Autumn has arrived in the White Mountains and with it a flurry of hiking before the need to gear up for snow, ice, and winter hiking. Bagging the higher or more remote peaks becomes far more difficult in the winter months due to the severity of the New Hampshire weather and above treeline conditions, so it’s best to get the tougher peaks out of the way when the weather is decent and work on smaller peaks during the winter when weather is less of a factor in having a successful summit attempt.
I guess that explains my compulsion to hike up Wildcat Mountain (442e’) on a cool day in the pouring rain, a long but fast 9.2 mile round trip that parallels lovely 19 Mile Brook, before a very steep 1500′ climb up to Wildcat from Carter Notch. Despite the rain and low lying mist over the peaks, I also wanted to witness the wonderful colors of Autumn in the Whites, which appear and disappear all too quickly each year.
This hike up Wildcat was actually my fallback hike for the day and not the more remote climb I’d intended for North Isolation, an above treeline jog down one of Mount Washington’s shoulders. Between the day’s rain and white out conditions above treeline, I decided Wildcat was a far safer choice and still one I needed for the Trailwright’s 72 peak list I’m working on. Wildcat is still a challenging peak, but far less risky for a solo hiker given its proximity to Carter Notch Hut.
I reckon I’ve hiked up 19 mile brook at lest 20 times in the past few years, but I’m always amazed by its beauty regardless of the season, even when it’s chucking down mist and freezing rain. Moreover, when you are hiking alone, you can pause to admire the interplay between the stream and the leaves. I find that such moments of contemplation are all to frequently lost if you are chatting away with other members of a hiking group, one reason why I like to balance my group hikes with solo adventures by myself.
For example, one thing that struck me on this hike was how much I’ve seen the 19 mile brook change over the past few years. Like many trails in the Whites, it was heavily eroded by the heavy rain of Hurricane Irene. Despite being enroute to a major AMC hut, the damage to the tread way has still not been repaired by the AMC trail crew, which provides some insight into how badly effected the entire trail system was hit by that storm. It’s the same story on many other popular trails.
Despite the damage, I made great time on this hike, hiking the first 3.8 miles in just two hours. However I slowed down massively on the 1500 foot climb up to the summit of Wildcat from Carter Notch. This is a seriously steep peak, up a narrow path, that has been washed out in several places by avalanches and mud slides. The footing was perilous in the rain going up, but the climb is protected by tree cover making it suitable for windy winter days if you want a less exposed peak to climb.
While there is normally an exquisite view of Carter Notch, Carter Dome, and the Carter Moriah Range from the summit, when I got to the top, the peak was shrouded in heavy mist. Having worn a wind shirt up the peak which had long since wetted out, I quickly changed into a dry mid-layer and heavier shell garments for the hike back down and back to the road.
By then the rain had picked up in intensity, so I gingerly worked my way down the slick trail back to Carter Notch and started my hike out. This segment of the walk felt like it took far longer than my hike in, but perhaps it was because I paused more frequently to note the impact of the rain on the water level in 19 Mile Brook. It had gone up noticeably in just a few hours and the water crossings were a bit trickier than on my journey in.
I realized then that 19 mile brook not only changes in appearance from season to season, but from hour to hour! That seemed a profound observation at the time and a reminder that the world is always changing around us, and not frozen in time.