A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way. - Mark Twain
|Mark and me finally ready to head for the Cat.|
May 7, 2010. Nineteen Mile Brook Trail trailhead. Mark and I were gearing up for a hike up to Carter Notch Hut and then to climb Wildcat Mountain. Something was missing however, Mark had forgotten his gaiters. You have to have gaiters if you are going to hike in the snow, and even though it was May we were going to be hiking in snow. Gaiters wrap around your lower leg and boot to stop snow from getting into your boots. If you get snow in your boots, your feet get wet. Wet feet in the cold can be very bad for your comfort and potentially your life. More likely however is your wet foot getting rubbed raw by your boot, and if you have never hiked mountain terrain with your feet blistering, consider yourself fortunate. So we went back to the AMC's Pinkham Notch Visitor Center to buy gaiters for Mark. It happens. I once went birding and forgot my binoculars. Okay, more than once, hard to believe but there it is. I guess I'll also add that I forgot to bring Nuttah MD with us this time. Well she was with us in spirit at least, providing inspiration.
|Nineteen Mile Brook Trail|
We would be hiking up Nineteen Mile Brook Trail and staying at the AMC's Carter Notch hut for the night. The original weather forecast of fine weather for days had gone sour and our plan to climb Wildcat Mountain the next day had to be modified to doing it today. So we would hike our gear to the hut, sign in with the caretaker, dump gear there to lighten our load, and climb to the summits in the afternoon. Wildcat Mountain has two summits that count as 4,000 footers, Wildcat A and Wildcat D. It also has a well known ski area. So off we went with Nineteen Mile Brook roaring and pounding with snow melt water.
|Nineteen Mile Brook was more an angry river with the recent snow melt.|
We were hiking during that awkward time of year in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, when Spring is happening down low but Winter has not yet surrendered up high. So we were a bit over dressed on the low section and started sweating with the effort and weight of our packs. We had over night gear as well as snow hiking gear such as snowshoes. At the trailhead we heard a few returning warblers singing, such as Northern Parula, but on top the snow would still be 3 to 5 feet deep. These little feathered marvels had traveled all the way from the tropics to be here, and we drove up from Connecticut to briefly share the trailhead with them by the side of NH Routte 16. On the other side of Route 16, Mt. Washington and the northern Presidentials rose above us, but today we headed east, into the shadow of the Cat.
|Crossing the brook|
Nineteen Mile Brook Trail is an easy hike as far as White Mountain trails go. Still it was pretty warm, and we were overdressed, so we worked up a good sweat anyway. I had last walked this trail more than twenty years earlier, with my friends Mike and Cindy. Then we were headed out from hiking the Carter Range, which was now on our left hand as Mark and I climbed. On that hike down with Mike and Cindy I managed to stumble and do a complete somersault with a full pack. I had gotten a bit scraped up and almost slid into the brook, but I came up laughing. I still have to laugh when I think about it now.
|We reach the junction with Wildcat Ridge Trail|
I need to explain about "monorail," rotten monorail more to the point. Okay, so it snows in the mountains, you probably aren't surprised to hear that. It snows a lot. That snow gets pretty deep right? Winter hikers walk over that deep fresh snow, usually wearing snowshoes. When they do this they compact the snow on the trail, resulting in a sunken but hardened path. Now this compacted snow is still pretty deep, 3 feet or often more. So hikers keep traveling over this compacted trail all winter and it gets a harder and harder crust. Then Spring comes and snow starts to melt. But the compacted snow on the trail melts more slowly. So as the snow on the sides of the trail sinks and disappears, the hardened trail snow does so much more slowly. This results in the trail turning from a sunken path to a raised path above the surrounding snow. Hikers now have to walk this elevated snow hump, and we call it "monorail", like the elevated track of an actual monorail. So good so far, but all snow melts eventually, and it also melts from underneath. Melt water running underneath the monorail attacks it and the warmth of the earth also eats away at the monorail's underbelly. So the monorail gets weak, and then we refer to it as "rotten." When a hiker is walking along rotten monorail he will break through on some strides and his leg can fall in right to the hip. This sudden unwelcome "how-do-you-do" obviously stops you dead and sucks energy and the joie de vive right out of you. This event is called "post-holing", for obvious reasons. Hikers don't enjoy rotten monorail or post-holing. On the upper stretches of Nineteen Mile Brook Trail we ran into rotten monorail and Mark and I post-holed again and again. New experience for Mark, old one for me. There would be more to come later on the ridge climb.
