Trip Report: Over the Rainbow on Carter Dome

Carter Dome (4,828 feet). Jackson, NH. 2020-10-22 (Thursday.)

Via Bog Brook, Rainbow, Wild River, and Wildcat River Trails. (Ending via FR 233.) Approximately 14 miles round-trip.

Temps were in the mid-50s throughout the day, trailhead to summit to trailhead. RH ranged around 70%. Winds were negligible. Sun and clouds to start the day, cloudy by mid-afternoon, with clear views throughout. (Even Mt Washington had a cloud-free summit!)  

Trailhead: 0950. Carter Dome summit: 1420. Car: 1810. 

Rainbow. No unicorns. (No circus midgets, either.) 

Probably the best idea I’ve had semi-recently was to give in to reality, and accept the fact that I was going to redline anyway. I’m looking at the map and scratching my head, wondering how some of the “out-there” hikes are going to happen. But at the same time, I’m looking at the things I’ve done that I might not otherwise have done. And therein lies the magic. I’m going places and seeing things that so many other people aren’t. As they say, “life’s a birch!” Or something… 

I might have found my new favorite ways to access the Carter Notch area. While the drive up is horrendous (3-ish hours, and morning traffic in Meredith is a bear!) these last two hikes have been sheer fantasies. Oddly, both have featured birch glades, although the one on Carter Dome beats Wildcat’s hands-down. Then again, Wildcat has the orchard, so it’s all good. 

But is all of it “all good?”

That said, getting *to* the Rainbow trail, where the glade is located, was… ahem… “moist.” Or better put: it’s a wet, sodden mess going down the Bog Brook trail. It’s probably the thing to do in the wintertime, when the brook is frozen. But right now, after there’s been a couple substantial rain storms, the mountain is shedding water. If your upcoming plans included anything to do with Bog Brook, just consider that there are three water crossings that right now, are non-trivial if keeping your shoes dry is a priority. And much of the rest of the trail is a mud pit. There are dry sections here and there, but your memory of them will be beaten down by those of the mud. 

Rainbow’s entry in the AMC guide isn’t terrifically long. Indeed, it’s probably one of the shorter entries. For being so short and sweet, it’s accurate. Most of the trail was pretty easy-going, although the upper half was fairly rocky. Passing over the southern knob, I enjoyed lovely views that on a gin-clear day would have taken in damn near everything around. That said, I got a great look at Washington. Thanks to the overcast conditions, things to the south and west were rendered as silhouettes, but I could identify many of the four-thousand footers just fine. 

What about the view from the top?

Passaconaway still impresses me with its sense of mass. Carrigain is a nice landmark, with its distinctive form. The Peak Finder app helped me find the Bonds, and that was an interesting sight — it looks different from this direction. I could see the Baldfaces, and not too far away, I could see West Royce. I’ve got to read up on that one, because it looks like a nice mountain to climb. I can’t put my finger on it, but once I saw it, I really felt like I’ve got to climb it. Oh, and yep, Chocorua has a distinctive profile, from every side. Yes indeedy it does. 

Heading back down, I decided to traverse via the western end of the Wild River trail. Going down Wildcat River trail, I crossed the fire road, in order to avoid the three water crossings that gave me fits on the way up. It turned out to be a fine idea. The road is smooth and evenly graded. While it’s a third of a mile longer, I was able to move so much more quickly that I easily made up that time plus a little bit. I got to my car after sunset, with the very last dregs of light, but because the road was so nice, I didn’t need my headlamp. Score! 

I think this is the route for a specific time. Notably, if it’s been raining, I’d skip Bog Brook trail. True, the Wild River trail has a soggy patch, but that’s where the brook comes down the mountain (easily spotted on the map) and it’s mercifully short. Setting that aside, the glade was just plain amazing. The forest itself felt open and airy for the most part. And the trail isn’t a strenuous uphill climb. It does go up fairly quickly in a section or two, but those are relatively quick bursts. Thinking back, I was taken by the sheer amount of moss. This is a wet route, to be true. But that has its plusses, notably what you should expect to see in the summertime, and notably wildflowers and that sort.

Over and over, I’d come around a bend, or over a rise, and on the other side, something like a grouse would explode into the air. I saw (and heard!) no end of chickadees. A woodpecker. Moose exhaust, and possibly some from a bear, too. (On that, I found evidence that Bullwinkle had made it up to at least 4,200 feet — not far from the summit, which is highly unusual!) In short, the place was teeming with wildlife, and toward the end of October, no less. If you can suffer the mud gladly, you can reasonably expect to see a lot of cool stuff, right at your feet.

All in all, true to its name, the Rainbow trail is pretty magical. I won’t say whether I found a pot of gold at its end, instead I’ll leave it for you to wonder. And maybe take a trip up there yourself, and find out. 

As always, stay safe out there.

The third water crossing. I’m very sure that this plumped up quite a bit since I crossed it last week.
Some sort of overnight rain got everything wet. But that said, at least this bit of trail wasn’t bad.
Small cascade on Bog Brook trail.
I couldn’t find anything that suggested the railroad made it this far down. But sections of trail like this makes me wonder.
Carter Dome. This was near where Bog Brook met up with Rainbow (maybe 100 yards away).
Almost immediately, a birch glade. But the best of it is fairly well up the trail.
Looking downhill, with Black Mountain and the Baldfaces in the distance.
Rainbow wasn’t all puppies and kittens. Quite a lot of it was rocky and rough.
False summit on the south knob. I’m amazed that Washington isn’t wearing a hat.
Looking toward the actual summit.
Mt Height and South Carter. Off in the distance is Moriah. (The view of Middle is blocked by South.)
Summit Selfie!
OK, so rationally, I know this is coming. But October seems a tad early for snow.
Woodpecker! It wasn’t easy getting this one. That little fella was very circumspect.
Wild River trail. Again, it felt a lot like a train once went through here.

Nuts and Bolts: Take Route 16 up into Jackson and turn onto 16a, going across the covered bridge. Stay on 16a as it winds its way through the village, and at the Wentworth Hotel, turn right onto Carter Notch Road. Drive to the very end; note that the last mile is a Grade VI road. 

Trailhead will be near the parking area. No kiosk. Blazes are blue plastic diamonds for the most part, although the trail is pretty easy to follow. In times of high water, the trailhead end of the fire road is on the other side of the gate by where you parked. (If you walked past a kiosk, you’re at the wrong gate. Go to the other one.) You’ll be able to circumnavigate the area of the water crossings, making all of them via vehicle-grade bridges. Just know that if you’re redlining, you’ll need to come back some other time to  cross those brooks. If you’re using the AMC map #5, Fire Road 233 is the unmarked white line that makes an inverted “L” on the left side of the Wildcat River trail, ending near the east end of Hall’s Ledge trail. You’ll know it when you see it. 

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