Winter hiking perfection on the Carters

September 22, 2020

On February 23rd, I reached the summits of Carter Dome, South Carter and Middle Carter. These three peaks represented numbers 42, 43 and 44 in my quest to hike all of New Hampshire's 48 4000 footers. I would reach these peaks with the same friends that I've now completed the last three hikes with.  In December, we hiked North and Middle Tripyramid, and just last week - Mt. Moriah. Our weather the day we did the Tripyramids was cold, very cold towards the end, but essentially windless other than a little breeze on the summits. Last weekend on Moriah, the weather was even better.  Clear skies, a cold start, but once again - completely windless except a very slight breeze on the actual summit. Yesterday, on the Carter Moriah Range, the weather, and all-around winter hiking conditions, were literally perfect! A crisp 6 degrees to start, and fairly cold for the first few miles along the shady Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, but once we started to gain some elevation, and the sun rose higher, the temperatures warmed, blue skies prevailed, and as was the case the last few outings, we were experiencing completely windless conditions. And this time, the wind would remain nonexistent regardless of our elevation.

The Nineteen Mile Brook trail was fairly benign except for some pretty interesting snow, ice and water-flow patterns happening on the right side of the trail along the frozen brook for which the trail is named. However, after turning left onto the Carter Dome Trail and just before reaching the Carter Moriah Trail, we got our first 'goal post' sneak view of Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range. 

To give you a good indicator of the current snow depths, these signs are typically around shoulder height. 

We decided against taking in Mt. Hight on this trip. The trail was barely broken out, nor were we sure that the loop that continued to meet back on to the Carter Moriah trail was broken out either. We decided to stay on the Carter Dome Trail, and head directly for the peak of Carter Dome.  It is about a mile from the sign in that last photo to the peak of Carter Dome.  Here's some images I took along the way. (in order of furthest, to nearest the summit)

Once on the top of the Carter Moriah ridge, the views to the west of the Presidential Range are simply stunning.  The range is basically across the street (route 16) from you, and it feels incredibly close. 

Once on the actual summit, we could not believe how perfect the conditions were.  Everything from the skies, to the temperature, to the completely calm conditions.  And then, things got even more perfect, and fun.

These two gray jays flew in as we were enjoying a snack on the summit. As usual, they made sure they were the focus of everyone's attention. 

The first photo shows how amazing and fun it can be to have a wild bird literally eating out of your hand. The second photo illustrates the unfortunate results of hand-feeding wild birds. This one flew in, landed on my friend's finger, and proceeded to start eating HIS lunch sandwich.  Thankfully, he was just about done with it.  And, I lucked out with a really cool photo as the bird flew off.

As we left the summit of Carter Dome, and headed for South Carter, I had noticed some really interesting wind drifts in the snow on the hike to the summit. I switched to a wider angle lens and tried to get some shots of the patterns the wind has created in the deep, powdery snow. 

We were now hiking back down the Carter Moriah Trail, which is also the Appalachian Trail (white blaze marks), on our way to South Carter. Along the way, the beauty and perfect conditions continued to be evident with every step.

In the photo above, you can now see our third peak for the day, Middle Carter, in the far background on the left. After summiting the final peak of the day, we continued down the Carter Moriah Trail, to the North Carter Trail.  Descending the North Carter trail, as the afternoon sun was setting, provided us with the final (daylight) views of this hike. Looking towards the east, we experienced the warm cast of the reddish setting sun on distant mountains and the forest below.

Looking towards the west, we experienced one of the best mountain sunsets I've ever seen as the sun dipped behind Mt. Adams and Madison.

This final image, would be our last daylight view, as we would finish this hike in the dark around 8pm. 

To complete our day of perfection, we ended up being able to locate and follow a faint bushwhacked trail from the Imp trail back over to the Nineteen Mile Brook parking area. This short cut would save us over a mile of hiking and over a hour in the woods and walking back along the road.  In the total darkness, yet under completely clear skies, we could see nothing except some lights on top of Mt. Washington, a sky filled with millions of stars, and the fresh snow in front of us being lit by our headlamps.

These three summits would vault one us from 7 to 10 peaks, another from 10 to 13, and myself from 41 to 44 completed summits.  It would take a departure time of approximately 3:30am with slightly over 7 hours and close to 400 miles of total driving.  It would take us just under 13 hours to hike the 12.54 miles, with the final two hours in complete darkness. It all resulted in zero regrets, and some memories that will last forever. 

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