March 10, 2012. This will be my fourth time on Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, a record for any trail for me. The first time back on 12/24/2011 when I did Carter Dome, the second the following week for Middle and South Carter, and the third time was a failed attempt to do the Wildcats back on 1/28/2012. I was hoping to do an out and back on that day. I arrived on the trailhead and for some reason a van that was parked at Nineteen Mile Trailhead struck my eye. I pulled backed in next to it and sure enough it was a van from Williams College, where the Pooch goes to school. The irony was her mother and father were on their way to visit her at school that very same day. I got to the trailhead at 7:15 so I can only imagine what time the van must have left Williamstown, MA to get here before me. It's 2-1/2 hours from our house and a good two hours from the house to here. I would never run into them. I was the first one on Nineteen Mile Brook Trail that morning so they must have gone over to Camp Dodge and headed up via the Imp Trail.
Ten minutes later I am heading up Nineteen Mile Brook Trail for the third time in a month. It is a great start and goes by quick reaching the first trail junction in just 45 minutes. An hour and forty minutes after starting and I am back up at Carter Notch where Wildcat Ridge Trail intersects. I stop and get a quick snack and to put on my snowshoes because no one has been on Wildcat Ridge Trail in quite some time. It is unbroken and no sign at all of any tracks like other trails show.
Off I go breaking trail for just the second time since starting this adventure. It is slow this time in comparison. There is a crust on top of the snow and with every step I sink in at least a foot even with the snowshoes. It is also windy and cold up on this part of the trail and with the slow moving it is hard to keep a warm body temp. The steepness of the trail begins immediately on this trail. It is only 0.7 miles to the top of Wildcat A but it gains over 1000 feet in elevation in that span. The going is very slow and tiring and after making it up about a quarter of the way up the trail I decide it is just too much to do by myself. It is time to turn around and this would be my first zero day.
Flash forward to March 10th and another attempt at doing the Wildcats. The plan is to do an out and back again but obviously this time to succeed. The trail is all to familiar and the conditions are good. The trail is packed snow and the temp at the trail is 15° and warm up to 32° by hikes end with no winds.
I am in no hurry this morning to get to the trailhead. I get up at my normal 3:30 am but putz around the house before I leave around 5:30. I think returning to a tough mountain had me psyched out and that is why I was in no hurry to return. During the ride up I-93 I encounter snow squalls just above the Tilton exit and they are blinding and coating the road quickly. I swear the Wildcats do not want me up there and I debate on turning around. The squalls do not stop until I get above Franconia Notch but I am still thinking about bailing because if the conditions are bad here then one can only imagine what they are like over by Mt Washington. But I continue on hoping that the morning will clear out and I can get this one accomplished. Thankfully once I arrive the weather is completely different and it looks like it is going to be a clear day.
There are two ways up to the Wildcats and both approaches have very steep sections. These trails are not used much in the winter as most hikers opt to hike up via the ski trail. I really didn't want to fail again. I make it to Nineteen Mile Brook Trailhead a little after 8 and start hiking at 8:15. My times are comparable to the last attempt as I reach Carter Notch in one hour and forty minutes. I stop again at the junction with Wildcat Ridge Trail and again put my snowshoes on. This time there is evidence of some traffic on the trail so things are looking better already. I start up the steep trail and soon turn to look at where I have come. There is a great view across the notch towards Carter Dome.
I pass the spot where I turned around last time and soon come across an open area of the trail that is a snow covered slide.
Across the slide and 55 minutes after leaving the notch I am on top of Wildcat A. Mission accomplished! Another defeat defeated. The skies are the beautiful winter blue again today and the views from the ledge are great. While taking pictures I can hear this strange noise and can not quite make it out or place it. I look across the notch to see if someone is going up towards Carter Dome and maybe it is the sound of snowshoes reverberating across the open valley. I see no one and as I am taking pictures of the Carter Notch Hut I see some movement. I zoom in and discover what the noise is, a guy is on the roof of the hut shoveling the snow off of the roof.
After enjoying the views it is time to move on and head over to Wildcat B. It is a short and easy trip over and on the way the first views of the Presi's start to appear. Adams, Jefferson and Washington look awesome with their snow covered peaks. Tuckerman Ravine looks full of snow and ski ready.
Soon after reaching and passing Wildcat B I come across one of natures curious little oddities. I am on my way to Wildcat C and what would be more appropriate than a tree shaped like the letter "C".
The hike to Wildcat C goes by just as quick and easy and then the descent down from C heading towards D is steep, very steep in some sections. It is through this section that I change my itinerary and decide I am going down the ski slope and then a road walk along Route 16 back to the car. It is the lesser of two evils especially after doing four peaks and then going back and having to climb three more. Four hours and fifteen minutes after I started this hike I am on Wildcat D. I have defeated, no avenged these peaks and trail that turned me back in January. I feel elated and soak in the 360° views from the platform on top of Wildcat D. Washington right across the valley, Mt Carrigain a little ways away, Mt Chocorua even further and Tecumseh yet still further.
Fifteen minutes after arriving it is time to head down. The ski slope is just around the corner and after asking a couple of skiers which way the Polecat Trail is I am off. Some of the skiers stop and ask where I have come from and we strike up a conversation. They are quite friendly and interested about where I started from and heading to. About a third of the way down one of the ski patrol woman stops and asks the same typical questions and then thanks me for staying to the side of the trail. I return the thanks for letting us (the hikers) using the trail. Onwards and downwards I go, such a different feeling being on these trails on snowshoes rather than skis. It has been a long time since I have skied and it brings back warm memories. I stop a few more times to talk to some skiers and finally make it to the bottom and start heading for the road. It is a total of three miles back to the car. They are long and boring walking on the road instead of thru the forests. I pass by the entrance of the Auto Road for Mt Washington and make it back to the car at 2:40. Another great day and great time for the mileage.
Final numbers: 12.2 miles, 6 hours and 25 minutes, 2 peaks, # of peaks to date - 34.