My friend MikeD is an avid hiker, and tries to get me and others out hiking on occasion. Often, we will do a long group hike when a bunch of us have taken a week long vacation together. Those vacations are generally up in northern New England, so hiking is a convenient activity.
On many of our group vacations, there have been two large group hikes: the “family” hike which is traditionally “kid-friendly” and the Mike Hike, so named because 3 of the core group of hikers are named Alan. I mean Mike. In recent years, as our group of children has gotten older and stronger, some have pushed to be included in the Mike Hike. And of course, they can sprint up the mountains, and when/if they fall, they can generally bounce back up. But they are still children, and have yet to develop a certain amount of character, so they are quick to let us know when they are tired, hungry, cold, hurt, thirsty, bored, etc. But that’s OK — it will come.
This year, our traditional group vacation did not happen (it has been getting harder to schedule), but MikeD did invite the hikers of the bunch to go up to NH with him this weekend for a couple of hikes, and a bike ride between (over 3 days). In the end, it was MikeD and myself on Friday, and on Saturday, MikeV drove up to join us. Even before we had finalized plans, the weather forecast for Sunday was pretty iffy.
Even so, we packed up our bikes in the back of MikeD’s minivan, along with our hiking gear, and headed up to Pinkham Notch. We got started around 10:15 a.m. after the long drive, and hiked up the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail to the Carter Notch Trail, up Carter Notch to the Carter Notch Hut where we stopped briefly and had our “lunch.” We then continued on the Carter-Moriah Trail up to Carter Dome, then down the Carter Dome Trail with a brief excursion to Mt. Hight. Carter Dome didn’t offer much for views, but Mt. Hight had an excellent 360 degree view. A short while before we arrived, it started to drizzle, so we didn’t stay long, but instead got our rain gear on and continued on. The rain didn’t last too long, thankfully, and we continued on to Zeta Pass where we had to decide whether to continue on and attempt the South and Middle Carter summits after about 5 hours of hiking and some uncertainty about the weather. We elected to wimp out and head back to the car, which still took us 2 more hours of hiking down Carter Dome Trail, and back along Nineteen Mile Brook Trail. It was probably the prudent choice, as we finished up around 5:30.
After the hike, we drove a short way to Jackson where we found a hotel room, showered, then had a moderately disappointing dinner at the Red Parka Steak House, which was surprisingly crowded for a mediocre restaurant. The staff were friendly, though.
Then, after a tired hiker’s sleep, we had a big, leisurely hotel buffet breakfast, and eventually drove back up to Pinkham Notch to meet up with MikeV. Well, needless to say (though we had failed to factor it in), it was significantly more crowded on Saturday than Friday, and there was no parking in the lot. We managed to see MikeV as he was parking along the side of the road (good thing, because mobile phone service was quite spotty! Curiously, my ATT&T was doing better around there than Verizon, who almost always has better service in rural areas). We parked MikeV’s car at the Nineteen Mile parking area, where we intended to finish our hike for the day, and drove back in MikeD’s van to the visitors’ center, where we were starting for the day. It’s about a 4 mile gap.
We started from the visitors’ center up the Lost Pond Trail (which we found for them — you’re welcome!) which meets the Wildcat Ridge Trail. This climbs up to Wildcats E-A in reverse alphabetical order. The two that “count” are Wildcat D and Wildcat A. When we were near the D summit, we encountered a group of hikers, one of whom was in flip-flops. We were simultaneously impressed and horrified that someone would climb a mountain in flip flops. A short while later, we began to hear the humming of machinery, and more human activity, and all of a sudden we came out of the woods at the top of the Wildcat Gondola, and we were then simultaneously relieved and understanding about the woman in flip-flops. Wildcat D has a short tower you can climb to get better views, which we did, and we broke out our various lunches to eat there.
After lunch, we continued on through C, B, and A, and there wasn’t much for views along this ridgeline. The surprising thing was just how much the ridge dipped between peaks. We know that if it were more than 200′, it would be another “official” 4000 footer, so we mustn’t have dipped that far, but it was still a lot. Although the views from these peaks left something to be desired, the views on the way up to E were excellent. When we got to A there was a large group there, and they appeared to be in no hurry to leave. So we didn’t stay long, and barely got to see the “Vista” advertised by a sign along the trail.
The way down was steep, but the trail was quite well maintained. Rocks had been placed along the way to make it effectively a staircase going down. We were glad to be going in the direction we were. The stairs would have been fine to climb up, but the steep trail up to E had us scrambling over lots of boulders, which we all agreed was easier on the way up than it would have been on the way down. Eventually, we met back up with our friend, the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, and hiked along that for the third time in two days to get back out to Rt. 16 where MikeV’s car was parked.
After the hike, we drove in MikeV’s car back to where MikeD’s car was parked, stopped briefly at the visitor’s center, and started back towards home, stopping at the Moat Mountain Brewery where we had an excellent, and surprisingly inexpensive meal/beer for a great way to end the weekend.