I bagged another two winter 4,000 footers over the weekend on a 10 mile hike over the Carter Range in the eastern White Mountains in New Hampshire, with a respectable 3600 feet of elevation gain. This hike was a homecoming of sorts: the last time I’d hiked these peaks was in 2007 on a New York-New Jersey Appalachian Mountain Club trip with my friend Christine, and they were some of the first 4,000 footers I’d ever climbed.
This time, I was hiking with a group from the New Hampshire chapter of the AMC and a trip lead I’d never met before named Tim Kennedy. We had near perfect weather with clear skies and little wind, despite the fact that it was blowing 60-70 mph on top of Mt Washington just a few miles to the west of us. Tim is a very experienced peakbagger and he ran a great trip, even though we had a very strong group with lots of winter experience.
We met at the 19 Mile Brook Trailhead at 8 am and I got the last legal space in the lot which fills up early on most weekends, especially in the winter. I had to wake up at 4:15 am to make the drive up to New Hampshire in time for this hike – definitely an Alpine start – but I really wanted to get back into the Carters this winter and it was definitely worth it!
We started by hiking up the 19 Mile Brook Trail for 1.9 miles to the junction with the Carter Dome Trail. The trail was broken out but had a hard crust so everyone wore microspikes or crampons. I was feeling pretty good despite the early start and long drive up: well fed and prehydrated.
At the trail junction, we switched to snowshoes. The Carter Dome Trail was not broken out, so we took turns breaking, switching off every 25 steps. This was a pretty good rhythm for a group this size and we kept good time on the climb up to Zeta Pass, arriving at 3,800 feet ahead of book time, which is pretty fast for winter hiking and trail breaking.
We took a water break and I talked to a hiker/running coming down from Mt Hight named Taylor. He’s the winter caretaker at Carter Notch and was out for little exercise, if you call running up Carter Dome from Carter Notch in the snow without snowshoes a “little” exercise: it’s close to a 400 meter climb in about a mile. Taylor is busy on weekends when guests are staying in the unheated bunkhouse, but he says that weekdays are very quiet and that he gets a lot of writing done when no one is around.
From Zeta Pass, we turned north onto the Carter Moriah Trail, which coincides with the Appalachian Trail, and started the climb up to South Carter. We continued to break trail up to the summit, but it’s a fairly gentle climb through pine and spruce and protected by trees, just below treeline.
We stopped for another quick snack at the summit at 4,430 ft and took in some nice, but occluded views of the Presidentials to the west and the Baldface – Royce Range to the east.
From here, we continued along the ridge to Middle Carter, which is the highest peak in the Carter Range, at 4,610 feet. Middle doesn’t have very good views, although there are some great viewpoints before and after the summit. There’s also no summit sign on Middle Carter anymore. Tim said that the Forest Service removed it because the summit is on the boundary of a designated Wilderness Area – seems a shame, there was a sign there in 2007 when I hiked by last.
From Middle Carter, we continued north to the North Carter Trail and hiked down and the Imp Trail back to our cars about 5 more miles along. But instead of following Imp all the way to Rt 16, we branched off a side road that runs through Camp Dodge, where the AMC trail maintenance crew lives when they’re not in the mountains working. The camps is completely deserted in winter but makes for a great shortcut to get back to the 19 Mile Brook Trail lot and cut a few miles off an out and back route. You still end up walking about 0.2 miles up Rt 16 back to the cars, but it means we made it out before sunset.
This was really pretty hike and my first winter outing in about 10 days. I’m actually going to bag these same peaks again in a few days, in order to bushwhack Mt Lethe, which is a Trailwright’s 4,000 footer. It’s located off the eastern side of Middle Carter, but is a great excuse to get back onto the Carter Ridge again.