|The Carter Lakes lie in Carter Notch in the shadow of the Cat.|
So we slogged and post-holed our way to the junction with Wildcat Ridge Trail. We would be taking Wildcat Ridge Trail upwards to the peaks, but first we needed to go to Carter Notch Hut and sign in and drop our extra gear. We dropped down towards the Carter Lakes of Carter Notch and the hut. The hut was on the far side of the lakes from where we were. The Carter Lakes are gorgeous crystal clear mountain pools. Wildcat Mountain rises nearly vertically for 1,000 feet on the south side of the lakes and the impressive Carter Dome rises on the north. Bounding the lakes on the east is an amazing wall of huge boulders, appropriately called the "Rampart." It looks just like a massive fortress wall right out of Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings." The Rampart was formed by massive rock avalanches from both Carter Dome and Wildcat Mountain. It is an imposing and memorable sight that reminds us mere humans of the power and forces our world unleashes from time to time. It must have sounded like the apocalypse when that slide happened.
|The "Rampart" on the far side of the Carter Lakes.|
|Looking south in Carter Notch. The base of Carter Dome. The large bowl right of center is where the stone that now forms the "Rampart" split and fell. The top the northern end of the "Rampart" is visible above the tree tops.|
After Mark and I took a few moments to drink in the magnificence of our surroundings, we followed the trail that circled the lake to get to Carter Notch Hut. In winter, some of the Appalachian Mountain Club huts are open on a caretaker basis. Winter hikers can stay at these huts but they must supply their own food and cook stove. They also should bring a sleeping bag and pad even though there are bunks available. Carter Notch hut is one of these huts, and the caretaker in residence during our visit was Heidi. I know, I know, Heidi in the mountains, how ironic. I didn't bring it up. I figured I wouldn't be the first to do so and spared her another comment about it.
|Carter Notch Hut|
|Mark on bunk house porch|
After our brief chat with Heidi, Mark and I headed over to the newly rebuilt bunk houses to drop gear before the hike up. We were very impressed with the lovely new bunk houses and bunks at Carter Notch. Being both teenagers at heart, Mark literally and me virtually, we both chose top bunks for night. We ridded ourselves of all the gear from our packs except for the things we would take onto the Cat.
|Brand new bunk house and bunks.|
|Spectacular view above the Carter Lakes|
|Mark post-holes right up to the hip. Not fun, and not making for fast hiking.|
|A spruce trap open up in the warming weather|
|Mark inspects a spruce trap.|
The angled snow cover we were hiking on had been softening and refreezing in the Spring thaw and was very slick. I was concerned for my young friend's safety, it would be easy to slip and shoot off into the broken and jagged spruce branches that adorn every trunk in the dark forest. So I started to kick foot holds in the snow's crust to reduce the chance of either of us slipping off and falling down slope into spruce "punjis". This further slowed our pace and tired me out considerably. Despite this precaution we both managed a few falls between frequent post-holes before we finally crested the ridge top.
|A pose all too often taken. Mark after a fall.|
|In the shadow of the Cat. Carter Notch Hut and Carter Lakes seen from Wildcat Ridge. The Rampart is the broad mass of boulders to the right of the lakes.|
|Carter Dome lies across the notch.|
|Looking down Carter Notch towards Nineteen Mile Brook|
|Mark and me on Wildcat Ridge|
|Looking eastward. Maine lies in the distance.|
|The hut's stove. This massive cast iron beast came up the notch on the back of men. Supermen surely.|
|My JetBoil on the counter (with the little orange legs) is dwarfed by the hut's stove. The white bins below the counter are for food. This keeps food out of the bunk house. This is a black bear precaution.|
|Mark eats a found treasure, a Poptart left at the hut by a Boy Scout Troop while he waits for dinner.|
|Mark and I add comments to the huts journal. A shelf in the hut holds dozens of filled journals from the past.|
|The outhouse is above the bunk house.|
|The breakfast table.|