The weather continues to be a challenge this winter for the higher peaks, and I wasn’t even sure I’d get a chance to go hiking this weekend. There was a trip planned for Saturday, but with the incoming snow, and two of us having drives 2 hours or more in good conditions, we decided to cancel. That left Monday, with an iffy forecast of high winds and low temps, a tame prelude to the conditions that were coming. A half dozen emails later, and Greg YEAH! and I decided to try the Carters. I only needed Middle and South, so the loop would be shorter and with protection of the trees almost the whole way, it was one of our better choices of what was left on my list for a windy day.
Yes, somehow all the peaks that I have left for the winter list require pretty much a “good” winter day or better! While that means I have a really nice choices for a finisher peak, that means that I’m hoping for a lot of Presi days.
So, after a two hour easy drive, I arrived at the 19 Mile Brook trailhead, expecting to see the lot relatively full and to have to figure out where to park. It wasn’t full, and parking was easy. With a few final preparations, we were on our way up 19 Mile Brook Trail. This trail was nice and packed from all the traffic to and from the hut, and we made decent time up the trail before taking a break and heading up the Carter Dome Trail. From here we would ascend to Zeta Pass. This part of trail had not been traveled recently, but only had a dusting to 1″ of fresh snow, but still the walk was easy. Sooner than I expected, we were past the last stream crossing and on the switch backs, continuing to gain altitude. We were making pretty good time, but for some reason I felt slow. Not sure why, but the trail finally leveled out and Zeta Pass came into view. The snow levels were much lower than the previous year’s trip to Carter Dome in February. Both of the benches were visible! With a nice break, and some extra layers due to the drop in temperature, it was time to tackle the last section leading to the first peak of the day. The climb up to South Carter was short, but had some steeper sections, and it seemed a little longer than the .8 mile from Zeta Pass. We arrived and I was happy to be there. There is also a new little view point that it looks like someone has cleared on the opposite side of the trail from the actual summit that looks out toward Mt. Hight and Carter Dome and eastward to Maine. This was also the point where we were going to evaluate our plans for the rest of the trip. The winds had been advertised to be in the mid-30’s, which isn’t the worst, but combined with low temps can be really cold. It wasn’t as windy as I thought, so off we went across the ridge, headed for Middle Carter. At this point, I knew we’d just finish the loop and not back track; at Middle Carter, it is only .6 mile to the North Carter Trail, the start of the descent back to the cars, so there was no reason to go back across the ridge. We continued on and soon we were in the area we thought looked like the summit area – sure enough, we were at the high point.
We added some shells on the short break at the summit, because right around the corner, was one of the few exposed sections along the ridge. It was windy, but not nearly what was predicted, so it wasn’t bad at all. Cold, yes, breezy, yes, but not terrifying. The few open spots are really the best viewpoints along that section of ridge, but with the weather, we didn’t see too much. We could barely see down into Pinkham Notch, and the Presidentials had a very dark grey cloud over them. Actually, if you didn’t know a mountain range was over there, you wouldn’t have been the wiser.
A few more ledges and we were at the North Carter Trail. This was our exit point from the ridge and the start of the descent. The ridge was done and the walking wasn’t too bad – we were still wearing microspikes. There was only 2-4″ maybe of new snow in the deepest places, not really enough to posthole or cause a problem. Down we went, and this was probably the quickest trip I’ve have ever made using this descent. All of the sudden I realized the sounds of traffic were on my left, and I could see some nice rock work peeking out from under the snow, both signs that we were nearing the Camp Dodge cut-off. Sure enough, after crossing Cowboy Brook, there it was, the old logging road that would lead us to Camp Dodge and back to the cars.
A quick check of the time, and we had made pretty good time, and then headed home. It turned out to be a great day, even though the forecast had me believing otherwise. Another hike where I was just at the edge of my comfort zone according the forecast, but yet glad I did it, and that the weather was better than predicted!
Special thanks to Greg YEAH! for another great hike and helping me get two more for the list!