Wednesday, July 20, 2011

2011.07.17 - North Moat Mountain

This may have been the most interesting hike of the season, in particular because I learned some things about hiking in the heat.  There's more to the story leading up to this hike that needs to be told first.

This was an on again, off again hiking weekend.  On Thursday we had decided to hike Chocorua using the Piper Trail on Saturday.  Though we hiked Chocorua last year, we did it using the Champney Falls Trail.  Thus far we have avoided any "repeat" hikes, a testament to just how much hiking there is available in the White Mountain region.  In this case however, family commitments had us wanting to hike something challenging yet further South to save commuting time.  That was the plan, at least until Friday evening.

When I made it home Friday evening, Sue was suggesting we not hike at all this weekend.  That did not set well with me.  At least some part of her was suggesting we take a weekend off from hiking for my particular benefit.  Say what?  Having done Mt. Washington last weekend, I apparently had spent much of the week complaining about assorted aches and pains.  My left knee, my right ankle, my glutes and more.  I think Sue was trying to save me from myself.  I finally accepted that we would take the weekend off from hiking, so that became the new plan.

By Saturday morning I was having withdrawals from the thought of not hiking.  I convinced Sue that we should hike on Sunday and that we should in fact find a hike other than our original plan of repeating Chocorua.  She warned me that weather reports for Sunday were calling for temps in the mid-90's and humidity in the oppressive range.  I was undeterred.  I went about the task of finding us a new hike and Sue acquiesed.

While Sue went to do some food shopping for our hike, I came up with three alternatives for hikes that sounded interesting to me.  When Sue returned we settled on a hike to North Moat Mountain, a place I had never heard of before.  Turns out it is a stunning, yet unpopulated hike.  For the entire day we only came across three pairs of hikers and one lone hiker.  Maybe this is typically a quiet trail.  Maybe all the smart hikers stayed home.  Which is it?

This loop trail was reported to be 9.5 miles long from one source and 10.2 miles long in another.  They were both wrong (at least according to the trail signs) as it was actually 10.3 miles.  Did that additional one-tenth matter?  There was a time about five hours into this hike that every foot mattered, let alone tenths of a mile.

The weather reports were right.  Mid-90's and oppressive humidity.  One key learning for me was how much the heat and humidity can drain a hiker of my size and physical fitness.  And, the humidity took a toll on my asthma making a bad situation worse.  I carried two 32-ounce bottles of water, a 100-ounce Camelbak of water and one 16-ounce bottle of Gatorade.  Six hours in I had run out of water.  That has never happened before.  Luckily about an hour later we came across a brook and I made use of my aqua filter for the first time ever.  I carry it on every hike - just in case.  It was worth a million bucks as far as I was concerned on this particular day.

Running out of water was bad enough but what I also ran out of was steam.  About five hours in I was ready for a nap.  My aches and pains resulting from our Mt. Washington hike last week were throbbing, but that I could live with.  The problem was that I was drained both physically and mentally.  Alas, it was the mental part, probably brought on by the physical part that did me in.  I wanted so bad for this hike to end, for a helicoptor to appear from out of the sky and carry me down, for this to all end in a dream.  My slump lasted for nearly two hours.  I've never experienced any sort of heat exhaustion that I can recall.  I think this might have been it.

My slowed pace, crappy attitude and frequent breaks probably lost us an hour of time.  On our typical hike we pace about 1-mile per hour all in including breaks and lunch.  And though today we finished this 10.3 mile hike in just under nine hours, nearly half this hike is on reasonably flat land and our pace should have been much better, even with the heat.  Let me tell you more about the hike itself.

The trailhead for this hike begins at Diana's Baths in North Conway, NH.  Diana's Baths is a very popular spot for tourists and locals alike.  It is a set of stone cascades with several pools that make for a great place to frolic and bath on a hot summer day.  Unlike most other trailheads in the White Moutains, this one has a large parking lot and there are bathroom facilities (w/o water - a.k.a. stinky).  The cascades are .6 miles from the parking area but the wide and well packed gravel trail is specifically designed to be handicap friendly, not your typical hiking trail.  Once you pass the cascades more typical trail conditions prevail.  That said, 90 minutes and two miles plus into the hike we had only 'climbed' about 250 feet.  Suddenly though, near the intersection of the Attitash Trail our real hike began.  Here the trail turns left and begins the ascent up North Moat Mountain.  If you don't mind, I'll simply call it Moat.

