stream crossings are more dangerous. Full winter gear is still required on the major peaks above 5,000 ft.

Mt. Washington in Spring, seen from The Moats
Mt. Washington seen from The Moats

In preparation for the traverse, we met at the north summit trail head off West Side Road and drove a shuttle down to the south summit trail head off Dugway Road. From there, the 2,100 ft. ascent up the southern summit was steep, rocky and continuous, but thankfully free of snow, ice, or even much snow melt. We quickly stripped off the layers we had donned at the trail head where is was 30 F, as we started to sweat. By mid-day, the temperature was in the mid 60’s F, with a very slight wind. From what I hear, these were remarkable conditions for this route, which is heavily exposed and subject to high winds.

After a quick snack and photo break, we proceeded toward the middle summit, descending steeply into a col to the north. The photo above is from the middle peak looking back to the south peak.

Judging by the trail quality, it’s pretty clear that most walkers stop at the southern summit and turn around. Once you come down off the northern ledges of the southern summit, the trail quickly peters out, and we followed a snow trail full of post holes north until the southern ledges of the middle summit. After that, it was a steep but short ascent up more ledge to another nice viewpoint.

From here, we continued another mile down the northern side of the middle peak into a col and up an unnamed summit to the junction of the Moat Mountain Trail and the Red Ridge Trail. At this point, we had been climbing for 3.5 hours, it was 1:10 PM, we had covered 4.3 miles of trail, and climbed 2,600 ft. If we continued north we would have to hike another 5.3 miles and climb the very steep north summit or we could break east down the Red Ridge Trail and walk 4.3 miles, all downhill, back to the northern trail head. With 6 hours of daylight left, we quickly decided to come back for the northern summit on another day when there was less snow and take the eastern descent. It was quite beautiful, descending over an easy mile of rock ledge.

However, after we cleared the ledges, the trail blazing started to deteriorate and we had to rely on maps, elevation, and bearing to head in the right direction. This was a bit uncomfortable for my companions and came to a head when we found ourselves in an area where the blazes and tread way vanished. I knew we had to descend and that we would encounter a stream to the north that paralleled our exit trail, so I was confident we could walk out before nightfall. Things worked out as planned, and after an exhilarating stream crossing, we found the trail we wanted and quickly hiked out to our car.

Despite not completing the traverse, I had a grand time yesterday. The weather was great and I enjoyed hiking with some new companions. For some reason, I’ve never been a huge fan of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, but my fast few trips there have been quite enjoyable. But, you do need to be on your toes up here, because the consequence level can be very high, particularly in winter and spring.

Other trip reports from the Moats:

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