Peaks: Wildcat D, Wildcat A, Carter Dome
Trails: Lost Pond Trail, Wildcat Ridge Trail, Carter-Moriah Trail, Carter Dome Trail, Nineteen Mile Brook Trail
Mileage/time: 12 miles, 5000 feet of gain, book time of 8:32, actual time of 13:05
This trip has been long discussed, and long delayed. My first ascent of Carter Dome in December 2010, was in full winter conditions, but it was on the 10th, so no winter peak there. The next attempt was when I did the Wildcats in March 2011, and crusty snow, snowshoes that sucked, and boots that wouldn't cooperate, made for a Wildcats only day. The most recent attempt involved Middle and South Carter, but not everyone in the party was willing to push on, so it was a Carters only day. Now, we were duty bound to make it happen, and I'd also get in a bit of shameless redlining. I'm helping Mike work on his 48 in a single winter season, and the Wildcats were repeats for me (same as the Carters were last month). He's helping me finish my winter list, so it's the least I can do!
The morning started off typically, up at 2-ish, and out the door to coffee up and hit the road. Good thing I wasn't far away, because I forgot my wallet at home! I texted Mike to say I'd be late... lo and behold, I was actually on time, my judgement of time and space has been severely affected lately. We spotted his truck at Nineteen Mile Brook, and drove back up the road to the Pinkham Notch Visitors Center. After final preparations, we crossed the road, and set off down Lost Pond Trail. We were happy to find the trail broken out, as it was a concern going into this hike, that trails might not have been traveled. This trail was pretty level, and was a decent warm up for what I knew would be a steep climb to come. I've heard there are fantastic views from the pond, but it was still pretty dark when we were there, so another time.
Reaching the Wildcat Ridge Trail junction, I took a moment to de-layer, and then we started up. This is yet another trail that doesn't muck about, right from the junction, it starts climbing, and steeply. We were happy to find it broken out, but the going was still fairly slow, as there was ice underneath in spots, and some blowdowns to contend with. Some fantastic views of cloud shrouded ravines began to present themselves, as the sun rose in the east.
Working our way slowly upward, we reached a nice view ledge. Mike said something along the lines of "uh... dude?", and that's when I realized we might be in for a bit of fun. Sure enough, the trail was unbroken beyond this point. Like Yvon Chouinard said, "When everything goes wrong, that's when adventure starts.". The snow was powdery, and deep, more than a foot in places. Ice continued to lurk underneath, and the deep snow continued to slow our forward progress. The only way I can describe it, is to think about swimming uphill. That's what it felt like at times, and it was hard work. There were several exposed sections, one with ladder blocks bolted to the rock, and of course, they were pretty much all ice. Some scrambling, slipping, and sliding later, we finally reached the wooded bump known as Wildcat E... though we weren't exactly sure which one was which, there are a bunch of bumps up there! We could hear snow guns, and the chairlift running, and shortly reached the top of the ski area, more than 4 hours after we started... talk about slow going. Quickly now, back on broken trail, up to the observation deck on Wildcat D.
|Gulf of Slides|
|Adams and Madison|
|Looking up the ridge to Wildcats C and B|
Here on the deck, we took a break, had some food, and relaxed for a bit in the sun. The winds were fairly calm, and the skies were clear and blue. Glad to be on a packed out trail, we started our way up the ridge to our eventual destination, Wildcat A. The trail undulates, working its way up and down several significant bumps, but only two peaks along the way are named, C peak and B peak... though it was difficult to tell when you were there, as there were no markings.
|A typical section of Wildcat Ridge Trail|
|The Baldfaces from near Wildcat C|
|Kearsarge North and the Doubleheads from near Wildcat B|
This section definitely seemed to fly, especially in comparison to what we'd been through to get this far. Sooner than later, we popped out on Wildcat A, the summit sign, and the slight bushwhack to the "true" summit. Then we enjoyed the views down into and across Carter Notch to Carter Dome.
|Carter Dome from Wildcat A|
|Slide and the Ramparts on south face of Carter Dome|
|Some other Carters from Wildcat A|
Now for some more fun. Apparently, whomever had hiked out here from Wildcat D, turned themselves around, and went back that way. More trail breaking! This section had me worried, as the switchbacking, sidehill aspect, and conditions the last time around had me wanting to die. No worries this time around, as a foot to foot and a half of fresh snow made it a joy to descend, and there was little ice to contend with. There was a large blowdown across the trail nearly halfway down into the notch, which we worked our way around. Shortly after this, we ran into a packed out track, coming up from the right, and continuing up to the left. As far as we could tell, the person or persons that broke this out missed the turn where we came out and just kept going straight, then turned around and went back down. It was a pleasant surprise to run into, and we weren't going to complain. At the junction with Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, we ran into a group of high school kids who had done an overnight at Carter Notch Hut. Then it was time for a break, and we hung out on the ice of one of the Carter Lakes, and relaxed in the sun.
We had asked the group if they noticed whether or not Carter-Moriah Trail was unbroken, they hadn't. Of course, it wasn't, so we had a steep, 1.2 mile slog to contend with on already tired legs. The south facing aspect of this trail made things more difficult, as the warmth of the day, and the sun, had made for softening conditions, and heavier snow. Upward we slogged, one step equaling at least two, the snow getting increasingly heavy. Soon we reached the spur to Pulpit Rock, and took in the views.
The trail moderates from here, but still gains a bunch of elevation. Though it's only 1.2 miles from the junction in Carter Notch to the summit, the trail gains 1540 feet! Finally, after what seemed like forever, we broke out onto the summit of Carter Dome. It doesn't have any views directly from the summit, but the viewpoint to the north provides excellent views of the Presidentials and the rest of the Carter Range.
The sun was getting low in the sky, so we didn't linger long. The trail from the summit to the north wasn't broken out either, what should have been a quick descent to Zeta Pass was a slow slog through at least a foot of snow, with some deeper drifts, on a sidehill to boot!
Mercifully, when we arrived at Zeta Pass, we found Carter-Moriah, and Carter Dome trails both broken out. After so much fun trail breaking, we were both relieved to know we'd have an easy trip down. Down Carter Dome Trail we went, Mike broke out his headlamp about halfway down, I managed to get by without it nearly until the junction. My snowshoes again reared their ugly heads, and the pain in my feet began to make itself acutely known. I need a stiffer boot is what it boils down to, every time I hike with these particular snowshoes, they create pressure points that eventually manifest pain at some point.
Nineteen Mile Brook went quickly by, even though my pace was slow due to the pain. A long time after we started, we popped out into the parking lot, and Mike's waiting truck. It might have been a long day, but it was successful on all fronts, and we finally picked off that pesky Carter Dome! That leaves 14 more peaks to finish my Winter 48.
Next week, a trip to Baxter, and a couple more 100 Highest peaks. The following week, Presidential Traverse! Can't wait.