Annual Hut Trip
Every year a small group of us gather at one of the AMC winter huts for three days and two nights of cooking, eating, card playing, socializing, and this year, a St Patrick’s day celebration, oh yeah, and hiking. This year brought us to Carter Hut on the ridge just east of the Presidentials, along the Appalachian Trail. Our party included Gordon, Steve, Gary, Peggy, and myself.
We got off to a slow start Wednesday, March 17 (St Patrick’s day). We met at the Pinkham lodge at the base of Mt. Washington where we were to drop a car for our return and continued on up the road to the trail head of the “19 Mile Brook Trail.” We were all geared up and on the trail by 11:00 am.
The 19 Mile Brook Trail provide, us a very scenic and easy climb along the river for the first two miles. It turned out to be a beautiful day for a hike, warm and sunny with very little wind. Given that we had plenty of time to make the less than 4 miles to the hut, we took our time, partly by choice and partly for gear changes and a lot of good conversation. Along the way we met another hiker returning from a stay at the hut. After chatting with the gentleman for several minutes we realized we had run into a hiker we met at a hut trip 4 years ago and lost contact with. We were all very excited by the coincidence of meeting him again on another hut trip; what are the odds? We exchanged email and phone numbers with the hope of not loosing touch again.
At the two-mile point our trail veered to the right at a fork and began to climb more briskly. Not bad, but with packs loaded down with many pounds of supplies for a fun filled trip, it did not take much to take its toll on us.
As you arrive to the crest of the 19-Mile Brook Trial you climb over a small ridge and begin to descend sharply into one of the most beautiful settings in the Whites. Nestled between two 6 or 700 ft. cliffs sits two small ponds with the Carter Hut sitting on the rise just on the other side of the Ponds, as if keeping watch over them. Just beyond this beautiful scene are the remains of a rock fall that created one of the cliffs and ridge leading to the valley below.
We quickly settled in arranging our gear, picking our bunks for the night and changing into our dry clothes. Shortly after our arrival the caretaker of the hut arrived, Ben, who was to play a large role in making our trip an enjoyable one. Over the next couple of days he made sure we had everything we needed along with tending to the day-to-day operations of the hut and keeping the fire hot in the evening. Ahhhhhh, the pleasure of hut living, a far cry from that little tent you have heard about on our last journeys.
Just before dinner, Ben informed us of a neighborhood fox who was often seen wandering around the hut and not long after that, the fox appeared outside the window. We all scurried outside to get look and a few pictures and found the fox to be as interested in us as we here him. He came right up to us as if to pose for our pictures; what a treat!
In celebration of St Patrick’s Day we each carried in a portion of the ingredients of Mulligan Stew, an old family recipe of “Chef Gordon.” This of course, included several cans of Guinness Beer (some of it for the stew). Chef Gordon then coordinated his hodgepodge of assistant chefs and created a delightful dinner for all. After a good meal and a brief card game to warm up for the annual championship the following evening, a few good and many bad jokes from Steve, and some great stories from Ben, the caretaker, we headed off to our bunkrooms for a good night’s rest.
Day two we rose early for a nice hot breakfast and an early start up the trail. Gordon, Steve, Gary, and I set off at around 9:00 am up the north cliff to the summit of Carter Dome, at 4,832’ and 1.2 miles straight up from the hut on the Carter-Moriah trail. It was a rugged climb, taking the group the better part of two hours to go 1.2 miles, crampons all the way. Although we awoke to what seemed like it was going to be a sunny day, the weather quickly turned to clouds and snow. Given it was still relatively warm (10 to 20 degrees) and no wind it was still a nice day for a hike. Unfortunately we would have to live without some of those spectacular views we so enjoy. However, we did get a magnificent look at our temporary home at the bottom of the valley as we climbed up the cliffs.
After taking the traditional summit photograph, Gordon and I continued on the ridge trail north to attempt to bag two more peaks. Steve and Gary decided to head back, knowing it was going to be equally rigorous return down the cliff (more on that latter). It was now around 11:00 am and almost two miles to our next peak, South Carter – 4,430’, via the Zeta Pass. The snow was deep along the ridge due to drifting, which made for a slow go at first but as we settled below tree line things livened up a bit. Happily, we made a wrong turn and ended up taking what was a much-appreciated detour over Mt. Hight (un-official 4,000 footer). It turned out to be a much more interesting summit than any of the official peaks we bagged that day. From what we could see, we were sure that this peak held some of the best views in the Whites (as confirmed by Ben that evening). We will have to go back there for sure. The next best thing about that detour was the descent down the other side which dropped straight off the ridge creating a half mile long butt slide that could not be beat, yahoooooooo.
Upon arriving at Zeta pass, the low point on the ridge between Mt. Hight and South Carter. We found a beautiful spot to stop for a bit of lunch and to catch our breath for what turned out to be another rugged climb up the slope of South Carter (not as bad as the start of our day).
