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 Direttoissima route, a 230-mile backpacking trip where I’m planning to hike all 48 four-thousand footers 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 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 tread is still difficult to follow because it is densely covered with a thick layer of leaf litter.
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.
The trail continues on the other side of the cut area passing the Forest Service boundary and entering private property.
Continuing, you soon come upon a clearing with a picnic table and a fine view of Boott Spur and Mount Washington.
Continuing past the picnic table you climb a grass-covered road that 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.
As you climb, you’ll pass a nice scenic view on your right. What a nice place for a picnic!
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.
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.
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.
As I neared the top of the ski lifts, it started to rain heavily. Then it 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
Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:
- Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide, 30th ed.
- AMC White Mountain National Forest Map Set
- White Mountains Map: New Hampshire and Maine
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