December 24,2011. The first official winter hike per the AMC. The AMC states that any peak climbed after the winter solstice date and before the spring equinox date counts as an official winter ascent. Not that the "Winter 48" is my goal at the present moment. I am still going for the any season 48 and after that will determine what the next goal will be. So today's planned hike is to do another loop this time consisting of Carter Dome, Mt Hight, South Carter and Middle Carter. All are part of the 4000 footers with the exception of Mt Hight which is supposed to have 360° views so why not make a pit stop on the way. The proposed route is below and the actual hike is on the right (more on that later). It is an ambitious hike of about 15 miles. The temperature was -6° at the Great Gulf parking lot when I started at 6:45 in the morning.
I was out the door by 4:15 this morning because I knew this would take up most of the daylight hours to pull this hike off. The plan was to park at the Imp Trail at the south location and do the road walk to Nineteen Mile Brook Trailhead first. I changed this plan as soon as I got there partly because it was dark and there is no parking lot (would have had to park on the side of the road and I was not comfortable with that) at the Imp Trail. So I drove up to see where the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail was and there was an actual parking lot there. On the way between the two I noticed another parking lot in between the two trailheads, Great Gulf. So I opted to park at Great Gulf instead this way it would split up the road walk at the beginning and end of the hike. Of I go at 6:45 am and fifteen minutes later I am at Nineteen Mile Brook Trail.
It is a very cold morning and a fresh coating of snow has fallen overnight. My exhaled breath freezes in the air and sticks to my jacket and beard making for some homemade rime ice. Despite the cold I am all right and make it up to the trail junction of Carter Dome Trail in an hour. It is another hour to the next junction with the Wildcat Ridge Trail. I bare booted it all the way as the trail is not that bad with the new snow providing traction. There were a few icy spots way down below but nothing unavoidable. So I am now on a section of the Appalachian Trail. Down the trail I go reaching Carter Lake in a few short minutes. The views of Wildcat and its rocky ledges are fantastic. The pictures are nothing compared to seeing them with ones own eyes.
Now the fun begins as I reach the Carter-Moriah Trail and start the steep climb up. A mistake I made was not reading about this section of trail in my haste of planning this hike. It is relentless and nothing but boulders. With the thin coating of snow it is hard to see where the icy spots are so it is very slow going. About a third of the way up I stop because my nerves are getting the best of me with the icy steepness of this trail. I take a few minutes to put on my Microspikes and in doing so it takes only those few minutes to bring on the freezing cold. My feet go numb and my hands also as I had to take my gloves off to put the spikes on. The irony of this is I had just bought new hiking shoes for winter the other day. But me being Mr Cheapy I had not bought a larger pair of Microspikes for those boots yet, didn't want to dish out another $50 bucks right away. I had on my regular hiking boots that have no insulation and just that few minutes of stopping got to my feet quick. There was no turning back on this trail because going down what I just came up would have been borderline suicidal. I made the decision to continue on to the peak and if my feet and hands were not feeling better by the time I got there then I would abort the rest of the hike. An hour and a half after starting on the Carter-Moriah Trail I reach the summit of Carter Dome. This section of trail is only 1.2 miles long and to take 90 minutes puts it in perspective of how rough the going was and how I was feeling. Not feeling anywhere close to where I felt comfortable I decided it just wasn't worth the risk to finish the plan and instead head straight down via the Carter Dome Trail back to Nineteen Mile Brook Trail. I stop briefly to take some pictures from an outlook that is just north of the summit and then head down.
The trip down to Zeta Pass is quick with the trail being one of the nicest I have been on, a consistent gradual grade. I make it down the 1.3 mile section in 45 minutes feeling a lot better about my decision and the warmth making it back into my feet and hands. The next two miles to the junction with Nineteen Mile Brook Trail takes an hour and fifteen minutes and a little over an hour later I am back at the car ready to call it a day. Another 4000 footer under my belt and even though it was a beautiful blue sky day out I do not regret my bail out decision. The bonus is I get some great shots on the way home on Route 115.
As I was coming down Route 3 just above Twin Mountain I saw this amazing sight of what looked like a halo with the sun hitting it just right on one of the mountains. Not sure what I was looking at I took some pictures of it and when I got back onto I-93 I figured out what mountain it was and what the halo was. It was Cannon Mt. and they were making snow on top of it with the wind blowing it around and the sun making it look shiny.
Final numbers: 11 miles, 7 hours and 5 minutes, 1 peak, # of peaks to date - 22.