Working title: Foggy ridges and gorgeous valleys
Peaks: Carter Dome, South Carter, Middle Carter, North Carter
Trails: Wild River Trail, Black Angel Trail, Carter-Moriah Trail, Carter Dome Trail, Imp Shelter Spur, Moriah Brook Trail, Highwater Trail
Mileage/time: 20.9 miles, 5614 feet of gain, book time of 13:17, actual time of 10:50
Now that I've managed a couple of proper nights of sleep, I can now attempt to spin this yarn. I'd been planning on hiking with Jake Levinsky, a guy I'd met through a Facebook hiking group, and then met in person at his father's store in Windham. Come to find out, we graduated from the same high school, and knows my brother. Small world, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
I picked up Jake at 4am. Yes, you read that right, 4am. It was raining lightly, and by looking at the radar, it appeared the heavy rain would be skirting to the east of where we'd be hiking. We bombed north, pulled onto Wild River Road, and made it to the campground, 6 miles in. Some cars were in the hiker lot, but it was otherwise quiet, the campers were still sleeping.
At 6am on the dot, we started off down the Wild River Trail, which much like its name suggests, follows the Wild River. I'd had a loop like this in mind for quite some time, and was excited to check out some new areas. That, and there was the opportunity for a large amount of redlining, 15.9 miles to be exact. It was going to be a good day. It was cloudy when we departed, and the temperature was very comfortable. Wild River Trail follows an old railroad grade for a while, a remnant of the logging this area suffered through. There were sections of deep erosion along the grade, but they were easily worked around. Just beyond where we would come out at the end of the day, a riverside scene opened up. A mass of trees, pushed up against the bank, presented itself. It was impressive.
A bit further along, we came to the junction with the Black Angel Trail, and started up it. I recall making a comment to myself when I first hiked to Carter Dome, and saw the sign for this trail. It was something along the lines of, remind me never to take that trail! It was really a joy to be on. Passing the wilderness boundary, the trail climbs easily for the first miles, with downed trees to work over and around, and dark, brooding forest, interspersed with open birch glades, to hike through. Unfortunately, my camera couldn't capture the spectacle. My usual troubles, shooting at 1/30 of a second shutter speeds, handheld, limited my picture taking along this trail. It just means I'll have to come back.
The trail soon steepened, and became more rocky, as we neared the ridge. Some limited views were had, out over the Wild River Valley toward the Baldfaces and Maine. After a couple sections of fun scrambling, we climbed into the clouds, coming out onto Carter-Moriah Trail, where we ran into our first people of the day. I think they were surprised to see someone coming up the trail!
Pushing on another 0.4 miles, we reached the broad, flat summit of Carter Dome, in the fog. No views to be had today. A couple of people that had been staying at the hut passed through, northbound. I put on some layers, and took a minute to look at my heels, which had been bothering me. The tape I'd put on them had come off, and was useless. Jake had some tape that he'd let me try out, it's called Leukotape, and after this hike, I'm officially a convert. It held up incredibly well, and the usual heel rubbing with these shoes became a non-issue! Now to find somewhere (other than the internets) to buy some.
Deciding to skip Mt. Hight, due to the lack of views, we cruised on down to Zeta Pass, and kept on toward South Carter. This was the first time I'd been on any of these summits without some amount of snow on the ground, and there were some nice stone staircases along the way. The rain held off as well, staying well to our east for the most part. We did get drizzled on here and there, but it never really amounted to anything. I won't bore you with summit shots from the three Carters, the stick on South Carter had no view, the Middle Carter summit was marked by some faded writing on a tree (likewise, no view), and the North Carter summit (which was a strange sandy clearing) was marked by its name drawn in the sand. There were some nice sections of bog bridging between the peaks, and open areas where there should have been views. But there you have it.
From North Carter, the trail loses a lot of elevation (about 1400 feet!), and quickly. Descending over steep ledge, after steep ledge. It was a lot of fun, and I don't envy a thru hiker with a heavy pack ascending or descending this section. We got a quick view out to the north as we were descending, but it disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared.
We soon reached the spur for the Imp Campsite, and since we needed water (and I needed its 0.2 mile length for redlining), we took it. There was a lone section hiker hanging out on the porch of the shelter, and several other groups and individuals arrived while we were there. Everyone we saw and talked to was headed southbound. Apparently southbound thru/section hiking has becoming a phenomenon this year! After leaving the campsite, we headed north again, towards the Moriah Brook junction, where we'd decide whether or not to continue on to Moriah. There were a couple fleeting views along the way.
One of the guys at the shelter said the ledges were dry, so we had that going for us. Once at the junction, it started to rain... and the decision was made to just bail down Moriah Brook instead of adding another 3 miles to our day. This was the right choice, and the trail repaid us by being awesome. In the upper reaches, there were sections of deep mud, rotting bog bridging, and brush encroaching on the trail, but it was absolutely gorgeous.
It rained off and on while we descended, never heavily, and it felt fantastic. We got to see the beginnings of Moriah Brook up high on the trail, and watched as it got bigger and bigger, the further down we went. I lost count of how many crossings there were, the trail zigzagged back and forth across the brook, but they were all easy hops on moss covered rocks. There were many attractive unnamed cascades and falls along the brook, and we stopped on many occasions to bushwhack down to the bank for viewing purposes. There was one place where we stopped, heard voices, saw and smelled smoke from a campfire across the brook, but never saw the parties responsible. It looked like a great place to camp!
Beautiful sections continued, with a soft footbed, a truly special wilderness trail. We soon came upon a beaver pond directly alongside the trail, with fresh beaver activity visible on the island created by the dam. Well played beavers, well played.
We were in the home stretch, as the trail pulled away from the brook, and we soon came to the junction with the Highwater Trail. The two trails coincide for a short stretch, then split, just before reaching the suspension bridge over the Wild River. I've never encountered a more bouncy bridge in my life, we couldn't both walk on it at the same time!
Back on the Wild River Trail, we made quick time back to the car, where Jake had beers... that were still cold! What a great way to end the hike!
Now comes two goals for the rest of the year. I've been keeping track of mileage and elevation gain for the year thus far, and my first goal revolves around that. I'd like to be over 1000 trail miles by the end of the year, and with 533.5 under my belt so far, I see it as a doable thing. The other goal involves redlining, of which there are 1440.4 miles to do. I've done 561.2 miles so far, and I'd like to be halfway done by years end, so that leaves 159 miles of redlining to do to reach the goal. That means that fully one third of my remaining miles for the year needs to be on new trails. Challenge accepted!!!
Next week, with any luck, I'll be hiking in Baxter. Then the following week, I'll be hiking in New York for the first time, before my friend Jeremy's wedding. It's going to be a lot of fun!