Well, we didn’t hike the entire trail with a grouse, but we did share a bit of trail with one. More on that later. Cameron needed to go back and hike the Carters, so we decided that Friday we’d go out and try to bag all three in one day. We planned to make a big loop, up 19 Mile Brook Trail, then up Carter-Moriah Trail to Carter Dome, continue over South and Middle Carter and then descend via North Carter and Imp Trails with a little short cut through Camp Dodge and quick road walk back to the car.
For a variety of reasons that’s not how our day went. We arrived at the trail head, nice and early, around 6:15a, of course this meant we needed to be up very early with less sleep. Because we were a bit tired, we talked about maybe only doing one or two of the peaks and coming back another day for the others. The weather wasn’t perfect either, with lots of clouds, fog, humidity and misty rain. The nice thing is that it wasn’t hot and humid, like our hike to Isolation!
We decided to get on the trail and make a decision by the time we came to the 19 Mile Brook and Carter Dome Trail junction. By the time we arrived there, our plan was to hike up Carter Dome Trail to Zeta Pass and not to go all the way to Carter Notch. Once there, we’d decide whether to bag Carter Dome or Middle and South Carter or all three. We’d never been on Carter Dome Trail, so it was all new and interesting for us.
The Carter Dome Trail as far as the grade and effort of hiking is really nice, and I can see this being a nice snowshoe trail in the winter. The grade was gentle to moderate the whole way to Zeta Pass, and even had switch backs in the middle section. Later I found out that the trail was originally a road to supply to the fire tower that was once on Carter Dome. Since we didn’t know what to expect except for what we could see on the topo map, we were hoping not to come around a bend and see a really steep section ahead. We never did, and enjoyed the easier trail. We did note that the trail seems to be having some work done it – there were many pink construction ribbons on trees along the way with notes for the trail crew as to what needed to be done, either relocations, shoring up water bars, or erosion control. There were only two water crossings, one certainly looked like it had seen a little rearranging after Irene, and the other only had a bit of debris, nothing extraordinary.
We got to Zeta Pass, and decided to go to Carter Dome, but not go to Mt. Hight. Had the weather been nicer, with sunshine and clear skies, Mt. Hight would have been worth the little bit of extra effort. Having been there once before, the views are certainly worth it. We took the Carter Dome trail over to the summit, and found out it was still well graded and not difficult. By the time we made it to the summit area, we had some sunshine and blue skies above us! By climbing on some of the highest rocks, we discovered a bit of undercast, which was cool to see.
The sunshine and blue skies were perfect for hanging out on the old fire tower footings and getting some lunch. Once the clouds start to swirl around us, we knew it was time to head back to Zeta Pass, going back the way we came.
Less than five minutes back on the trail, we saw a grouse on the trail. Cameron stopped to watch it, and then it saw us and started walking down the trail. It would stop, and we’d follow, and it would start again. This process repeated itself for a good 100 yards, to the point where we started to wonder how far the grouse would walk. Eventually, it decided it had enough of hiking with people and flew up to a tree where we surely weren’t going to follow it.
We moved along, and back at Zeta Pass, we had another discussion about the rest of our day. It was around noon by this time, and we had plenty of time to hike for the day. Cameron didn’t feel like hiking the other two peaks, so we decided to hike down the way we came. Down we went, seeing four people along the way – the first people we’d seen all day.
We quickly hiked back to the junction of Carter Dome and 19 Mile Brook Trails and took a break. The sun was out by now and although it wasn’t hot and humid yet, we were glad to be on our way out. After meeting a nice lady and her dog, plus a couple of other hikers, we got to the point in the trail where the footing was good and Cameron wanted to trail run. For the last half mile or so, with the exception of one severely eroded section and one rocky section, we ran, making it back to the car before 3:00p.
Afterward, we agreed that although we didn’t bag all three peaks, we still blessed with a great day. The weather was nice and cool throughout the hike, we got to see a cool under cast, hiked a new-to-us trail, saw a grouse up close and felt good enough at the end to run. He even got to do a real trail test of his new hiking shoes, some Salomon XA’s, and really liked them. No blisters or rubbing, which is really great! He also learned a lot about decision making and how that it is ok to shorten a hike or change plans due to how you’re feeling to avoid being pushed beyond your limits, miserable or exhausted at the end. Not a bad day in the mountains at all!