South and Middle Carter in the White Mountains

A wild pack of Carters +Hight

5:03AM

With gear packed neatly in the Subaru, I creaked slowly down the frozen driveway; loud enough to wake the neighbors, if I had any neighbors that is!

The weather was looking stellar for a run or hike in the White Mountains, but at that time in the morning I was still unsure of where I was even headed. It is a very unsettling feeling, the knowing that you want to get out and adventure somewhere but being stricken with the anxiety of ‘what if the conditions are crummy where I go.. maybe there would be less wind, or less ice, or less traffic if I go to Vermont instead of New Hampshire..

This kind of thinking creeps into my thought pattern more than I would like to admit, it drives the mind in absolute maddening circles – does it add value to my thinking or help problem solving? No, not really. Can I do anything about it? Kind of, but only once I realize that it is happening!

I had spent most of Friday weighing my options, neatly charting what the weather forecast looked like at varying locations spanning 360 degrees out from my cabin. Would the winds be less ferocious up north but be cold as ice down south? I weighed my options with nothing that really called to my heart.

I just wanted to get out.

I wanted a long day out in the forest. I needed trails to run, mountains to climb, to get my heart thumping and legs throbbing, I wanted nature to somehow release my mind of my own thoughts, I needed nature to relieve me of the everyday cycle. I didn’t care which surrounding state it was in, the forest is where I was going to disconnect for several hours.

Still creaking down my once dirt, now frozen-tire-tread dead end road, I had narrowed my destinations to that of a few, and by the time I had regained cellphone service – I had forced a decision of a distant memory and plugged that into google maps to guide me through the blustery dark night to my trail head parking lot.

Nineteen-Mile Brook Trail Head

The drive (..thankfully!) was uneventful, google deciding that I deserved more back roads than I was accustomed to; the large parking lot already contained about 8 cars when I pulled in just as the sun was coming up over the neighboring hills around 7:15am.

Considering myself lucky to have scored a parking spot so easily (the lot fills to capacity quickly once daybreak occurs each morning, then overflow cars begin to line Route 16), I finished getting gear together and layers on before opening the door to the 23-degree world outside.

Other cars containing enthusiastic day-hikers poured in and continued to fill remaining parking spots as I tightened my Salomon Speedspikes – today’s shoe of choice as I recalled from Moosilauke just a few days prior, also confirmed by trail reports on NE Trail Conditions that the snow was packed with not enough of the white fluffy stuff to justify snowshoes.

 

Opting for a 12-liter running pack, I assumed this would be a sketchy day and probably my last of the season for soft flasks of water, if it were any colder the nozzles probably would not have stood a chance with the cold – but I live to tell, they performed just fine, a bit frosty toward the end of the hike – but thawed enough to stay hydrated for sure!

I had packed my Hillsound spikes and several extra GoreTex layers, all of which simply went along for the ride, tucked in my pack – best to have them and not need them, instead of the other way around!

7:30AM

*BEEP*

And just like that: GPS watch was recording, hands were tucked in gloves, pack chest straps tightened, trekking poles gripped and my carbide steel spiked shoes were digging into the icy layer that adorned the trail already – a good choice indeed!

A quick walk soon turned into a some-what jog down the frosty trail.

19 Mile Brook Trail; Ciara and I had been here a while back when we first played in the Carters, we loved this forest – it doesn’t take much hiking past the trail head to really feel engulfed in desolate wilderness, it truly makes one forget that Mount Washington is looming just beyond the trees to the west, bustling with folks trying to drive up its flanks – I’ll take my quiet alone time in the Carters any day, thank you!

The trail meanders for 1.9 miles to the Cart Dome Trail cut-off that most this morning would take up to Zeta Pass, Ciara and I both adored this trail and all of the switchbacks. For today, I would be continuing on 19 Mile for another 1.9 miles to Upper Carter Lake, just shy of the Carter Notch Hut where I have heard rumors of fresh bread aromas wafting far up the sides of surrounding mountains, as if to guide hikers straight to the hut!

The trail crosses several waterways, all bridged and nothing of any difficulty (the water was also low..). I could see this trail being more of a portage trail for the hut, it truly is very gradual, some gentle ascents, descents.. all while meandering alongside its namesake brook – very picturesque indeed!

