Following the successful Moosilauke overnight the weekend before and facing a window of opportunity for back-to-back bluebird Saturdays, we decided to take the Presidential views a little closer up this time and headed to Carter Notch Hut on Friday night. After an interesting drive of getting passed by both an 18 wheeler (in a no pass zone!) as well as a Smart Car (WTF?) we finally arrived at the Nineteen Mile Brook Trailhead around 10:30 pm with my pride brutally shattered.
This trail started off almost flat, gradually getting slightly steeper and following the brook almost the whole way. At 4 miles and 2000 feet of vert, this was a pleasant change from Beaver Brook Trail the previous Friday. At the halfway point, it started snowing lightly and the winds picked up, eventually turning into a serious flurry. We reached the hut around 12:30 AM and chatted with the sleepy caretaker for a bit before claiming an entire bunkhouse for ourselves. There are two bunkhouses at Carter Notch with about 5 bunkrooms a piece sleeping 4-6 people per room. Although they are decent structures, they are unheated and not much warmer than outside.
After some ritual beers we passed out and woke up at 10:15 to a bluebird day and some great views of the Notch we were in, which is flanked by Carter Dome on one side and Wildcat on the other with two small frozen ponds in the col.
We hit the trail a bit after noon and promptly lost it in 2 foot deep drifts. As this is on the AT, the white painted blazes on the snow encrusted trees are almost impossible to follow. We spent the next hour and a half bushwhacking uphill in two feet of powder towards the general direction of the summit. Along the way we found a nice spot with our first decent views of the Presidentials.
After that however the trees became imprisoning and we bushwhacked in the direction of the trail instead which once we gratefully found, was perfectly broken out. We bagged Wildcat Mountain and took in a few cliff-side views into the Carter Notch and north eastward into Maine. Trudging on, we thoroughly enjoyed the meandering Wildcat Ridge Trail after the brutal bushwhack and found a wind sheltered sunny spot for lunch.
After some meat, cheese and crackers we continued on to the Wildcat A observation deck for some more photos. I would have to rank this as my best hike as far as views go. Bluebird days on Washington are rare and although this was my second, the perspective was new for me and the angle of the ravines is top notch. Also the views of the ski trails on Washington got the gears turning as well.
We descended to the ski area summit with D Mak busting out the butt sled and wiping out going full speed. Again we lost the trail following the Wildcat backcountry ski trail instead and backtracking. Getting back on the AT, we caught a few more views in between downhill sections and D Mak’s butt sled paid itself off and then some. As ours shattered the previous weekend, I opted to do some snowshoe skiing which is also quite fun.
Some sections got quite technical and icy and rocky and this downhill took much longer than expected. The pinnacle of which was a fairly dangerous 30 foot down climb that took me over fifteen minutes and ended up not even being a part of the trail. D Mak’s climbing prowess got the best of him and although I might have shit my pants with only some muddy hand holds, I somehow made it down although totally exhausted and completely caked in mud.
The rest of the trail was speckled with some nice views and we eventually got down to the Lost Pond Trail and the home stretch. The sun was now setting and Lost Pond was fun to walk over.
When we got to Pinkham Notch visitor center, Gus hitched a ride while we waited and watched people freaking out over some lost party members on Washington. This was my first time here and while I changed out of my muddy gear, I watched a duo of French Canadians gearing up for a night time climbing ascent of an unknown route with about 80 lbs of gear. Between bushwhacking lost, butt sledding one of the steepest trails in the Whites, and down climbing some shit I envisioned myself dying on (because I suck at it), I had thought our trip was extreme. Somehow we always meet someone doing something even more insane which is humbling and falsely reassuring; climbing slides on Lincoln, ascending Flume Slide with a 3 year old, running Pemi Loops solo, night ice climbing. Still not as bad as getting passed by a Smartcar.
Total: 10.7 Miles and 4200 feet of Vert
Things I/We Did Right:
– Capitalized on another bluebird day.
– Brought snow shoes this time. Even though they suck, they were a huge help bushwhacking and even descending as they lacked decent traction which made them great for skiing and sledding.
– Kept my base pack weight below 20 lbs. Hut and shelters are easy-mode but we don’t own winter tents so lack options. Plus when you get it all to yourself, tents are pointless and you can dry out gear by the stoves.
– As hard as that bushwhack was, it was a good experience and because of it we didn’t see a single person on the trail all day.
– Totally hooked on winter descents, they’re ridiculously fun and the steeper ones are a rush.
Things I Did Wrong:
– Pissing into a snow blown 30 mph gust at 15 degrees is easily the coldest thing I’ve ever experienced. Probably should have drank less fluids.
– Lost the trail. First time getting lost. Not a huge deal but cost a lot of time and energy and will bring my GPS in winter from now on.
– Descended that cliff. Could have easily walked around and saved 20 minutes. Still a good challenge.
Total Peaks Bagged: Two official + two sub peaks.
Total Miles: 10.7 with detours
Total Elevation Gain: 4200 feet
Total 4ks: 28/48
Total Backpacked: 25/48
Therm-a-rest Z Lite – Bought this years ago but only slept on it once before I upgraded. Not a fan of it but did the trick on the hut bunk mattresses and I spread it out to sit on for lunch. I’m finding in the winter, a pad or sled to sit on is clutch.