I’m glad I climbed South Moat Mountain (2,770 feet) on a beautiful Tuesday this week, instead of Memorial Day weekend. I only met five people on the trail. There were no bugs to speak of. I had the windless summit to myself for an hour, and met two ascending women, who I had passed earlier, just below the summit on my way down.
I stepped 6 feet off the trail to let them pass. I haven’t been bringing a mask on hikes so far, but think I’ll keep one around my neck from now on, and put it up for passing. Especially on busy trails. Lately, a few hikers have extended that courtesy for me on trails.
Last week, I hiked up a rarely traveled trail with a friend. There was no sign of people passing before us, and we bypassed numerous blow downs. After that, I didn’t feel obligated to stick to obscure trails, and decided to climb the well-worn path up South Moat, popular with both locals and people from afar.
It was a different experience but just as nice, including its fantastic summit views. There is a feeling of collective experience on a popular trail, and I can enjoy that as much as solitude.
From the stop lights in Conway, I drove north out Washington Street, bore left on West Side Road, and soon bore left on Passaconoway Road. In 3.2 miles from there, I pulled right into the Moat Trail parking lot.
There was a forest service fire fighting vehicle parked in the lot. A few minutes up the trail, I met the first of a group of four, newly employed by the Saco District this summer. This time of year. they are required to get an hour or two of P.T. in every day to help get in shape. Hopefully, they won’t be too busy with fires this summer. The White Mountains have been known as the asbestos forest because of its tendency not to burn. But with climate change and increased usage, more fires have happened.
The newer lower trail is a pleasure to hike. Originally, a Bobcat tractor was used to carve out the dug-way on steeper slopes. Soon, I turned left on the old trail, where it is necessary to climb up occasional short steep ledges, then negotiate an uphill section of shattered sharp rocks.
This rock is Moat volcanics. The Moat Range is the eastern side of a deep caldera formed from an exploding volcano. During the Jurassic Period, volcanic centers rose in the White Mountain area. Unlike Hawaii where lava flows, these volcanoes were plugged up by thick lava, exploded and collapsed, creating calderas. In the process they spewed out hot ash that fell and fused together in layers. On the middle section of the trail up South Moat, these layers, known as welded tuff, are visible in the rock.
Long after the volcanoes grew dormant, magma rose up in the throat of the calderas. The pleasant and smoothly domed summit of South Moat is Conway Granite, which rose in this period. On the other hand, the summit of North Moat is Moat volcanics. Go figure. After miles of erosion in the intervening years, what remains is complex.
Above the gnarly section of sharp rocks, the trail alternates between woods and smooth open ledges. At the first wide ledge, I enjoyed the outward view south of the pastel green slopes of spring.
Was the landscape flowing around me as I remained still? Sometimes it feels like that. I continued upward. The views got better and I finally reached the summit. I chose to eat lunch looking out at the westward view, encompassing most of the White Mountains. I could see a skim of snow on top of distant Mount Moosilaukee, and a couple east-facing snow-filled ravines on what I thought was the Franconia Ridge. All else was spring.
After lunch, I walked over and looked east, the wide green valley of North Conway below.