People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.” Sir Edmund Hillary
Wildcat A, thru Wildcat E
(A=4422, B=4330, C=4298, D=4062, E=4046)
Trail: 19 Mile Brook – Carter Notch Hut, Wildcat Ridge Trail to Wildcat Mt. Ski trail
Date: 5/26&27 2000
Participants: John and Simone, Gabriel Chicoine
Miles: Day 1, 3.8-miles to Carter Notch hut. Time: 2.5 hrs
Miles: Day 2, 6-miles from Hut to Rt. 16 @ Wildcat Ski LodgeTime: 5.5hrs
AMC huts, / shelters / camping site: Carter Notch Hut
Weather: 5/26&27 Cloudy, drizzle, rain.
These were # 33 & 34 of the 4K quest. We were ducking the clouds and dodging the rain drops all the way. This “peak bagging” is a complicated game. You don’t want to hike in extreme heat and you don’t want to hike in peak bug season. You don’t want to hike in extreme cold and you don’t want to get caught in a snow storm. You don’t want to get caught in driving rain; you do have to keep your job and you do need to HIKE! Lining up all these things is a losing proposition at best. Hopefully the loss is only one that cost’s you a little discomfort. I’m a fair weather hiker and proud of it! Unfortunately the White Mountains don’t know this about me. We watched the weather, prayed some and thought we found a two day window where all the elements lined up well enough. On Tuesday morning we reserved 3 beds at Carter Notch Hut for Thursday night. The only problem… rain was predicted for Thursday morning with a forecast for a spectacular Friday and more rain returning Saturday. No problem. We couldn’t get to the trailhead until 12:00’ish on Thursday (rain would be over 😉 and we would be out of there by 3:00 p.m. Friday. SURE!!! The week long rain stalled the moment we reserved the hut. Revised forecast,,, “Rain, Rain, & then, a little Rain.”
Day 1: The drive north rained so hard that cars that didn’t pull to the side of the road hydroplaned off the road. It rained like this most of the way up. At Pinkham Notch we waited as the rain slowed to a light rain. We put on our rain gear and drove the three miles to the 19 Mile Brook trailhead. The rain stopped… We hiked for a few moments in the rain gear watching storm clouds overhead. We stuffed the gear in the packs and hiked really quickly. Just as we reached the lakes at the hut the rain started up again. We made it! Damp but not soaked. It did clear up enough to scramble out over the Ramparts, (a rock pile that slid from the side of Carter Dome into the notch between Wildcat A and Carter Dome forming the lakes at the hut. What a nice location. The hut is caretaker only year round for $20 a night. Nice 4 and 6 person private sleeping rooms in two bunkhouses that can accommodate a total of 40 people. The hut has hot and cold running water, a large 6 burner gas stove and oven, pots and pans, and gas lights. You need to provide your own light in your own sleeping room. The bunks have mats and pillows. I spent most of the night listening to the wind and rain. From my estimation a steady 40’ish with stronger gusts often mixed with rain. I went over tomorrow’s hike options all night… I could only imagine what it might be like on the ridge. I knew the ridge was totally in the trees but driving wind, mixed with rain, for three hours, and then the open ski trails???
Day 2: 6AM, high winds, no rain, but lots of dark clouds. We waited in the hut till 7AM; moderate winds, off and on rain and a few moments of sun… 8AM time to get up and prepare for the hike. In the hut I checked the new forecast… “Showers likely”. What happened to spectacular? Partly cloudy? No rain? 60’s to 70 degrees (that got moved to Saturday). Our caretakers, Jacob and Kevi were leaving the hut at 9AM; their last days as AMC hut caretakers; Jacob off to China (Peace Corps) for two years, and Kevi off to start life after college graduation. We put on our cold gear, and our rain gear. The wind was gone. We were going for it. 8/10ths of a mile, 1000 feet elevation, how hard could that be? One hour later on the summit of Wildcat A we would all tell you it was hard. With dark clouds overhead we only stopped on Wildcat A’s lookout spot long enough to catch our breath. We forged on, the trail has lots of ups and downs over 5 peaks; the sags between B and C, and C and D are quite formidable. Peaks B and C are totally uneventful; just trials to face on the way to Peak E. Peak D has a lookout platform just 100 feet from the Wildcat summit tram lodge. Peak E is the other peak that counts, but watch carefully the summit is a small boulder with an 6 inch E painted on it just 3 yards off the trail.
We heeded the warnings not to descend Wildcat Ridge Tr. down from Peak E to Rt.16, and hiked the ski trails down. This option cut off several miles of road hike back to the car at the 19 Mile Brook trailhead. We never got any rain to speak of. It was cold, 40’ish and damp with a steady 15 to 20 Mph wind. We did keep the cold gear on but we stayed dry. We decided to zig-zag down the ski trails picking sections as we judged their difficulty and by how bad our toes felt. At one point 1/2 way down we stopped at a babbling brook in the trail for a breather, a drink, and Motrin. This is where my last recollection of having my glasses was. I never noticed I didn’t have my glasses with me until just 100 yards from the lodge at the bottom. Simone pointed up the mountain and noticed other hikers on the trails; I couldn’t see them… instant bummer! My glasses? Gone! Lost on the ski trails. I had to try to find them. I sent Simone on down the road and get the car while Gabe and I went back. We were beat, really beat. We left the packs on the trail, strapped on a water bottle and tried to retrace our path up the mountain. Now The sun comes out. Now the black flies come out. Now the steamy heat comes out as the sun warmed up the ski trails. We dug our poles into the side of the slopes and tried to drag ourselves back up the mountain. 20 minutes went by and we were less than 1/3 of the way back to where we though they might be. We couldn’t do it. We couldn’t take another step… Leave em! Probably laying in the open field, (the grass was sparse and only 2″ tall,) and visible from 20 feet away …just leave em. We got down to Rt.16 just long enough to sit for a few moments before Simone pulled up with the car. The ride home wasn’t an easy one,,,, We were really glad that we had several more peaks off the list, but the cost for this one was going to be $140 pair of new glasses. I knew right where they were but I just couldn’t make myself get there.