Outdoor Adventures: Every season a good reason to hike South Moat

  • Frosty Mount Chocorua commands the southern horizon on the way up South Moat. The 2,770-foot peak is reached along the Moat Mountain Trail near North Conway. Marty Basch / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 11/6/2018 11:09:21 PM

It has been some time since I visited South Moat, a coned peak part of the hard-to-miss Moat Range. The nearly 5-mile-long panoramic crest forms a high wall on the North Conway horizon.

Though South Moat at 2,770 feet is the lowest of the mountains along the narrow ridge, its stark open ledgy summit offers some of the finest views in the White Mountains from its 360-degree stage.

South Peak is part of the splendid approximately 10-mile one-way trek along the Moat Mountain Trail that also takes in Middle Moat, Red Ridge and North Moat ending with a car spot in the trailhead near the popular Diana’s Baths, but it certainly holds its own, its ledges exposed by an 1854 fire that crossed the range.

So on a late October morning with largely brilliant blue skies and temperatures in the high 30s I set out from the Passaconaway Road trailhead between the Kancamagus Highway and Conway’s West Side Road for the 5.4-mile roundtrip trek.

Leaving the trailhead, the initial few hundred yards were on a flagged rerouted section that has hikers juking a bit before reconnecting with the yellow-blazed trail. The detour is part of a White Mountain National Forest management project to protect wetlands, perennial streams and other natural and cultural features. The idea is to improve things like wildlife habitat, water quality, and recreational safety as well as maintaining the oak and pine forest.

After passing by a recent logging road, the pathway climbed somewhat easily through the hardwoods on a wide stretch before dipping and rising. The soft ground of summer was soon replaced by the hard, frozen ground of cold months as the trail steepened after crossing a short bridge spanning the chilly rushing Dry Brook.

There were still loads of muted colored leaves in the forest with patches of dazzling sky over head when the canopy broke. Brown leaves on the ground often had small flecks of snow. On occasion, I’d stop and look down at the wisps of hoarfrost on the ground, the feathery minuscule ice crystals forming swirling patterns around rocks and vegetation.

The higher I went, the closer I got to winter on an autumn day. Though water started to flow down flat rocky slabs in some parts, other slabs had small fangs of ice dripping from them. Thin layers of ice slowed down progress by an open ledge with several large boulders. The view opened to the south and the stunning collision of seasons. The landscape rippled and rolled between autumn and winter with the Ossipee Range and frosty Mount Chocorua teaming up for a first-rate view to the south.

There, seeing the snow, I was glad of the extra weight I had in my pack. In case I needed them, I had a pair of micro-spikes that would slip easily on my hiking boots and a shell in case the light wind decided to get rough. In addition to the usual essentials, a lightweight packable insulated jacket was also in the backpack along with gloves and a fleece beenie to replace the versatile buff I used as a headband on steroids to keep my shaved head warm.

During the rigid climb from there I wandered to wonder why my hiking curtailed in winter. Skiing and snowboarding take center stage in my outside life as I seem to enjoy lots of activities where you can sit in a seat and get somewhere – cycling, paddling and chairlift riding. I thoroughly enjoy hiking – truth be told I sometimes resort to snowless glissading down short daunting sections – and snowshoeing. On that final section to the South Peak summit, I was reminded about how every trip to a mountain top, no matter how many times it’s made, is a unique experience from the trail chosen to the month it’s done in.

On the dizzying summit – especially if you spin – the views were sublime as the Presidentials led by Mount Washington had its frosty shoulders high in the sky while down in the valley close to North Conway’s Route 16 peaks like the lower-lying Green Hills were still muted in browns and greens. Mountains like Whiteface, Passaconaway and Tripyramid, part of the Sandwich Range, were readily spotted in the marvelous mishmash of peaks included in an incredible Granite State kingdom accessible year-round by taking it one step at a time.

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