Member Trip report
Wildcats and Carter Dome Loop Hike
Trip Report/Photos from shep5
Sunday was forecast to be an absolutely beautiful day, so I headed up to Jackson to hike the Wildcats and Carter Dome from Carter Notch Road. I arrived at the trailhead parking lot at the end of the road at about 7:15AM. I got ready and headed out at 7:30. It was a little chilly to start, but with clear blue skies, I expected it to warm through the day.
I started up the Hall's Ledge Trail, which coincides with a network of cross-country ski trails and old farm roads (Prospect Farm, which is now owned by the town of Jackson). I reached the Hubs Loop in 30 minutes and turned onto this. In another 5 minutes I was at the junction with the Wilcat Valley Ski Trail and started my way up the mountain. This trail almost immediately entered a beautiful birch glade. The trail was not obvious through here, but since I had done this before, I knew that the trail left the glade at the very top. The ground was snow-free until about 8:30 when I started to encounter small patches of snow. This was manageable, but in another 20 minutes the snow cover was fairly persistent. The snow was not well-packed and I began post-holing up to my knees at times. After passing a snow-gun and old telephone that was attached to a tree, it wasn't long before I emerged out on to the top of the Wildcat Ski Area at 9:45. The views of the Presidential Range were beautiful.
After taking in the views, I turned east onto the Wildcat Ridge Trail. This trail entered the woods and it was a short, but steep climb up to the summit platform on Wildcat D (4062'). I had the summit to myself and after a bit, I just continued along the ridge. The descent off of Wildcat D was steep and icey, but there were also initially some good views along the ridge. The snow on the trail was hard-packed and fairly easy to walk on through the col. As I started to climb Wildcat C. There were sections of exposed granite, which was snow-free and by about 10:44 I was passing over its mostly treed summit. I continued across Wildcat B and by 11:20 I had reached the view on Wildcat Mountain (4422'). The view was spectacular with great views over Carter Notch to Carter Dome and the Carter Mountains to the north. I again had the summit to myself and decided to have an early lunch before continuing on.
At 11:35, I started to make my descent into Carter Notch. I knew this would be steep and icy, so I finally put on my microspikes. This was slow, but in about a half-hour I was at the bottom at the trail junction for the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail. I turned towards the Carter Lakes and Hut. It was at the lake that I met the caretaker. Everyone had left the hut by this time and we chatted a bit. I was planning on descending off of Carter Dome via the Rainbow Trail and he tried to warn me off doing it, as it was little used and people were telling him of the post-holing that they encountered the day before between Carter Dome and Mt. Hight. In any case, I took his warning to heart and decided I would play it by ear (If necessary I could return to the hut and descend via the Wildcat River Trail). After refilling my water bladder at the hut, I headed back to the trail and began the steep ascent of Carter Dome. It was 12:44PM and the trail was initially fairly snow free. The steepness persisted until I reached the view at about 1:15. I headed out onto the short spur trail and took in the view of Wildcat Mountain across the notch. After returning to the trail, the grade moderated a bit, but it wasn't long before there was a constant snow-cover on the trail. This was again hard-packed and easy to walk on. At 2PM I emerged out onto the summit of Carter Dome (4832'). As this summit is mostly treed, I went to the northern side of the summit for a view of the Carter Mountains. Here again I was alone on the summit and I didn't stay long.
As the Rainbow Trail left the summit right behind the cairn, I decided I would check it out and if it was too difficult to follow, I would just return to the summit. As I started down the trail there was occasional evidence that at least one person had descended this trail, but almost immediately I was post-holing alot up to my knees. After about 5 minutes I lost the trail amid some blowdown and I considered abandoning the attempt. I had time and I quickly found the trail again and continued on. This was slow, but for the most part the trail was wide and easily discernible through the woods. By 2:40 I emerged from the trees out onto the open ridge. This was mostly snow-free and it was felt great to be on solid ground. Also the views along this ridge were amazing...Carter Dome, South Carter, the Wildcats and Mt. Washington were all front and center. As I reached the eastern end of the ridge, the trail began to steeply descend. There was quite a bit of snow piled up as it descended a ledge and then the snow began to slowly fade from the trail. By 3PM, there was no longer any snow at all and only 10 minutes later I entered a very large birch glade. There were views through the trees of the Baldfaces across the valley and of No Ketchum Pond on the other side of Perkins Notch. I reached the Wild River Trail at about 3:30. I had done better than expected and since I'd always want to visit the pond, I figured I would make a quick side trip (I figured it would take about 20 minutes to get out there). Heading east on the trail, I immediately entered the Wild River Wilderness. This trail meandered a bit with only minor elevation gain. I reached the site where a shelter had once been at 4PM and there was a slightly overgrown trail near here that went out to the pond. The ground was very wet, but I was able to make it close to the water's edge. It was a mix of pond and wetlands with wonderful views back towards Carter Dome. It was worth the effort to check it out.
I re-traced my steps back out of the wilderness and proceeded to follow the Wild River Trail as it passed through Perkins Notch and began my long trek back to the trailhead. At 4:45, I reached the junction where the trail turned into the Bog Brook Trail (the Wild River Trail turned west to meet up with the Wildcat River Trail). I proceeded along the Bog Brook Trail. This gradually descended as it meandered through the valley with one area, where the trail had been re-routed around a beaver pond. There were also several water crossings along the way, but these were all easily crossed with well-spaced rocks. This time of year with the leaves still off the tree, there were some partial views of the Wildcats and Carter Notch. An hour later and after crossing a logging road, I reached the lower junction for the Wildcat River Trail. After this there was a significant river crossing. It was wide and required that I got a little wet as many of the rocks were below the water surface. There were a couple of other water crossings, but these weren't difficult. I finally got to an abandoned, collapsed house in the woods and it was only a short time later that I emerged out onto Carter Notch Road just to the south of the parking lot (somewhere I missed a turn to stay on the Bog Brook Trail for the last 0.1 mile). I reached my car again at 6:10PM.
This was an awesome adventure on a beautiful day. Despite the snow which persisted on the trails, it finally felt like spring in the White Mountains. Hiking these peaks from Carter Notch Road made it once again easy to do this hike without the need to spot cars or for a road walk at the end of the day. I had wanted to explore the Rainbow Trail for awhile and even with the heavy postholing I was so glad that I did. The open ridge on the backside of Carter Dome and the open glades descending into the wilderness made for some unique and special views. Also, taking the side trip out to visit No Ketchum Pond was worth the extra effort. For such a near-perfect weather day, I was a bit surprised that I ran into almost noone through the day.
Total distance and elevation gain: Approximately 16 miles with 4900 feet in cumulative elevation gain.
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