Thursday, February 28, 2013

W48-in-1: Wildcats, Carters, & Moriah Winter Traverse - 2/23/13

Although one might not gather this from the photos you see, this was one of my top hikes this winter. The Wildcats, Carters, and Moriah are tough peaks in any season, but for my first time in winter to these peaks, this long, challenging hike did not disappoint in the least. It was winter at it's finest, in my opinion, as I trekked 19.5 miles over six 4000-footers. I hit each of these peaks for the 3rd time on this hike, leaving me only one summit away from the completion of my 3rd Round of the 48. Success on this hike meant that I would make a big push towards my goals for this season. I was ready to go for this one.

I started the trek at 4:30 AM, leaving Pinkham Notch and taking the Lost Pond Trail to the Wildcat Ridge Trail. Nice snow conditions and prior experience made the steep Wildcat Ridge Trail a pre-dawn work-out for me, and around sunrise (but with thick overcast), I was standing on the top of Wildcat D.
Wildcat Ridge Trail
Crappy looking building on Wildcat mountain

From Wildcat A, I couldn't see anything down in Carter Notch, better yet about 10 feet off the ledge. I snapped a summit photo and continued with the quickness by descending the backside of Wildcat to Carter Notch. Again, the snow was mostly powder making any descents along this hike very easy (and fun - almost like skiing on my boots sometimes). When I got to the bottom, I opted for the scenic route and decided to cross Carter Lake! This was one of the coolest scenes I've been through all winter. It was top Notch!

Start of the Carter-Moriah Trail to Carter Dome
Carter Dome summit
After that, I continued on, now on the Carter-Moriah Trail up to Carter Dome. The snow conditions were fantastic, and there was very little ice, making for easy snowshoeing. All hike long, by flipping the televators on the MSR's up and down, I was able to keep my pace up no matter what type of steepness I was dealing with. After I crossed over the summit of Carter Dome, I opted to once again skip Mt. Hight and save it for a day I'll actually get some views up on this range. The result though, was some very challenging side-hilling on the Carter Dome Trail until I reached Zeta Pass.

Zeta Pass in winter
After Zeta Pass, the scenery was amazing. The trail was broken out with a touch of powder over it, making it fresh just for me. I passed over the rest of the Carter Range through beautiful snow, hitting South and Middle Carter for the 3rd time, and first in winter. 

Tree at Middle Carter summit
I had wondering if I would eventually have to deal with any unbroken trail between the Carters and Moriah, and it turned out I did - a 1.2 mile section was completely untouched, although very easy to follow the corridor. It was beautiful. The further I went, I started to cross over some of the ledges before Mt. Moriah. Unfortunately, I didn't have any views, and it was getting colder and a wind was picking up from the east.
Carter-Moriah Trail between Imp Shelter and Mt. Moriah 
Ledges south of Mt. Moriah 
It was cold and windy when I arrived on the summit of Mt. Moriah, but for me it was great, because that meant I only had 4.5 miles to descend, and I was making great time for my rendezvous with my dad for a pick-up.

The clouds and snow from the incoming storm were coming up the pike all morning long it seemed, and was as if I was racing away from it, and was going to win the race. I was lucky to get a decent view down to Gorham as I passed over the ledges of Mt. Surprise. The snow was starting to pick up at a good pace, so it was exciting, even at the end of the long hike. 

Shortly after, with still nearly two miles to go, I was coming down the trail quickly, and immediately saw something run across the trail ahead, and go up a tree. It had something small and fuzzy in its mouth, and it wasn't long until I recognized what I was seeing. It was a small Pine Marten, and I must have interrupted his eating spot, or something. It had a long brown/red body and easily noticeable whitish head and bushy tail. The Pine Marten is on the NH State's threatened species list, and animal sightings on the trail have been extremely limited so I was glad to have a reward at the end of this hike. 
Pine Marten on Carter-Moriah Trail
I had finished just under my expected time of about 12 hours. Despite the lack of views once again on this traverse, the great conditions, snowy surroundings and reasonable temperatures made this one of the top hikes this winter. To top it off, this was a true solo hike. From Pinkham Notch at 4:30am, to Bangor Road in Gorham at 3:50, I had not seen a single other person. After getting picked up and brought back to my car, I went into North Conway to pick up some mountaineering boots and went out to eat with my dad at Horsefeathers for a nice after-hike meal. What a day! On Sunday, I finished my 3rd round on Mt. Jackson as snow was flyin'. Stay tuned for that report next week, including video of me reaching the summit.

Hike Stats
Trails: Wildcat Ridge Trail, Carter-Moriah Trail
Distance: 19.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 6,900 ft.
Actual Book Time: 11:40


  1. Hey Dan, thanks for breaking out the trail from Imp to Moriah! I hiked Moriah via Stoney Brook on Sunday, breaking trail through 10-12" of drifted snow in the higher reaches, but the Carter-Moriah Trail was in decent shape for the most part, which I was very glad for at that point! I too saw no one the whole hike.

    That's one heck of a traverse you did there, and in winter to boot! Good luck in Baxter this weekend, and with your Single Season W48 too!


    1. Hey Matt, No problem. I can imagine the feeling, after breaking trail, to finding the toughest part of your hike nicely tracked out for you! For me I was fortunate enough to have good conditions to be able to do it so quickly, in addition to having tracks to follow through that area. Thanks a lot!