JoeC and I led a Carter Loop hike for the Appalachian Mountain Club hike on Sunday, climbing up to the Appalachian Trail/Carter-Moriah Trail via the Imp and North Carter Trails. From there, we headed south bagging Middle Carter (4610′) and South Carter (4430′), before hiking out via Zeta Pass and the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail.
The snow was much deeper than I expected on this route, easily 5-6 feet above 3,000 feet of elevation. While it’s still too early to form a good monorail layer, there were plenty of post-holing opportunities. I know, I fell into a spruce trap along the trail, so solo hikers beware. I was quickly pulled out by a friend, but it would have been a herculean struggle to extricate myself.
Joe and I were tired from hiking Jefferson on Saturday, but we’d scheduled a Carter Loop as the “easier” Sunday hike. That’s a laugh: this one felt a lot harder then climbing Jefferson, because we had to contend a lot more soft snow and close to the same amount of elevation gain as the day before.
On the flip side, we had much nicer weather and relatively little wind, at least not the hurricane speed gusts we had to contend with on Saturday above treeline. The Carter Moriah Trail is mostly in the trees with a couple of nice views of the Great Gulf and the Presidential Range. We had a bright sunny day and it was positively balmy once you got out of the wind and onto an insulated sit pad.
We also started a bit later on Sunday, at 9:15 am at the Nineteen Mile Trailhead, where we met the 4 hikers in our group. From there, we walked down the road to Dodge Camp to pick up the Imp Trail shortcut. To get there, you walk up the Dodge Camp driveway, between the big field where they land the resupply helicopters and the volunteer huts, and past the trail maintenance tool shed. Continue along the logging road about 1/2 a mile and you’ll come to a junction with the Imp Trail. Turn right and start climbing, and climbing.
Once past the tool shed, we started to encounter soft granular snow mixed in with ice. We put on microspikes and tried to follow the packed surface from previous traffic, but it had been pretty chopped up by other hikers who’d been hiking without snowshoes. Bad trail etiquette. I almost wish we’d encountered monorail because it would have been easier to walk on.
I’ve been up and down the Imp and North Carter trails more times than I can count, but that climb felt like it went on forever on Sunday. We were packing close to a full winter load and it was hard work hiking up that hill, stripped down to my baselayer to shed heat and prevent from soaking my baselayer too badly.
We made it up to the top of the ridge in about 3 hours and took a lunch break out of the wind. Joe and I were still a bit dehydrated from the previous day and we were blowing through our supplies of Gatorade and water. I usually carry three liters of hot water on a hike of this duration and by the end of lunch, I’d drunk two of them.
It was a short distance to Middle Carter from our lunch spot, just past the Trailwright’s 72 Mount Lethe bushwhack. Middle Carter has great views of the BaldFaces to the west, but the view of the Presidential Range is occluded by tree cover.
The Trail seemed uncharacteristically dense on the way to Middle Carter and I complained aloud about the need for a good brushing by a Trail Maintainer. Joe reminded me that we were walking on six feet of snow, meaning that the branches we had to squeeze past are normally above our heads! I recalled the first time I’d encountered snow this deep on my first winter backpacking trip in the Pemigewasset Wilderness in March 2008.
We passed by Middle Carter and continued along to South Carter, which also has an occluded view of the Presidential Range. We gathered for a short break here and to share summit cookies before starting the long hike out to Zeta Pass, a major crossroads of sorts at the base of trails to Mt Hight and Carter Dome.
Once past South Carter, we really picked up the pace, since it was downhill from here until our cars – 5 miles away! The snow had gotten softer as the day progressed but we were able to wear microspikes most of the way down, crossing two largish water crossings full of cold snowmelt.
Once below 2000′, the trail turned mostly back to mud and wet clay with snowmelt draining into Nineteen Mile Brook which runs alongside it. I stripped off my traction so I could walk faster and started flying down the trail at a summer-like speed. I was amazed that any of the other hikers in our group could keep up with me because I was using every footwork trick I had to speed up the pace.
They did keep pace with me however, and we soon found ourselves at the trailhead again. It has been a hard hike, especially since it was my second of the weekend, but oh was it worth it!
This hike was 10.8 miles long with 3750′ of elevation and took 9.5 hours to complete.
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