Trip Report: Carter Mountains

Denied the trifecta, but still able to knock off two.

South Carter Mountain, Carter Dome, Gorham, NH. 2018-03-19. (Monday)

Via 19 Mile Brook trail, Carter Dome trail, Carter-Moriah trail.

40 dF +/- and partly cloudy. Wind at summit was 10-25 knots. Even in the trees, winds approached 5-8 knots at times.

Trailhead: 0820; South Carter summit: 1135; Carter Dome summit: 1335; Carter Notch hut: 1500; back at car: 1730.

It wasn’t what I’d expected. The weather was amazing, and so I planned on knocking off all three of the Carter mountains and possibly Mt Height. It would be a long day, but doable. Trail reports showed favorable conditions. The falling snow from the previous night never really materialized, so I was excited.

I made it to the trailhead early enough to get everything done that I wanted. Got things in shape, and headed out. The various trail reports I read suggested the way going would be very straightforward. I wore snowshoes expecting to make decent time throughout. Planned was a long day, bagging all three Carter 4,000 footers.

19 Mile Brook trail was a cakewalk. After having hiked the whole thing, I think it’s safe to say it would support someone wearing 3 inch stiletto heels. (And as I write this, I can imagine a college kid thinking “now there’s an idea…” Kid; if you’re going to try this, don’t go half-assed. Either go big or go home.)

After that it was the numerous switchbacks of the Carter Dome trail. Though they seemed to take forever, I was ultimately glad for them after I looked down through the trees. And even that trail was in decent shape. Spongy at times, and some blow-downs in a few places, but decent.

Carter-Moriah trail was a different ball of wax entirely. Cue Popeye: “well blow me down!” They weren’t at ten foot intervals, but it felt like that would just be a formality (and maybe even space them out some more.) I spent a lot of time crawling over, under, and around tree trunks, and just in general suffering my way over to South Carter. But within a short amount of time, I was there. Looked for the way to Middle Carter, and…

Nothing.

I’d met someone coming the other way on the ridge, and his first words were “disappointment.” He’d been turned back by a decided lack of trail. I figured something must be there — blazes or whatever — that would indicate the way, and I’d see how far I could break out a trail. Arriving at the end of what someone else had started, I realized the folly of that assumption.

Nothing.

There were a lot of blow-downs. There was a lot of drifting snow. There was a severe paucity of signs, blazes, gaps in the trees, and other things that would suggest “this way, dummy.” I noodled around, trying to make some semblance of sense and maybe a few tracks north, toward Middle Carter, but after ten minutes, I realized it wasn’t going to happen. The only thing left was to turn toward Carter Dome, and try Middle Carter by some other trail at a time to be determined later.

Heading to the opposite end of the range, I made decent time, despite drifts everywhere. Someone else had broken trail earlier in the week, and although the wind had made a mess of it, I had something to follow, and really didn’t have to break trail all that much. At the junction for Mt Height, I looked upward to see a blaze in the distance, with unbroken snow lying before it. Tried to break trail, but after taking ten minutes to go a whopping hundred feet, gave up and pressed on to Carter Dome. To the banshee wail of 20+ MPH winds, I finally stood at the summit. The sun was high, poking out through the clouds. I was happy to have somewhat salvaged my goal. Carter Dome had been my “optional” peak, but in the end, it turned out to be my fall-back. Go team.

On to the hut… I decided to continue on Carter-Moriah, down the steep southern slope. The views were tremendous and inspiring. The deep, unconsolidated powder was not. Time and again, footing would slide downward, and I’d end up on my ass. Finally, I stood in front of Carter Notch hut, and went inside.

Met two lovely folks from Ontario, Canada inside, and we chatted for half an hour. As they prepared to go hiking a bit, I went on my way back to the car. A bit under 2 hours later, met a wonderful, yet skittish rescue pup and his mom — he was initially having nothing of scary me, but when I asked mom to just shake my hand, he immediately came in to check me out, and that’s when he learned this human isn’t just friendly, but happily doles out scritches. (Seriously, rescues typically have bags of socialization issues, so helping them learn humans are a generally friendly lot toward our canine friends is important.) Mom was happy I took some time to help her dog get a little more over his issues. Got to my car at about the 2 hour mark.

On the one hand, it was a bummer not to get the third summit today. But then again, the weather was amazing, and for the most part, on the summits I did reach, the conditions were pretty good, too. Snowshoes will probably be de rigeur for the next weeks, and then it’s mud season. But in the meantime, I intend to make the most of things.

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