Saturday, October 8, 2011

North Moat and The Red Ridge

We packed our hiking gear yesterday morning when the temperature was near freezing, but we packed relatively lightly for an early October day hike in the White Mountains, as the weather forecast was for clear skies and mild temperatures. The day did not disappoint.

We set off on our 10-mile hike at 9:30 from West Side Road near the Bartlett/Conway town lines at the parking lot for Diana's Baths. Only one other group -- a man and his grandson -- was on the trail. We set off at a brisk pace, stopping briefly at Diana's Baths to admire the falls and pools.

Our route took us along the Moat Mountain Trail, past Diana's Baths and Lucy's Brook, 4.2 miles to the top of the 3,196-foot North Moat. The first 2.3 miles of Moat Mountain Trail are a gradual climb that gives you a chance to work the kinks out of your hiking legs. After about a mile we crossed Lucy's Brook by stepping on stones; the water level low enough to keep our boots dry. Just below the junction with the Attitash Trail we nearly ran into a small black bear. Kodi was ahead and the bear quickly shinnied up a nearby tree. He was small - about the size of our 50 pound Kodi. We didn't see a mother bear but didn't want to linger in case she was nearby. The bear looked at us curiously and started backing down the tree, perhaps wondering if Kodi was a fellow bear cub.

At 2.3 miles the trail turns south (Attitash Trail continues west over to Bear Notch Road) and begins to climb more steeply, passing through a hemlock-red pine-spruce forest.

By this time the air had warmed to the 40s and with the steeper climb we shed our hat, gloves, and fleece jacket. And Kodi was looking back wondering why the slower pace.

As we climbed we started to look back through the trees, catching views to the north. Our first great view was of Carter Notch off in the distance.

Then we reached a large exposed slab, a perfect place for a snack before the final assault on the summit. 

Just beyond this point we met a man named Glen descending. We heard him first as he was wearing a bear bell. After we told him about the bear cub he gave us the bell, saying he had more in his car. We used it on Kodi for awhile, but it was a little too noisy for me. I like the quiet solitude of the mountain air, listening to the soft chips of little birds and the whisper of the wind in the trees. Still, it was a nice gift and we will use it when in thick bear territory.

We reached the summit of North Moat about 12:30, hungry for our sandwiches. For a few minutes we had the peak, with its 360 degree views, all to ourselves. One couple joined us; they sat quietly enjoying the views too. We needed our fleece, hats, and gloves just to be comfortable. The views were great......

Mt. Washington and the other high summits in the distance.

In another direction Crawford Notch

The mix of dark green softwoods and brilliant hardwoods
offered beautiful contrasts on the slopes.

And a look south to Middle Moat - the bald one in the distance.

We began our descent about 1:15, continuing south on the Moat Mountain Trail for 1.1 miles to the junction with the Red Ridge Trail. This leg drops steeply through a series of wooded ledges; the trail followed along the base of one such massive ledge.

This leg of the trail is also very narrow, with some logs across the path and small spruce saplings and hardwood shrubs overtaking the trail a bit. It could use some brush back. It got us thinking that we really should adopt a trail.

We reached the trail juncture and took one more look back at North Moat with Mt. Washington still visible off its right shoulder in the far distance.

As it names suggests, the Red Ridge Trail follows a ridge, mostly bare and exposed. All of the Moats and much of the ridge are bare, apparently from fires some time ago. The red perhaps is from the color of the rock, but others might correct me there. The rock was more pinkish than red.

The exposed ridge offered great views all the way down and tucked into pockets among the rocks were alpine plants that had turned shades of red and purple.

Below treeline a small wetland was full of cotton-grass, a beautiful sedge that forms cottony heads.

The Moats are also known for the red pine that grows on the drier slopes. It has scaly red bark and often has interesting form.

The trail crosses Moat Brook -- more stone stepping -- and then follows the shoreline before turning and crossing an active Forest Service Road. The rest of the trail is a bit of a slog back to Moat Mountain Trail, although it passes through a beautiful northern hardwood forest with huge yellow birch and white ash. This section of trail was also quite wet and muddy. We reached the car just before 5:00, about 7 1/2 hours after our start.

This was our first time on these trails and we loved it. The 10-mile loop was strenuous but I don't think it was difficult. The bear was a treat and the trails pass through a wonderful diversity of plant communities. It could use a little care in terms of blazes and trail clearing.

Just before reaching Diana's Baths on the return we stopped to admire a tree covered in mushrooms. It was dark in the hemlock woods along the brook but still bright when we emerged into the parking lot after a fine day of hiking.


  1. Great pictures, Ellen! Tate and I hiked South Moat a few weeks ago, and talked about someday trying the point-to-point to Diana's Baths. Looks like we should! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Wow! A truly excellent report Ellen! It's so rich with detail, and terrific photos!
    I've done that exact same loop, and just like you, I loved it!


  3. Thanks John. We really enjoyed this hike. It was a leisurely pace and so few people and the views fabulous.

  4. Thanks Malin. The couple we met on top had hiked over from South Moat. Sometime we want to leave a car at each end and hike the whole range. The views are so amazing and it seems to attract few people.