September 9, 2013.
Third times a charm so they say. I've tried this twice so far and have yet to do the whole ridge. The first time was back in January of 2012 when the weather and snow beat be back before getting to any peak. The second time was two months later when I had planned to do an out and back but ending up doing A thru D and going down the ski trails. So, today, thanks to Andy suggesting it, we are going up and over the ridge the whole way from Wildcat E to A. His thought was to go up Nineteen-mile Brook Trail, the way I have approached it the previous two times, across the ridge and then down to Pinkham Notch. My advice was to start at Pinkham and go across to Nineteen-mile because the beginning of Wildcat Ridge Trail is quite steep, better to go up that section of trail than down.
Meeting at Nineteen-mile Brook Trailhead and picking me up we headed over to Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. This place is like the epicenter for hikers and already this early in the morning it was pretty full and busy. The gang today is Andy, Kevin and Jen and at 7:30 we started on trail across the street. First up is Lost Pond Trail, where the AT picks up after going by Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.
This trail is a mish mash of everything. First going through a swamped section, then a normal woodsy trail, bouldery sections by the pond and then some real bouldery and wet areas at where one point losing the trail after the pond. I went backwards after re-finding the trail to see where we missed it and to also get my redlining legitimately done.
While at the pond a view of Mt Washington peeking over the trees.
Forty minutes from starting and we reach the Junction with Wildcat Ridge Trail and not wanting to miss an opportunity I turn right and head down the trail to get the one tenth mile section of trail. It goes by quick, for me as I told the others to not wait and I would catch up with them, I make it to Ellis River and it looks doable for the crossing. Finding the right rock path is always a fun little challenge and today it was pretty easy. On the other side I found the tunnel that leads under Route 16 to the trailhead at Glen Ellis Falls parking lot.
Quickly back up the trail to catch the others and dang they were waiting for me at the junction. I didn't want to be an imposition on anyone when I take off to get my little tidbits of trails because that is my thing. Hopefully everyone was OK with my wandering off to get my personal goals done. Back on trail and heading up Wildcat Ridge Trail and almost immediately the climb begins. I have read about this section of trail in the book and online in other peoples reports and I was actually apprehensive about doing this part of the trail. The guide describes it as "use care on all ledge areas" and " a tricky traverse and a fairly difficult scramble up a rock chimney". I guess it is a matter of opinion but I did not find this trail as bad as some have built it up to be. Steep it is and pretty much unrelenting.
The steep ledges didn't seem that problematic and the chimney was actually fun and pretty easy. I'm sure it is me and others have their opinions but I thought it was over hyped a bit.
Putting my apprehension to bed we got some great views on top of the ledge just above the chimney section. Mt Washington pano with all its sub peaks.
Twenty-five minutes later and another set of ledges with more views. Across the way between Tuckerman Ravine and Huntington Ravine is Raymond Cataract. Raymond Cataract Brook tumbles down this section over a series of cascades. It was last mentioned in the 1969 AMC Guide and although not an easy bushwhack it is accessible and well worth a visit someday. I actually spied this from the ledge we were on and found a few tidbits about it online. Hint, hint...Mike.
Ten minutes later and we are passing through one of the easier grades along this part of the trail.
Just a few more minutes and popping out onto a south facing ledge and a look at the next steep section leading up to Wildcat E, the first peak for the day.
Further up the trail and a most unique feature to the right of the trail is a huge crack in the mountain that we are able to walk into and through almost the whole way. It goes in about 10-15 feet and then turns right for another 8 feet then a left where one might be able to climb up and out through a squeeze section. The crack is 10 feet high.
Continuing up and we reach the first set of wooden steps built onto the ledge and then a boulder suspended in another good size crack.
Another set of wooden steps on a steeper ledge.
On this ledge a great view of PNVC and where we started from.
Finally two and half hours after starting and the majority of the steep climbing is behind us and Wildcat peak E is this little nondescript bump three yards to the right in the woods.
A little dip down the trail and we pop out into the open on the gondola landing of Wildcat Ski Area. From here it is only 306 more miles to Katadhin on the AT, next year not today!
Climbing up to Wildcat D and there is an outlook to the right looking southeast to southwest. Looking at the pictures to identify the mountains and I notice something very odd in one of them. You've all heard of crop circles now there are logging circles. The picture below shows a set of eyes and an open mouth, no really, look in the lower left corner.
Twenty minutes after passing E and we are on D, two down and three to go. A Mt Washington pano.
Moosilauke a short 34 miles away.
A half hour break for lunch and we are on our way to C. First a descent into Wildcat Col and then another steep climb up and out to reach C. On the way up I turn and get almost the same shot as I did the last time I was on this section of trail. Personally I like the winter shots better.
That's Wildcats E and D on the left in the foreground with Washington in the back. Just before one o'clock and we make it to Wildcat C and a happy tired but very determined Andy on the summit. I promised him that was the last of the steep ups for the day.
As they took off I lingered back looking for something I spied the last time I was up here. Of course last time I was going in the opposite direction so it took a while to find it but it was still there. Considering this area had some recent blowdowns I was glad to find it still intact. Appropriate that this is not far from the summit of Wildcat C.
Of course the boardwalks were covered in snow back then and I never knew they were there. Thirty minutes go by between reaching C and arriving at the high point on the trail of B. An easy walk and fifteen minutes later the ledges of Wildcat A with Carter Dome staring right back at you across the notch.
A view down into the notch at Carter Notch Hut and this time there is no one on the roof shoveling snow off it.
A little off the trail just before the ledge spur on the right is the actual summit of A about fifteen feet in.
Descending down off of A is a steep descent but not as bad as going up the other end of the ridge. We carefully make our way down and reach the spot where a slide crosses the trail. Seeing it for the first time without snow and it still looks active from the color of the dirt and being devoid of any vegetation.
A look downhill at the slide from both the summer perspective and winter.
Finally we reach the Nineteen-mile Brook Trail and now its just a 3.6 mile out to the exit. The trail is less steeper here and all too familiar for me as this is the seventh time I have stepped foot on this trail. Descending always seems to take so long and this trail is no exception. This is one of the things I need to work on before next year. Quite a while ago I made peace with PUD's (pointless ups and downs) with the philosophy of are they really pointless if they get you to your destination? Now I just need to find a way of rationalizing the end of day descending that seems to take forever. Anyways...a few stops later for some cascades and then the all too familiar dam on Nineteen-mile Brook.
The dam, always a curiosity out here in the middle of the woods. This time I did a search on it and found out it once supplied the drinking water for Glen House down the road and now feeds the fire suppression system there. So a mystery solved.
Now just five minutes shy of nine hours and we exit the woods and reach the parking lot. A great hike with great company and a very relaxed pace. It was nice to finally make it across this whole ridge and share some of the things I have seen along the way with others.
Final numbers: 9.3 miles, 8 hours and 55 minutes.
Redline Miles: 3.1, Total to Date: 395.3