Moat sits at an elevation of only 3,250 feet.  Not very high in comparison to many hikes we have done.  Our starting elevation however was only about 700 feet.  Most often when in one of the notches beginning a hike our starting elevation is closer to 2,000 feet.  Even at this low summit elevation though, it is a prominent peak in this area.  Not only that, the summit is above the treeline (likely due to age old forest fires?) and the views of the presidential range, Chocorua and the lakes region are stunning.  Today the heat and humidity brought a haze across the region that impacted the clarity of the views but they were something to remember regardless.  In my mind the haze appears worse in my photos than I recall it to be.  Speaking of photos, let's enjoy some and I will fill in the gaps about our hike along the way.

The wide gravel paths leading from the parking lot just over a half mile to Diana's Baths.
In but a few minutes we arrive at the base of the ever popular baths.  It is only about 8:45 AM so there is only one other couple here.

At about 1.3 miles in we reach the intersection from whence we will return.  Here we will turn right and head towards the Attitash Trail where we will turn again and begin to climb North Moat Mountain. Is it surrounded by a river and thus the name Moat?  I haven't a clue.

We reach another beautiful waterfall.

We are now on the exposed ledges of Moat and the sun is beating down on us.  Much of this hike you are on ledges and ridges that are exposed.  Great on a nice day, not so great on a hot and humid day.

The macro setting on my small Nikon Coolpix camera does a nice job on these berries exposed to the morning sun.

We stop for our first morning break.  Note that we were sure to find a spot of shade.

Ledge, ledge and more ledge as far as the eye can see, or so it seemed.

One benefit of spending much of our time on reasonably open ledge is that we could always look out and enjoy the many views.

A bit of more traditional trail.

A little over four hours in and we reach the summit of Moat.  Some extremely nice gents we met snapped this photo for us.

The geological survey marker at the summit.

This photo begins a panoramic series I took of the 360 degree views.  Enjoy.

The initial descent has it challenges and we find ourselves scooting down on our butts in many more areas than is the norm on a hike.

The trail passes an interesting stone facade.

Yes, that is Sue slip slidd'n her way down some step parts.

A glimpse back up the trail.

The sign says we have 3.6 miles back to the Moat Mountain Trail and then there is yet another 1.3 miles to go thereafter.  Going back in the direction we came its 5.4 miles to the car.  That makes it 10.3 miles in my book.  Though I am at the halfway point right now, I feel as though I have nothing left.  It is here that I really began to suffer from exhaustion, the effects of the heat, just a plain bad attitude or all of the above.  I would have done anything at this moment and for the next two hours for a ride down.  Even a parachute would have sufficed.

An open and stony ridge we would find ourselves on for a very long time.  This is a part of the Red Ridge Trail.  Don't be deceived by the apparent ending of this ridge ahead.  There is just a small drop and much more ridge to come.

This is looking back up at North Moat Mountain (the peak to the right).

One of the things we find necessary once or twice on every hike is to adjust the tightness of our boots.  My feet in particular will swell during the hike and I need to loosen my boots.  In this heat that was a necessity three or four times.

The drop from Moat is pretty aggressive for the first two miles.  In fact, the vast majority of the elevation change comes in that distance (dropping more than 1,000'/mile).  The rest of this rather long hike looks pretty flat like that above.

A particularly stunning white birch (center).  The camera did not do its beauty justice.

We return to the top of Diana's Baths.  Here we stop to enjoy a much needed foot soaking.  I felt as though I had died and gone to heaven.  It was soon to be over!

All in all this was a beautiful hike and the views from the summit of Moat were some of the best we have enjoyed and certainly they are better than most anything else you will find at 3,250 feet.  But, it is a long trek!


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