As we passed the Dana Place Inn on Rt 16 some rain started hitting the windshield and I had a bad feeling, like deja view. Many of our hikes this summer have been rainy and this was to be no exception. We could have parked at the Glen Ellis Falls trailhead, but you have to ford the Ellis River and the water was way too high for that. Instead we drove to Pinkham, bought a poncho for Andrew, put our packcovers on, and headed out the Lost Pond trail. It's one mile to the Wildcat Range trail junction over and around the rocks, and during that time the rain really started pouring. 15 minutes into the weekend and we were wet and a little cold, wearing polypro and Gore-Tex.
The Wildcat Range trail climbs steeply, straight up from Pinkham Notch to the ridge. There are two really nice ledges that give you views of Mt Washington but all we saw were limited glimpses of Pinkham Notch. At another view, looking south, we found a poem written by a through hiker that sounded like he or she had been hiking in the rain for too long. Finally we hit the ridge top and the trail starts going up and down over the first of the 10 summits on the ridge. Wildcat E is the first official 4000'er, just a rock about 5 feet off the completely wooded trail right before the ski area. We posed for pictures and then ran over to the warming room below the gondola.
There was water dripping from the ceiling and across the floor, but we were out of the wind and could eat lunch in relative comfort. A family was there, looking at the cascades coming off of Raymond Cataract and Tuckerman in disbelief. After warming up a bit we continued on, past the observation tower on Wildcat D which had some slight views back to E and across the notch. The rest of the ridge was a slog, lots of mud and rain, no views, and temps in the 50's. But at least the bugs were few. We met two guys who had bagged Wildcat A from Carter Notch after dropping their packs and walked down the steep descent with them. The trail loses 1000' of elevation in .9 miles, but the rockwork is very good and it went quicker than I remember. We arrived at the hut about 6 hours after leaving Pinkham to find Dave and Ed already hanging wet clothes in our bunkroom and getting ready for dinner.
Our caretakers (Fred and Steve) checked us in and we signed up for dinner at 6:30. With a full hut, people signed up for the kitchen in 30 minute segments so the kitchen doesn't get too crowded. Brenda and I made pasta sauce with onions, garlic, turkey sausage (frozen the previous night and carried in an insulated bag), portabello mushrooms, zuccini, a bottle of red wine, French bread, and brownies for dessert. The rest of the guests were envious. After dinner we played hearts in the main room until lights out (9:30), although some folks stayed up later playing by headlamp. On the way out to the bunkhouse I saw Fred and her friend Katie (who works at Camp Dodge) packed up and heading out. They were headed to Mizpah to steal the prop and I wished them well, calculating that they'd be back around 8:00 AM.
The next morning was slightly clearer, but not blue skies yet. I got up around 5:45 and walked around the Lower and Upper Carter ponds and the Rampart with my camera, just soaking in the atmosphere. There were views back up Wildcat A and Carter Dome which gave a good feeling for the notch. We had a quick oatmeal breakfast and packed up. About 8:15, Fred came in looking quite pleased with herself, and a few minutes later Katie arrived with the prop on a packboard. Go team! They'd been up for about 24 hours and both had to work that day. Dave started earlier and we followed about 9:30. The climb to the top of Carter Dome is 1500' in 1.2 miles, a steep grunt first thing in the morning. There are a few great views into Carter Notch from some rock outcrops along the way. The summit was socked in and we didn't stay long. It's a short drop to a trail junction where the AT continues over Mt Hight. Dave was going to wait for us there and it has the best views in the Carters. Unfortunately it too was socked in, but we did get to see to the west into Maine.
The drop from Mt Hight to Zeta Pass was steep but the sun started coming out as we descended. At the pass, Ed left us to head down the Carter Dome trail and 19 Mile Brook because his knee had been bothering him and there was no need to subject it to the rest of the Carter Ridge. From here out there were lots of bog bridges made out of sawn lumber that was helicoptered in. It makes for easier footing on the wet and muddy trail. The 400' climb to South Carter went quickly and ther was even a view back to Hight and Carter Dome. On top I met up with a friend from college I hadn't seen in about 5 year. Hi Robert! It was sunny but the summit is complete treed so we continued until we got to a nice view spot for lunch. We could see Hight and Carter Dome, the Baldfaces, the Northern Presidentials, and the Pliny/Pilot range. The steady wind kept the bugs away and we relaxed fully for the first time on the trail.
The final climb to Middle Carter went quickly, and there were more views . By now, we were getting tired and ready for the descent. We hit the North Carter trail (just 2.2 miles from Zeta Pass) and started down. It was muddy, wet, and nasty, and it only got worse on the south half of the Imp loop. The trail was not fit for man nor beast, a cesspool with trees. Oh well, such is life. That last 4.1 miles from the ridge took 1:45, longer than expected, but we were all beat. At the cars we took off our boots (yea!) and drove back to my car at Pinkham to change and head home. Since we had gotten out so late we stopped at the Common Man restaurant in Ashland for a fine dinner, arriving at home around 11:00PM.
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