Friday, February 7, 2014

A Freezingly Good Time on the Carters - Jan. 26, 2014

This was another Meetup hike I was leading for the NorthEast Peakbaggers Meetup group. With 60+mph winds and HIGH temperatures predicted to be roughly -10F at 4000 feet, there were understandably a few drops, but surprisingly we only dropped 2 of the 6 scheduled to come, and Kyle asked me last minute if he could join, so we were back to 5 hard-core hikers (hard-core merely because they came, knowing how cold it was supposed to be!). I knew that we ought to be able to handle the cold temps fine, but if it was going to be windy along the ridge, it could turn out to be a tough day. Still, the goal was to take this hike bit-by-bit and see how we would do, as there are several places to bail out if necessary. I was also hoping that the neighboring Presidential Range, a mere handful of miles to the West and 1000 feet higher, would give us some shielding from the wind.

A bit later than planned due to slippery road conditions for those driving up, we got underway on the 19-Mile Brook Trail, with a starting temperature at 8:20 of a goose egg (0F). The plan was to take this trail for 1.9 miles, then take the Carter Dome Trail all the way to Carter Dome (on the New Hampshire 4000-Footer List). Then we would reverse direction, possibly summit Mount Hight depending on the weather, before continuing on the Carter-Moriah Trail over South and Middle Carter, both on the New Hampshire 4000-Footer List. Out descent route would be the North Carter Trail, the South end of the Imp Loop, and then an old logging road that cuts through Camp Dodge, followed by a short (~3/10-mile) walk alongside Route 16. At any point, if needed, we would descend back to the car via the Carter Dome/19-Mile Brook Trail.

Most of us left the snowshoes in the car, based off of previous reports and the fact that it had only snowed ~2 inches the night before, and so we started in light traction. The climb up 19-Mile Brook Trail, and the Carter Dome Trail up to Zeta Pass went pretty quickly, and the snow depth on top of hard-packed trails was minimal. We were plenty warm, and the wind was barely heard or felt, even when we reached Zeta Pass. So far, so good.

A brief break on the 19-Mile Brook Trail

Junction #1 of many for this hike - Carter Dome Trail straight ahead

Looks cold and windy on the Presidentials!

Approaching Zeta Pass, a short stretch of mildly-drifted snow

Snack time at Zeta Pass
From Zeta Pass to Carter Dome is where it got interesting. Almost immediately we hit drifts. Deep, knee-deep at times drifts. The entire trail from Zeta Pass to Carter Dome's summit was drifted in with usually at least 8" of powder, and we were really regretting not having the snowshoes. We switched off the leader a couple times, and those in back did their best to smooth things out a little bit, but it was slow going. The bright side at least for anyone following us was the cold temps, and really fluffy powder would hide the mess we made in no time. Somewhere in here is where any thoughts of going to Hight left my mind, as I expected it would be drifted like this too. In fact, I had my doubts about getting South and Middle Carter, as if it was drifted in like that, I'd be calling an abort. Still, we did get to Carter Dome successfully, and we were pleased to feel only minimal wind on the lightly-sheltered summit. Some pictures, a brief chat with a solo fellow who had come up from the hut side and was headed the way we were (he too was regretting not bringing snowshoes for his ascent), and we all departed back for Zeta Pass for another snack break.

Theresa almost to Carter Dome (the rocky point of Hight in the right background)

The summit area of Carter Dome

Theresa and Kyle on Carter Dome
We had a short break again at Zeta Pass, and the decision was made to attempt South Carter and see how it went. If we ran into more heavy drifting, we'd bail back down the Carter Dome Trail to our cars. One member of our party (Doug) had carried his snowshoes up despite the trailhead decision to leave them, and he led the way, but really the snow depth on this side of Zeta Pass was minimal and the going was much, much easier. We had no trouble getting to South Carter and then Middle Carter (aside from tired legs). We enjoyed all the various viewpoints along the way, and were pleased that the wind, which we felt here and there, was more than manageable.

Hight (L) and Carter Dome (R) from near South Carter

Wild River Valley

The Northern Presidentials

Moriah/Shelburne Moriah
The only tough spot left was an open series of ledges North of Middle Carter, but while windy, we managed without too much trouble. Then it was down, down, down, first on the steep North Carter Trail, then on the more gradual, but also icy (in a few stretches) Imp Loop. The fast descent on the North Carter Trail came before we had a good snack break, and by the time we hit the junction with the Imp Loop, several of us were dragging pretty hard. A good snack break later though, and we were in business. Reaching the old logging road that leads into Camp Dodge, we hooked onto that, and walked the short distance down Route 16 back to the cars.

It had never gotten warmer than -10F on the ridge (we measured between -12 to -10 every time we checked), but keeping moving, and layering properly meant we all completed the hike without much trouble. This was easily the longest cold hike I've done before (I'd hit -10F once or twice, but only on single peak days without a ridge walk), but it was good to experience it with plenty of opportunity to abort if it got uncomfortable. A great job by all, and congrats to all that got winter checkmarks, the cold way! Quickly changing a few pieces of gear, we headed into North Conway, where it was quieter than I've ever seen that town (and it was 5:30 in the evening at this point), but that meant we got seated and served very quickly. Mmmm, pizza and beer!

Route: 19-Mile Brook Trail, Carter Dome Trail (out-and-back to Carter Dome), Carter-Moriah Trail, North Carter Trail, Imp Loop (South loop), Camp Dodge Shortcut, Route 16
Peaks: Carter Dome (4832', NH4K), South Carter (4430', NH4K), Middle Carter (4610', NH4K)
Mileage: 13.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 4400ft
Book Time: 8hr 45min (actual 8hr 15min)

Walking through Camp Dodge

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