I took my last official winter climb this past Saturday up Mt Hight and Carter Dome, two 4,000 footers in the Carter Range. Both of these peaks are located just across Pinkham Notch from Mt Washington and we were treated to clear skis, unseasonably warm temperatures and stunning views all day. A superlative end to a good, but unusually mild, hiking winter in New Hampshire.
Technically speaking, Mt Hight is not on the AMC 4,000 footer list but is very worth climbing because it has some of the best views in the Whites. Carter Dome which is on the 4,000 footer list, is virtually viewless, so the pair make a good combination. (Incidentally, Hight is on the Trailwright’s 72 list, so I was able to get peakbagging credit for this climb.)
I went on this trip as a participant, for a change, with the New Hampshire Chapter of the AMC. This meant I didn’t have to carry extra safety gear or ‘be in charge’ and could spend more time getting to know the other hikers. I knew a few from other hikes or by reputation through mutual friends, but I also met some great people on this trip as well.
One particularly inspiring young lady, with the trail name ‘Chippy’, had section hiked the entire Appalachian Trail over a period of 6 years. She’d driven up from Rhode Island for the weekend and was working on her Winter 4,000 footers; she’s already completed her Catskills 3500 and Winter Catskills 3500 (I didn’t even know this list existed), and she is planning to hike Vermont’s Long Trail in the summer. We got on famously and she was easy to talk to. She reminded me of my love for the AT.
The hike up to Mt Hight and Carter Dome was fairly long, with 9.4 miles of hiking and about 3,500 feet of elevation gain, requiring traction aids (micro-spikes and snowshoes) in both directions. The temperature was unseasonably warm, reaching 60 degrees in bright sunshine, causing soft snow and slush by early afternoon.
We hiked up the 19 mile brook trail and the Carter Dome Trail to reach Zeta Pass before heading up Hight and Carter Dome on the Carter Moriah Trail. This latter section coincides with the Appalachian Trail. It’s a steep 0.6 miles to the summit of Hight from Zeta Pass, and I was huffing and puffing on the ascent; I’ve been out of the mountains for a few weeks and have lost some of my winter conditioning.
There was some grumbling back in the pack about the steepness of the climb and the possibility of turning back. I’m normally good with turning back from a summit if the group decides to bail, but I didn’t want to bail on this peak, on this day, in such gorgeous weather. Luckily, the leaders decided to continue climbing – a decision everyone was grateful for when we popped above treeline and saw the 360 degree views that Hight is known for.
After a spot of lunch and chocolate on top of Hight, we snowshoed over to Carter Dome, just below treeline most of the way. At 4,832 ft of elevation, this is one of the highest peaks in the Whites, but it’s summit is flat and very boring. It was still exciting to climb it in winter ,especially for our companion Sue, who finished her 48th 4,000 footer on Saturday. We celebrated by eating green Peeps (in honor of St Patrick’s Day) at the summit sign.
By 2 pm, we turned around for the long descent and hike out, which was very wet on the way. Snow melt is not normal in mid-March in the White Mountains and spring is easily 4-5 weeks ahead of schedule. I’m a bit scared that the aquifer has not had it’s normal opportunity to recharge this winter and that we’re in for a drought this summer, but we shall see.
Winter went by way too fast this year, but I am looking forward to carrying a much lighter pack again as the weather warms up. There are many places I want to hike this year and people to spend time with, but one step at a time. One step at a time.