Hiking Carter Dome and Mt Hight in January

Hiking Carter Dome and Mt Hight in January

Carter Dome (4832′) is the ninth highest White Mountain 4000 footer and is located a few miles due east of Mt Washington on the other side of Pinkham Notch. It is an absolutely massive mountain with numerous subpeaks that are worth climbing in their own right. One of them, Mt Hight (4,675′) has one of the best views in the White Mountains so when my hiking partner Ken suggested we add it to our hike, I was quick to agree.

This would be our first hike in the New Year (2022) after several days of debauchery (sleeping late and overeating) during the Christmas/New Year’s holiday. Ken had originally proposed hiking out to Owlshead Mountain, but I wasn’t up for a 16-mile hike or a 4:00 am wake-up time on our first day back. Instead, we decided on Carter Dome, which has just as much elevation gain but is only 10 miles long and is a much easier hike. I’m sure we’ll get out to Owlshead this January because we both need it for our White Mountain 4000 footer grids, but I wanted to wait for warmer weather and better trail conditions on the Brutus Bushwhack before tackling that bad boy.

It’s good we did because it was 0-degrees Fahrenheit when we met at the 19 Mile Brook Trailhead. Despite the cold, trail conditions were quite good with a hard-packed snow/ice surface covered with a slight dusting of fresh snow. We’d had a major thaw over the long holiday weekend which shrank the snowpack considerably and turned the trails to slush. It had refrozen in the ice-cold weather, making for very fast hiking without the need to carry snowshoes.

Ken and I bundled up in our active insulation layers and heavy gloves for the hike up to Carter Dome
Ken and I bundled up in our active insulation layers and heavy gloves for the hike up to Carter Dome

We left the trailhead bundled up against the cold. I wore a synthetic baselayer shirt, a fleece hoodie, a fleece vest, a fleece hat, a wind shirt, and my very warm mountaineering gloves. I thought about putting my wind pants over my softshell pants and high gaiters, but I knew we’d start delaying when we warmed up. Sure enough, my fleece vest came off after a mile as well as my heavy gloves. We were quite warm despite the frigid temperatures on the climb to Zeta Pass, but once we got higher and more exposed to the wind, we layered up with more insulation.

Carter Dome and Mt Hight

The best winter route to Carter Dome begins at the 19 Mile Trailhead on Rt 16 and climbs 3.8 miles on the 19 Mile Brook Trail and Carter Dome Trails to Zeta Pass. The 19 Mile Brook Trail is the route people take to the AMC’s Carter Notch Hut so it’s always broken out. The Carter Dome Trail to Zeta Pass is also heavily used because it’s on the way to two other four thousand footers, South and Middle Carter, which are also frequently climbed in winter. This means that you can usually find a recent trip report on NewEnglandTrailConditions.com about what the trails are like and what traction aids to bring, including whether you need to hump your 5 lbs of snowshoes up these hills with you or you can leave them in the car.

From Zeta Pass, which is a good place for a drink and snack, we hiked up the Carter Moriah Trail to Mt Hight, which is quite steep, and took in the views from the summit. I’d forgotten how steep this section of trail is, but I put my head down and tried not to look up as I climbed uphill. There’s something to be said about forgetting trails: it makes hiking them again a novel experience!

Ken starts the final climb up to Mt Hight
Ken starts the final climb up to Mt Hight

It was a very clear day with relatively low winds, although it was still quite brisk on the summit. From Hight, we had a great view of the Carter Range, Mt Washington and the Presidentials, the Baldfaces to the east, and the entire Wild River Wilderness. Its open summit is also a delight to climb in summer when you can hang out for a long time in more comfortable temperatures.

Happy Philip on Mt Hight admiring the views of Mt Washington and the Presaidential Range across the street, Photo credit: Ken Robichaud
Happy Philip on Mt Hight admiring the views of Mt Washington and the Presidential Range across the street. Photo credit: Ken Robichaud

The wind picked up so we resumed our climb up to Carter Dome. The Carter Moriah Trail ducks back into the trees so there’s more wind protection all the way to the summit. Despite its elevation, the views from Carter Dome are quite limited because the summit area, which is open, is protected on the east and west by spruce.

While the summit of Carter Dome is open, the trees block the views.
While the summit of Carter Dome is open, the trees block the views.

We had a snack and fed the grey jays in the warming sunlight, before high-tailing it back down to the trailhead. It was a very fast descent and we covered the distance in just two hours, compared with the four hours it had taken us to climb the peak. Not bad for two old guys out for a winter stroll.

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8 comments

  1. Curious what your thinking was on going back the way you came rather than heading down towards the hut and back out via Nineteen Mile? Looks to be about the same distance so not suggesting it would have been shorter but my inclination almost always goes towards loops rather than out/back.

  2. Jennifer McCausland

    I hiked 19 mile Brook trail on 1/2/22 to middle and south carter. The temperature was 34° at the base and it was slushy and overcast . I am new to winter hiking and can’t seem to stay warm no matter what— and my trail runners which are ideal for summer/fall are not cutting it. I’d love some base layer and footwear suggestions. Also, my calves were more sore than I’ve ever had Hiking! (And I did 25 4K’s last year) great article! I love that area.

    • Really – your best bet for winter hiking in the white is a 400 g insulated boot. I wear train runners except in winter.

      Here’s my list of recommended winter boots. I almost never wear long underwear, just softshell pants. If I need more leg insulation, I put on wind pants or rain pants. For tops, I usually wear a very lightweight wool or synthetic long sleeve shirt, a lightweight fleece hoodie, and a wind shirt, and add a fleece vest if its really cold. This of course assumes I’m moving. When I stop, I pull out a parka. The key to winter clothing is lots of thin clothing layers that you can take off when you start to perspire and put on when you get cold.

      https://sectionhiker.com/10-best-winter-hiking-boots-of-2021-2022/
      https://sectionhiker.com/recommended-winter-day-hiking-gear-list-2021-2022/

    • Hi Jennifer. Speaking for those of us who tend to be cold (unlike Phil), I usually wear mid weight or even heavyweight base layer pants under soft shell pants in winter. Then I layer and delayer on top as needed. Works for me. I definitely endorse the 400 g boots. Warm feet are a must.

  3. Beckie (Beckie and Prema on the trail reports)

    Prema and I had views from Carter Dome a few years ago. When you see that the trail signs on the way up had to be dug out in order to be visible you know that you will highly likely be able to see above the trees when you get to the summit. Sometimes it pays to be a slow hiker, views were gorgeous at dusk (especially the lights at Sunday River over in Maine). We went later in the season than you, clocks had jumped an hour ahead when we got back to the car.

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