Saturday, April 7, 2012

Wildcats & Carters - A Unique Round 2 Finish - 4/1/2012

I woke around 5:30am in my car at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. I snoozed a little bit but, finally got myself ready as the glow of the sun splashed the mighty Washington above me at sunrise. I had hiked 21 miles the day before, and now I had an unknown amount miles to take on, but at least 14 or so and 5 peaks to complete my second round of the 48. Coming into the weekend, I decided I wanted to end on Carter Dome....somehow. As I started the day, I wasn't sure whether I was going to be splitting this into two separate hikes or figuring out a loop on the go, but off I went.

I hopped the guardrail and crossed over to the start of the Lost Pond Trail. I got to try multiple new trails this hike. The trail, which goes around a pond that's not visible from the road, was pretty neat and a little more interesting than I expected.
Northern Presis over Lost Pond on way to WRT
Of course I was expecting and ready for the Wildcat Ridge Trail. Somehow, to start this hike, I wasn't feeling tired at all, so up I went, and I was remembering the exact landmarks I had once passed before. The path was snow free and the climb was very fun. Before I knew it, I was already traversing the cats towards D.
Lower Wildcat Ridge Trail
Scary looking - but really fun!
Walking by a VERY steep ledge
The sun was really shining brightly as I walked the ridge over towards Wildcat ski area and the summit of Wildcat D. When I made it to the observation deck, the northern Presidentials were sitting so beautifully and the morning sun on my back gave me some warmth from the chills of the mountain air on my back which was lightly sweating from hustling up the trail thus far.
View from the summit of Wildcat D
From the trail I could see the ridge ahead and the gain to Wildcat A. It didn't take me long to get there, but it contains some small ups and downs on the way. All I remember is seeing the sign for the outlook and walking out to see my final peak, Carter Dome, beaming in the morning sun with its steep slope and rocky edges. Part of choosing to end on Carter Dome was because I really did not want to ascend that same trail from the hut below. I stayed here in this spot gazing out over Carter Notch for about 10 minutes having a morning snack and thinking of the effort still required to get there on my plan. Carter Notch is such a beautiful place in the White Mountains.
On Wildcat A, standing in front of my final round 2 peak
Carter Dome, the Carters, and the Notch from Wildcat A
As I wrapped up my break, it became decision time for the Carters and Carter Dome. Where do I go from here? How do I make this happen today? Do I go down Polecat and start a fresh loop over the Carters? Do I change my final peak, and continue a complete traverse, OR, do I just continue, diverting past Carter Dome and making this a crazy loop in one hike? I was thinking about the afternoon weather coming in and also about splitting them and getting down and being so exhausted I'd say the hell with the finish today. I didn't want that nor be starting a hike as the weather was coming in. I had packed accordingly so that I was prepared for any scenario and any decision I might make.

