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Wildcat Valley Ski Trail: The Back Way up Wildcat Ridge

Birch Glade on the Wildcat Valley Ski Trail
Birch Glade on the Wildcat Valley Ski Trail

The two most popular routes to climb Wildcat A and D are to hike up the 19 Mile Brook Trail from Carter Notch or to climb the Polecat Trail from the Wildcat Ski Resort. I took a very different route up to WildCat D on Friday, hiking up the Halls Ledge Trail from RT 16 and continuing to the summit via the Wildcat Valley Ski Trail. These trails climb the Wildcat Ridge from the south, up the backside if you would, just outside of Jackson, NH.

I took this hike to scout out a section of my White Mountain Challenge route, a 230 mile backpacking trip where I’m planning to hike all 48 four-thousand foots in one continuous, unsupported trip. I’ve been thinking about hiking up these trails after I summit Mt Isolation in order to get up the Wildcats and Carters.

Halls Ledge Trailhead
Halls Ledge Trailhead

Halls Ledge Trail leaves Rt 16 across from the Rocky Branch Trailhead. The Halls Ledge Sign is not visible from the road, but down an embankment just past the first bridge on Rt 16. The trail passes by an old beaver pond of uncertain habitation before climbing quite steeply. Though well-blazed, in several colors (orange, yellow, and pink tape), the treadway is still difficult to follow because it is densely covered with a thick layer of leaf litter.

Painted can lid as a blaze
Painted can lid as a blaze

As you near the top of the climb, you enter an area of timber that has been recently harvested. Look for pink tape marking the trail through this desolation zone.

Evidence of recent tree harvesting activity
Evidence of recent tree harvesting activity

The trail continues on the other side of the cut area passing the Forest Service boundary and entering private property.

Upper Half of Halls Ledge Trail
Upper Half of Halls Ledge Trail

Continuing, you soon come upon a clearing with a picnic table and a fine view of Boott Spur and Mount Washington.

Halls Ledge Picnic Table and View
Halls Ledge Picnic Table and View

Continuing past the picnic table you climb a grass-covered road which leads to a small cross-country ski trail system maintained by the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation. The trails are fairly well signed with maps posted at major intersections.

Scenic View
Scenic View

As you climb, you’ll pass a nice scenic view on your right. What a nice place for a picnic!

Wildcat Valley SkiTrail
Wildcat Valley Ski Trail

Continuing,you’ll come to the intersection between Hall’s Ledge and the Wildcat Valley Ski Trail. Turn left and start climbing. There will be a number of intersections with other cross-country ski trails….just bear left at each one and you’ll stay on the right path.

Re-enter National Forest
Re-enter National Forest

Soon, you’ll re-enter the National Forest. This is an active downhill ski trail so you’ll probably want to stay off it in winter unless you are coming down on skis. As you keep climbing you will come to the wide open birch glade pictured at the top of this post. Unfortunately, most of the birches are dead.

Snowshoeing Up to Wildcat D
Snowshoeing Up to Wildcat D

I encountered snow from 3200 to 3400′ and from 3600′ to 4000′ at the top of the Wildcat Ski Resort ski lifts. I was a little bit more prepared for deep snow this weekend, with snowshoes and winter boots. The snow depth was about two feet with very little monorail.

Top of Wildcat Ski Area
Top of Wildcat Ski Area

As I neared the top of the ski lifts, it started to rain heavily. Then is started to lightning. I took off my snowshoes, dropped my internal frame backpack and aluminum hiking poles, and dashed up to the viewing platform at the summit of Wildcat D (4069′). Not wanting to be the highpoint of the mountain, I dashed back down scooping up my gear and stumbled down below treeline again at the top of the ski trail. From there it was an easy descent.

The nice thing about this route is the gradual gradient, which is quite pleasant once you get to the picnic table in Hall’s Ledge Trail. I’m not sure that I would recommend it for early summer when it’s likely to become very muddy from snowmelt, but it may also be nice again in autumn. I guess I’ll have to return and find out. It’s certainly a change of pace over the other more commonly used trails up to the Wildcats.

Total distance: 8 miles
Elevation Gain: 3000 feet
Time: A casual 6:30

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4 comments

  1. An interesting approach. I’d read about this trail a while ago and wondered if it passed over the summit of the former Wildcat “F” Peak, which I believe is the 2,834 ft. bump shown on topo maps. ACME Mapper shows the trail passing to the west of it, but I’ve read another account of it going right over.

    • Caltopo shows it as 2934′. Never knew that was called Wildcat F. The ski trail passes to the west of it. I didn’t detour over to it, but I could see views of Carter Notch through the trees, so perhaps there’s a good viewpoint. There are some good bushwhacking possibilities in the area and the woods are fairly open.

  2. From the ArcGIS maps and WMNF databases, it looks like there are 2 trails up the south side of Wildcat D — this looks like the more western one that runs up Wildcat Ridge and goes west of the 2934′. The other one stays in the Wildcat Brook drainage then heads straight up. Something tells me this second one is long abandoned.

    The map says Rocky Branch TH and Hall’s Ledge are 0.2 miles apart. Do you just walk south looking for the sign down the embankment, or are they closer in real life?

    This looks like an interesting *and less populated) way to to Wildcat D & A without the ridiculous steep sections at either end of the ridge.

  3. I think that trail to the east is probably abandoned, but there are a lot of old raods up there and I didn’t investigate. All the USGS data we’re looking at is probably 60 years old.

    You just walk down the road and look fo rthe sign. :-)

    Hall’s ledge is pretty steep to start, but nothing like Polecat and it stops at the picnic table where you can recover. :-)

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