Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Wonderful Day on the Wildcats - Feb. 21, 2015

Route: Ski Trails, Wildcat Ridge Trail, 19-Mile Brook Trail
Peaks: Wildcat D (4062', NH4K), Wildcat C (4298', TW72), Wildcat B (4330'), Wildcat A (4422', NH4K)
Mileage: 9 miles
Elevation Gain: 3050ft
Book Time: 6 hours 5 min (actual 6hrs 5min)

The weather this year for February has been punctuated by weekend and early week storms, cold temps, and windy conditions. As a result, I missed out on a 3-day weekend over President's Day Weekend (-20F high temps at 4000 feet wasn't my idea of fun). Maddeningly, the middle of nearly every week saw a "Presi Day", or a day with low winds and clear skies suitable for spending a whole day above treeline. I had hopes in the days leading up to this hike that we could switch it off for some quality time in the Northern Presidentials, but ultimately the weather was just not quite good enough for that. So I stuck with Plan A, which was a traverse of the Wildcat Range, leading this hike for Northeast Peakbaggers. Only one person joined in on this one, Jim, who I've hiked with a couple times before in the last couple months

With a lot of snow earlier in the week, no recent information on trail conditions for some trails, and only 2 of us, we opted for the straight-forward and relatively simple route of heading up the ski slopes at Wildcat Ski Area. Hikers wishing to hike on the ski trails (up or down) must purchase a foot travel pass for $10 at the main lodge. After gearing up in the warm lodge and getting our passes, we headed up the Polecat Ski Trail, which is the gentlest route up. Basically, stay to the left-most ski trail the whole way up the mountain. Being the end of a school vacation week for many neighboring states, the slopes got pretty busy by the time we got near the top, and there was actually quite the traffic jam in the final section right below the top of the lift. Still, stick to the edges of the slopes so the crazy skiers can see you as they head down, and enjoy the magnificent views of the Presidential Range. The forecast had been for overcast skies all day, but the morning had quite a lot of blue sky which was a pleasant surprise.

Mount Washington from the Wildcat ski slopes.

Adams and Madison behind the trees.

Mount Washington, with Huntington Ravine on the right.

Looking North towards Middle and South Carters
Adams (L) and Madison (R)

The Northern Presidentials from the Wildcat Ski Slopes

Skier admiring the view

As soon as we reached the top of the lift, we ducked into the woods and scrambled up the short but steep pitch to the summit of Wildcat D, taking in the views from the relative quiet of the observation tower atop this peak. We were pleased to see a set of snowshoe tracks that had broken out the most recent couple inches worth of snowfall, and enjoyed great snowshoeing conditions across the ridge. That's one thing to be said for all the snow and cold: it hasn't warmed up enough for ice to form, and a couple inches of snow every few days keeps the snow fresh and fluffy! The downside is that it is now DEEP up there, and we were often bumping into the trees overhead that are normally 4+ feet above your head.

Mount Washington from Wildcat D
Adams (L) and Madison (R) from Wildcat D

Tuckerman Ravine (L) and Huntington Ravine (R)

Pano from near Wildcat C - Wildcat D and E on the left

Ascending Wildcat C

As we crested Wildcat C, on the Trailwright's 72 list, we noted that the clouds were finally starting to appear, but were still staying well above the peaks and the views were still awesome. The col between Wildcat D and C is the deepest on the ridge, so now that we were up here, we were almost done with the climbing for the day. Just past this peak we ran into a solo hiker whose tracks we had been following; he was doing the ridge as an out-and-back from the ski slopes, a fairly common hike in recent years. Wildcat B, an almost imperceptible bump, and Wildcat A are easy climbs from here. Once at Wildcat A, we took a break at the overlook that looks across the impressive Carter Notch towards Carter Dome, and straight down nearly 1000 feet to the Carter Notch Hut at the base of the notch. The clouds were noticeably thickening now, and the wind was picking up, but we were about to begin our exit hike now.

Looking for skiers in Tuckerman Ravine

Carter Dome from Wildcat A

South (I think) Baldface from Wildcat A

Carter Notch Hut, nearly 1000 feet below. You can even see the hole in the ice where they are getting water from.
There was no sign whatsoever of travel down towards Carter Notch from Wildcat A. But, at least high up, the corridor was fairly clear, so we started down, wading through knee-deep and often deeper snow. 1/4-1/3 of a mile down, we ran into people coming up, including a few that I knew. They reported having lost the trail for a while lower down, and to try to not follow their tracks. One of the spots we figured out fairly quickly and were able to break out the proper trail. Another spot took us a few minutes, but once on the right path we followed it down to where they initially lost the trail. The trail takes a hard left in a fairly open area a short ways above a slide crossing, and with no blazes to mark the turn, they had simply continued straight ahead through the fairly open woods. not a hard turn to miss, and a common one missed from reading other trail reports. But heading down, it was fairly easy to spot.

Crossing the slide down low on Wildcat A
Once down to Carter Notch, all surprises were over, and we walked the final 3.6 miles out on a very-well-packed trail (19-Mile Brook Trail gets a lot of use to the hut, and as so is often packed out well). We could have taken off the snowshoes, but I hate carrying them and we made good progress with them on. We reached the parking lot barely 6 hours after we started, which is a pretty decent time, especially since the 0.7 mile stretch down from Wildcat A to the notch took roughly 1 hour on its own. The snow started lightly falling a couple hours later as I sat in town eating an early-ish dinner. Well-timed!

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