Off I went....down the Wildcat Ridge Trail into Carter Notch. This steep section is tough without snow, but the snow there was not very difficult for me to maneuver with my spikes, and I had descended about 1,000 feet to the trail junction in about 15 minutes. My ears were poppin' and I stood at another junction with another decision to make. This one would be the definite one that sets up the rest of the hike. Was it to go up Carter Dome right there or head down on the Nineteen Mile Brook so to skip Carter Dome and get the Carters first? If you know me by now, I'm a little wacky and decided I would head down the Nineteen Mile about 1.5 miles to hit the Carter Dome Trail up to Zeta Pass to bag the Carters.
Wildcat Ridge Trail and 19 Mile Brook junction in Carter Notch
Carter Dome Trail from 19 Mile Brook Trail
There was some ice on the upper 19 Mile Brook Trail, so I left my spikes on for the jog down to the Carter Dome Trail. They came off though before I got there due to lack of snow after about a mile down. I came to the junction, snapped the photo you see above, and quickly continued on my way...up though. The Carter Dome Trail, a new one for me, was beautiful...and mostly snow free! However, as I watched over the drainage (to see my elevation), I wondered if Zeta Pass would ever appear, but the area was just so nice - and quiet. Finally, I came to Zeta Pass now with spikes on. I love Zeta Pass because we had camped out nearby in hammocks on a great overnight traverse over the entire range on round one.
Trailside scenery heading up the Carter Dome Trail
Zeta Pass trail sign
Here I now stood at Zeta Pass in the 11am hour. I look at the sign above and remind myself that I have about six miles to get out and back to this point, and at least 10 total before I'm finished. Now, I had to bag two peaks, hiking in the opposite direction of my target destination. Having been here and traveled in this direction before, I knew exactly where I was at all times, enabling me to be on South Carter in no time. There is a step up at the summit, and an extremely small view of Mt. Washington through the trees. With not a whole lot going on there, I continued on for the longest stretch of this out-and-back, 1.3 miles to Middle Carter. Along the way over the Carters, there is rock that provides expansive views, unlike any of their summits. I could see the clouds over the Presis start to darken and move closer, about to be swallowed by them in a matter of minutes.
View from near South Carter summit
View towards NEish from rock outcrop on Carter-Moriah
Middle Carter Summit
The impending weather coming over the Presidentials
I think it was about after 1pm as I headed back, now in the direct path towards my destination. I really had nailed it on the head by getting to here by 1pm for the sake of just knowing now what I need to do and that it would likely be done before I'm in a rain/snow event on the top of a 4800' peak with a steep descent ahead. But, it was already snowing and I was chucking along back to Zeta Pass. Along this section is where I really fed off the momentum of the ups and downs. It was really fun going back and forth over the Carters. Even though I had hiked over 30 miles so far, it was as if I cruising as I was when I started the day.
Zeta Pass
At this point, it was mind over body. Leaving Zeta Pass, there was only one thing to do, and that was bag Carter Dome. The trail from Zeta Pass towards Mt. Hight and Carter Dome is a long gradual ascent of about 2 miles. Despite that and the heavy legs, I continued to put one foot in front of the other without stopping. As I neared the summit I put on the camera to capture the realism of the moment. That realism was the insane quietness, only a light breeze, the snowflakes were enormous, and it was as if I was the only person in Carter Notch. I had reached the end of my second round of NH's 48 4000 foot peaks.
The unfortunately clouded in view on Carter Dome
On Carter Dome for the end of my second round
It was great to see such a beautiful place so wintry for the last time
I was successful this weekend, and it was a really great moment, the fact that I can traverse 8 4000 foot peaks and climb 13,900 feet in about 20 hours of hiking. After all, minus the altitude, that's like hiking Mt. Whitney twice in one weekend. Having climbed all of these peaks twice, I have added grown my knowledge of the trails that traverse the Whites, and with time I will learn even more. My knowledge of what it takes and in the 15 months I have done this, I have now hiked in four full seasons through the Whites. I have been most fortunate to experience mostly fair and beautiful weather, and the challenge of hiking in bad weather is still one I look forward to and must learn.

There were many great moments through the hikes of my second round. My first Pemi Loop, my 7-year old niece's 2nd 4000 footer on Jackson on 9/11 day, Moosilauke with Owen on his quest for 48, a solo night out on Mt. Isolation, nighttime hiking, sledding on Tecumseh, glissading on the Trips, and lastly, my solo winter presidential traverse to get Jefferson. On top of that, in the same 15 months, I've already hiked 17 round 3 peaks.

Hike Stats
Trails: Lost Pond Trail, Wildcat Ridge Trail, Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, Carter Dome Trail, Carter-Moriah Trail, Wildcat Ridge Trail, Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, Route 302 to Pinkham Notch Visitor Center
Distance: 19.7 miles (not including at least 2.5 miles of road walk)
Elevation Gain: 7,150 ft
Book Time: 10hrs 30min (not including road walk )

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