South Carter was an uneventful peak with a small sign nestled in the trees announcing our arrival. Had the weather permitted, I still don’t think there would have been a view. On the way up we met a nice man from RI who was himself peak bagging and took a moment to chat with us and take our picture before moving on. From there it was another 1.3 miles to our next and last peak of the day. The trail traveled high along the ridge, only dropping a few hundred feet before beginning to rise to the next peak, Middle Carter-4,610’ (creative names, eh). Had the clouds been more forgiving I am certain we would have been afforded some very excellent views to our west, of the entire presidential range all along the way and east into the valley. The ridge was very exposed and dropped off quickly on both sides.
We arrived at Middle Carter by 2:00 pm and started feeling quite fatigued and wet both from our perspiration and the steady snow that had been falling all day. Again, Middle Carter proved to be another uneventful summit with a sign to announce our arrival. Thus, we did not linger, we got our picture and headed straight back. With five miles to go and the same three Mts. to climb again, we were eager to get it done. Our return trip went smoothly as we were already familiar with the trail. We skipped Mt. Hight this time and took the trail we missed earlier in the day. Conditions worsened as the day wore on and we grew nervous about our descent down the cliff we previously climbed to get up to the ridge. By the time we reached the top of the cliff we were exhausted, wet, and eager to find ourselves in the warmth of the hut, which we could see with smoke rising from its chimney down in the valley. After a quick gear adjustment, we began our careful descent down the steep and icy trial making to the bottom without any major mishaps.
Upon arriving back at the hut, we learned that things did not go so well for our hiking partner, Steve, who while descending took two nasty falls. One of which sent him over 100 feet through the woods bouncing off several trees. Needless to say, he was fortunate to have walked away with just minor bruises and bumps, and to have the hut at the bottom to recover.
For the evening’s dinner, Gordon and I cooked up quite a feast consisting of steak, rice, and stir fried veggies, with home made bread, uhmmmmm. After dinner we settled into our annual card game, hearts, which was lead by Gordon. We were not able to conclude the game due to lights out and a sleepy caretaker looking to get to bed for an early rise. Until next year I guess.
Again, on the next and final morning we arose early and ate heartedly, packed our things (all of them this time) for the long journey out. Once again, the group chose different paths - Peggy, Steve, and Gary chose to head out the same trial we came in on. After the nasty fall the previous day, another cliff just was not in the cards for Steve. Gordon and I, however, had our sights set on two more peaks by continuing south on the Wild Cat Ridge Trail over Wild Cat A, B, C, D, and E (again, very creative names). Only Wild Cat A and D are considered official 4,000 footers. After taking some pictures of the group and saying our goodbyes Gordon and I headed off under a nice sunny sky on what turned out to be one of the toughest 6 miles we had ever encountered.
To start right off, we had a 7 or 800-foot cliff to climb up out the valley. That being bad enough by itself, we missed the switch back halfway up the mountain and had to bushwhack up this steep cliff through some of the nastiest trees and underbrush we had been in (it made isolation seem like a walk in the park). After what seemed like forever things finally leveled off a bit and to our surprise we came upon the trail again just a few feet from the summit. Boy, were we happy to see that trail! I felt like I was in a bad horror movie where the trees were attacking us all the way up the mountain.
By the time we made it to the summit (two hours latter), the clouds had moved in pretty thick and the snow was falling pretty heavy. Visibility was so poor; we could barely make out the hut as we stared right down over it from the summit just 700 feet below.
The next 3 miles went up and down like a roller costar over peaks B, C, and the many minor peaks and valleys in between. The trail was tight, visibility was low and we were being whacked by tree branches and with snow being dumped on us from the trees above all day. Not to mention we were carrying full packs and were quite fatigued from our previous days adventure. Do I sound like I am winning? Well, you should have heard us on the trail!
Determined to see it through, we pushed on hour after hour finally arriving at our final destination, Wild Cat D- 4,062 feet, sometime around 2:00. This is the top of the Wild Cat Ski area. Heading down, the trail took us through the ski area to where the lift dropped off skiers. Boy did we get some funny looks! It felt very odd, coming out of the woods like that and finding yourself in the middle of so much action. This did not last long as the trail quickly headed back into the woods and away from the ski area.
This is where the real fun began. As we were warned, from here on out the trail begins dropping at a ridiculous rate loosing almost 3,000 feet of elevation in about a mile and a half. To add to the fun, the trail was covered with about 6 inches of fresh powder to hide all the rock and ice and other obstacles that lay in our path! It made for heart stopping, slow going, leg burner all the way down. It seemed like it would never end. Some two or three hours later it did. To be honest, I am not sure how we made it down that cliff without any major catastrophes. The day before we’d hiked 10 miles in 8 hours, on this day we barley went 6 miles in the same time.
Unfortunately, we were not blessed with clear enough skies for any views, which I am sure would have been spectacular from what we could see. But, the weather was good to us and it was beautiful non-the-less.
We found our car at Pinkham and concluded another and our last winter hike of the season having bagged 5 peaks along the way. This put me at 40 with 8 more to go and Gordon at 45, with 3 more to go (but really he has 8 more to go, because I am going to make him climb 5 over again, sorry Gordon).
It’s been a great winter. Until next winter, have a great year!