On several occasions I have stood high atop the cliffs of the Wildcats peering down, almost certain I could recall actually seeing the hut from way up high; despite the cold, whipping breeze, there was not much that could have broken my trance-like stare, everything around appeared absolutely timeless: ice hung from rocks, to the warm hues of morning sunlight glowing across the frozen pond. I had found my happy place in nature!

Knowing that I had many more miles to cover before finding the comfort of heated Subaru seats once again, I began that climb. I had heard rumors of its steep grade – and I am here to attest: no.. they do not lie. Perhaps it was the added wind threatening to rob me of my balance, maybe it was the extra coating of fluffy powder on the ascent.. my quads would definitely agree it felt like 1,400 in that final 1-mile to the summit of Carter Dome!

If I actually said how much snow I had to contend with from the open (the summit is surrounded by trees but has been cleared for 20-30′ around) summit over to Hight, I would expect to get torn to shreds by the snowshoe police – I agree 100%, if I had snowshoes.. I would have been wearing them up at that elevation. Alas! I was not, so I’ll admit that I had an absolute blast romping in the 6-inches of drifted and blown in powder! Hopefully the army of hikers behind me helped to beat down my tracks as I saw not a soul all day who even carried snowshoes!

I remembered the very rocky, almost pebbly trail and how much those little rocks wanted to roll underfoot from our summer hike – luckily, I did not have any of that to contend with today, I continued to bounce through the powder like a snowshoe hare off the Dome and over to my next intersection..

Hight..? Yeah – I’ve got time for that.. I suppose!“, my thoughts are rather easy going and easy to please while out in the forest – just give me more nature, is all I crave!

Here the trail got narrow, using my trekking poles as shields, I tried to blast my way right though the near-eye sticking rigid Carter Domespruce branches.. gotta do what you gotta do to keep those eyes safe!

The wind never really calmed itself down, I was just stuck right in the midst of it though when I left the shelter of treeline and stepped out on the open summit of Mount Hight at 4,675′. The wind whipped wildly all around and actually tried to knock me over a few times – knowing this would be my open viewed peak of the day, I stood calm and let the wind whip me all over. It was a calming, beautiful destructive force – it was my time to embrace the cold, not fight it. I could fight away the cold when I picked up speed later in the day, for now – I was here to once again just breathe and stare, taking in those heavenly sights!

The descent of Hight was super fun as I was able to run full speed once hitting the icy slopes on the Appalachian Trail, but for the initial tenth of a mile (the steep part..), the rocks had a neat layer of icy crust capping the 6 or so inches of powder down below – if you can picture that.. hard crust meets shinbone at every step as the foot sinks into the powder, it was delicate and deliberate foot placement for sure!

Back on the lower altitudes and packed trail that made up the Carter-Moriah Trail, I was able to run and bound through the snow in a way that felt akin to being a child once again – the only thing was that I did not run as a child, but it certainly kept my mind ‘in the moment’, a very freeing experience indeed!

Within what seemed like minutes I could glance back, beginning to ascend once again, I could see the dome-shape of Mount Hight with a wee bit speck of Carter Dome sticking up just beyond. “Holy heck.. I was just over there!?“, seems to be my reoccurring thought when I run in the mountains!

I remember hearing about crazy blowdowns and trail reroutes and all while heading up to South and Middle Carter, as of writing this the trails appeared very similar to a year and a half ago when Ciara and I ventured though: there clearly is evidence of some nasty blowdowns, but they had been cut and logs moved off the trail. As I reported to another hiker later in the day, who inquired as to the state of blowdowns on the Carter-Moriah Trail – they are easily manageable, either step over, or duck under, nothing like a bushwhack – the trails were just fine in my humble opinion!

A quick jaunt, following prior footsteps – I stood briefly on the true summit rocks of South Carter, a 15′ spur trail to the top of a boulder with some downed trees, blink and it would be missed!

I forgot how much I really enjoyed this trail, of course it was much different today – snow softening every step along the way.

