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Climbing Imp Face and North Carter Mountain

Great View of Mt Washington from Imp Face Cliff
Great View of Mt Washington from Imp Face Cliff

The Imp Trail is one of the most popular, but strenuous day hikes in Pinkham Notch, with fantastic views of Mount Washington, the Northern Presidentials and the Carter-Wildcat Mountain Range. Forming a 6. 4 mile loop, it climbs up a cliff known as Imp Face which has a commanding view of the entire valley below.

Last weekend, I hiked  the northern and southern halves of the Imp Trail before and after  climbing up to North Carter Mountain, a 4500 ft peak in the Carter Range, for a 9.4 mile hike with 3200 feet of elevation gain. The weather was fantastic, cool and clear, and the fall foliage was close to peak for my hike.

While beautiful, the Imp Trail is steep, so if you like being married, don’t bring your spouse here if they’re not a gung-ho hiker. They’ll want to kill you.

Ladder up a Very Rocky Section of the Imp Trail
Ladder up a Very Rocky Section of the Imp Trail

The trail starts to climb almost immediately after you leave the Rt 16 trailhead and never quits until you reach Imp Face or North Carter, if you do the Carter Ridge extension.

For reasons I’m not sure I understand, the Imp Trail doesn’t really form a complete loop. There are actually two trail heads, a northern and a southern one, which are separated by a 3/10 of a mile road walk. The best place to park and start your hike is at the northern trailhead because it has the biggest parking space, and it’s the closest to the Imp Face cliff, in case you just want to do a shorter in and out hike without completing the loop.

Imp Trail Loop with North Carter Trail Extension
Imp Trail Loop with North Carter Trail Extension

The route up to Imp Face has typical White Mountain scenery in that it parallels a rushing stream through lush forest and the trail is covered with roots and wet rocks. In fact this trail is so rocky, that my feet ached a bit by the end of this hike, which doesn’t happen to me too often.

While steep, the views from Imp Face cannot be beat and once you make it to the top, most people linger for a long, long time. This is also a great place for a picnic.

If you continue on the Imp Trail past Imp Face, there’s a 0.9 mile section before you come to the North Carter Trail junction. I’d hiked this section once before, in the dead of winter, and remembered breaking deep snow while wearing snowshoes.

Imp Trail, North Carter Trail Junction
Imp Trail, North Carter Trail Junction

This trip, I was amazed by the amount of water crossing the trail and counted no less than 10 stream crossings in the short 0.9 mile distance. I filed that fact away for future reference because the parallel section of trail higher up along the Carter-Moriah Ridge is bone dry. Knowing that water is relatively close by, even it’s a little bit over a mile from the top of the ridge is useful, if I ever need to resupply during a ridge traverse.

One of many small streams crossing the Imp Trail
One of many small streams crossing the Imp Trail

I picked up the North Carter Trail at the junction and continued hiking uphill toward the Carter-Moriah Trail which is part of the Appalachian Trail. I’ve hiked this section fo trail many times before and it’s a common thoroughfare for hikers wanting to climb Middle Carter, South Carter, and Carter Dome, on a different loop hike.

As I climbed the North Carter Trail, I was surprised to find so much water flowing down the trail itself, something I didn’t remember from past hikes. I filed that information away too.

Smaller Trees Approaching Treeline
Smaller Trees Approaching Treeline

As I approached treeline, the surrounding forest gave way to smaller trees and the floor of the forest was carpeted with a thick layer of bright green sphagnum moss. Turning around, I could spy Mount Washington and Mt Madison through the tree tops on the other side of Rt 16 which runs north-south through the Pinkham Notch valley.

The next trail junction was on the ridge itself, where I turned and headed north 0.3 miles to the North Carter summit. There’s an excellent viewpoint shortly before the mountaintop that has a view of the entire Wild River Wilderness and I stood there for a long time soaking in the views.

The Southern Wild River Wilderness is bordered by the mountains of the Wildcat Range
The Southern Wild River Wilderness is bordered by the mountains of the Wildcat Range with the Baldface Range to the east (left)
The Northern End of the Wild River Wilderness bordered to the west by the Carter-Moriah Mountain Range
The Northern End of the Wild River Wilderness

If you’ve ever wondered why people like to hike up mountains in New Hampshire, the reason should now be obvious.

After soaking in the views, I covered the short distance to North Carter and ate lunch before hiking back down the way I’d come and picking up the southern end of the Imp Trail.

Autumn Stream
Autumn Stream

The trail wound downhill and through the woods and I found myself passing by a common short-cut at Cowboy Brook in order to stay in the woods as long as possible.

North Carter is an obscure mountain in the White Mountain lexicon, but I was very glad that I’d climbed it on such a fine day and re-acquainted myself with a part of the Imp Trail that I’d hiked long ago.

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  1. I once did a moriah-carter traverse and North Carter’s north face is fantastic. Mid may there was still hard ice that my microspikes couldn’t find traction on(had to bushwack). If you love hard scrambles that approach has some of the best short of the presidentials.

    • That whole section is underappreciated, which is just as well, because we can keep it to ourselves (especially in winter). Moriah especially. I want to bushwhack some of its subsidiary ridges one day (heading east)

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