November 26, 2016.
I haven't been on Carter Dome in almost five years and with the slight snow cover today looks like a good time to return. This time I'll head up the uncommon way via the Wildcat River Trail. As long as the trails allow I'll make a big loop and come down Rainbow Ridge.
The trailhead is located just north of Jackson off of Carter Notch Road. The Bog Brook Trail has a new starting point just up the road with a new connecting trail to the old trail. The Wildcat River Trail is just a short ways up but has three water crossings between the parking lot and there. Boots are on the ground at 7:30 as I head out into the woods. A few minutes up and the "new" trail merges with the "old" trail. Just ahead is the first crossing of the day, Wildcat Brook. Thankfully the dry summer has carried over and the crossing is easily rock hopped.
Less than ten minutes later another crossing of a brook and almost immediately after is Wildcat River. Both crossings are non-issues as the water level is quite low. Reaching the junction where Bog Brook Trail splits off to the right and I am now on the Wildcat River Trail.
Across the logging road the trail continues up now paralleling the river. It is an easy saunter through these woods as the grade is mild. The first crossing of Wildcat River on this trail is again no issue.
The fresh snow is appreciated as the tracks of a moose are the only signs of anything else being out here. Passing the next junction is where Wild River Trail comes in from the right. There is only an inch or two on the ground, same as yesterday, as I make my way up without much effort. This approach so far has seen very little in regards to steepness.
The second crossing goes just like all the others where on the other side is a glacial erratic that is shaped like a triangle. Up through a nice hardwood section and the first peek of Carter Notch although somewhat obscured.
Further up in the valley a fairly recent landslide lies across the trail that came down from the Wildcat side. A look up it and some further exploration will have to wait until another day.
The climbing increases a bit through here but nothing thigh burning. I really like this approach compared to the more crowded Nineteen Mile Brook Trail that is on the other side of the notch. Pass an old camping spot and then into the quarter mile zone of the hut. A brief saunter down the Ramparts spur trail but with the snow cover not a good place to be today. Back to the trail and at the first bunkhouse is the hutmaster and the first person I've seen today.
Reaching the end of Wildcat River Trail it's a good time to stop and have some food and water. I head into Carter Notch Hut which is a first for me. There is noone here but me as I sit done and chat with the hutmaster. Packing back up and as I am leaving another hiker is coming in from the opposite direction. Down at Carter Lake and a view of Carter Dome and the lowering cloud deck. Looks like no views today. It looked promising first thing this morning but on the way up it continuously got worse.
A pano shot of the bigger of the two Carter Lakes.
At the junction for Carter Moriah Trail the easy hiking is over as this is where it really gets steep. I remember this section of trail back in 2011 when I did not have winter boots and paid the price of aborting the traverse I wanted to do. The conditions are similar to that day with a bit less ice this year. The trek up is slow but at least I know what lays ahead this time. Midway up and the last people I'll see for the rest of the day as a pair of hikers are making their way down this boulder path.
At one clearing I can see the huts down below being swallowed by the cloud. On my right is a spur trail I never saw when I was last here. It leads out to a view ledge where today there are no views. But I can see Pulpit Rock and finally can cross that off the list.
The grade finally begins to ease up as I get nearer to the top. A few more minutes and I am on top of Carter Dome where there is nothing to see. I check the view point I went to just north of the summit but the only view is the inside of the cloud.
Not wasting any time I head down Rainbow Trail for the return trip. A short distance down the trail and I come across this guys track in the snow. Smokey the bear is not hibernating yet! Coming down Rainbow Ridge is another great trail that probably doesn't see much traffic. The grade is also mild as I make my way down.
Soon enough I reach the somewhat open top of Rainbow Ridge and unfortunately there are no views but will warrant a return someday to check them out. Coming down off the ridge and there are new tracks of another furry animal out here, rabbit. They are all over the trail running in and out of the nearby trees. I could only wish to get a shot of them one day but are quite elusive.
Closer to the bottom and the trail leads through a birch glade that has quite a bit of damage from wind or ice storms. Through this section are a ton of moose tracks. Probably more than I have ever seen in any one area. I make it to the end of Rainbow Trail where the Wild River Trail intersects. I pause here to make a decision on which way to go. It is only a mile and a half to the East Branch Trail junction but an out and back could take up an hour and a half and it is 1:30 right now. I still have 4-5 miles left to go from this spot and including that out and back would definitely be pushing my daylight. There are still pieces out here I'll need to come back to anyways so it will have to wait.
This part of the Wild River Trail is completely different from the section I did this past summer. Not a wet rolling trail through here. Through some open hardwoods before reaching the junction with the other end of Bog Brook Trail. A quick break here as I decide to stay on Wild River Trail which leads through a mix of conifers and hardwoods.
The traverse across to Wildcat River Trail does not take long. The next section seemed like a longer than usual trek though. It was a long forty minutes to rereach the logging road which I took to get back to the parking lot rather than the trail.
Leaving these more obscure trails is turning out to be a blessing in disguise. I really liked this approach to Carter Dome much better then Nineteen Mile Brook. A lot less crowded and better woods in my opinion. A couple of spots I want to come back to and two sections of trail I have left that will force me to come back to this area. Overall a win win.
Final numbers: 12.9 miles, 8 hours and 25 minutes.
Redline Miles: 8.6, Total to Date: 1279.5