Are there wooden bridges along the Carter-Moriah Trail? Absolutely yes! I know this because when encountering one, it was somewhat difficult to see though the depth of snow – but easy to know it was under the powder when your foot cambers its way off the side of the solid wood surface and plunges the remaining 8-inches down to earth – quite a wake up for the joints!

The wind continued whipping all around each moment when the trail would hit a high point and offer a look out, the Presidentials tips looking entirely frosted from 3,500 and up. Unobstructed views in every direction made my reality seem as if I was plunged into an Ansel Adams photograph, can real life get any better than these moments?

Wishing several other groups of hikers a lovely day in the mountains, I continued on now back into the narrow forested trail to my final (last significant anyway..) intersection of the morning – continue hiking along the Appalachian Trail with Mount Moriah in my sights or take that left and head back to my car?

AT to North Carter it was going to be!

This 4,520-foot summit is not a major destination for many up here among the massives, most merely passing over as they stagger north to Katahdin or south to Springer Mountain along the Appalachian Trail. For me though, this was my destination for the day! I had wanted to visit this spectacular spur trail for quite some time now, it actually turned out to be peak #71 on the Trailwright 72 list for me, I have used this list over the past 2 years as a source of exploring new places.

Un-remark-able. Very similar summit to Carter Dome, cleared for some area but completely closed in 360 by trees. There was however, a very stunning view out to the east from a rocky ledge while en route to North Carter – the whole side-trip was completely worth the extra 20 or so minute out and back!

Back at the junction, I saw my footsteps once again. This time I would be following all of the other spiked boot prints from the folks I had passed somewhere around Middle Carter.

The memory that I brought home when Ciara and I hiked this loop a year and a half prior was that of boulders, big and small, a narrow trail and extremely slow going through here.. like frustratingly slow going over rocks that threatened to destroy one’s ankles.

How was the trail this time with a bit of snow packed onto it? Absolutely runnable, such a blast to be on, a true pleasure to experience during these brief conditions! Winter is certainly the time of the year to revel in the glory of the North Carter and later, the Imp Trail!

Several small brooks and water crossings were made easy by the spikes on the feet, bare boots probably would have slipped constantly on the frosty rocks sticking out of the water, but a quick pace and grippy gear made the going easy enough and highly enjoyable.

Like a flip of a switch and one exits the primarily dense evergreen forest and enters an extremely open winter forest devoid of any leaf cover for the remainder of the hike. As the trail becomes increasingly wet, more flattened out with clumps of leaves and less snow on the ground it is apparent that my hike was nearing the end.

One has the option however, of continuing along the Imp trail back to a parking lot quite a ways down Rt 16, or if one is savvy enough – look for the orange/pink surveyors tape just past a small stream crossing and look for a roughly cut, lightly traveled trail, this will take you to Camp Dodge.

I have never run into anyone at the Camp frowning upon us hikers passing through, and I bet with a little decency and respect for the land owners – that we can keep this well-placed shortcut open!

Without doing any bit of precise measurement, I would guess that the Camp Dodge cut-off saves hikers roughly 2 miles of hiking, and at the end of a 13-mile day over 5,100 feet of climbing, that savings is huge!

From Camp Dodge, I returned to Rt 16 with about a quarter mile of road walk, better than it could have been without that shortcut!

The Nineteen-Mile Brook Trail Head now completely full, and as others have described, cars lined the side of Rt 16. Makes me very happy to have begun my day so early, as the traffic was extremely sparse traversing the Carters – just the way I enjoy my time in nature!

I hope this helps you want to get out and experience the wilder, more remote sides of the White Mountains and any forests that are nearby – you just never know what magic is out there waiting for you to find!

Thanks so much for taking the time to share my journey, I hope you enjoyed it nearly as much as I did.. feel free to message me – or comment right on here with anything I may have missed, or anywhere that I should experience, I’d love that!

Happy Trails to you!

 

– Erik


Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 13.3miles
  • 4hr 12minutes
  • 5,125′ elevation gain
  • Carter Dome – 4,832′
  • Mount Hight – 4,675′
  • South Carter – 4,420′
  • Middle Carter – 4,600′
  • North Carter – 4,520′

 


For the full low-down on why I love what Muir does.. trek on over.. HERE! 

 

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